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Sir James George Frazer
Written and compiled by George Knowles
Sir James George Frazer was a leading Anthropologist, Folklorist and Classical Scholar. A respected academic by his peers and colleagues he devoted much of his life researching the early history of mankind, on which he studied, wrote and theorized about the early magical thinking into religious thought. His most famous book The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion became an instant classic when first it was published in 1890.
James George Frazer was a Scotsman, born in Blythswood Square, Glasgow on the 1st January 1854. He was the eldest of four children born by his father Daniel F. Frazer (1821–1900) and his mother Katherine Frazer, nee Bogle (d. 1899). Katherine’s grandfather was George Bogle who is reported to have been Warren Hasting’ envoy to Tibet in 1774. His father Daniel was a wealthy partner in the long-established firm of chemists Frazer and Green, he was also a devout follower of the Free Church of Scotland into whose doctrines James was raised.
In the mid-1860s his father Daniel purchased a new property at Helensburgh on the Gareloch. James was enthralled with his new home and spent many hours after school roaming the Loch. There surrounded by mountains and forests, the loch-breeze-wind rippling his shirt and blowing through his hair, he would listen to the faintly echoing bells of the church at Helensburgh. James was so enchanted by the place that well into his middle years, he spent many of his holidays at Helensburgh. Later he would associate the bells he first heard at Helensburgh with the “Bells of Lake Nemi” in his book: The Golden Bough.
James was first educated at Springfield Academy and then enrolled at the Larchfield Academy in Helensburgh. There he was tutored by his headmaster Alexander Mackenzie and excelled in Latin and Greek. Later in 1869 he entered Glasgow University and there studied Latin under George Gilbert Ramsey, Rhetoric under John Veitch and Physics under Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thomson) the originator of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. James graduated from Glasgow University with a MA in 1874.
In 1874 James moved to Cambridge and began studying at Trinity Collage. He graduated Cambridge with first-class honors in the Classics tripos in 1878, and due to a dissertation on Plato, was elected to a Title Alpha Fellowship in 1879. Over the coming years his fellowship would be renewed three times, in 1885, 1890 and 1895.
He next moved on to London and there entered the Middle Temple studying Law. This he did more to appease his father who felt he was wasting his talents on academic subjects and needed a working trade so to speak. Four years later in 1882, James was called to the bar but never took up the practice. Instead he chose to continue his preference for Philosophy and Anthropology. He returned to Cambridge and embarked on a sustained program of research and writing, starting first with a translation and commentary on Paesanias, a Greek travel writer of the second century. A work he finally finished with six volumes in 1898.
It was at Cambridge that James met and developed a friendship with the Scottish biblical scholar William Robertson Smith, who later became editor of the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It was one of Smith’s works called Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (1889) that inspired James to consider applying comparative ethnographic methods to the study of ancient religions. One of the methods James used in his research was to send out questionnaires to all Missionaries, Doctors and Administrators throughout the empire. He requested information on the customs, habits and beliefs of all local inhabitants, a mammoth undertaking in those years. His comparative study of the incoming information lead to his first book: Totemism (Adam and Charles Black, Edinburgh, 1887).
Three years later in 1890 James published what would become his most celebrated work: The Golden Bough (Macmillan). This first edition was in two volumes and became an instant classical best seller. He would later expand this book with two increasing editions. The second edition in 1900 was in three volumes and the third edition in 1915 had twelve volumes.
James spent the next six years traveling extensively in Europe preparing to resume his work on Pausanias. Starting in Greece he visited such places as, Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Ithome, Olympia, Helicon, Thebes, Aegion and Delphi before returning to Cambridge. Back in Cambridge he met and married Elisabeth Johanna de Boys (nicknamed Lilly) on the 22nd April 1896. Lilly was a daughter of Sigismund Adelsdorfer, a French merchant, and widow of Charles Baylee Grove, a master mariner with whom she had two children. James, Lilly and her two growing daughters all lived together in Cambridge, although James constantly complained about the noise her daughter’s made. Lilly however was a devoted wife and a French authority on the ethnology of the dance, she did much to promote his work in France, Germany and Italy, where later he became widely known.
In 1904 James studied Hebrew under the tutelage of Robert H. Kennett, then in 1908 was elected to the first Chair of Social Anthropology in Britain and based at the University of Liverpool. James however never liked Liverpool and soon became disgruntled. He disliked the noise and bustle of the large industrial city and longed for the tranquility, peace and quiet of the tended parks and gardens in Cambridge. He returned to Cambridge a year later and continued his research and writings. In 1914 at the start of the Great World War, James was knighted and became known as “Sir James”.
Sir James and Lady Frazer spend the war years sequester in a small flat in the Middle Temple, London to which Sir James’s nominal membership of the bar entitled him. Lady Frazer devoted herself to guarding his peace, encouraging him to write and continue his researches. During the post war years they traveled much of the continent together pursuing his research. Then in 1930 while giving a speech at the annual dinner of the Royal Literary Fund, Sir James was suddenly struck down with blindness as his eyes filled with blood.
