1902 Encyclopedia > Totemism > Totemism: Introduction. The Clan Totem.

(Part 1)


Totemism: Introduction. The Clan Totem.

A totem is a class of material objects which a savage regards with superstitious respect, believing that there exists between him and every member of the class an intimate. and altogether special relation. The name is derived from an Ojibway (Chippeway) word which was first introduced into literature, so far as appears, by J. Long, an Indian interpreter of last century, who spelt it totam. [Footnote 467-4] The connexion between a man and his totem is mutually beneficent : the totem protects the man, and the man shows his respect for the totem in various ways, by not killing it if it be an animal, and not cutting or gathering it if it be a plant. As distinguished from a fetich, a totem is never an isolated individual, but always a class of objects, generally a species of animals or of plants, more rarely a class of inanimate natural objects, very rarely a class of artificial objects.

Considered in relation to men, totems are of at least three kinds :—(1) the clan totem, common to a whole clan, and passing by inheritance from generation to generation; (2) the sex totem, common either to all the males or to all the females of a tribe, to the exclusion in either case of the other sex; (3) the individual totem, belonging tu a single individual and not passing to his descendants. Other kinds of totems exist and will be noticed, but they may perhaps be regarded as varieties of the clan totem. The latter is by far the most important of all; and where we speak of totems or totemism without qualification the reference is always to the clan totem.

The Clan Totem.—The clan totem is reverenced. by a body of men and women who call themselves by the name of the totem, believe themselves to be of one blood, de-scendants of a common ancestor, and are bound together by common obligations to each other and by a common faith in the totem. Totemism is thus both a religious and a social system. In its religious aspect it consists of the relations of mutual respect and protection between a mail and his totem ; in its social aspect it consists of the rela-tions of the clansmen to each other and to men of other clans. In the later history of totemism these two sides, the religious and the social, tend to part company ; the social system sometimes survives the religious ; and, on the other hand, religion sometimes bears traces of totemism in countries where the social system based on totemisin has disappeared. We begin with the religious side.


467-4 Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter, p. 86, 1791.

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