• Alison Amos

Golden Bough - A metaphorical passage to the underworld as I am heading to year 2 of my MA studies.

Updated: Jan 22

In Roman mythology , the Golden Bough was a tree branch with golden leaves that enabled the Trojan hero Aeneas to travel through the underworld, or land of the dead, safely. The bough was said to be sacred to Proserpina, the queen of the underworld, and was associated with the goddess Diana (the Roman version of the Greek goddess Artemis).

The story of Aeneas and the Golden Bough is found in the Aeneid , the epic poem by the Roman poet Virgil. According to this tale, the spirit of Anchises, Aeneas's dead father, appears and tells Aeneas to visit the underworld, where he will learn what the future holds in store for people. First, however, Aeneas must find the oracle known as the Sibyl of Cumae, who will lead him to the land of the dead.

Aeneas locates the oracle, who informs him that he cannot pass through the underworld safely without the Golden Bough. When Aeneas enters the forest to look for the sacred branch, two doves lead him to an oak tree that shelters the bough of shimmering golden leaves. Aeneas gets the Golden Bough and returns to the Sibyl of Cumae.

Together Aeneas and the Sibyl enter the underworld. With the Golden Bough in his possession, the hero is able to pass safely through the various dangers and obstacles there. At the deadly and magical river Acheron, the boatman Charon sees the sacred bough and takes Aeneas and the Sibyl across the water to the kingdom of Hades. There Aeneas finds the spirit of his father.

The Golden Bough also appears in other legends, particularly in connection with the goddess Diana. According to some accounts, it was a custom among worshippers of Diana for a slave to cut a branch from a sacred tree and then kill the priest responsible for guarding the tree. The slave took the priest's place and was later killed himself in the same way.


The Golden Bough in Context

Some scholars, such as James Frazer, have suggested that the Golden Bough was actually mistletoe. Virgil describes the Golden Bough as being sheltered by an oak, much as mistletoe grows as a parasite on many trees, including oaks. In addition, mistletoe has a long history of supernatural associations in different cultures. Ancient Romans may have believed that mistletoe was dropped from the heavens and landed in the trees where it grew, which suggested that it would contain divine powers.



Key Themes and Symbols

In the tale of Aeneas and the Golden Bough, the magic branch represents both light and life. In this way it protects Aeneas from darkness and death while in the underworld. In the legend of the priest of Diana, the Golden Bough represents the sacred duty of the order that watches over it. It also represents the endless cycle of death and rebirth, as the priest who guards it is killed and replaced by a new priest, who will eventually meet the same fate.


The Golden Bough in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Although mentioned as part of a minor story in the Aeneid, the Golden Bough has become especially well known among modern scholars. The legends of the Golden Bough inspired Scottish scholar Sir James Frazer to write The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, a multivolume study of religion and mythology published in 1890. This landmark work has in turn inspired many works of both fiction and nonfiction, and is the main source of the Golden Bough myth for modern readers. The Assassin Tree, an opera based on the myth of the slaves and the priest guarding the Golden Bough, was created by Stuart MacRae and Simon Armitage and premiered in 2006.

The Golden Bough and the brief from my university project.

The new brief that was given me by Central Saint Martin is called 'Golden Bough'. Is a brief that invites me to give form to the management strategies that I am evolving order to meet the challenges of my independent research for my second year of studies.


Remember that I will have to keep in mind all the elements of my life in balance in order to make the most of my research for my year two. I will be focusing more on the ability of communicate my knowledge and insights that in my skills as artist/designer.


As task, I will have to create my own Golden Bough - by myself or with the help of someone.

It will need to be portable, and I should be available to present it by the 22nd Jan 2021.


The golden bough should address the following questions:

  • Why have you made/chosen your Golden Bough in the way that you have?

  • What are the skills, knowledge and management strategies necessary to carry your project forward through the second year to conclusion?

  • Is there a clear connection between your question and the skills and strategies represented by your Golden Bough?

  • Do you already possess these skills and this knowledge, or do you still need to acquire them?

  • If you do not possess all the skills you need, how and when do you plan to acquire them?

  • What are the implied limitations imposed on you (and your project) by your Golden Bough?

  • Do you accept these limitations?

  • What goals or challenges has this project enabled you to give form to, which you had not considered important before?

Stay tuned for the outcome of my Golden Bough project...


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