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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Serpent-Worship and Other Essays » CHAPTER XII. TOTEMS AND TOTEMISM.
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After treating of the nature of totems, I propose to explain the object of totemism as a system, and to show its origin. I am not aware that this has yet been attempted in an adequate manner, although the subject has been referred to, as I shall have occasion to show, by several writers of authority. The late Dr. J. F. M’Lennan, who first dealt with the subject of totemism, which indeed he made his own, did not profess to explain its origin, notwithstanding certain remarks bearing on this question made in the course of his inquiries.

The first point to be considered is the nature of a “totem,” and this is shown by the meaning of the name itself. The word is taken from the language of the Ojibwas, a tribe of the widespread Algonkin stock, living near Lake Superior, in North America. It signifies the symbol or device of a gens or tribal division, that by which it is distinguished from all other such divisions. The kind of objects used as totems by the aborigines of North America may be seen from the names of the gentes into which the Ojibwa tribe is divided. These are twenty-three in number, and the totemic devices belonging to them comprise nine quadrupeds (the chief of which are the Wolf, the Bear, the Beaver, and the Turtle), eight birds, five248 fishes, and one reptile, the snake. There are numerous other totems among the American tribes, and they are not taken from the animal kingdom only. Thus, there are gentes with vegetable totems, such as Corn, Potatoe, Tobacco-Plant, and Reed-Grass. Natural objects, such as Sun, Earth, Sand, Salt, Sea, Snow, Ice, Water, and Rain, give names to other tribal divisions. Among natural phenomena, Thunder is widely spread as the name of a gens, while Wind is used among the Creek Indians; and the Omahas have a name meaning Many Seasons. Medicine, Tent, Lodge, Bonnet, Leggings, and Knife, have given titles to other gentes, and so also has colour. Thus, we have Black and Red Omahas, and Blue and Red-Paint Cherokees. Names denoting qualities have been taken by some gentes, such as Beloved People of the Choctas; Never Laugh, Starving, Half-Dead, Meat, Fish-Eaters, and Conjurers of the Blackfeet; and the Non-Chewing of the Delawares. How some of those ideas could be represented pictorially as totems is not very apparent, and Mr. Lewis Morgan very properly suggests, in relation to some of the terms, that nicknames for gentes may have superseded the original names; to which may be added that probably many of the totems are of comparatively modern origin.

The natives of Australia make the same use of totems as the Americans. The former have divisions of the tribe answering to the gentes of the latter, distinguished by a common device or totem; and the Australian totemic divisions are usually, like the American gentes, named after animals. Thus, the Kamilaroi tribes have Kangaroo, Opossum, Iguana,249 Emu, Bandicoot, and Blacksnake totems. Eaglehawk and Crow are widely spread throughout Eastern Australia as names of Class divisions. Totems taken from the vegetable kingdom appear to be uncommon, as only two are mentioned in the Rev. Lorimer Fison’s work on the Kamilaroi. The Rev. George Taplin names two others among the totems of the South Australian tribes, each of which has a “tutelary genius,” or “tribal symbol,” in the shape of some bird, beast, fish, reptile, insect, or substance. The divisions of a tribe in Western Victoria take their totems from natural features, such as Water, Mountain, Swamp, and River, and in North-Western Victoria the totemic divisions include Hot-Wind and Belonging-to-the-Sun.

Although no such developed totemic system as that in use by the natives of Australia and North America is known now to exist elsewhere, yet there are traces of the use of totems by many other peoples. Thus, among the Bechuanas of South Africa,306 each tribe takes its name from an animal or plant, and its members are known as “men of the crocodile,” “men of the fish,” “men of the monkey,” “men of the buffalo,” “men of the wild vine,” &c. The head of the family, which holds the first rank in the tribe, receives the title of “great man” of the animal whose name it bears, and no one belonging to the tribe will eat the flesh, or clothe himself with the skin, of its protecting animal, who is regarded250 as the father of the tribe. Many of the Arab tribes take their names from animals, such as the Lion, the Panther, the Wolf, the Bear, the Dog, the Fox, the Hyena, the Sheep, and many others.307 Professor Robertson Smith, who has endeavoured to establish the existence of totemism among the early Arabs, states that the totem animal was not used as ordinary food by those connected with it. Again, some of the Kolarian tribes of India are divided into clans named after animals, and we find the Heron, Hawk, Crow, and Eel clans among the Oraon and Munda tribes of Chota-Nagpur.

