in Magic and Religion (Third Edition, Vol. 11 of 12) by James
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Title: The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
(Third Edition, Vol.
11 of 12)
Author: James George Frazer
Release Date: July 9, 2013 [Ebook 43433]
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK
THE GOLDEN BOUGH: A STUDY IN MAGIC AND
RELIGION (THIRD EDITION, VOL. 11 OF 12)***
A Study in Magic and Religion
James George Frazer, D.C.L., LL.D.,
Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
Professor of Social Anthropology in the University of
Vol. XI. of XII.
Part VII: Balder the Beautiful.
The Fire-Festivals of Europe and the Doctrine of
the External Soul.
Vol. 2 of 2.
New York and London
MacMillan and Co.
Chapter VI. Fire-Festivals in Other Lands. . . . . . . . . .
§ 1. The Fire-walk. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
§ 2. The Meaning of the Fire-walk. . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter VII. The Burning of Human Beings in the Fires. .
§ 1. The Burning of Effigies in the Fires. . . . . . . . .
§ 2. The Burning of Men and Animals in the Fires.
Chapter VIII. The Magic Flowers of Midsummer Eve. . . .
Chapter IX. Balder and the Mistletoe.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter X. The Eternal Soul in Folk-Tales.
Chapter XI. The External Soul in Folk-Custom. . . . . . . 177
§ 1. The External Soul in Inanimate Things. . . . . . . 177
§ 2. The External Soul in Plants. . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
§ 3. The External Soul in Animals. . . . . . . . . . . . 227
§ 4. A Suggested Theory of Totemism. . . . . . . . . . 253
§ 5. The Ritual of Death and Resurrection. . . . . . . . 262
Chapter XII. The Golden Bough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 324
Chapter XIII. Farewell to Nemi. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 353
Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359
I. Snake Stones. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359
II. The Transformation of Witches Into Cats. . . . . . . 359
III. African Balders. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 360
IV. The Mistletoe and the Golden Bough. . . . . . . . 364
Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 373
Footnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 649
the submitter at Distributed Proofreaders, and is being placed
into the public domain.]
At first sight the interpretation of the European fire customs as
charms for making sunshine is confirmed by a parallel custom
observed by the Hindoos of Southern India at the Pongol or
Feast of Ingathering.
The festival is celebrated in the early
part of January, when, according to Hindoo astrologers, the
sun enters the tropic of Capricorn, and the chief event of the
festival coincides with the passage of the sun. For some days
previously the boys gather heaps of sticks, straw, dead leaves,
and everything that will burn. On the morning of the first day
of the festival the heaps are fired. Every street and lane has its
bonfire. The young folk leap over the flames or pile on fresh
fuel. This fire is an offering to Sûrya, the sun-god, or to Agni, the
deity of fire; it “wakes him from his sleep, calling on him again
to gladden the earth with his light and heat.”
If this is indeed
it seems decisive in favour of the solar explanation of the fires;
for to say that the fires waken the sun-god from his sleep is only
a metaphorical or mythical way of saying that they actually help
to rekindle the sun's light and heat. But the hesitation which the
Ch. E. Gover, “The Pongol Festival in Southern India,” Journal of the
writer indicates between the two distinct deities of sun and fire
the rite, not reporting the views of the celebrants. If that is so,
the expression of his opinion has no claim to authority.
Bonfires at the Holi
festival in Northern
India. The village
priest expected to
pass through the
fire. Leaping over
the ashes of the fire
to get rid of disease.
resemblance to the popular European celebrations which we
have been considering is the Holi. This is a village festival held
in early spring at the full moon of the month Phalgun. Large
bonfires are lit and young people dance round them. The people
believe that the fires prevent blight, and that the ashes cure
disease. At Barsana the local village priest is expected to pass
through the Holi bonfire, which, in the opinion of the faithful,
cannot burn him. Indeed he holds his land rent-free simply on
the score of his being fire-proof. On one occasion when the
priest disappointed the expectant crowd by merely jumping over
the outermost verge of the smouldering ashes and then bolting
into his cell, they threatened to deprive him of his benefice if
he did not discharge his spiritual functions better when the next
Holi season came round. Another feature of the festival which
has, or once had, its counterpart in the corresponding European
ceremonies is the unchecked profligacy which prevails among
the Hindoos at this time.
