Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Totemism from ote , root ot , possessive form otem , in the Ojibway dialect of the Algonquin stock of American Indians ; by some authorities spelled dodeme ( Father de Smet ), todem (Father Petitot), Toodaim , dodaim , totam (J. Long); the original signification was apparently a person's family or tribe, and in a narrower sense his belongings.

Totemism constitutes the group of superstitions and customs of which the totem is the centre. It is defined as the intimate relation supposed to exist between an individual or a group of individuals and a class of natural objects, i.e. the totem, by which the former regard the latter as identified with them in a mystical manner and in a peculiar sense their own belongings, so that they bear the name of the totem and show this belief in certain customs. The conviction of the intimate union constitutes the religious aspect of Totemism; the customs which result therefrom form its sociological aspect. If the union exists between an individual and a class of natural objects, we have individual Totemism. When it exists between a clan and a natural class we have clan Totemism. Frazer mentions sex Totemism, but that is peculiar to Australia. The totem is most frequently an animal species, more rarely a plant, occasionally an inanimate object, e.g. sun, wind, rock, etc. Totemism is widespread and developed among the American Indians and the aborigines of Australia. Traces of it are found in South Africa, in the Polynesian Islands, and among the Dyaks of India. Mauss says it does not exist in all savage races of our day (Année sociologique, IV, 1899-1900); Reinach maintains that it existed among the Greeks and Celts (Cultes, Mythes et Religions, II, Paris, 1905); Gomme, in the British Isles (Archæological Rev., III, 1889); Thomas, in Wales (Rev. de l'histoire des religions, XXXVIII, 1898); Renel, among the Romans (Cultes militaires de Rome, Lyons, 1903). It is doubtful whether Totemism existed among the Aryan races, and the facts alleged can be explained by idolatry. Loret maintains that Totemism existed among the early Egyptians, but evidently confounds this belief with animal-worship. Robertson Smith holds that Totemism lies at the basis of the Semitic religions. Zapletal has opened up anew this problem, and questions Smith's conclusions. Evidence from animal names is now admitted to be a precarious support for the Totem theory. Frazer clearly shows that there are sacred animals and plants which are not totems; and Levy denies to Totemism any rôle among the early Hebrews. Hence the present writer rejects the opinion of A. Lang that in the education of mankind Totemism has played a part everywhere.

I. HISTORY

The phenomena of Totemism were first brought to the knowledge of the civilized world by the Jesuit missionaries to North America in the seventeenth century. The earliest accounts in English came from J. Long (Voyages and Travels, London, 1791). Following these are accounts of Major S. H. Long (ed. by Edwin James, London, 1823), James, Warren, Morgan, Schoolcraft, and Catlin. Phenomena of the same kind were observed by travellers and missionaries in Australia. The importance of Totemism in the early history of society was first pointed out by J. F. McLennan, who proposed as a working hypothesis that the ancient nations of the world had passed through a peculiar kind of Fetishism or Animism which finds its typical representation in the totem-tribes of Australia and of North America ("Fortnightly Rev.", Oct.-Nov., 1869; Feb., 1870; "Studies in Ancient History", London, 1896). On these lines Robertson Smith attempted to show that Totemism lay at the root of the Semitic religions and thus was the basis of the faith now embraced by the most civilized nations of the world ("Animal Worship among Arabs " in "Cambridge Jour. of Phil." 1879; "Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia ", 2nd ed., London, 1903; "Religion of the Semitics", Edinburgh, 1889; "Sacrifice" in Encyc. Britannica, 9th ed.); F. B. Jevons went further and affirmed that here are found the germs out of which all religion and all material progress have been evolved (Introd. to the History of Religion, London, 1896); hence Totemism was regarded as an established theory with the foundation laid by McLennan and the superstructure by Frazer, Smith, and Jevons. This theory is now rejected by scholars. Father Brun, writing of French West Africa, says that Totemism does not appear as a precise stage of religious evolution exclusive of all other beliefs ; it is simply an element of these beliefs. Murillier criticises Jevons (Revue de l'hist. des religions, XXXVI). The investigation of Franz Boas among the Indians of North-West Canada and of Spencer and Gillen among the Australian aborigines gave the decisive blow to the theory and opened a new phase in the study of Totemism. Hence Hill-Tout says that Totemism is not the ideal and exact social or religious system of savage regimentation which some writers have tried to show. It is found among races varying much in modes of living, e.g. hunting, pastoral, agricultural, and industrial, and, becoming part of their varied beliefs and customs, has a ear to assume differing forms.

