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The Golden Bough and the Christian deception

JG Frazer’s The Golden Bough is a classic in religious scholarship, it’s studded with late-Victorian hubris as regards the way in which science will explain and better the world—and how the discipline has evolved from magic to religion to science; it’s an evolutionary picture, somewhat puffed with condescension yet magisterial in its scope and mastery of the facts. Frazer was a Whig, by the way—you can tell because he makes a deprecatory remark about James II (superstitious, quasi-Catholic) and positive remarks about William III (rational, Protestant). So Frazer is a liberal and, basically, an atheist—his conclusion is a paean to science, it’s science that has replaced Catholic “magic” in an evolutionary step upwards.

Frazer’s work had a huge impact in the early 20th century and you’ll see Edwardian writers say things like “Christianity is just the old cult of the dying god”. When people say that they refer to Frazer’s Golden Bough. Frazer basically identified that the cult of the dying and reborn god is really common—particularly in the Middle East. The god is killed and reborn symbolically to make the crops grow through magic. If I tell you the ancient Greeks used to take a man and put their sins “into him” in a magical act and then executed him (crowned with vines) then you get the picture pretty quickly; and, further, such men were kept in reserve to purify the community periodically and such scapegoats were all drawn from humble and degraded backgrounds—all becomes clear, there have been many Christs. Holy moly.

The assumption Frazer drew from his observations was that Christianity was “just another” dying god cult that was mixed in with the ritual purification of the community. It belonged to an ancient thought mode, the magical thought mode, that had been surpassed—and Frazer draws examples from across the world, from South America to Africa, to support his contention that the “dying god” is just how man in his magical mode tries to make the crops grow. Jesus was not a unique figure; rather, he was the last in a long line of scapegoated dying gods. It’s enough to make you feel atheistic, especially if you’re a late Victorian gent who has been down at Dover beach listening to the “roaring tide” of faith recede—driven back by science, effective where Canute’s regal magic was not.

If you take the straightforward Christian view Bough is destructive to your faith, since it undermines Christ’s unique position—and you are probably, as a modern, pretty scientifically inclined to start with (even if nominally Christian). The “final revelation” was just a revelation that had happened many times before; and in a non-agricultural society where we have fertilisers it hardly means anything now—just like harvest festival isn’t the same with tinned goods not fresh produce.

However, if you’re not tied into that view then Frazer’s book is not destructive at all. This is what Aleister Crowley realised—he recommends The Golden Bough to his magical disciples. Why? Because Crowley reverse engineered magic from Frazer’s secular account—whereas Frazer treated all the magical rites and rules he uncovered as inert and “native superstition”, Crowley read about them in Frazer and then applied the principles so described and discovered they worked.

At one point Frazer asks how it could be that men followed magic for millennia when it “clearly didn’t work”—well, have you considered that they followed it for millennia because it clearly did work? Frazer can’t do that because he’s locked into the Protestant-modern conviction that God has recused Himself from the world—ergo, magic couldn’t possibly work; he just read what was once a theological insight back into history—it was impossible for it to work, so it didn’t work. It’s not so.

For the Christian, this is both good and bad news—it’s good news because it means the crucifixion worked, Christ really did take the world’s sins into him; and when you have a wafer at Mass it really is lightening your soul. The bad news is that Frazer shows that Christ was not unique—for the secular materialist, it just shows how primitive beliefs are universal and so debunks religion; but if we accept these rites work then not only did Christ work but so did all those other forgotten humble Greeks in the city-states who were executed to cleanse their communities. That will trouble the Christian, for it is their dogma that Christ was the final revelation—he cancelled all that went before and there is nothing after him (Islam is false, for example). Well, no—that’s just wrong; that’s Christian bigotry I’m afraid—bigotry is a real thing, even if the word is misused.

The Christians have lied to us: they said that sometime after Christ was born the Great God Pan was heard to cry out over the ocean and after that time he withdrew from the world—the oracles, at Delphi and elsewhere, no longer functioned. The pagan gods had withdrawn—the giants, nymphs, and fauns were gone. It’s not true—they’re still here. If you’ve read this blog regularly you’ll know I’ve encountered various star-like entities at the Rollright Stones and Hartsfell—basically, lights at the end of a field. These entities are the gods, fairies, and giants. People who make crop circles—actually magical sigils—report similar “light orbs at the end of the field” and “strange growling sounds” (both of which I have encountered). Now, take this quote from Frazer:

“Further, we are told that in the land of the Bisaltae, a Thracian tribe, there was a great and fair sanctuary of Dionysus, where at his festival a bright light shone forth at night as a token of an abundant harvest vouchsafed by the deity; but if the crops were to fail that year, the mystic light was not seen, darkness brooded over the sanctuary as at other times.”

This “mystic light” is precisely the same as the lights at the end of the field I encountered at the Rollright Stones—that is because the gods are still here. The Christians lied. You can see why the light orbs are associated with crop circles now—they’re the genii loci of the place; they’re the deities, like the mystic light at the sanctuary of Dionysus, that can be invoked via magical operations. I think the death and resurrection took place, but I don’t think it was a unique event—and the Christian claim the pagan gods became inactive after Christ is demonstrably wrong. This is the unexpected insight I have gained from Frazer—ironic, since he himself believed neither in Christ nor the old gods.


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