In Kumaon, a district of North-West
festival by cutting down a tree, which is thereupon stripped of its
leaves, decked with shreds of cloth, and burnt at some convenient
place in the quarter of the town inhabited by the clan. Some of
the songs sung on this occasion are of a ribald character. The
W. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India (Westminster,
over a furnace, see Andrew Lang, Modern Mythology (London, 1897), pp.
148-175; id., in Athenaeum, 26th August and 14th October, 1899; id., in
Folk-lore, xii. (1901) pp. 452-455; id., in Folk-lore, xiv. (1903) pp. 87-89. Mr.
Lang was the first to call attention to the wide prevalence of the rite in many
parts of the world.
people leap over the ashes of the fire, believing that they thus
rid themselves of itch and other diseases of the skin. While the
trees are burning, each clan tries to carry off strips of cloth from
the tree of another clan, and success in the attempt is thought to
ensure good luck. In Gwalior large heaps of cow-dung are burnt
instead of trees. Among the Marwaris the festival is celebrated by
the women with obscene songs and gestures. A monstrous and
disgusting image of a certain Nathuram, who is said to have been
blows of shoes and bludgeons while the bonfire of cow-dung is
blazing. No household can be without an image of Nathuram,
and on the night when the bride first visits her husband, the
image of this disreputable personage is placed beside her couch.
Barren women and mothers whose children have died look to
Nathuram for deliverance from their troubles.
to one legend it was instituted in order to get rid of a troublesome
demon (rákshasí). The people were directed to kindle a bonfire
and circumambulate it, singing and uttering fearlessly whatever
might come into their minds. Appalled by these vociferations,
by the oblations to fire, and by the laughter of the children, the
demon was to be destroyed.
In the Chinese province of Fo-Kien we also meet with a vernal
ensure an abundant
Ashes of the fire
fodder of the cattle.
festival of fire which may be compared to the fire-festivals of
Europe. The ceremony, according to an eminent authority, is a
solar festival in honour of the renewal of vegetation and of the
vernal warmth. It falls in April, on the thirteenth day of the third
month in the Chinese calendar, and is doubtless connected with
Pandit Janardan Joshi, in North Indian Notes and Queries, iii. pp. 92
E. T. Atkinson, “Notes on the History of Religion in the Himalayas of the
1884) p. 60. Compare W. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern
the ancient custom of renewing the fire, which, as we saw, used
The chief performers in
days, and fast for three days before the festival. During these
days they are taught in the temple how to discharge the difficult
and dangerous duty which is to be laid upon them. On the eve of
the festival an enormous brazier of charcoal, sometimes twenty
feet wide, is prepared in front of the temple of the Great God, the
protector of life. At sunrise next morning the brazier is lighted
and kept burning by fresh supplies of fuel. A Taoist priest
throws a mixture of salt and rice on the fire to conjure the flames
and followed by two peasants, traverse the fire again and again
till it is somewhat beaten down. Meantime the procession is
forming in the temple. The image of the god of the temple is
placed in a sedan-chair, resplendent with red paint and gilding,
and is carried forth by a score or more of barefooted peasants.
On the shafts of the sedan-chair, behind the image, stands a
magician with a dagger stuck through the upper parts of his
arms and grasping in each hand a great sword, with which he
essays to deal himself violent blows on the back; however, the
strokes as they descend are mostly parried by peasants, who walk
behind him and interpose bamboo rods between his back and the
swords. Wild music now strikes up, and under the excitement
caused by its stirring strains the procession passes thrice across
the furnace. At their third passage the performers are followed
by other peasants carrying the utensils of the temple; and the
rustic mob, electrified by the frenzied spectacle, falls in behind.
Strange as it may seem, burns are comparatively rare. Inured
from infancy to walking barefoot, the peasants can step with
impunity over the glowing charcoal, provided they plant their
feet squarely and do not stumble; for usage has so hardened
See above, vol. i. pp. 136 sq.
their soles that the skin is converted into a sort of leathery or
horny substance which is almost callous to heat. But sometimes,
when they slip and a hot coal touches the sides of their feet or
ankles, they may be seen to pull a wry face and jump out of the
furnace amid the laughter of the spectators. When this part of
the ceremony is over, the procession defiles round the village,
and the priests distribute to every family a leaf of yellow paper
inscribed with a magic character, which is thereupon glued over
the door of the house. The peasants carry off the charred embers
from the furnace, pound them to ashes, and mix the ashes with
the fodder of their cattle, believing that it fattens them. However,
the Chinese Government disapproves of these performances, and
next morning a number of the performers may generally be seen
in the hands of the police, laid face downwards on the ground
and receiving a sound castigation on a part of their person which
is probably more sensitive than the soles of their feet.