II. ORIGIN

Totemism must be simple to the savage mind, yet it is a puzzle to anthropologists. A great mass of facts different and at times in seeming contradiction have been gathered in America and Australia, yet the resemblances are so many and so close as to justify the classification under one common name. Different explanations have been proposed, and these have varied as new data were added. There is scarcely any other class of social phenomena more difficult to explain. Frazer says a definition is only provisional and A. Lang resorts to "conjectures" and "guesses" (Secret of the Totem, p. 28). The discussion has produced a wealth of literature which has served to exaggerate the real position and influence of Totemism. The difficulty is to define the nature of the relation between the individual or clan and their totem. Hence: —

(a) The Name-Theory

Herbert Spencer classes Totemism under animal-worship and says its explanation is found in the primitive custom of naming children after natural objects from some accidental circumstances or fanciful resemblance, and then in confounding these metaphorical names or nicknames with the real objects, i.e. ancestors, and consequently paying to the animals the same reverence they paid their ancestors. Hence a phase of ancestor-worship founded on mistaking metaphors for facts (Prin. of Sociol., I, xxii). Akin to the "nickname" theory of Spencer is the explanation of Lord Avebury. He views Totemism as nature-worship and says it arose from the practice of naming individuals and then their families after particular animals; the individuals would look upon the animals at first with interest then with respect, and at length with a sort of awe (Marriage, Totemism, and Religion, London, 1911). A. Lang proposes the "sobriquet" theory. He adopts the opinion of de la Vega that totems were names imposed by outsiders to distinguish the individuals or families from one another (Secret of the Totem, pref.). Hence he agrees with J. F. McLennan, Loret, and Wake that totems were merely ethnic attributes, symbols, or ensigns of clans. A. K. Keane also holds that Totemism arose in "heraldic badges" (Ethnology, 9). Max Muller writes, "A totem is a clan mark, then a clan name, then the name of the ancestor of the clan, and lastly the name of something worshiped by the clan" (Contributions to the Science of Mythology, I, 201). Lang, however, holds that the name came into use before, not after, its pictorial representation, i.e., the clan mark. Pikler says the germ of Totemism is in the naming and has "its original germ not in religion but in the practical every-day needs of man ". Risley also says that the totem is an ancient nickname, usually derived from some animal, of the supposed founder of the exogamous sept, now stripped of its personal association and remembered solely in virtue of the part it plays in giving effect to the rule of exogamy. In criticism it can he said that the name-theory fails to explain the intimate relation of the individual or clan to the totem. Hence Durkheim writes "a totem is not only a name; it is first and above all a religious principle" ("Année sociologique", 1902, 119).

Lang admits that his "theory is not in accordance with any savage explanations of the origin of the totem" (Social Origins, 188). Howlett writes: "It seems most improbable that any such nicknames would have been adopted and have given rise to Totemism, nor do I know of a single instance in which such nicknames have been adopted." Reinach holds that animal names are an effect, not a cause of Totemism (Cultes, Mythes, et Religions, I, 22). Tyler says the theory is not vouched for by sufficient evidence (Primitive Marriage, II, 214). Boas distinguishes three classes of tribal and of clan names, e.g. collective forms of the name of the ancestor, names of region inhabited and names of honour. Miss Fletcher says that with the Wezhishta gens of the Amaha names are classified as nikie , i.e. pertaining to the gens, "dream", "fanciful" and "borrowed" names, and nicknames, and women never had more than one name which was of nikie class. Hill-Tout declares that the commonest of Indian names in British Columbia are not nicknames, but true prœnomina , mostly given to infants shortly after birth before any resemblance is apparent or possible.

