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.