Understanding the Fire-Festivals: Wittgenstein and Theories in Religion1: RICHARD H. BELL

Religious Studies 14 (1):113-124 (1978)
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Abstract

The riddle Frazer confronts us with in The Golden Bough is posed in the form of a question. ‘Why is this happening?’ - this life and death of the King of the Wood at Nemi? In the related context of his accounts of the fire-festivals in Europe, Frazer refines the question in a more dramatic form: ‘What is the meaning of such sacrifices? Why were men and animals burnt to death at these festivals?’ Frazer recognizes something serious in all this. The practice of human sacrifice is puzzling; it does leave us disquieted! But Frazer's search for what he calls ‘a fairly probable explanation’ of the motives which gave rise to the priesthood of Nemi and its embodiment of the practice of human sacrifice, Wittgenstein in his ‘Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough’ feels, does not help us to understand a practice like the burning of a man! With all the additional data, numerous theories, and the historical tracing of origins we are no closer to resolving the perplexities of the riddle than the riddle itself presents to us daily

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