A totem origin may probably be ascribed to the animal ancestry claimed by a chief or his tribe. Thus, it is said by M. M. Valikhanof308 that “a characteristic feature in Central Asiatic traditions is the derivation of their origin from some animal.” The Kastsché, or Tele people, are said to have sprung from the marriage of a wolf and a beautiful Hun Princess. The Tugas professed to be descended from a she-wolf, and the Tufans, or Tibetans, from a dog. The Chinese affirmed, moreover, that Balaché, the hereditary chief of the Mongol Khans, was the son of a blue wolf309 and a white hind. Traces of the use of totems by the251 Chinese themselves are not wanting. Their expression for the people is Pih-sing, meaning “the hundred family names.” As a fact, there are about four hundred such names in China, and the intermarriage of persons having the same family name is absolutely forbidden. The importance of this prohibition will be apparent when we come to consider the incidents of totemism. Mr. Robert Hart states310 that some of the Chinese surnames have reference to animals, fruits, metals, natural objects, &c., such as Horse, Sheep, Ox,311 Fish, Bird, Flower, Rice, River, Water, Cloud, Gold, &c., &c. He adds, “In some parts of the country large villages are met with, in each of which there exists but one family name; thus, in one district will be found, say, three villages, each containing two or three thousand people, the one of the ‘Horse,’ the second of the ‘Sheep,’ and the third of the ‘Ox’ family name.” According to the rule that a man cannot marry a woman of his own family name, a ‘Horse’ cannot marry a ‘Horse,’ but must marry a ‘Sheep,’ or an ‘Ox,’ and we may suppose that these animals were originally the totems or devices of particular family groups; in like manner, as the Wolf, the Bear, and the Beaver are, among the American aborigines, totems of the groups of kin to which the term gens is applied.

The former use of totems may probably be assumed also when animal names are applied, not to tribal divi252sions, but to the tribes themselves, as we have seen is the case with the Arabs. Thus, when the great Hindu Epic,312 in describing the adventures of Arjuna, one of the Pandavan Princes, says that the Nagas or Serpents were defeated with the aid of Peacocks, we must understand that a people known as Peacocks, from their totemic device, defeated a people whose badge was a serpent. The Peacock was indeed the heraldic device of the Tambouk Kings of Orissa. Probably the existence of the Singhs or Lions, the warrior caste of the tribes of North-Western India, may be accounted for in the same way. Dr. M’Lennan313 refers to numerous facts to prove that many animals, among others the Serpent, the Horse, the Bull, the Lion, the Bear, the Dog, and the Goat gave names to ancient tribes, who used the animals after whom they were called as badges. He goes further than this, and supposes that all the ancient nations passed through a totem stage, in which they had animals and plants for gods. This question, however, we shall have occasion to refer to later on.

The nature of totems having been shown, the object of totemism as a system has now to be explained. The Rev. George Taplin remarks that each Narrinyeri tribe is regarded as a family, every member of which is a blood relation, and the totem borne by the Australian tribe, or rather tribal division, is thus the symbol of a family group, in like manner as the American totem is the device of a gens. The first question asked of a stranger by the Dieyerie tribe of253 Cooper’s Creek, in Central Australia, is “Of what family (murdoo) are you?” Each murdoo is distinguished by a special name, being that of some object which, according to a tribal legend, may be animate or inanimate, such as a dog, mouse, emu, iguana, rain, &c.314 It is evident that the Australian totemic device is equivalent to a family name, a name which belongs to all the members of a particular group, and which cannot be held by any person not belonging by birth or adoption to that group, so that it is aptly termed by the Rev. Lorimer Fison315 a “badge of fraternity.” This badge answers to the “device of a gens,” as the token of the American tribes is defined, and its possession by any person is proof that he belongs to a particular gens or tribal division, and that he is entitled or subject to all the rights, privileges, and obligations of its members. Schoolcraft very properly terms the gens the totemic institution, and as the rights, privileges, and obligations of the gens are attached to the totem, a consideration of them will throw much light on the subject of this paper.