(b) The Transmigration Theory

Advocated by G. A. Wilkin, and also by Tylor (Jour. Anth. Inst., XXVIII, 1899), regards the totem as the bridge over the gap between a clan of men and a species of animals, so that they "become united in kinship and mutual alliance". In criticism it may be said that the notion of transmigration is not primitive, for with Tylor Totemism is regarded as primitive. Again the belief in transmigration is found among peoples who show no trace of Totemism, while it is unknown to the African Baganda and to most if not all of the North American Indians whose Totemism is clearly marked. Hence Frazer holds that Totemism and transmigration are distinct and independent. Finally, transmigration may enter into phases of Totemism under the form of the reincarnation of ancestors; this, however, is not the original element but a corrupted phase found only occasionally and hence a later development.

(c) The Economic Theory

Proposed in accord with those anthropologists who hold that the starting-point of social organization was the necessity of procuring food, appears in two forms. Dr. A. C. Haddon maintains that totems originally were the animals or plants on which the local groups of people chiefly subsisted and after which they were named by the neighbouring groups ("Rep. of the British Assoc.", Belfast, 1902; "Folk Lore", XIII, 393). But this theory fails to explain the existence of inanimate objects as totems. Again, Baldwin Spencer denies such specialization of diet between the local groups (Northern Tribes of Central Australia, p. 767). The second form was advocated by Prof. Frazer, who, following Spencer and Gillen (Jour. Anth. Inst., XXVIII, 1899, 273), taught that Totemism is not so much a religious as an economic system, and held that it originated as a system of magic designed to supply a community with the necessities of life, especially food and drink. Thus each totem group performs magic ceremonies called intichiuma for the multiplication of the totem-plant or animal. Hence the prime duty of a totem clan was to provide a supply of its totem-animal or plant for consumption by the rest of the tribe, and thus ensure a plentiful supply of food ("Fort. Rev.", April and May, 1899). Frazer afterwards rejected this theory as too complex, and says that probably the co-operative communities of totemic magicians in Australia are developments of Totemism rather than its germ (Totemism and Exogamy, IV, p. 57). In fact the economic theory does not account for the sense of kinship between man and animal, and the belief prevailing in places that the clan is descended from the animal.

(d) The External Soul Theory

Earlier propounded by Prof. Frazer, i.e., the possibility of depositing the souls of living people for safety in external objects such as animals or plants, but not knowing which individual of the species is the receptacle of his soul, the savage spares the whole species from a fear of injuring unwittingly the particular individual with which his fate is bound up ("Golden Bough", II, London, 1890). Frazer rejected this theory on the ground that it was not confirmed by subsequent research.

(e) The Conception Theory

The conception theory is the third and last explanation of Frazer, He says Totemism has its source in the savage ignorance of paternity, and is a primitive explanation of conception and childbirth, viz, that conception is due to a spirit of an ancestor entering the body of a woman, that she associates it with the object which was nearest her when the child was first felt in the womb, and that this object is regarded as the deserted receptacle of the spirit. And since the spirits of people of one particular totem are believed to congregate in one spot, and the natives know these spots, the totem of the child can easily be determined ("Totemism and Exogamy", IV, 57). In criticism we may say that the theory is based on the beliefs of the Arunta tribe in Australia, that, while van Gennep holds to Arunta primitiveness, A. Lang considers it a decadent sport (Secret of the Totem, appendix), that Spencer and Gillen testify to changes in Arunta Totemism, that it does not explain Totemism in its wide extent, and finally that these beliefs find another and a much better explanation.

