The Golden Bough

      James Frazer’s 1890 book, The Golden Bough: A study in Magic and Religion, features a similar adventure: There is near Roma, at Lake Nemi, a sacred grove dedicated to the goddess Diana, and there’s a tree in that grove that is guarded by a priest.  That priest is a criminal who has achieved his role by killing the priest of the tree before him, and he will lose the position when he is killed.  But before killing the priest he had to pluck a bough from that tree.  This is the Golden Bough of the title.

   So it is fascinating when Orgeluse tells Gawain (in the adventures of Wolfram’s Arthurian romance), “There’s a grove down the way with a great tree in it, and this tree is guarded by a knight, and that knight killed my husband, for whom I am still lamenting.  Before you attack him you must pluck a bough of that tree.”  In other words, this is the Golden Bough adventure, right here in this romance.   RG 73

   In The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer suggested as early as 1890 that the great goddesses of Eleusis – Demeter and Persephone – were pig goddesses.  When Persephone was abducted by Hades a whole herd of pigs went down in the underworld with her, and when her mother went to find her, she couldn’t follow the footsteps because they were covered by those of the pigs.  Demeter’s and Persephone’s association with the underworld, death and rebirth, the labyrinth, and the pig echoes all the way back to the Neolithic.   G40

   Frazer, in The Golden Bough, has shown that both Demeter and Persephone were at one time pig goddesses, and there is evidence enough to suggest that the Irish, Greek, and Indian forms of these goddesses are related variants of a single Neolithic and Bronze Age heritage, where both the wild boar and the domestic pig were associated with a mythology of death and rebirth. 

  To get to the tree, Gawain and his charger have to hurdle across a great torrent, called the Perilous Ford.  The horse misses, and they fall into the torrent, but Gawain gets the horse out and rides up to pluck a bough from the tree.

  At once a majestic knight named Gramoflanz comes out.  He is beautifully described, riding along in a gra (can’t see any reason to add the red stuff – but more follows) 

   As told by Chrétien de Troyes’ legend and again in the Cistercian Queste, the Grail King has been wounded by a lance thrust through his thighs, and his land, as a result, is laid waste.  Modern commentators have recognized in this motif a reflection of the well-known primitive superstition discussed by Frazer, in The Golden Bough, of the king’s health and well-being as the cause and support of his realms’ well-being.  It is a primitive, magical idea(.)     RG 150