Frazer’s Razor

· “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.

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.

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.

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.



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