(f) The Manitou, or Guardian Spirit, Theory

The Manitou theory first proposed by the Jesuit missionaries to North America in the seventeenth century and revived in our day by Dr. Franz Boas, Miss Alice Fletcher, Father Morice, Mr. Hill-Tout, and J. Owen Dorsay, teaches that the manitou of the individual has developed into the totem of the clan. This can be explained in two ways. First by real inheritance, e.g. the guardian spirit of an ancestor is transmitted to his descendants. Hence the clan totem is the hereditary manitou of a family. Dr. Boas states that the guardian spirit of the North Pacific Coast becomes hereditary. Father Brun says that the Totemism of French West Africa is essentially familial in the sense of the Roman gens . A. Lang objects to the inheritance of the personal totem by the clan on the ground that mother descent is more primitive than paternal descent. But the objection assumes that Totemism is primitive: a contention by no means established. Frazer says the clans would be stable and permanent even with mother descent, if the husband took up his abode with the wife's people or the wife remained at home (Totemism and Exogamy, II, 103, n). Morgan states that this condition is true of the Iroquois, whose clans are permanent even with mother descent. Hill-Tout writes that in North-West Canada the totem is hereditary either from father to son in the paternal right, or from the man to his sister's children in the maternal right. For even under maternal right the head of the clan is invariably a man — the elder male relative on the maternal side. Thus the founders of families and of totem-crests are as invariably men under matriarchy as under patriarchy; in the former, indirectly through the man's sister, in the latter, directly to his children (Trans. Roy. Soc. Canada, IX, XI; B. A. A. S., London, 1889). Frazer points out that among the Melanesians, where mother-kin prevails, the nearest male relative of the children is the mother's brother (loc. cit., II, 74). And Swanton says of the Tlingit shamans that spirits descended from uncle to nephew. The great difficulty with the real inheritance theory is that it does not explain enough. If may account in places for the change of the personal totem of an ancestor into the clan totem, but it fails to tell how or why the same totem is held by different clans or tribes or stocks not connected by ties of blood-relationship. The natural explanation is that the fauna and flora of a country are substantially the same, and individuals in different parts belonging to different tribes could in the usual way acquire a totem which they would transmit to their descendants. Thus with members of the same clan there would be the same totem with consanguinity. With members of different clans having the Same totem there would not be consanguinity but a kind of relationship based in the possession of the same. Hence Dr. Fison writes of the Australians : "All men of the same generation who bear the same totem are tribally brothers, though they may belong to different and widely separated tribes" (quoted by Lang, "Secret of the Totem", 45). If therefore real inheritance be supplemented by supposed inheritance, it can be safely maintained that the clan totem, taken in its widest extent, is a development or extension of the individual totem or manitou through real or supposed inheritance. The nature of the supposed inheritance becomes clear from the following.

III. NATURE

The basis of Totemism is the animistic conception of nature. The life revealed in living things, the forces manifested by physical objects are ascribed to spirits animating them or dwelling therein. "There is indeed nothing in nature ", writes Charlevoix, "if we can believe the savages, which has not its spirit" ("Histoire de la Nouv. France ", Paris, 1744, VI, 67). The feeling of weakness in the midst of powers and forces greater than his own leads him to seek union with one or more of these powers. It becomes his guide and support; its power is added to his; its life or "essence" or "mystery" becomes part of his very own, he is called by its name, and some part of its physical embodiment is viewed as his most valued possession, as the mark of his spirit protector and the sign of his strengthened life, i.e. his "medicine" or "mystery". Thus savages believe themselves endowed with the qualities of their totems. Thus we can understand the birth and death ceremonies of the totem tribes, the facts that in the tribal dances and ceremonies the individuals imitate in action or costume the appearance and habits of their totems. So also we can understand the respect or reverence which the individual has for his totem, the intimate relation existing between them, the fact that he regards them as his kin and calls them brothers, and as far as possible identifies himself with them. Thus the savage with a totem has his own human life and strength plus the spirit-life and strength of the animal or object whose totem he possesses. For, as with the natives of British Columbia, the inua or uya , i.e. the "essence" or "mystery", becomes the totem, not the mere outward form of the animal or object. He either has this spirit-life actually and habitually compenetrating and augmenting his own natural powers or at least possesses the right to invoke the spirit-life to the augmentation of his natural powers in time of need, e.g. an Indian in a canoe, seeing the enemy gaining upon him, reverently calls upon his totem, e.g. sawbill duck, and receives such additional strength that he soon escapes his pursuers (Frazer, "Totemism and Exogamy", III, p. 385). In the former case the possession of the spirit-life is habitual and can be conceived as passing to his descendants; in the latter case it is occasionally present and therefore need not be hereditary. To possess intact this spirit-life, or at least to keep the claim to its assistance clear and unhampered, seems to be the reason for the regular religious ceremonies practised in regard to the totem.

