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The Golden Bough
James George Frazer
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Chapter 33. The Gardens of Adonis
PERHAPS the best proof that Adonis was a deity of vegetation, and especially of the
corn, is furnished by the gardens of Adonis, as they were called. These were baskets or
pots filled with earth, in which wheat, barley, lettuces, fennel, and various kinds of
flowers were sown and tended for eight days, chiefly or exclusively by women. Fostered
by the sun's heat, the plants shot up rapidly, but having no root they withered as rapidly
away, and at the end of eight days were carried out with the images of the dead Adonis,
and flung with them into the sea or into springs.
These gardens of Adonis are most naturally interpreted as representatives of Adonis or
manifestations of his power; they represented him, true to his original nature, in vegetable
form, while the images of him, with which they were carried out and cast into the water,
portrayed him in his later human shape. All these Adonis ceremonies, if I am right, were
originally intended as charms to promote the growth or revival of vegetation; and the
principle by which they were supposed to produce this effect was homoeopathic or
imitative magic. For ignorant people suppose that by mimicking the effect which they
desire to produce they actually help to produce it; thus by sprinkling water they make
rain, by lighting a fire they make sunshine, and so on. Similarly, by mimicking the
growth of crops they hope to ensure a good harvest. The rapid growth of the wheat and
barley in the gardens of Adonis was intended to make the corn shoot up; and the throwing
of the gardens and of the images into the water was a charm to secure a due supply of
fertilising rain. The same, I take it, was the object of throwing the effigies of Death and
the Carnival into water in the corresponding ceremonies of modern Europe. Certainly the
custom of drenching with water a leaf-clad person, who undoubtedly personifies
vegetation, is still resorted to in Europe for the express purpose of producing rain.
Similarly the custom of throwing water on the last corn cut at harvest, or on the person
who brings it home (a custom observed in Germany and France, and till lately in England
and Scotland), is in some places practised with the avowed intent to procure rain for the
next year's crops. Thus in Wallachia and amongst the Roumanians in Transylvania, when
a girl is bringing home a crown made of the last ears of corn cut at harvest, all who meet
her hasten to throw water on her, and two farm-servants are placed at the door for the
purpose; for they believe that if this were not done, the crops next year would perish from
drought. At the spring ploughing in Prussia, when the ploughmen and sowers returned in
the evening from their work in the fields, the farmer's wife and the servants used to splash
water over them. The ploughmen and sowers retorted by seizing every one, throwing
them into the pond, and ducking them under the water. The farmer's wife might claim
exemption on payment of a forfeit, but every one else had to be ducked. By observing
this custom they hoped to ensure a due supply of rain for the seed.
The opinion that the gardens of Adonis are essentially charms to promote the growth of
vegetation, especially of the crops, and that they belong to the same class of customs as
those spring and mid-summer folk-customs of modern Europe which I have described
else-where, does not rest for its evidence merely on the intrinsic probability of the case.
Fortunately we are able to show that gardens of Adonis (if we may use the expression in