1. CHAPTER 1
  2. Chapter 1
  3. CHAPTER 10
  4. Chapter 10
  5. Chapter 11
  6. CHAPTER 12
  7. Chapter 12


The Individual Totem and the Sexual Totem

Up to the present, we have studied totemism only as a public institution: the only totems of which we have spoken are common to a clan, a phratry or, in a sense, to a tribe; 1 an individual has a part in them only as a member of a group. But we know that there is no religion which does not have an individual aspect. This general observation is applicable to totemism. In addition to the impersonal and collective totems which hold the first place, there are others which are peculiar to each individual, which express his personality, and whose cult he celebrates in private.


In certain Australian tribes, and in the majority of the Indian tribes of North America, 2 each individual personally sustains relations with some determined object, which are comparable to those which each clan sustains witli its totem. This is sometimes an inanimate being or an artificial object; but it is generally an animal. In certain cases, a special part of the organism, such as the head, the feet or the liver, fulfils this office.3

The name of the thing also serves as the name of the individual. It is his personal name, his forename, which is added to that of the collective totem, as the praenomen of the Romans was to the nomen genfilicium. It is true that this fact is not reported except in a certain number of societies, 4 but it is probably general. In


fact, we shall presently show that there is an identity of nature between the individual and the thing; now an identity of nature implies one of name. Being given in the course of especially important religious ceremonies, this forename has a sacred character. It is not pronounced in the ordinary circumstances of profane life. It even happens that the word designating this object in the ordinary language must be modified to a greater or less extent if it is to serve in this particular case.1 This is because the terms of the usual language are excluded from the religious life.

In certain American tribes, at least, this name is reinforced by an emblem belonging to each individual and representing, under various forms, the thing designated by the name. For example, each Mandan wears the skin of the animal of which he is the namesake.2 If it is a bird, he decorates himself with its feathers.3 The Hurons and Algonquins tattoo their bodies with its image.4 It is represented on their arms.5 Among the northwestern tribes, the individual emblem, just like the collective emblem of the clan, is carved or engraved on the utensils, houses, 6 etc. ; it serves as a mark of ownership.7 Frequently the two coats-of-arms are combined together, which partially explains the great diversity of aspects presented by the totemic escutcheons among these peoples.8

Between the individual and his animal namesake there exist the very closest bonds. The man participates in the nature of the animal; he has its good qualities as well as its faults. For example, a man having the eagle as his coat-of-arms is believed to possess the gift of seeing into the future; if he is named after a bear, they say that he is apt to be wounded in combat, for the bear is heavy and slow and easily caught; 9 if the animal is despised, the man is the object of the same sentiment.10 The relationship of the two is even so close that it is believed that in certain circumstances, especially in case of danger, the man can take the form of the animal.11 Inversely, the animal is


regarded as a double of the man, as his alter ego.1 The association of the two is so close that their destinies are frequently thought to be bound up together: nothing can happen to one without the other's feeling a reaction.2 If the animal dies, the life of the man is menaced. Thus it comes to be a very general rule that one should not kill the animal, nor eat its flesh. This interdiction, which, when concerning the totem of the clan, allows of all sorts of attenuations and modifications, is now much more formal and absolute.3

On its side, the animal protects the man and serves him as a sort of patron. It informs him of possible dangers and of the way of escaping them; 4 they say that it is his friend.5 Since it frequently happens to possess marvellous powers, it communicates them to its human associate, who believes in them, even under the proof of bullets, arrows, and blows of every sort.6 This confidence of an individual in the efficacy of his protector is so great that he braves the greatest dangers and accomplishes the most disconcerting feats with an intrepid serenity: faith gives him the necessary courage and strength.7 However, the relations of a man with his patron are not purely and simply those of dependence. He, on his side, is able to act upon the animal. He gives it orders; he has influence over it. A Kurnai having the shark as ally and friend believes that he can disperse the sharks who menace a boat, by means of a charm.8 In other cases, the relations thus contracted are believed to confer upon the man a special aptitude for hunting the animal with success.9


The very nature of these relations seems clearly to imply that the being to which each individual is thus associated is only an individual itself, and not a species. A man does not have a species as his alter ego. In fact, there are cases where it is certainly a certain determined tree, rock or stone that fulfils this function.1 It must be thus every time that it is an animal, and that the existences of the animal and the man are believed to be connected. A man could not be united so closely to a whole species, for there is not a day nor, so to speak, an instant when the species does not lose some one of its members. Yet the primitive has a certain incapacity for thinking of the individual apart from the species; the bonds uniting him to the one readily extend to the other; he confounds tlie two in the same sentiment. Thus the entire species becomes sacred for him.2

