4. The Return of Totemism in Childhood

Having established the concept of totemism, it was McLennan (1869) who first suggested that many customs and usages in various societies, ancient and modern were to be explained as remnants of a totemic age. Since then various pictures and updates of the concept of totemism have been offered, most noticeably, by Rheinach (1900) whose 12 articles, not only relegated one principle (of descent form the totemic animal and subsequent prohibition of killing or eating it) but entirely overlooked the other of the prohibition of sex with members of the same clan/totem. Freud therefore looks at the more accurate picture of totemism, offered by Frazer in Totem and Exogamy (1910). He begins by stating that the members of a totem clan call themselves by the name of their totem, and commonly believe themselves to be descended from it. Thus the nomenclature is thought to correspond to a blood bond, and thus would correspond to a prohibition of members of the same clan from marrying or having sexual intercourse with each other - exogamy. Along with Frazer's and Rheinach's, Freud looks at a few other accounts of totemism, to present the idea of differences of opinion between authorities, on totemism.

Given that totemism has been cited as a regular and universal phenomenon, Freud suggests that it is even more important to explain the ideas such as descent from the totem and the reasons for exogamy, and its relation with the totem organisation.

(a) The Origin of Totemism

Freud divides the theories on the origin of totemism into three groups:

(i) the nominalist
(ii) the sociological
(iii) the psychological.

(i) Nominalist Theories

These see totems as 'heraldic badges' by means of which individuals, families and clans sought to distinguish themselves from one another. (Keane, 1899, and Max-Muller, 1897). These theories then propose that as a result of the vagueness and unintelligibility of primitive speech, later generations interpreted these names as evidence of descent from the actual animals - i.e. totemism is a misunderstood form of ancestor worship. However how do these theories account for the importance that has become attached to this nomenclature? Lang (1903 and 1905) argued that the origin of the names had been forgotten, however the fact that amongst primitive men, a name is a man's principal component of his soul, equates to its importance as if a blood relationship, and thus automatically involves the totemic ordinances. However, despite the origin of these names having been forgotten, Lang proposes that they originated from the compulsion to differentiate groups and the fact that they borrowed animals' names, is not surprising and instances of this can still be seen today (e.g. in American football).

(ii) Sociological Theories

Rheinach and Durkheim (1912) argue that the totem is the visible representative of social religion among the races concerned, others such as Haddon (1902) propose that each clan subsisted upon one species or plant and traded with it among other clans, and thus assumed it as a name. Against this, is that feeding conditions of this kind are rarely found among primitive races, nor does it follow that this name would culminate in abstention from the favourite food. Freud looks at examples from the most primitive of tribes - of the Arunta nation - as most anthropologists have done, for evidence both for and against the theories cited thus far. However, due to controversial findings of such studies, it has been proposed that the Arunta are not, as originally thought the best representation of totemism - rather, as the most developed of Australia's tribes, they may represent the dissolution of totemism rather than its beginning.

(iii) Psychological Theories

Freud begins by looking at Frazer's first psychological theory, based on the belief of an 'external soul', however it does not bode well that Frazer himself later abandoned this theory in theory of a more sociological one as described above, as he tried to identify some simpler factor, primitive superstition behind the totem structures - for example the Arunta's remarkable story of conception (whereby the mother identifies the animal, or plant she recalls passing at the time she 'fell pregnant' and the connection between the sexual act and conception is eliminated). Again the main objections to such theories are the same as those to his second, sociological ones - that the Arunta seem to be far removed from the beginnings of totemism.

Another psychological theory of the origin of totemism has been proposed by Wilken (1884) that connects totemism with the belief in the transmigration of souls, however critics argue that it is more likely that transmigration was derived from totemism rather than vice versa.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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