Furthermore, in studying the relation of the spirit-life of the totem to the natural life of the individual, we can conceive that the latter is at times more prominent and at times the spirit-life is principally considered. In the former case the members of the totemic clan are united, not only in the possession of the same common spirit-life, but through ties of consanguinity, by participation in a common human life, In the latter case the members of the totem clan would not of necessity be related to one another by blood, but would consider themselves relatives by a common participation in the spirit-life of the same totem. Thus we can understand why some tribes have both clan and individual totems, and again why some clans have two or more totems. Finally, in the theory that the clan totem is the natural development of the individual totem, the contention of some scholars that the term totem should be reserved to the clan totem is of little moment. Thus van Gennep, E. B. Tylor, and Lang hold that the clan totem alone deserves the name; and Frazer now advocates the opinion of van Gennep (Totemism and Exogamy, III, 456).

Hence Totemism, like Fetishism and Shamanism, is based on Animism, but differs from them in the way the spirits are conceived to enter into the lives of men and manifest their power. Miss Kingsley, however, maintains that Totemism is based on the pantheistic conception of the universe, which she says was held by the American Indians. But this is not correct. The Indians always made a distinction between the spirit-life of the totem and the ordinary human life or strength of men. The former was considered sacred, mysterious, mystic, supernatural. This is shown by the terms used to designate the spirit-life, e.g. wakan of the Dakotas, orenda of the Iroquois, tlokoala of the Kwatiutl Indians. Dorsay says that an Indian's wakaned is considered inspired and as possessing supernatural power. Thus the Indian's "medicine bag" is his "mystery bag", writes Catlin, and Dr. Hoffman tells us that the young Algonquin receives from the Great Mystery the particular animal form he might adopt as his guardian mystery, and this becomes his advisor, monitor, and intercessor with the superior manidos .

The real nature of Totemism, therefore, is the savage conception of a twofold power or life or strength in the individual, i.e. his human life plus the spirit-life of the totem. But the measure in which the spirit-life enters into the human life of the totemic individual varies in different tribes and races, giving rise to the difficulties experienced by students of this subject. Thus we have the spirit-life holding a subordinate position in relation to the human life ; or the spirit-life so prominent that the human life is absorbed by it and consequently ignored and forgotten; or we find both the spirit life and the human life equally recognized but at times in a confused manner. In the first case the human element predominates and descent is reckoned by human generation. Miss Fletcher assures us that the Omahas do not hold descent from the totem animals; and Father Brun says the same is true of the natives in West Sudan. Boas writes that the Kwatiutl Indians do not consider themselves to be descendants of the totem; they believe the totem came from an ancestor who had an adventure with an animal which he took as his totem and transmitted to his clan; and that the connexion between the totem and the clan has become so slight that it has degenerated into a crest. The Tlingit do not believe in descent from the totem, yet count the totem as their relative or protector, as e.g. Indians of the Wolf totem implore the wolves: "we are your relations, pray do not hurt us." Hence Powell's statement, that the totem of the clan is considered to be the progenitor or prototype of the clan, is not universally true. This also solves the difficulty experienced by Hill-Tout, who says that the Totemism of British Columbia appears to differ in important and characteristic features from the Totemism of peoples elsewhere.

In the second case, where the spirit-life is considered as absorbing the human life, the fact of human generation is ignored and forgotten. Thus, e.g. among the Aruntes human paternity is unknown. They believe that conception is the entrance of the spirit of an ancestor into the body of a woman, and thus every child born is the reincarnation of an animal or plant ancestor. In the olden times the totemic ancestors were families or groups of families who lived in some definite part of the tribal territory. Some would be swans, others dogs, kangaroos, snakes, etc. They carried with them sacred stones called churinga , i.e. soul or spirit-life. Upon death the spirit-life would remain in the churinga and would haunt the place where these were. In the course of time all the camping-places, water-holes, large rocks, springs, hills, trees, etc., would be thronged with spirits of all kinds. The exact locality of these ancestral spots, with the specific kind of spirits dwelling there, was known from oral tradition. In virtue of the spirit-life, these spots were considered as related to one another in the same way that human beings are related, e.g. a soakage may be the mother's brother of a certain hill, a rock may be the father of a particular sand-hill, a tree may be the brother of a sand-hole, etc. If in passing a particular spot a woman feels the quickening of the child, she ascribes it to the fact that an ancestral spirit of that spot has at that moment entered her body. The object, e.g. stone, piece of wood, etc., that met her eye at that moment is carefully taken as the churinga of the child and placed in the secret storehouse of the tribe kept for that purpose. Thus the totem of the child will be the totem of the spot whence the churinga was taken. Hence there could be children of the same parents all possessing different totems.

