To walk alongside: Myth, magic, and mind in The Golden Bough

Victor Kumar


Can The Golden Bough be taken seriously in this day and age? Or, is it time to let go of this Tylorian survival that today stands largely uncited except as an example or error? In this article, I return to The Golden Bough with the idea that if it is in error, then the nature of this error also deserves attention. Using Lévi-Strauss’ approach to the analysis of myth, I investigate the tension between Frazer’s classical exegesis of the priesthood at Nemi and the scientific aspirations of his comparative study. These very different projects are each associated with narrative forms and are caught between enforcing the distinction between the truth of science and the error of magic and upholding their continuity (as common products of the human mind). Looking at Frazer and Lévi-Strauss, I seek to recover some fragment of the spirit of their inquiry and uncover the mind as their fundament. With their notion of mind in sight, I find inspiration for a new model of ethnography, one based not on understanding the mind of another but on attending to worlds that open when walking alongside them. 


The Golden Bough, mind, myth, science, ethnographic reading

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.2.016