In James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, one is caught up in the drama of a dark and sleeping earth warmed into renewed life by the reviving sun, which also seems in the end to symbolize, for author and reader of a dark world inhabited by the confused thoughts of ignorant and frightened men who finally see the illumination of their darkness and gloom through the acquisition of knowledge and science.It all began as a limited study of a certain ancient ritual at the Grove of Nemi in ancient Italy where the priest, the “King of the Wood”, had to slay his predecessor in order to take up his role. Gradually, the study expanded to involve the association of ideas from aspects of “primitive” magic and religion throughout the world.
The ancient cult of Dionysus partook in orgiastic festivals whose aim was mystical communion with Dionysus and whom religious frenzy was induced by wine, women and song…..This marriage between the cult of passion and the cult of celebrity is steeped in the innocent belief that a life and death ruled by passion is noble because it is instinctual and pure. The glorification of the hero who lives the life and dies the death of Dionysus is an extreme form of cultural primitivism, transposed onto a modern template of mass communications and mediatization; the ancient sacrificial sense of carrying the sins of society and theoretically removing them of it requires larger doses of sacrifice to feed the Moloch. The Western world’s and especially America’s heroic ideal remains anchored upon the notion of innocence…
These celebrations were of particular importance at the beginning of spring, when they marked the return of life after winter. They were thus death-and-rebirth celebrations, and it is in light of this that Dionysus was a god who died young but always rose again. In this there is a parallel to Christ, who also rose at springtime, as celebrated during the Easter holiday.( Gellert)
To James Frazer in The Golden Bough, far more important than the interpretation of a particular and obscure rite is the evolutionary drama of the transition from magic to religion and the theories of the mental processes underlying them. Frazer’s interest was in primitive psychology but even here he had a tendency to change his interpretations. The criticism to Frazer’s interpretations; such as magic always precedes religion or that primitives have no notion of cause and effect, against all evidence, went beyond the specifics and into his whole strategy: the way examples are presented torn from their social context and habitual everyday behavior and strung together to form a speculative evolutionary sequence of primitive metaphysical ideas. What results is a standardization and caricature, that ultimately sought to justify the values of science and the technological age, “progress”. Savages, with Frazer acting as impressario, provided an endlessly fascinating menagerie of exotic human behavior.
The savage was absurd and one could look down on him, but he was also uncomfortably close. Science was destined everywhere in the 1920’s to supercede and extinguish superstition- but was it? Frazer, like Freud, another rationalist who devoted his life to studying the irrational, had a powerful and alarmed sense that underneath the civilized and rational surface of life there lay a dormant volcano of non-rational forces.
Not the least of The Golden Bough’s attractions were its references to a ritual and pagan origin of Christianity. Eating the God, the title of one of the chapters, was a common ritual practice rooted in magic. So was hanging divine scapegoats on a tree and even piercing their sides with a spear, that they might take upon themselves the sins of the people.
“For Frazer, ritual practitioners are stricken with a basic misunderstanding of the practical principles that govern
reality. The reasoning that supports the ritual structure is faulty; it is a mistake. And, working from a faulty beginning, the end is faulty as well, forever consigning magic to be that false and barren bastard sister of science….As a first step, Wittgenstein rejects Frazer’s notion that magico-religious practice is founded on a basic mistake in reasoning, essentially a kind of persistent stupidity, where the ritual practitioner insists on the correctness of his action in spite of its direct contradiction by the nature of reality….At any rate, Wittgenstein goes on to point out that ritual practitioners, or ‘savages,’ have a clear understanding of what science is and what it should be used for, and they separate it from the things that should be addressed by ritual.
“The same savage who, apparently in order to kill his enemy, sticks his knife through a picture of him, really does build his hut of wood and cuts his arrow with skill and not in effigy.” This is to say, where science is needed, science is used. And it is used correctly. Only when there is some need to accomplish or comment on something beyond the bounds of science, do men turn to magico-religious practices. Read More:http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/cgi/viewcontent.crticle=1018&context=philo&sei-redir=1#search=%22james+frazer+wittgenstein%22
Gellert: Dionysus died from dismemberment, and, in a manner of speaking, so did Elvis. Drugs, insomnia, exhaustion, the struggle to force his body to stay forever young and trim, and an insatiable appetite for adulation but a debilitating emptiness within, all contributed to his depression and falling apart. A Dionysian death raises the hero’s demise to dramatic proportions as unequivocally as would an assassination, thereby also assuring his immortality in the public’s memory. The hero who dies from having surrendered to the passions would in olden times have been looked upon as having made the ultimate self-sacrifice to the gods, or at least to the god Dionysus. In modern times, although such an act is condemned as a waste, it is, paradoxically, still held in awe. This is because a life that is so engulfed in passion that it leads to death is one that for many is secretly attractive. Read More:http://www.michaelgellert.com/pdf/fateofamerica_chapter14.pdf