In the third case, where both the spirit-life of the totem and the human life of the individual are recognized but in a confused manner, we find the explanation of another class of beliefs and myths which have gathered around Totemism. Thus we can understand how the North American Indians, in explanation of their origin, can neglect the human so that in the remote past it is lost in the animal. Thus Indians of the Wolf totem say they are descended from wolves, of the Crane totem from cranes, of the Turtle totem from turtles, etc. So too we can see how they were led to believe that their ancestors were monstrosities endowed with superhuman powers, e.g. Salish tribes, or were transformed human or semi-human, e.g. Urabunna or creatures partaking of both human and animal natures with power of transforming themselves into animal or human shapes at will, e.g. Northern Australian tribes, or of retransforming themselves, e.g. Iroquois (Hesitt, "Iroquois Cosmology " in "21st Am. Rep. of Bur. of Ethnol.", Washington, 1904, p. 219). On this hypothesis we can grasp the myths of mixed generation so universal among totemic peoples and see also why the Haides, in venerating the killer-whale, blend in their belief the actual animal and the demon Skana supposed to be embodied in it.

IV. PERSONAL TOTEM

A personal totem, i.e. manitou of Algonquins, tu kinajek of Tlingit, augud of Torres Straits, sulia of British Columbia, bunjan of south-east Australia, ari of north-east Australia, oubarre of West Australia, atai and tamaniu of Melanesia, nyarong of Borneo, nagual of South America, tamanous of Twana Indians, is not hereditary ; it is acquired by the individual and it is his own personal property, whereas the clan totem is considered the possession of the clan. It is obtained either accidentally, as when a savage believes that he owes his life to an animal which he immediately takes as his totem; or bestowed at birth, e.g. in Central America by the parents casting a horoscope; or bestowed on the youth by old wise men, e.g. Sioux ; or regularly at the puberty ceremonies. On reaching this age the young Indian goes off alone to the forest and wanders for days without food except roots, etc. After a time when asleep he sees in a dream the animal which is to be his guardian. It or its spirit comes to him. Ever after he wears on his person the object seen, or some portion of it, which is known as his medicine. Catlin describes this in detail. The Salish word sulia , from ulia , i.e. to dream, indicates the ordinary method by which it is obtained. Boas says that with the Kwatiutl Indians the personal totem must be selected from the totems of the clan, hence the number is limited.

