Am höchsten bewertete kritische Rezension
Inspiring, but not trustworthy
am 13. Oktober 1998
The Golden Bough is indeed a seminal work of early anthropology/folklore studies. However it's no longer held in high esteem in these fields, and for good reason. The major problem with Frazer is his source use. He took citations grossly out of context and made no effort to determine how reliable they were.
Moreoever he took myth literally, assuming that it was a distorted memory of actual events. If Pagan myths involved kings dying, then once upon a time Pagans must really have sacrificed their kings. By this 'logic', Christianity used to involve ritual cannibalism, since during the Eucharist believers eat the blood and body of Christ.
The holiday information is extremely poor, too. Like many 19th century folklorists, Frazer assumed that any "pagan-looking" customs were indeed pre-Christian. He did *no* research in the history of the holidays, and as a result the Golden Bough contains grievous amounts of misinformation. (I say this as a medievalist who's done significant amounts of research myself.)
For example, Frazer was responsible for the tenacious myth that Halloween is a Christianized version of the Celtic Samhain, introduced by the Celtic Church. If you check early Irish martyrologies, you'll find that the Celtic Church actually celebrated All Saints in April, not on Samhain. The October 31st date came from England and/or Germany, not the Celtic Church, making the connection between Samhain and Halloween somewhat obscure. Frazer assumes that Christmas trees are an ancient Pagan custom, when any historical research would reveal that the earliest mention of this custom comes from 16th century Germany.
The Golden Bough has had a tremendous impact on Neo-Paganism and many of the theories are inspiring. For that, for its poetry, I give it credit. But it's not a reliable work on Pagan history -- I'd give Ronald Hutton's _Stations of the Sun_ a much, *much* higher grade for that.