The Golden Bough

Another excellent tome on comparative mythology was compiled by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough of 1888. This old, almost outdated book is a compressed version of a much longer series by the mythologist Frazer.

Frazer’s The Golden Bough

Like Joe Campbell of more recent times, Frazer traveled the world studying primitive people and cultures, seeing the sympathetic magic that connected Humanity with the seasons, the natural world, life and death, with rituals and plant-life, and ultimately the search for meaning which has been Mankind’s constant search.

From such long lists of ancient magic has risen modern religion. So, his work for me has formed a bridge between the two and an understanding of the combined use of myth and ritual in the practices of ancient Man.

But I’m less interested in Frazer’s logical explanations for totem magic and primitive rituals as I am the psychological archetypes that stand behind these ancient beliefs. The reason The Golden Bough is important is it shows that though science and faith has replaced these ancient beliefs, the symbols, fairy tales, holidays, and myths still remain in modern culture and in our brains which still derive meaning from them. It’s that fact and the mystery of why our modern movies still reflect the ancient archetypes that forms the basis for novel writing and the Western story structures we are all still trapped in. They derive from these ancient beliefs.

The Golden Bough‘s premise at the end, that the “bough” in Celtic tales is in fact the parasitic plant called mistletoe, forms the basis for several of my YouTube lectures on “Mythopoeia” and the connection with modern holidays with primitive cyclical, seasonal sun worshiping myths and beliefs. Frazer simply shows that the ancient plant harvested by Druids and Shamans the world over from oak trees is a symbol of the sun and its yearly changes and movements as expressed by their old stories.

With the advent of science now and the dying of primitive belief systems we might think the past has no relevance to today’s religions and political struggles. But in fact, it does because we are increasingly blind to the powerful effect primitive symbols have over us as children. The more we repress our imaginations by political means or corporate or capitalistic cultural affect, the more we need ancient stories. Thus, we have the rise of say video games, role playing games, virtual reality, movies, online escapism, etc. our minds are not fulfilled by reality. We need to sink into our mind’s much richer archetypes.

Because these seasonal myths – and the life and death struggles associated with summer, winter, and the junctures of the solstices – seem to still reverberate so strongly in our modern movies and books, it’s more important than ever we rediscover WHY our brains need them so badly. Why do our kids and young people seek so much pleasure from say the myths of Tolkien’s work, Harry Potter, or Star Wars? What is the reason those things seem to have such a grip on us? Myths enthrall us and will even more as science advances and the digital age strips more meaning from us in this new global age of information. We need the ‘mystery of life’ whose last great frontier still remains in our minds.

The Golden Bough and its wealth of information of ‘magic’ reminds us why we must return to ancient mythology and traditions as the last great imaginative source or fount of inspiration, and be more open to exploring the archetypes in the culture and in our minds if we expect to enrich our story-telling.

We can’t do that if we refuse to accept the myths now lost in Modern entertainment which we crave and deny the mythology of the Self – as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung both say – that hides so many wonders of our own short life’s great interpretation.

— the Author

Created Nov 3, 2016, 7:22 PM

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