Here's an oldie but goodie - The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer. At 858 pages it's a big read, but it certainly kept me turning the pages. Frazer is a good scholar and you'll appreciate the difference between his extensive and painstaking research and what the wt calls research. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions you'll learn a lot about rites, mythology and the history of religions.
Summary from Wiki:
The Golden Bough attempts to define the shared elements of religious belief. 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 germ for Frazer's thesis was the pre-Roman priest-king at the fane of Nemi, who was murdered ritually by his successor:
- "When I first put pen to paper to write The Golden Bough I had no conception of the magnitude of the voyage on which I was embarking; I thought only to explain a single rule of an ancient Italian priesthood." (Aftermath p vi)
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.