This protector is naturally given different names in different societies: nagual among the Indians of Mexico, 3 manitoii among the Algonquins and okki among the Hurons, 4 snam among certain Salish, 5 sulia among others, 6 budjan among the Yuin, 7 yimbeai among the Euahlayi, 8 etc. Owing to the importance of these beliefs and practices among the Indians of North America, some have proposed creating a word nagualism or manitonism to designate them.9 But in giving them a special and distinctive name, we run the risk of misunderstanding their relations with the rest of totemism. In fact, the same principle is applied in the one case to the clan and in the other to the individual. In both cases we find the same belief that there are vital connections


between the things and the men, and that the former are endowed with special powers, of which their human allies may also enjoy the advantage. We also find the same custom of giving the man the name of the thing with which he is associated and of adding an emblem to this name. The totem is the patron of the clan, just as the patron of the individual is his personal totem. So it is important that our terminology should make the relationship of the two systems apparent; that is why we, with Frazer, shall give the name individual totemism to the cult rendered by each individual to his patron. A further justification of this expression is found in the fact that in certain cases the primitive himself uses the same word to designate the totem of tlie clan and the animal protector of the individual.1 If Tyior and Powell have rejected this term and demanded different ones for these two sorts of religious institutions, it is because the collective totem is, in their opinion, only a name or label, having no religious character.2 But we, on the contrary, know that it is a sacred thing, and even more so than the protecting animal. Moreover, the continuation of our study will show how these two varieties of totemism are inseparable from each other.3

Yet, howsoever close the kinship between these two institutions may be, there are important differences between them. While the clan believes that it is the offspring of the animal or plant serving it as totem, the individual does not believe that he has any relationship of descent with his personal totem. It is a friend, an associate, a protector; but it is not a relative. He takes advantage of the virtues it is believed to possess; but he is not of the same blood. In the second place, the members of a clan allow neighbouring clans to eat of the animal whose name they bear collectively, under the simple condition that the necessary formalities shall be observed. But, on the contrary, the individual respects the species to which his personal totem belongs and also protects it againsi; strangers, at least in those parts where the destiny of the man is held to be bound up with that of the animal.

But the chief difference between these two sorts of totems is in the manner in which they are acquired.

The collective totem is a part of the civil status of each individual: it is generally hereditary; in any case, it is birth


which designates it, and the wish of men counts for nothing. Sometimes the child has the totem of his mother (Kamilaroi, Dieri, Urabunna, etc.); sometimes that of his father (Narrinyeri, Warramunga, etc.); sometimes the one predominating in the locality where his mother conceived (Arunta, Loritja). But, on the contrary, the individual totem is acquired by a deliberate act: 1 a whole series of ritual operations are necessary to determine it. The method generally employed by the Indians of North America is as follows. About the time of puberty, as the time for initiation approaches, the young man withdraws into a distant place, for example, into a forest. There, during a period varying from a few days to several years, he submits himself to all sorts of exhausting and unnatural exercises. He fasts, mortifies, himself and inflicts various mutilations upon himself. Now he wanders about, uttering violent cries and veritable howls; now he lies extended, motionless and lamenting, upon the ground. Sometimes he dances, prays and invokes his ordinary divinities. At last, he thus gets himself into an extreme state of super-excitation, verging on delirium. When he has reached this paroxysm, his representations readily take on the character of hallucinations. "When," says Heckewelder, "a boy is on the eve of being initiated, he is submitted to an alternating regime of fasts and medical treatment; he abstains from all food and takes the most powerful and repugnant drugs: at times, he drinks intoxicating concoctions until his mind really wanders. Then he has, or thinks he has, visions and extraordinary dreams to which he was of course predisposed by all this training. He imagines himself flying through the air, advancing under the ground, jumping from one mountain -top to another across the valleys, and fighting and conquering giants and monsters. "2 If in these circumstances he sees, or, as amounts to the same thing, he thinks he sees, while dreaming or while awake, an animal appearing to him in an attitude seeming to


show friendly intentions, then he imagines that he has discovered the patron he awaited.1

Yet this procedure is rarely employed in Australia.2 On this continent, the personal totem seems to be imposed by a third party, either at birth 3 or at the moment of initiation.4 Generally it is a relative who takes this part, or else a personage invested with special powers, such as an old man or a magician. Sometimes divination is used for this purpose. For example, on Charlotte Bay, Cape Bedford or the Proserpine River, the grandmother or some other old woman takes a little piece of umbilical cord to which the placenta is still attached and whirls it about quite violently. Meanwhile the other old women propose different names. That one is adopted which happens to be pronounced just at the moment when the cord breaks.5 Among the Yarrai-kanna of Cape York, after a tooth has been knocked out of the young initiate, they give him a little water to rinse his mouth and ask him to spit in a bucket full of water. The old men carefully examine the clot formed by the blood and saliva thus spit out, and the natural object whose shape it resembles becomes the personal totem of the young man.6 In other cases, the totem is transmitted from one individual to another, for example from father to son, or uncle to nephew.7 This method is also used in America. In a case reported by Hill Tout, the operator was a shaman, 8 who wished to transmit his totem to his nephew. "The uncle took the symbol of his snam (his personal totem), which in this case was a dried bird's skin, and bade his nephew breathe upon it. He then blew upon it also himself, uttered some mystic words and the dried skin seemed to Paul (the nephew) to become a living bird, which flew about them a moment or two


and then finally disappeared. Paul was then instructed by his uncle to procure that day a bird's skin of the same kind as his uncle's and wear it on his person. This he did, and that night he had a dream, in which the snam appeared to him in the shape of a human being, disclosed to him its mystic name by which it might be summoned, and promised him protection. "1

Not only is the individual totem acquired and not given, but ordinarily the acquisition of one is not obligatory. In the first place, there are a multitude of tribes in Australia where the custom seems to be absolutely unknown.2 Also, even where it does exist, it is frequently optional. Thus among the Euahlayi, while all the magicians have individual totems from which they get their powers, there are a great number of laymen who have none at all. It is a favour given by the magician, but which he reserves for his friends, his favourites and those who aspire to becoming his colleagues.3 Likewise, among certain Salish, persons desiring to excel especially either in fighting or in hunting, or aspirants to the position of shaman, are the only ones who provide themselves with protectors of this sort.4 So among certain peoples, at least, the individual totem seems to be considered an advantage and convenient thing rather than a necessity. It is a good thing to have, but a man can do without one. Inversely, a man need not limit himself to a single totem; if he wishes to be more fully protected, nothing hinders his seeking and acquiring several, 5 and if the one he has fulfils its part badly, he can change it.6

But while it is more optional and free, individual totemism contains within it a force of resistance never attained by the totemism of the clan. One of the chief informers of Hill Tout was a baptized Salish; however, though he had sincerely abandoned the faith of his fathers, and though he had become a model catechist, still his faith in the efficacy of the personal totems remained unshaken.7 Similarly, though no visible traces of collective totemism remain in civilized countries, the idea that there is a connection between each individual and some


animal, plant or other object, is at the bottom of many customs still observable in many European countries.1


Between collective totemism and individual totemism there is an intermediate form partaking of the characteristics of each: this is sexual totemism1. It is found only in Australia and in a small number of tribes. It is mentioned especially in Victoria and New South Wales.2 Mathews, it is true, claims to have observed it in all the parts of Australia that he has visited, but he gives no precise facts to support this affirmation.3

Among these different peoples, all the men of the tribe on the one hand, and all the women on the other, to whatever special clan they may belong, form, as it were, two distinct and even antagonistic societies. Now each of these two sexual corporations believes that it is united by mystical bonds to a determined animal. Among the Kurnai, all the men think they are brothers, as it were, of the emu-wren (Yeerung), all the women, that they are as sisters of the linnet (Djeetgun); all the men are Yeerung and all the women are Djeetgun. Among the Wotjobaluk and the Wurunjerri, it is the bat and the nightjar (a species of screech-owl) respectively who take this role. In other tribes, the woodpecker is substituted for the nightjar. Each sex regards the animal to which it is thus related as a sort of protector which must be treated with the greatest regard; it is also forbidden to kill and eat it.4

Thus this protecting animal plays the same part in relation to the sexual society that the totem of the clan plays to this latter group. So the expression sexual totemism, which we borrow from Frazer, 5 is justified. This new sort of totem resembles that of the clan particularly in that it, too, is collective; it belongs to all the people of one sex indiscriminately. It also resembles this form in that it implies a relationship of descent and consanguinity between the animal patron and the


corresponding sex: among the Kurnai, all the men are believed to be descended from Yeerung and all the women from Djeetgun.1 The first observer to point out this curious institution described it, in 1834 in the following terms: "Tilmun, a little bird the size of a thrush (it is a sort of woodpecker), is supposed by the women to be the first maker of women. These birds are held in veneration by the women only. "2 So it was a great ancestor. But in other ways, this same totem resembles the individual totem. In fact, it is believed that each member of a sexual group is personally united to a determined individual of the corresponding animal species. The two lives are so closely associated that the death of the animal brings about that of the man. "The life of a bat," say the Wotjobaluk, "is the life of a man." 3 That is why each sex not only respects its own totem, but forces the members of the other to do so as well. Every violation of this interdiction gives rise to actual bloody battles between the men and the women.4

Finally, the really original feature of these totems is that they are, in a sense, a sort of tribal totems. In fact, they result from men's representing the tribe as descended as a whole from one couple of mythical beings. Such a belief seems to demonstrate clearly that the tribal sentiment lias acquired sufficient force to resist, at least to a considerable extent, the particularism of the clans. In regard to the distinct origins assigned to men and to women, it must be said that its cause is to be sought in the separate conditions in which the men and the women live.5

It would be interesting to know how the sexual totems are related to the totems of the clans, according to the theory of the Australians, what relations there were between the two ancestors thus placed at the commencement of the tribe, and from which one each special clan is believed to be descended. But the ethno-graphical data at our present disposal do not allow us to resolve these questions. Moreover, however natural and even necessary it may appear to us, it is very possible that the natives never raised it. They do not feel the need of co-ordinating and syste-matizing their beliefs as strongly as we do.6

RUSKIN HOUSE MUSEUM STREET | INTRODUCTION | Introduction by Robert Nisbet | CHAPTER IV totemic beliefs- (end} The Individual Totem and the Sexual Totem | Origins of these beliefs- (continued) The Notion of the Totemic Principle, or Mana, and the Idea of ??Force | CHAPTER V | I.-Animism | II.-Naturism | Leading Conceptions of the Elementary Religion | History of the Question.-Method of Treating it |

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