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The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

Background Information

Sir James Frazer on Mythology and Magic Frazer, Sir James George.  The Golden Bough.  New York:  Touchstone, 1996.  Print. The Golden Bough was written by Sir James Frazer in 1922 Frazer was a cultural anthropologist and wrote the book in an attempt to explain how mythology developed, and to find common mythological themes in culture around the world Frazer started his study based on a practice, observed in ancient Italy, of the sacrificial death of the current king, and his replacement by a new king  Frazer wanted to understand the significance of such a practice, and he began a survey of cultures to see if this practice was widespread Frazer developed the theory that ancient kings were also priests.  As such, the king/priest was responsible not only for legislation for the people (written laws), but was also responsible for the care of crops, animals, weather, and the health of the community The king/priest was seen as an emissary of the gods, or as a godlike figure himself As an emissary or god, the king had the power, that others lacked, to cause supernatural events to happen According to Frazer, the primitive mind does not experience things in the same manner as modern man:  "A savage hardly conceives the distinction between the natural and the supernatural.  To him the world is to a great extent worked by supernatural agents, that is, by personal beings acting on impulses and motives like his own, but liable like him to be moved by appeals to their pity, their hopes, and their fears" (Frazer 11). Frazer notes that the distinction between king and priest was not clear-cut:  "In early society the king is frequently a magician as well as a priest; indeed he appears to have often attained to power by virtue of his supposed proficiency in the black or white art" (Frazer 12). Frazer distinguishes two types of magic employed by the king/priest: o Similar or homeopathic magic, which holds that the priest can produce a desired effect by imitating it.  An example of homeopathic magic is voodoo. o Contact or contagious magic, which holds that a priest can produce an effect because something came in contact with something else.  An example of contagious magic is the belief that a person's nails, hair, etc. somehow exert an influence over him/her when these articles have been shed.  Voodoo is an example of both similar and contagious magic. Frazer posits that for primitive man, magic has the ability to regulate nature:  "For the same principles which the magician applies to the practice of his art are implicitly believed by him to regulate the operations of inanimate nature; in other words, he tacitly assumes that the Laws of Similarity and Contact are of universal application and are not limited to human actions" (Frazer 13). Frazer also writes about the notion of taboo, which he claims is a negative application of magic:  "Positive magic or sorcery says, 'Do this in order that so and so may happen.'  Negative magic or taboo says 'Do not do this, lest so and so should happen.'  The aim of positive magic or sorcery is to produce a desired event; the aim of negative magic or taboo is to avoid an undesirable one" (Frazer 22).