According to Mr. Morgan,316 the gens came into being upon three principal conceptions, the bond of kin, a pure lineage through descent in the female line, and non-intermarriage in the gens. Leaving out of view for the present the question of descent, the other conceptions give rise to obligations of great importance. The bond of kin assumes the positive254 obligation of mutual help, defence, and redress of injuries among the members of the gens; while the third conception implies the negative obligation which prevents the intermarriage of persons belonging to a common totem. The negative obligation is, however, no less than the positive obligation, based on the conception of kinship, and the totem device of the gens is, therefore, well described as the badge of a fraternal group. The obligation of mutual aid and defence implies the co-relative duty of doing nothing to injure a fellow member of the gens, in accordance with which all individuals of the same totem must treat each other as brethren. This applies not only to human beings, but also to the totem objects, although these may be killed and eaten by persons not belonging to the fraternal group, by which they are regarded as sacred. Sir George Grey says,317 in relation to the kobongs or totems of the Western Australians, “a certain mysterious connection exists between the family and its kobong, so that a member of the family will never kill an animal of the species to which his kobong belongs, should he find it asleep; indeed, he always kills it reluctantly, and never without affording it a chance of escape.” He adds: “This arises from the family belief, that some one individual of the species is their nearest friend, to kill whom would be a great crime, and to be carefully avoided. Similarly a native who has a vegetable for his kobong may not gather it under certain circumstances, and at a particular period of the year.” So, also, the abo255rigines of North America will not hunt, kill, or eat any animal of the form of their own totem.

Where, therefore, we find particular animals forbidden for food to a class of individuals we may assume that such animals have a totemic character. Thus, Bosman relates318 that, on the Gold Coast of Guinea, each person “is forbidden the eating of one sort of flesh or other; one eats no mutton, another no goats’-flesh, beef, swines’-flesh, wild fowl, &c.” He points out that this restraint is not for a limited time, but for the whole of life; and as a son never eats what his father is restrained from, or a daughter that which her mother cannot eat, the forbidden object partakes of the nature of a totem. It is doubtful whether the Islanders of the Pacific ever possessed systematic totemism, although traces of the use of totems may, perhaps, be found in the names taken from plants met with in some of the islands, and even in the word “Samoa,” which is said by the Rev. Wyatt Gill319 to mean “the family or clan of the Moa,” the Polynesian term for fowl. The Samoans entertained ideas as to particular animals, such as the eel, the shark, the turtle, the dog, the owl, and the lizard, similar to the notions associated with the totems of other peoples. They supposed those animals to be incarnations of household deities, and no man dare injure or eat the animal which was the incarnation of his own god, although he could eat freely of the incarnation of another man’s god.320


Notions of the same kind were prevalent throughout the islands of the Pacific.321 Thus, the Fijians supposed every man to be under the protection of a special god, who resided in or was symbolised by some animal, or other natural object, such as a rat, a shark, a hawk, a tree, &c. No one would eat the particular animal associated with his own god;322 which explains the fact that cannibalism was not quite universal among the Fijians, as some gods were believed to reside in human bodies. The heathen Fijians allow souls not only to all mankind, but to animals and plants, and even to houses, canoes, and all mechanical contrivances. As soon as their parents die they are enrolled among the family gods, whose protecting care is firmly believed in.323 It is very probable that these gods, who answer to the household deities of the Samoans, are regarded as being incarnate in the sacred animals, &c., of the tribe, towards whom, as being re-embodiments of deceased ancestors, they necessarily stand in a fraternal relation.

