Monday, June 1, 2009

The New Golden Bough (3)

Sir James George Frazer. A New Abridgment. Ed. Dr. Theodore H. Gaster. New York: New American Library. 1890 (1959).

Why read it? Study of primitive rites and cultures, vestiges of which underlie our own modern culture. A study of primitive superstitions.

Sample Quotes and Ideas (3)

“In Bilaspore, a district of India, when the chief men of the village meet in council, no one present should twirl or spindle [rod for spinning thread]; for they think…the discussion, like the spindle, would move in a circle and never be wound up.” p. 48.

“Just as the savage eats many animals or plants in order to absorb desirable qualities with which he believes them to be endowed, so he avoids eating many others lest he acquire undesirable qualities which he attributes to them.” p. 49.

“In Kursk, a province of southern Russia, when rain is much wanted, the women seize a passing stranger and throw him into the river or souse him from head to foot.” p. 76.

“The Thompson Indians of British Columbia think that when the loon calls loud and often, it will soon rain, and that to mimic the cry of the bird may bring the rain down.” p. 78.

“The legendary Salmoneus, King of Elis, made mock thunder by dragging bronze kettles behind his chariot….” p. 81.

“At an eclipse of the sun the Ojibways used to imagine that it was being extinguished…shot fire-tipped arrows in the air, hoping to rekindle his expiring light.” p. 81.

“To the savage, the world in general is animate, and trees and plants are no exception to the rule…thinks they have souls like his own, and treats them accordingly. Why should the slaughter of an ox or a sheep be a greater wrong than the felling of a fir or an oak, seeing that a soul is implanted in these trees also?” p. 108.

Comment: From these quotes, you can see that the author traces many, many superstitions to ancient times. The information is incredibly interesting. This is a book that will require slow and careful reading of incident after incident illustrative of human superstition. However, you will learn a lot about those old sayings your mother, Aunt May and Grandma said to you when you were young. And the book helps to warn you of today’s modern superstitions that are hidden under the advice of brokers in the stock market and prescriptions by medical doctors of a pill for every ill. Bill Bradley, for example, a candidate for president in 2000, said of his wife’s treatment of her cancer with chemotherapy by doctors that it will one day be seen as just as effective as bloodletting.

Frazer concludes: “…and as science has supplanted its predecessors [magic and religion], so it may hereafter be itself superseded…by some totally different way of looking at the phenomena….” p. 740.

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