The Golden Bough Readalong, Part the Ninth
OK, so the whole 'readalong' thing is maybe not quite true any more, but no matter. I'm keeping the post series title anyway. I did, in fact, take a little extra time off and only got back on the wagon in this last couple of weeks. It's not easy to keep the momentum going for this long! But I'm now over 600 pages along; only 200ish more to go. Stay on target!
Some of these were very long chapters filled with accounts of various religious practices. He got very long-winded and I couldn't always see the point (besides anthropological interest, but he was explaining these in much more detail than usual). The general theme was practices around animals, and it's a bit of a hodgepodge honestly. Frazer could get any meaning he wanted out of this stuff.
XLIX. Ancient Deities of Vegetation as Animals.
- Dionysus, the Goat and the Bull: Certain animals were generally sacred to particular deities, and the corn-spirit is often represented as an animal too. Probably these things are connected. Dionysis, of course, was closely associated with goats (wood-spirits!). Oxen were also used in sacrificing to Dionysus.
- Demeter, the Pig and the Horse: the pig was associated with Demeter, and in Europe pigs are often shown as corn-spirits. Is the pig Demeter's enemy (because pigs destroy crops), or an earlier animal form of the goddess herself? Horses went with her too.
- Attis, Adonis, and the Pig: An animal which is sacred is often not eaten, and Attis-worshipers avoided eating pigs. So maybe the pig was Attis' original form. In which case maybe ancient Israelites also worshiped pigs! (He's having it both ways here: a sacred animal isn't eaten, except maybe during sacramental rituals, unless it is eaten, which also happens. Frazer wins either way.)
- Osiris, the Pig and the Bull: Egyptians didn't like pigs and considered them unclean, but that could also mean it's sacred, since they sacrificed pigs to Osiris once a year and ate their flesh then. Perhaps pigs were so powerful in their magical power that to touch them would injure you. Thus unclean animals could be sacred, too. (Frazer here cites the capiai of Surinam, which he describes as being like a pig; a capiai is a capybara, a giant rodent.)
- Virbius and the Horse: Now that we've talked about all these animal sacrifices and practices, we can talk about Virbius, the King of the Wood. Corn-spirits are often represented as horses too, so perhaps the horses that were supposed to have killed Virbius were really early versions of him as a spirit of vegetation.
L. Eating the God.
- The Sacrament of First-Fruits: Endless examples of various peoples' harvest rituals.
- Eating the God Among the Aztecs: Ancient Aztecs did it too!
- Many Manii at Aricia: Description of Roman practices.
LI. Homoeopathic Magic of a Flesh Diet: Many peoples have believed in eating certain parts of a strong animal in order to absorb its strength, or swiftness, etc. You could even do this with a human enemy (zillion examples here). So killing and eating the corn-spirit would also transfer the power.
LII. Killing the Divine Animal. (So many examples, I'm going to skim.)
- Killing the Sacred Buzzard: I don't know why he starts with California Natives, but he does, and describes one tribe's former ritual practices. I looked it up, and what Frazer describes as "the great buzzard" is the California condor; which is indeed a type of vulture, albeit one with a 10-foot wingspan. It was practically extinct when I was a kid (due to a mix of hunting and environmental factors), but through massive conservation efforts is now making something of a comeback.
- ...Bear: Fifteen solid pages of bear worship and sacrifice among various peoples.
LIII. The Propitiation of Wild Animals by Hunters: Quite a long piece describing various practices around the world, illustrating beliefs about apologizing to animals for killing them, reverence for animals, and totemic beliefs about being related to a particular animal.
LIV. Types of Animal Sacrament.
- The Egyptian and the Aino Types of Sacrament: Frazer finally gets around to producing a sort of thesis out this hodgepodge of material, involving two types of worship: "On the one hand, animals are worshipped, and are therefore neither killed nor eaten. On the other hand, animals are worshipped because they are habitually killed and eaten. In both types of worship the animal is revered on account of some benefit, positive or negative...In the former worship the benefit comes either in the positive shape of protection, advice, and help which the animal affords the man, or in the negative shape of abstinence from injuries which it is in the power of the animal to inflict. In the latter worship the benefit takes the material form of the animal’s flesh and skin. The two types of worship are in some measure antithetical: in the one, the animal is not eaten because it is revered; in the other, it is revered because it is eaten. But both may be practised by the same people..." Then he talk about the Egyptians and the Ainu.
- Processions With Sacred Animals: People may parade an animal around the village, so that each house can be blessed. Examples, then a discourse on the hunting of the wren (Brittany, Isle of Man, and Ireland).
We have now seen that the corn-spirit is represented sometimes in human, sometimes in animal form, and that in both cases he is killed in the person of his representative and eaten sacramentally. To find examples of actually killing the human representative of the corn-spirit we had naturally to go [back]; but the harvest-suppers of our European peasants have furnished unmistakable examples of the sacramental eating of animals as representatives of the corn-spirit. But further, as might have been anticipated, the new corn is itself eaten sacramentally, that is, as the body of the corn-spirit. In Wermland, Sweden, the farmer’s wife uses the grain of the last sheaf to bake a loaf in the shape of a little girl; this loaf is divided amongst the whole household and eaten by them. Here the loaf represents the corn-spirit conceived as a maiden; just as in Scotland the corn-spirit is similarly conceived and represented by the last sheaf made up in the form of a woman and bearing the name of the Maiden. As usual, the corn-spirit is believed to reside in the last sheaf; and to eat a loaf made from the last sheaf is, therefore, to eat the corn-spirit itself.
[On tigers] The Miris of Assam prize tiger’s flesh as food for men; it gives them strength and courage. But “it is not suited for women; it would make them too strong-minded.” In Corea the bones of tigers fetch a higher price than those of leopards as a means of inspiring courage. A Chinaman in Seoul bought and ate a whole tiger to make himself brave and fierce. [This just reminded me of the modern superstitions that still exist around certain animals, especially the tiger and rhinoceros, and the tragic devastation wrought upon the species thereby.]
The people of X think that the liver is the seat of the soul, and that a man may enlarge his soul by eating the liver of an animal. “Whenever an animal is killed its liver is taken out and eaten, but the people are most careful not to touch it with their hands, as it is considered sacred; it is cut up in small pieces and eaten raw, the bits being conveyed to the mouth on the point of a knife, or the sharp point of a stick. Any one who may accidentally touch the liver is strictly forbidden to partake of it, which prohibition is regarded as a great misfortune for him.” Women are not allowed to eat liver, because they have no soul. [Thanks guys.]
It is now easy to understand why a [person] should desire to partake of the flesh of an animal or man whom he regards as divine. By eating the body of the god he shares in the god’s attributes and powers. And when the god is a corn-god, the corn is his proper body; when he is a vine-god, the juice of the grape is his blood; and so by eating the bread and drinking the wine the worshipper partakes of the real body and blood of his god. Thus the drinking of wine in the rites of a vine-god like Dionysus is not an act of revelry, it is a solemn sacrament. Yet a time comes when reasonable men find it hard to understand how any one in his senses can suppose that by eating bread or drinking wine he consumes the body or blood of a deity. “When we call corn Ceres and wine Bacchus,” says Cicero, “we use a common figure of speech; but do you imagine that anybody is so insane as to believe that the thing he feeds upon is a god?” [Another point where some Christians might not have been too happy with Frazer.]
So that was all fine, but it does seem to me that, while Frazer has a point, he's also able to take whatever he wants out of all this. Also, these chapters are unconscionably long!