These ideas show a close connection between animal-worship and ancestor-worship, and they have an important bearing on the origin of totemism. We have seen that the obligations of the totemic institution are based on the conception of kinship. This is also essential to ancestor-worship, which, like257 totemism, rests on the obligation of mutual aid and protection. The worshippers make the offerings and perform the rites required by their deceased ancestors, who in return give their protection and assistance to their descendants. This mutual obligation is associated with the superstitious regard for certain animals and other objects. The venerated animals are not killed or eaten by those who are connected with them by superstitious ties, and they are supposed, on their part, to act as protectors to their human allies, by whom they are viewed as guardian spirits. Catlin, the American traveller, gives a vivid description of the mode in which the Indian acquires such a guardian. He states324 that every Indian must “make mystery,” that is, obtain the protection of some mysterious power which is supposed to be connected with what is known as the mystery bag. When a boy has attained the age of 14 or 15 years, he absents himself for several days from his father’s lodge,258 “lying on the ground in some remote or secluded spot, crying to the Great Spirit, and fasting the whole time. During this period of peril and abstinence, when he falls asleep, the first animal, bird, or reptile of which he dreams (or pretends to have dreamed, perhaps), he considers the Great Spirit has designated for his mysterious protector through life. He then returns home to his father’s lodge, and relates his success, and after allaying his thirst and satisfying his appetite, he sallies forth with weapons or traps until he can procure the animal or bird, the skin of which he preserves entire, and ornaments it according to his own fancy, and carries it with him through life, for good luck (as he calls it): as his strength in battle, and in death his guardian spirit, that is buried with him, and which is to conduct him safe to the beautiful hunting grounds, which he contemplates in the world to come.” In California it was thought that the Great Spirit sent, in a vision, to every child of seven years of age, the appearance of some animal to be its protector or guardian. The African fetish superstition is of much the same character, as the fetish object is worshipped solely that it may give the protecting aid which the Indian expects from his animal guardian. Mr. Cruickshank says,325 in relation to the natives of the Gold Coast of Western Africa, that they believe “the Supreme Being has bestowed upon a variety of objects, animate and inanimate, the attributes of Deity, and that he directs every individual man in his choice of his object of worship.... It may be a block, a stone, a tree, a river, a lake, a mountain, a snake, an alligator, a bundle of rags, or whatever the extravagent imagination of the idolater may pitch upon.” Here, although the nature of the protecting influence is apparently different from that which the Americans are supposed to obtain, it is in reality the same. In either case it is a guardian spirit, whether it is called a “mystery” animal or an object having the attributes of Deity.

Dr. M’Lennan saw a necessary connection between259 totemism and animal-worship, and he affirms326 that the ancient nations passed, in pre-historic times, “through the totem stage, having animals and plants, and the heavenly bodies conceived as animals, for gods before the anthropomorphic gods appeared.” By totem, Dr. M’Lennan evidently understood merely the animal or plant friend or protector of the family or tribe, and if it had any reference to soul or spirit, it is the soul or spirit of the animal or plant. He speaks327 of men “believing themselves to be of the serpent-breed derived from serpent-ancestors,” and so of other animals. He does not see in the totem any reference to the actual progenitor of the family, and he could hardly do so in accordance with his view of the mental condition of men in the totem stage, where “natural phenomena are ascribable to the presence in animals, plants, and things, and in the forces of nature, of such spirits prompting to action as men are conscious they themselves possess.” Professor Robertson Smith accepts, in his work on the early Arabs,328 Dr. M’Lennan’s views on the subject of totemism and animal-worship, and gives as one of the three points which supply complete proof of early totemism in any race, “the prevalence of the conception that the members of the stock are of the blood of the eponym animal, or are sprung from a plant of the species chosen as totem.” When Prof. Smith comes to consider this point, however, it appears that among the Arabs certain animals260 were not eaten because “they were thought to be men in another guise,” that is, they were not merely animals but were men in disguise.329 This is very different from the animistic theory, which makes men trace their descent from animals or plants, although these may be supposed to have the same kind of spirits as their human descendants; but it is consistent with the doctrine of transmigration to which we shall have soon to refer.

