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4. Totem-Sacraments And Eucharists
Much has been written on the origin of the Totem-system --the system, that is, of
naming a tribe or a portion of a tribe (say a CLAN) after some ANIMAL--or
sometimes--also after some plant or tree or Nature-element, like fire or rain or
thunder; but at best the subject is a difficult one for us moderns to understand. A
careful study has been made of it by Salamon Reinach in his Cultes, Mythes et
Religions,[1] where he formulates his conclusions in twelve statements or
definitions; but even so--though his suggestions are helpful--he throws very little
light on the real origin of the system.[2]
[1] See English translation of certain chapters (published by David Nutt in 1912)
entitled Cults, Myths and Religions, pp. 1-25. The French original is in three large
[2] The same may be said of the formulated statement of the subject in Morris
Jastrow's Handbooks of the History of Religion, vol. iv.
There are three main difficulties. The first is to understand why primitive Man
should name his Tribe after an animal or object of nature at all; the second, to
understand on what principle he selected the particular name (a lion, a crocodile,
a lady bird, a certain tree); the third, why he should make of the said totem a
divinity, and pay honor and worship to it. It may be worth while to pause for a
moment over these.
(1) The fact that the Tribe was one of the early things for which Man found it
necessary to have a name is interesting, because it shows how early the
solidarity and psychological actuality of the tribe was recognized; and as to the
selection of a name from some animal or concrete object of Nature, that was
inevitable, for the simple reason that there was nothing else for the savage to
choose from. Plainly to call his tribe "The Wayfarers" or "The Pioneers" or the
"Pacifists" or the "Invincibles," or by any of the thousand and one names which
modern associations adopt, would have been impossible, since such abstract
terms had little or no existence in his mind. And again to name it after an animal
was the most obvious thing to do, simply because the animals were by far the
most important features or accompaniments of his own life. As I am dealing in
this book largely with certain psychological conditions of human evolution, it has
to be pointed out that to primitive man the animal was the nearest and most
closely related of all objects. Being of the same order of consciousness as
himself, the animal appealed to him very closely as his mate and equal. He made
with regard to it little or no distinction from himself. We see this very clearly in the
case of children, who of course represent the savage mind, and who regard
animals simply as their mates and equals, and come quickly into rapport with
them, not differentiating themselves from them.