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The Killing of the Tree-Spirit

  • James George Frazer

Abstract

It remains to ask what light the custom of killing the divine king or priest sheds upon the special subject of our enquiry. In an earlier part of this work we saw reason to suppose that the King of the Wood at Nemi was regarded as an incarnation of a tree-spirit or of the spirit of vegetation, and that as such he would be endowed, in the belief of his worshippers, with a magical power of making the trees to bear fruit, the crops to grow, and so on. His life must therefore have been held very precious by his worshippers, and was probably hedged in by a system of elaborate precautions or taboos like those by which, in so many places, the life of the man-god has been guarded against the malignant influence of demons and sorcerers. But we have seen that the very value attached to the life of the man-god necessitates his violent death as the only means of preserving it from the inevitable decay of age. The same reasoning would apply to the King of the Wood; he, too, had to be killed in order that the divine spirit, incarnate in him, might be transferred in its integrity to his successor. The rule that he held office till a stronger should slay him might be supposed to secure both the preservation of his divine life in full vigour and its transference to a suitable successor as soon as that vigour began to be impaired.

Keywords

Violent Death White Cloth Divine Life White Shirt Avowed Intention 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • James George Frazer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.OxfordUK
  3. 3.Cambridge and DurhamUK
  4. 4.GlasgowUK
  5. 5.Universities of Paris and StrasbourgFrance

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