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The Golden Bough

Preface
THE PRIMARY aim of this book is to explain the remarkable rule which regulated the
succession to the priesthood of Diana at Aricia. When I first set myself to solve the
problem more than thirty years ago, I thought that the solution could be propounded very
briefly, but I soon found that to render it probable or even intelligible it was necessary to
discuss certain more general questions, some of which had hardly been broached before.
In successive editions the discussion of these and kindred topics has occupied more and
more space, the enquiry has branched out in more and more directions, until the two
volumes of the original work have expanded into twelve. Meantime a wish has often been
expressed that the book should be issued in a more compendious form. This abridgment
is an attempt to meet the wish and thereby to bring the work within the range of a wider
circle of readers. While the bulk of the book has been greatly reduced, I have
endeavoured to retain its leading principles, together with an amount of evidence
sufficient to illustrate them clearly. The language of the original has also for the most part
been preserved, though here and there the exposition has been somewhat condensed. In
order to keep as much of the text as possible I have sacrificed all the notes, and with them
all exact references to my authorities. Readers who desire to ascertain the source of any
particular statement must therefore consult the larger work, which is fully documented
and provided with a complete bibliography.
In the abridgment I have neither added new matter nor altered the views expressed in the
last edition; for the evidence which has come to my knowledge in the meantime has on
the whole served either to confirm my former conclusions or to furnish fresh illustrations
of old principles. Thus, for example, on the crucial question of the practice of putting
kings to death either at the end of a fixed period or whenever their health and strength
began to fail, the body of evidence which points to the wide prevalence of such a custom
has been considerably augmented in the interval. A striking instance of a limited
monarchy of this sort is furnished by the powerful mediaeval kingdom of the Khazars in
Southern Russia, where the kings were liable to be put to death either on the expiry of a
set term or whenever some public calamity, such as drought, dearth, or defeat in war,
seemed to indicate a failure of their natural powers. The evidence for the systematic
killing of the Khazar kings, drawn from the accounts of old Arab travellers, has been
collected by me elsewhere.[1] Africa, again, has supplied several fresh examples of a
similar practice of regicide. Among them the most notable perhaps is the custom formerly
observed in Bunyoro of choosing every year from a particular clan a mock king, who was
supposed to incarnate the late king, cohabited with his widows at his temple-tomb, and
after reigning for a week was strangled.[2] The custom presents a close parallel to the
ancient Babylonian festival of the Sacaea, at which a mock king was dressed in the royal
robes, allowed to enjoy the real king's concubines, and after reigning for five days was
stripped, scourged, and put to death. That festival in its turn has lately received fresh light
from certain Assyrian inscriptions,[3] which seem to confirm the interpretation which I
formerly gave of the festival as a New Year celebration and the parent of the Jewish
festival of Purim.[4] Other recently discovered parallels to the priestly kings of Aricia are
 
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