Despite this handicap, Sir James simply engaged secretaries and amanuenses to write his dictation and continued on with his work. He maintained his unstinting out put until he died of natural causes on the 7th May 1941 at Fen Causeway in Cambridge. Just a few hours later his devoted wife Lilly followed him from this world. They were buried together side-by-side in St Giles’s Cemetery, Cambridge.
Final resting place of James Frazer and his wife Lilly
His book “The Golden Bough” greatly inspired the likes of Gerald B. Gardner and other early pioneers of the Wicca/ Witchcraft movement. His depiction of Rex Nemorensis as the King of the woods and Diana as Queen of the Witches, formed the theology and basic structure of many eclectic traditions and groups practicing today. While his books contain a storehouse of ethnographical information, academics and scholars of today while respecting his early work, now dismiss his findings and theories as belonging in the past, outdated by the current orientation of anthropology in light of new studies in Archaeology and History.
Sir James was a prolific writer through the course of his lifetime, not only of books but also as a translator of old manuscripts from Hebrew, Latin and Greek. He also received many academic honor’s, including: Fellow of the British Academy; Hon. Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universities of Paris and Strasbourg; Associate Member of the Institut de France; Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur; Commander of the Order of Leopold (Belgium); Corresponding Member of the Prussian Academy of Science; and Extraordinary Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science.
A select bibliography:
THE GOLDEN BOUGH, 1890 (2 vols.)
TRANSLATION OF PAUSANIAS’S: DESCRIPTION OF GREECE, 1897.
GOLDEN BOUGH, SECOND EDITION, 1900 (3 vols.)
PAUSANIAS AND OTHER GREEK SKETCHES, 1900 (reissued as Studies in Greek Scenery, Legend and History, 1917)
LECTURE ON THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE KINGSHIP, 1905 (reissued as The Magical Origins of Kings, 1920
ADONIS, ATTIS, OSIRIS, 1906
PSYCHE'S TASK, 1909
TOTEMISM AND EXOGAMY, 1910 (4 vols.)
THE DYING GOD, 1911
THE MAGIC ART AND THE EVOLUTION OF KINGS, 1911 (2 vols.)
TABOO AND PERILS OF THE SOUL, 1911
Ed.: LETTERS OF WILLIAM COWPER, 1912
SPIRITS OF THE CORN AND OF THE WILD, 1912 (2 vols.)
THE SCAPEGOAT, 1913
BALDER THE BEAUTIFUL, 1913 (2 vols.)
GOLDEN BOUGH, 1911-1915 (12 vols. - abridged edition in 1922)
Ed.: ESSAYS OF JOSEPH ADDISON, 1915
THE BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY AND THE WORSHIP OF THE DEAD, 1913-24
FOLKLORE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, 1918 (3 vols.)
SIR ROGER DE COVERLY AND OTHER LITERARY PIECES, 1920
Ed. and transl.: The Library by Apollodorus, 1921 (2 vols.)
THE WORSHIP OF NATURE, 1926
THE GORGON'S HEAD AND OTHER LITERARY PIECES, 1927
Ed. and transl.: Fasti by Ovid, 1929 (5 vols.)
THE GROWTH OF PLATO'S IDEAL THEORY, 1930
GRAECIA ANTIQUA (compiled with A.W. Van Buren), 1930
MYTHS OF THE ORIGIN OF FIRE, 1930
GARNERED SHEAVES, 1931
THE FEAR OF THE DEAD IN PRIMITIVE RELIGION, 1933-36 (3 vols.)
CREATION AND EVOLUTION IN PRIMITIVE COSMOGONIES AND OTHER PIECES, 1935
AFTERMATH: A SUPPLEMENT TO THE GOLDEN BOUGH, 1936
TOTEMICA: A SUPPLEMENT TO TOTEMISM AND EXOGAMY, 1937
ANTHOLOGIA ANTHROPOLOGICA, 1938-39 (4 vols.)
MAGIC AND RELIGION, 1944
Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi
The Golden Bough - By Oxford World's Classics
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004
Who Was Who, A & C Black 1920–2008; online edn. Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
First published on the 23rd March 2001, updated 07th May 2009 © George Knowles
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The Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) / Esbats & Full Moons / Links to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft Resources / What's a spell? / Circle Casting and Sacred Space / Pentagram - Pentacle / Marks of a Witch / The Witches Power / The Witches Hat / An esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism / Pow-wow / The Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / A history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope Innocent VIII / The papal Bull / The Malleus Maleficarum / An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum / The letter of approbation / Johann Nider’s Formicarius / Jacob Sprenger / Heinrich Kramer / Stefano Infessura / Montague Summers / The Waldenses / The Albigenses / The Hussites / The Native American Sun Dance / Shielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Festivals:
The Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Rituals contributed by Crone:
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder
Rocks and Stones:
Stones - History, Myths and Lore
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:
Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Wisdom and Inspiration:
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murdered by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A Kelly / Albertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Henry Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake / Fiona Horne / Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred / John Michael Greer / John Score / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" / Laurie Cabot - "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" / Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Olivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" / Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) / Rudolf Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough" / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - (includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / Walter Ernest Butler / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest /
Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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