In this last festival the essential feature of the ceremony
men through the
fire in India.
appears to be the passage of the image of the deity across the
fire; it may be compared to the passage of the straw effigy of
Kupalo across the midsummer bonfire in Russia.
As we shall see
rites designed to produce light and warmth by subjecting the
deity himself to the heat and glow of the furnace; and where,
as at Barsana, priests or sorcerers have been accustomed in
the discharge of their functions to walk through or over fire,
they have sometimes done so as the living representatives or
embodiments of deities, spirits, or other supernatural beings.
G. Schlegel, Uranographie Chinoise (The Hague and Leyden, 1875), pp.
à Java,” Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie, ix. (1896) pp. 193-195.
Compare J. J. M. de Groot, The Religious System of China, vi. (Leyden, 1910)
pp. 1292 sq. According to Professor Schlegel, the connexion between this
festival and the old custom of solemnly extinguishing and relighting the fire in
spring is unquestionable.
The Dying God, p. 262.
Some confirmation of this view is furnished by the beliefs and
Nagpur. On the fifth, tenth, and full-moon days of three months
in the year, the priest walks over a narrow trench filled with
smouldering wood ashes, and is supposed thus to be inspired
by the tribal god Rahu, who becomes incarnate in him for a
time. Full of the spirit and also, it is surmised, of drink, the
man of god then mounts a bamboo platform, where he sings
hymns and distributes to the crowd leaves of tulsi, which cure
incurable diseases, and flowers which cause barren women to
become happy mothers. The service winds up with a feast lasting
far into the night, at which the line that divides religious fervour
from drunken revelry cannot always be drawn with absolute
Similarly the Bhuiyas, a Dravidian tribe of Mirzapur,
by the hero does not feel any pain in the soles of his feet.
Ceremonies of this sort used to be observed in most districts of
in time of sickness or distress, sometimes periodically in honour
of a deity. Where the ceremony was observed periodically, it
generally occurred in March or June, which are the months of the
vernal equinox and the summer solstice respectively. A narrow
trench, sometimes twenty yards long and half a foot deep, was
filled with small sticks and twigs, mostly of tamarind, which
(Sir) H. H. Risley, Tribes and Castes of Bengal, Ethnographic Glossary
to Sir Herbert Risley, the trench filled with smouldering ashes is so narrow
(only a span and a quarter wide) “that very little dexterity would enable a man
to walk with his feet on either edge, so as not to touch the smouldering ashes
at the bottom.”
W. Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh,
were kindled and kept burning till they sank into a mass of
glowing embers. Along this the devotees, often fifty or sixty in
succession, walked, ran, or leaped barefoot. In 1854 the Madras
Government instituted an enquiry into the custom, but found that
it was not attended by danger or instances of injury sufficient to
call for governmental interference.
The French traveller Sonnerat has described how, in the
eighteenth century, the Hindoos celebrated a fire-festival of this
sort in honour of the god Darma Rajah and his wife Drobedé
who had vowed to take part in it were bound to fast, to practise
continence, to sleep on the ground without a mat, and to walk
on a furnace. On the eighteenth day the images of Darma Rajah
and his spouse were carried in procession to the furnace, and the
performers followed dancing, their heads crowned with flowers
and their bodies smeared with saffron. The furnace consisted
prove fatal, and such an accident is known to have occurred at a village in
Bengal. See H. J. Stokes, “Walking through Fire,” Indian Antiquary, ii. (1873)
pp. 190 sq. At Afkanbour, five days' march from Delhi, the Arab traveller Ibn
Batutah saw a troop of fakirs dancing and even rolling on the glowing embers
of a wood fire. See Voyages d'Ibn Batoutah (Paris, 1853-1858), ii. 6 sq., iii.
