Frazer’s Razor

Abhishek VR
1 min readApr 10, 2021


· “The popular explanation of a popular custom is never to be rejected except for grave cause.”

Application in James G. Frazer’s explanation of fire-festivals among ancient European peoples:

· Description of the fire-festivals: kindling of great bonfires, leaping over them, driving cattle through or round them; races with blazing torches round fields, orchards, pastures, cattle-stalls, etc.

Solar theory:

o The fire-festivals are sun-charms that work on the principle of imitative magic, to ensure a supply of sunshine for men and agriculture.

o Supported by the festivals coinciding with the dates of the solstices.

Purificatory theory:

o Fire as a cleansing agent, burning up noxious elements, mainly witches.

· Frazer inclines towards the purificatory theory, partly on the grounds that “the people who practise the fire-customs appear never to allege the solar theory in explanation of them, while on the contrary they do frequently and emphatically put forward the purificatory theory.”

· Gaston Bachelard, in The Psychoanalysis of Fire, proceeds to analyse fire in primitive mentality. The notion of Novalis’ complex is compelling.

Caveats associated with Frazer’s Razor:

o The popular explanation should not be dismissed without consideration, but neither should it be accepted wholesale without suspicion.

o It ignores unconscious motives behind a people’s behaviour, and their tendency to dissemble.