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The Symbolic Mechanisms of Sacred Kingship: Rediscovering Frazer

Luc de Heusch
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jun., 1997), pp. 213-232
DOI: 10.2307/3035017
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3035017
Page Count: 20
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The Symbolic Mechanisms of Sacred Kingship: Rediscovering Frazer
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Abstract

Frazer was right to claim that kings in Africa were ritually put to death, sometimes as scapegoats for natural disasters (though the correct description of these personages is `sacred' not `divine'). Following Frazer's logic, this article views sacred kingship from a new perpective. The king's body is a `body-fetish', a repository of extraordinary magico-religous power bestowed on him in his installation ritual. This Ceremony makes the king a being apart (sometimes even a sacred monster), who articulates the natural and cultural orders. This ritual function is the foundation of the political function of royalty. The symbolic complex surrounding sacred kingship is the kernel of the State, but it appears already in small societies without centralized power. Under its various guises, sacred kingship is thus a phenomenon of great historical importance.

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