M. J. Walhouse, “Passing through the Fire,” Indian Antiquary, vii. (1878)
126 sq. Compare J. A. Dubois, Mœurs, Institutions et Cérémonies
373; E. Thurston, Ethnographic
At Akka timanhully, one of the many villages which help to make up the
town of Bangalore in Southern India, one woman at least from every house
is expected to walk through the fire at the village festival. Captain J. S. F.
Mackenzie witnessed the ceremony in 1873. A trench, four feet long by two
feet wide, was filled with live embers. The priest walked through it thrice,
and the women afterwards passed through it in batches. Capt. Mackenzie
remarks: “From the description one reads of walking through fire, I expected
something sensational. Nothing could be more tame than the ceremony we saw
performed; in which there never was nor ever could be the slightest danger to
of a trench about forty feet long, filled with hot embers. When
walked over the embers, faster or slower, according to the degree
of their religious fervour, some carrying their children in their
arms, others brandishing spears, swords, and standards. This
part of the ceremony being over, the bystanders hastened to rub
their foreheads with ashes from the furnace, and to beg from the
performers the flowers which they had worn in their hair; and
such as obtained them preserved the flowers carefully. The rite
was performed in honour of the goddess Drobedé (Draupadi),
the heroine of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. For
she married five brothers all at once; every year she left one
of her husbands to betake herself to another, but before doing
so she had to purify herself by fire. There was no fixed date
for the celebration of the rite, but it could only be held in one
of the first three months of the year.
In some villages the
the expense every year, it is observed either at longer intervals,
perhaps once in three, seven, ten, or twelve years, or only in
special emergencies, such as the outbreak of smallpox, cholera,
or plague. Anybody but a pariah or other person of very low
degree may take part in the ceremony in fulfilment of a vow.
For example, if a man suffers from some chronic malady, he
may vow to Draupadi that, should he be healed of his disease,
he will walk over the fire at her festival. As a preparation for
the solemnity he sleeps in the temple and observes a fast. The
celebration of the rite in any village is believed to protect the
cattle and the crops and to guard the inhabitants from dangers of
life. Some young girl, whose soles were tender, might next morning find that
she had a blister, but this would be the extent of harm she could receive.” See
Captain J. S. F. Mackenzie, “The Village Feast,” Indian Antiquary, iii. (1874)
pp. 6-9. But to fall on the hot embers might result in injuries which would
Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes orientales et à la Chine (Paris, 1782), i. 247
all kinds. When it is over, many people carry home the holy
ashes of the fire as a talisman which will drive away devils and
The Badagas, an agricultural tribe of the Neilgherry Hills in
Sacred fire made by
Cattle driven over
the hot embers. The
by a libation of
milk and followed
by ploughing and
parts of their country. For example, at Nidugala the festival is
held with much ceremony in the month of January. Omens are
taken by boiling two pots of milk side by side on two hearths.
If the milk overflows uniformly on all sides, the crops will be
abundant for all the villages; but if it flows over on one side
only, the harvest will be good for villages on that side only. The
sacred fire is made by friction, a vertical stick of Rhodomyrtus
thick bough of Debregeasia velutina. With this holy flame a heap
of wood of two sorts, the Eugenia Jambolana and Phyllanthus
Emblica, is kindled, and the hot embers are spread over a fire-
pit about five yards long and three yards broad. When all is
ready, the priest ties bells on his legs and approaches the fire-pit,
carrying milk freshly drawn from a cow which has calved for the
first time, and also bearing flowers of Rhododendron arboreum,
Leucas aspera, or jasmine. After doing obeisance, he throws
the flowers on the embers and then pours some of the milk over
them. If the omens are propitious, that is, if the flowers remain
for a few seconds unscorched and the milk does not hiss when it
falls on the embers, the priest walks boldly over the embers and is
followed by a crowd of celebrants, who before they submit to the
ordeal count the hairs on their feet. If any of the hairs are found to
be singed after the passage through the fire-pit, it is an ill omen.
Madras Government Museum, Bulletin, vol. iv. No. 1 (Madras, 1901), pp.
55-59; E. Thurston, Ethnographic Notes in Southern India (Madras, 1906), pp.
471-474. One of the places where the fire-festival in honour of Draupadi takes
place annually is the Allandur Temple, at St. Thomas's Mount, near Madras.
Compare “Fire-walking Ceremony at the Dharmaraja Festival,” The Quarterly
Journal of the Mythic Society, vol. ii. No. 1 (October, 1910), pp. 29-32.