Thursday, May 16, 2013

The King is Corn, Let's Eat


Yeah, well, too bad.

In 1890 a Scottish guy named James Frazer published The Golden Bough and everyone immediately dove for their fainting couches. The Golden Bough was a comparative study of mythology and religion that analyzed both alike from a dispassionate perspective. His analysis concluded that human thought progresses over time from belief in magic to belief in religion to belief in science. While that seems like a common enough thought now, back in the day if you didn't go to church every Sunday they started gathering logs in anticipation of the witch-burnin' party. (Not really, but back then effectively everyone was religious. Atheism was almost unheard of.) So to analyze religion from an anthropological standpoint was revolutionary, and in fact completely revitalized the field of anthropology.

By the third edition this sucker
expanded from one volume into
While most people today haven't heard of The Golden Bough, almost everyone has heard of the people whose work was self-admittedly influenced by it (this sentence structure and verb/noun agreement is so horrendously awful that I actually decided to keep it instead of edit. Such horror must be preserved), including but not limited to: Sigmund Freud, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, William Gaddis, Mary Renault, T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and H.P. Lovecraft.

One of the main things that The Golden Bough tried to do was to isolate the shared ideas of different religions and myths into clearly defined elements - such as fertility rites, human sacrifice, sun worship, etc. Frazer's hypothesis was that old religions were fertility rites that revolved around the worship and eventual sacrifice of a sacred king. The king symbolized plants and I swear to God I am not just making this up. Basically the idea was that the life and death of a chosen king (who also symbolized the sun) mirrored the growth and death of the crops that kept people alive.

Also this Anthropologist/Egyptologist named Margaret Murray (born 1863) wrote a bunch of stuff about how she believed that there was this huge underground cult of pagan covens that practiced frequent human sacrifice until they were driven underground by the witch hunts that started around 1450. Included in this writing was the idea that a bunch of English Kings like William Rufus were secret pagans. And this woman was a professor at University College London and published by Oxford University Press. Academia in the early 1900s, you are crazy. And this really had nothing to do with anything but I thought it was hilarious.

This looks legit.
Sooooo this post is getting way long already, so I think this is gonna be a 2 or 3 parter. Those of you that aren't passed out in front of your computer by now, very good. You have been edified or something.

No comments:

Post a Comment