The Primitive Mind and Modern Man


Author(s): John Alan Cohan

Pp: 76-82 (7)

DOI: 10.2174/978160805087111001010076

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


In this chapter we discuss the concept of totemism. Totems are animals, plants or natural phenomena (a mountain, stream, volcano, etc.) which which a group will identify. Tribes often believe they are literally descended from their totems. The totem might be regarded as a guardian, helpmate, or a source of strength to the people. Often a people’s mythology will attribute special qualities to totemic animals-e.g., that they possessed remarkable powers which transformed chaos of the universe into order. Some totems reflect the economic and social importance of the objects concerned-e.g., the sea might be the totem. Totems are objects of reverence and fear-the totem is subject to rituals and taboos, violation of which has dire and immediate consequences. Usually the totemic species cannot be killed or eaten, except for communion-type ceremonies. For instance, for many aborigines in Australia, the kangaroo or iguana is their totem. Totemic beliefs reveal a peoples’ philosophy of life, their morals, their spirituality. In modern cultures totems are seen in flags and mascots. Modern society embraces totemism in many ways-e.g., national flags, mascots for sports teams, and the tendency of people to think of their homeland in endearing, reverential terms.

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