V. RELIGIOUS ASPECT

Totemism has both a religious and a social aspect. These aspects vary; thus with the interior Australian tribes the religious aspect is predominant; with the coastal tribes the social aspect prevails. Lord Avebury and Spencer hold that Totemism began as a social system only, and that the superstitious regard for the totem is an aftergrowth. A. Lang, failing to grasp the religious meaning of the totem, has helped to popularize this view. McLennan and Robertson Smith teach that the religious reverence for the totem was original. Father Morice says that Totemism among the Dénés is essentially and exclusively connected with their religious system. Investigation into the nature of Totemism shows this to be the true opinion. Durkheim holds the totem to be a god. This is a mistake. The respect paid to the totem is like that given to relatives or brothers; it is his friend and helper, not his superior. Frazer says Totemism has done little to foster the higher forms of religion, and Murillier does not admit the possibility of any transition from Totemism to any other stage of religious evolution. McGee quotes Darsey, that among the Sioux totems were reverenced rather than worshiped. Frazer at first maintained the religious aspect of Totemism ("Totemism", Edinburgh, 1887); now he denies this (Totemism and Exogamy, 1911, IV, 6). He says the key to the Totemism of Australian natives is furnished by the Intichiuma ceremonies ; and as these ceremonies, peculiar to each totem group, are performed with spells and enchantments for the multiplication of the totem animal, therefore in its origin Totemism is simply an organized and co-operative system of magic devised for economic purposes. The criticism is that this view is superficial and unsatisfactory, that investigations show the Australian savage life to be saturated with the belief in spirits, e.g. the explanation of conception and birth, and that whereas the Intichiuma ceremonies on the surface may appear to be for the multiplication of the totem animal and thus secure a food supply, yet if we study them in the background of the belief in spirits, their purposes more probably are the multiplication of the reincarnated forms of the spirits. When, e.g. the members of the Kangaroo clan perform magic ceremonies for the multiplication of Kangaroos, we are not warranted in stating that kangaroo animals are in question, for members of this clan are also called Kangaroos. Hence the multiplication of the human species may be intended, so that the Kangaroo spirits may be reincarnated. This seems to be confirmed by the rites having a reference to human generation performed at the puberty or Engwura ceremonies.

The main features in the religious aspect of Totemism are shown in the rites and ceremonies performed with a view to show or to attain identity with the totem.

  • (a) Thus at solemn totemic festivals the totem animal is sacrified and eaten even by its own clan. In Australia the eating of the totem animal was considered essential to the rites for the multiplication of the totem. Hill-Tout says that in British Columbia these ceremonies would last through the winter and the people would be grouped according to their totems, thus changing the usual form of tribal organization.
  • (b) By adoption of personal names referring to the appearance or habits of the totem animal.
  • (c) By dressing in the skin or other parts of the totem animal, wearing badges, masks, crest-hats of the totem, arranging hair, painting face or body, tattooing and mutilating the body so as to resemble the totem ; so also totems are painted or carved on weapons, canoes, huts, etc. From this custom we have the totem poles decorated with crests of clan and personal totems, and with red crosses representing the ghosts of their vanquished foes, who are to be their slaves in the other world.
  • (d) By dances and songs as dramatic performances of the myth relating to the acquisition of the spirit protector.
  • (e) By consulting totems as auguries, e.g. the Algonquins and natives of Torres Straits.

VI. SOCIAL ASPECT

In its social aspect;

  • (a) the totem is generally taboo to the members of the clan. They could not kill it or eat its flesh. An exception is in the solemn totemic ceremonies. According to traditions the Australians in earlier times regularly killed and ate their totem. This is not now the custom. The American Indian will address an apology to his totem before killing it. The Melanesian is supposed to have peculiar success in hunting his totem animal. Hill-Tout says the Salish tribes considered the real sulia to be a spirit or mystery-being, though it might take the form of an animal and it could not be killed or hurt if the animal were slain, hence the hunter did not respect the life of the totem in fact he was considered more successful in hunting his sulia animals than other men. Again, on the African Gold Coast a hunter of the Leopard family would not hesitate to kill a troublesome leopard, but he would put oil in the wounds (Haruer in "Jour. Anth. Inst.", XXXVI).
  • (b) Among the Iroquois and the Southern Mewuks of California the totem governs the choice of partners in games, the placing and treatment of visitors.
  • (c) The main social feature of Totemism is shown in binding together the members of the totem clans. All members of the totem clan regard one another as kinsmen and brothers, and are bound to mutual help and protection. Tylor says every Indian looked for and found hospitality in a hut where he saw his own totem figured and, if he was taken captive in war, his clansmen would ransom him (Jour. Anth. Inst., XXVIII). Morgan shows the superiority of the totem bond over the tribal bond among the Iroquois. In the Torres Straits warfare could not affect the friendship of the totem-brethren. Yet Harper says that on the Gulf Coast a man cannot safely visit a person of the same totem belonging to an unfriendly tribe, nor does he hesitate to kill another having the same totem as himself.
  • (d) In the social phase must be viewed the secret societies so widely prevalent among the American Indians.
  • (e) Ford holds that in totemic obligations we are confronted with the beginnings of authority ("Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science ", XXIII, Philadelphia, 1904). Jevons and Reinach teach that the totem clan is the earliest social organization known in the evolution of society (Folk Lore, X). Loret sees in Totemism the explanation of the early Egyptian hieroglyphics, and says it is the parent of writing (Musée Guimet, XIX, 1904-05). Frazer says that it had an indirect influence on agriculture, the domestication of animals and the use of metals, that its influence on economic progress appears to be little more than a shadowy conjecture, but it has done something for pictorial and plastic art, e.g. in totemic representations (Totemism and Exogamy, IV, 19-25). Father Brun, however, warns us that although certain social institutions are placed under the protection of totemic beliefs, the social institutions as a whole are not based upon Totemism. The truth is that Totemism, like any other belief which enters into the life of a people, has an influence on their culture.
  • (f) The influence of Totemism is shown also in the birth, marriage, and death ceremonies. Thus, e.g. a child of the Ottawa deer clan on the fifth day after birth was painted with red spots or stripes in imitation of a fawn; the bride and groom in the Kolong red-dog clan of Java were rubbed before marriage with the ashes of a red-dog's bones; a member of the Amaha buffalo clan was on dying wrapped in a buffalo robe, etc.

