The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). It first was published in two volumes in 1890; the third edition, published 1906–15, comprised twelve volumes.
The Golden Bough attempts to define the shared elements of religious belief, ranging from ancient belief systems to relatively modern religions such as Christianity. Its thesis is that old religions were fertility cults that revolved around the worship of, and periodic sacrifice of, a sacred king.
This king was the incarnation of a dying and reviving god, a solar deity who underwent a mystic marriage to a goddess of the Earth, who died at the harvest, and was reincarnated in the spring. Frazer claims that this legend is central to almost all of the world's mythologies.
The book's title was taken from an incident in the Aeneid, illustrated by the British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner: Aeneas and the Sibyl present the golden bough to the gatekeeper of Hades in order to gain admission.