The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

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[1] J. G. Frazer, “The Killing of the Khazar Kings,” Folk-lore, xxviii. (1917), pp. 382–407.

[2] Rev. J. Roscoe, The Soul of Central Africa (London, 1922), p. 200. Compare J. G. Frazer, &147;The Mackie Ethnological Expedition to Central Africa,” Man, xx. (1920), p. 181.

[3] H. Zimmern, Zum babylonischen Neujahrsfest (Leipzig, 1918). Compare A. H. Sayce, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, July 1921, pp. 440–442.

[4] The Golden Bough, Part VI. The Scapegoat, pp. 354 sqq., 412 sqq.

[5] P. Amaury Talbot in Journal of the African Society, July 1916, pp. 309 sq.; id., in Folk-lore, xxvi. (1916), pp. 79 sq.; H. R. Palmer, in Journal of the African Society, July 1912, pp. 403, 407 sq.

With these and other instances of like customs before us it is no longer possible to regard the rule of succession to the priesthood of Diana at Aricia as exceptional; it clearly exemplifies a widespread institution, of which the most numerous and the most similar cases have thus far been found in Africa. How far the facts point to an early influence of Africa on Italy, or even to the existence of an African population in Southern Europe, I do not presume to say. The pre-historic historic relations between the two continents are still obscure and still under investigation.

Whether the explanation which I have offered of the institution is correct or not must be left to the future to determine. I shall always be ready to abandon it if a better can be suggested. Meantime in committing the book in its new form to the judgment of the public I desire to guard against a misapprehension of its scope which appears to be still rife, though I have sought to correct it before now. If in the present work I have dwelt at some length on the worship of trees, it is not, I trust, because I exaggerate its importance in the history of religion, still less because I would deduce from it a whole system of mythology; it is simply because I could not ignore the subject in attempting to explain the significance of a priest who bore the title of King of the Wood, and one of whose titles to office was the plucking of a bough—the Golden Bough—from a tree in the sacred grove. But I am so far from regarding the reverence for trees as of supreme importance for the evolution of religion that I consider it to have been altogether subordinate to other factors, and in particular to the fear of the human dead, which, on the whole, I believe to have been probably the most powerful force in the making of primitive religion. I hope that after this explicit disclaimer I shall no longer be taxed with embracing a system of mythology which I look upon not merely as false but as preposterous and absurd. But I am too familiar with the hydra of error to expect that by lopping off one of the monster’s heads I can prevent another, or even the same, from sprouting again. I can only trust to the candour and intelligence of my readers to rectify this serious misconception of my views by a comparison with my own express declaration.


June 1922.

I. The King of the Wood

Diana and Virbius">

1. Diana and Virbius

WHO does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi— “Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients. No one who has seen that calm water, lapped in a green hollow of the Alban hills, can ever forget it. The two characteristic Italian villages which slumber on its banks, and the equally Italian palace whose terraced gardens descend steeply to the lake, hardly break the stillness and even the solitariness of the scene. Diana herself might still linger by this lonely shore, still haunt these woodlands wild.