2. Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence

1) The meaning of 'taboo' diverges on the one hand to mean 'sacred' and 'consecrated' and on the other 'uncanny', 'dangerous', 'forbidden' and 'unclean'. The word 'taboo' denotes everything whether a person, or a place or a thing or a transitory condition, which is the vehicle or source of this mysterious attribute. Freud looks at the views of a notable investigator in this area - Wilhelm Wundt, (1906) who holds that 'Taboo is originally nothing other than the objectified fear of the "demonic" power which is believed to lie hidden in a tabooed object.' He also divides taboo prohibitions into three classes, those against animals (totemism), those against humans, and those against plants, which are the least stable. In these terms, Wundt emphasizes that taboo in its earliest form is neither 'sacred' nor 'unclean', but an intermediate - 'demonic', and only splits at a later stage into objects of veneration and horror.

2) Freud then looks at the similarities between 'taboos' and neurotic, psychologically ill patients. Since it can often be seen that these patients have created for themselves individual taboo prohibitions of this very kind, which they obey just as strictly as savages obey the communal taboos of their society. Yet Freud emphasizes that any similarity may only apply to the forms of the taboos and obsessions, and not extend to their essential character. The similarities that Freud draws between taboo usages and obsessional symptoms may be summarized as follows:

(i) their prohibitions lack any assignable motive;
(ii) they are maintained by an internal necessity;
(iii) they are easily displaceable and there is a risk of infection from the prohibited object;
(iv) they give rise to injunctions for the performances of ceremonial acts.

Freud then points out that these psychical fixations follow from the subject's ambivalent attitude towards a single object - the continuing conflict between the (noisily conscious) prohibition and the (unconscious) instinct/desire. This therefore accommodates savages' inability to tell us the real reason for their prohibitions - the origin of the taboo - since it would follow that their real reason must be 'unconscious'. Furthermore, the most ancient and important taboo prohibitions and laws of totemism - not to kill the totem animal and to avoid sexual intercourse with members of the totem clan of the opposite sex - these must be the most important and oldest of human desires.

(3) The value of these parallels that Freud has drawn is then assessed by looking at its applicability to various examples of taboo. Freud then looks at taboos attaching to:

(i) enemies,
(ii) chiefs
(iii) to the dead

using material from Frazer's Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (1911) and The Golden Bough.

(a) Freud notes that even the killing of men is governed by usages of taboo, which demand (1) the appeasement of the slain enemy (2) restrictions upon the slayer (3) acts of expiation and purification by him and (4) certain ceremonial observances. Whilst Freud admits that due to incomplete information on this subject the universality of these usages is hard to assess, but seems probable. Freud then cites examples of each of the four usage from various places (Timor, Celebes, Borneo, North American tribes etc.) and discusses objections - for example that examples of 'appeasement' are possibly, rather than to do with 'ambivalence' to do with superstitious fear of the ghosts of the slain. However Freud argues back that all rites of appeasement would follow logically from this superstition. In the explanation of observances of appeasement, restriction, expiation and purification, Freud proposes that two principles are combined: the extension of the taboo from the slain man on to everything that has come into contact with him, and the fear of the slain man's ghost. However, how these two are combined into ceremonials, whether one is to be given more weight etc. is unclear, rather Freud lays stress on the unity of his view that derives all of the above observations from emotional ambivalence towards the enemy.

(b) The Taboo upon rulers seems to be governed by two complementary rather than contradictory principles - "A ruler must not only be guarded, he must also be guarded against" (Frazer, 1911) - since rulers are vehicles of mysterious and dangerous powers, yet contact with the king is remedy and protection against the dangers provoked by contact with the king - a contract between a passive and an active relation to the king. Examples of Kings' healing powers is found in recent western lineages as well as savage equivalents, and Freud also describes examples of fearful effects of contact with a king. Freud proposes

  By PanEris using Melati.

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