Dr. M’Lennan’s hypothesis may be tested by what we know of the animal-worship of ancient Egypt, where some animals were universally worshipped, while others were regarded with veneration only in particular districts, of which they were the guardians, and by whose inhabitants they were carefully protected. We have here the operation of the idea of a special relation subsisting between certain persons and particular animals, such as we have seen to exist in connection with totemism; and that relationship must, according to Dr. M’Lennan’s hypothesis that animal and plant gods were the earliest to be worshipped, have depended on the animal descent of those persons. This explanation may appear to find some support in M. Maspero’s statement,330 that all the sacred animals of Egypt were at first adored in their animal character, and that afterwards they were identified with the gods of whom ultimately they became the incarnation or living tabernacle. It is very improbable, however, that the gods would be identified with animals, unless such animals261 were already regarded as divine, or as connected with the peoples of whom they were the guardians—by virtue of such a special relationship as is thought by the Pacific Islanders to subsist between certain persons and the sacred animals in which their ancestors are incarnated. As a fact, the worship of animals was established in ancient Egypt by a king of the second dynasty.331 Moreover, it has been shown by M. Pierret that the Egyptian religion was essentially monotheistic, the different gods represented on the monuments being merely symbols. “Their very form,” says that writer, “proves that we cannot see in them real beings. A god represented with the head of a bird or of a quadruped can have only an allegorical character, in like manner as the lion with a human head called a sphinx has never passed for a real animal. It is only a question of hieroglyphics. The various personages of the Pantheon represent the functions of the Supreme God, of the only and hidden God, who preserves His identity and the fulness of His attributes under each of His forms.” Dupuis, in his History of Religions,332 refers to the ancient opinion that the division of Egypt into thirty-six nomes or provinces was in imitation of the thirty-six decans into which the Zodiac was divided, each of which had its protector. The heavenly guardians became the protecting deities of the Egyptian nomes which took the names of the animals there revered as images of the patron gods. That opinion is consistent with the view expressed by M. Pierret as to the character of the Egyptian deities. Dr. M’Lennan262 supposes,333 however, that the heavenly bodies were conceived as gods before the anthropomorphic gods appeared. He argues that, as there is nothing in the grouping of the stars to suggest animal forms, and as stars, when named, were given names that commanded respect, if not veneration, “the animals whose names were transferred to the stars or Stellar groups, were on earth highly, if not religiously, regarded,” in support of which view he shows that nearly all the animals so honoured were anciently worshipped as gods. It by no means follows, however, that these animals were so worshipped before being transferred to the heavens; and possibly this had nothing to do with any special regard for such animals. Much depends on the origin and object of the constellations. There is still great uncertainty on this point, but it is probable that the signs of the Zodiac, at least, were supposed to represent certain cosmical phenomena connected with the progress of the seasons, or with day and night, half of the signs being diurnal and masculine, and the other half being nocturnal and feminine.334

In a very suggestive work by Mr. Andrew Lang, it is said335 that Dr. M’Lennan gave up his hypothesis and ceased to have any view on the origin of totemism, and that its origin and determining causes are still unknown. Mr. Lang himself suggests a probable origin when he says,263 “people united by contiguity, and by the blind sentiment of kinship not yet brought into explicit consciousness, might mark themselves by a badge, and might thence devise a name, and later might invent a myth of their descent from the object which the badge represented;” the meaning of which appears to be that, before blood relationship was recognised, persons living together marked336 themselves to enable their common origin to be remembered. Mr. Lang adds, however, that “the very nature of totemism shows that it took its present shape at a time when men, animals, and plants were conceived of as physically akin; when names were handed on through the female line; when exogamy was the rule of marriage, and when the family theoretically included all persons bearing the same family name, that is, all who claimed kindred with the same plant, animal, or object, whether the persons are really akin or not.” According to this view, kinship was fully recognised when totemism was established; as descent in the female line is based on that recognition, and exogamy was the result of the objection entertained by the lower races to the intermarriage of persons nearly related by blood or adoption. This feeling could hardly be so strong when totemism took its present shape, which is probably its original shape, if, when totems were invented, kinship was not recognised. The very nature of the totem is the conception of a special relation between men and certain animals and plants, and it is this conception, together with that of the totem as a protecting influence, which have to be explained.