VII. EXOGAMY

The relation of exogamy to Totemism is a problem of great difficulty, and will not be completely solved until the origin of exogamy is definitely established. It is a fact that the custom prevails in many tribes that a man cannot marry a woman of his own totem, but must seek a wife from another totem clan. Hence many writers inferred that Totemism and exogamy existed together as different sides of the same institution. Thus A. Lang regards exogamy as the essential feature of Totemism. Hill-Tout takes issue with him maintaining that it is accidental or secondary, that the possession of the same totem becomes a bar to marriage only because it marks kinship by blood, which is the real bar. Lang by totem means "the hereditary totem of the exogamous clan" and admits that if we take totem in its wider extent as comprehending the "personal" totem, the "secret society" totem and the "tribal" totem, then members of these totem groups can intermarry (ibid., p. 204). McLennan and Robertson Smith held that Totemism is found generally in connexion with exogamy, but must be older than exogamy. This view has been confirmed by the investigations of Spencer and Gillen among the Australian savages. They teach that Totemism is a primary and exogamy a secondary feature, and give traditions proving the existence of totems long before that of exogamous groups, and that when the latter did arise, the totems were not affected by them. Hence the exogamous class is a social organization totally different in origin and nature from the totemic clan, and not a mere extension of it, although they have crossed and blended in many places. Again Totemism and exogamy are found existing separately. Father Brun says the totemic clans of the Sudan are not exogamous. Dr. Rivers points out that the natives of Banks Islands have pure Totemism and pure exogamy existing side by side without influencing each other.

Different theories have been proposed to account for the origin of exogamy, Westermark says it arose in the aversion to marriage between blood relatives or near kin, i.e. in horror of incest. This is very probably the true solution. McLennan holds that exogamy was due originally to scarcity of women, which obliged men to seek wives from other groups, i.e. marriage by capture, and this in time grew into a custom. Durkheim derives exogamy from Totemism, and says it arose from a religious respect for the blood of a totemic clan, for the clan totem is a god and is especially in the blood. Morgan and Howitt maintain that exogamy was introduced to prevent marriage between blood relations: especially between brother and sister, which had been common in a previous state of promiscuity. Frazer says this is the true solution, that it really introduced group marriage, which is an advance to monogamy, and that the most complete record of this is the classificatory system of relationship. Lang, however, denies there is any group marriage, and says the so-called group marriage is only tribe-regulated licence. Hill-Tout writes that exogamous rules arose for political reasons by marriage treaties between the groups. Darwin denies primitive promiscuous intercourse, and says exogamy arose from the strongest male driving the other males out of the group. This is also the opinion of Lang, Atkinson, and Letourneau.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:1-6
1 I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm Of David] To Yahweh belong the earth and all ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:54-59
54 He said again to the crowds, 'When you see a cloud ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 24th, 2014 Image

St. Anthony Mary Claret
October 24: Claretian archbishop and founder. Anthony was born in Salient in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter