The Primitive Mind and Modern Man

Indexed in: Scopus, EBSCO

This book is in the field of cultural anthropology and transcultural psychology, and is intended for college courses in anthropology and psychology, and general readership. The book focuses on ...
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Pp. 76-82 (7)

John Alan Cohan


In this chapter we discuss the concept of totemism. Totems are animals, plants or natural phenomena (a mountain, stream, volcano, etc.) which which a group will identify. Tribes often believe they are literally descended from their totems. The totem might be regarded as a guardian, helpmate, or a source of strength to the people. Often a people’s mythology will attribute special qualities to totemic animals-e.g., that they possessed remarkable powers which transformed chaos of the universe into order. Some totems reflect the economic and social importance of the objects concerned-e.g., the sea might be the totem. Totems are objects of reverence and fear-the totem is subject to rituals and taboos, violation of which has dire and immediate consequences. Usually the totemic species cannot be killed or eaten, except for communion-type ceremonies. For instance, for many aborigines in Australia, the kangaroo or iguana is their totem. Totemic beliefs reveal a peoples’ philosophy of life, their morals, their spirituality. In modern cultures totems are seen in flags and mascots. Modern society embraces totemism in many ways-e.g., national flags, mascots for sports teams, and the tendency of people to think of their homeland in endearing, reverential terms.


Western State Law School USA.