According to Sir John Lubbock,337 totemism is the stage of human progress in which natural objects, trees, lakes, stones, animals, &c., are worshipped, and it is regarded as equivalent to nature-worship. Totemism, again,338 is the deification of classes, so that “the Redskin who regards the bear, or the wolf, as his totem, feels that he is in intimate, though mysterious, association with the whole species.” The explanation given by Sir John Lubbock339 of the phase of totemism which relates to the worship of animals is, that it originated “from the practice of naming, first individuals, and then their families, after particular animals. A family, for instance, which was called after the bear, would come to look on that animal first with interest, then with respect, and at length with a sort of awe.” This does not go far enough, however, as it is not shown why certain animals and other objects are chosen as totems, or why such totems are not only viewed with veneration but are regarded as friends and protectors. Dr. E. B. Tylor well objects,340265 “as to animal-worship, when we find men paying distinct and direct reverence to the lion, the bear, or the crocodile, as mighty superhuman beings, or adoring other beasts, birds, or reptiles as incarnations of spiritual deities, we can hardly supersede such well-defined developments of animistic religion, by seeking their origin in personal names of deceased ancestors, who chanced to be called Lion, Bear, or Crocodile.”

The fundamental basis of totemism is undoubtedly to be found in that phase of human thought in which spirits are supposed “to inhabit trees and groves, and to move in the winds and stars,” and in which almost every phase of nature is personified. But whether, as asserted by Dr. M’Lennan,341 “the animition hypothesis, held as a faith, is at the root of all the mythologies,” or whether the ideas of animism, as found expressed in totemism, have been derived from the doctrines of the ancient religions, is a question. According to the religious philosophy of antiquity, as expressed by Pythagoras, “the pure and simple essence of the Deity, was the common source of all the forms of nature, which, according to their various modifications, possess different properties.” The Universe or Great Cause, animated and intelligent, and subdivided into a multitude of partial causes likewise intelligent, was divided also into two great parts, the one active and the other passive. Of these parts, the active comprises the Heavens, and the passive the Earth and the elements. In addition to this division was another, that of principles, of which one, answering to the active cause, was the principle of light or good, and the other, answering to the passive cause, was the principle of darkness or evil.342 A very practical form of the ancient belief embodied in that philosophical system was entertained by the early Scandinavians, who, says Mallet,343 supposed that266 “from the supreme divinity emanated an infinity of inferior deities and spirits, of whom every visible part of the universe was the residence and the temple, which intelligences not only dwell in them, but also direct their operations. Each element had its intelligence or proper deity; the Earth, the Water, the Fire, the Air, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. It was contained also in the trees, the forests, the rivers, the mountains, the rocks, the winds, the thunder, the tempest, which therefore deserved religious worship.” There is no reference here to the twofold division of nature, but it is found in the analogous beliefs of early races. Thus, Lenormant, in his work on “Chaldean Magic and Sorcery,”344 when comparing the Finnish and Accadian Mythologies, speaks of their having “the same principle of the personification of natural phenomena, objects, and classes of beings belonging to the animated world.” An idea of dualism, however, pervaded this system, which supposed that there was “a bad as well as a good spirit attached to each celestial body, each element, each phenomenon, each object, and each being,” which were ever trying to supplant each other.345 Thus, both Accadians and Finns “recognised two worlds at enmity with each other; that of the gods together with the propitious spirits, and that of the demons, respectively the kingdom of light and that of darkness, the region of good and that of evil.”346

At first sight these ideas have no special bearing on the subject of totemism, but it is different when we267 consider certain notions entertained by the Australian aborigines.

The Rev. Lorimer Fison remarks,347 “the Australian totems have a special value of their own. Some of them divide not mankind only, but the whole universe, into what may almost be called gentile divisions.” The natives of Port Mackay, in Queensland, allot everything in nature into one or other of the two classes, Wateroo and Yungaroo, into which their tribe is divided. The wind belongs to one and the rain to the other. The Sun is Wateroo and the Moon is Yungaroo. The stars are divided between them, and the division to which any star belongs can be pointed out. The Mount Gambier tribe of South Australia has a similar arrangement, but natural objects are allied with the totemic subdivisions. Mr. Fison gives examples of this as supplied to him by Mr. D. S. Stewart, from which it appears that rain, thunder, lightning, winter, hail, clouds, &c., are associated with the crow totem, and the stars, moon, &c., belong to the same totemic class as the black cockatoo; while the black, crestless cockatoo subdivision includes the sun, summer, autumn, wind, &c. The native of South Australia thus “looks upon the Universe as a Great Tribe, to one of whose divisions he himself belongs; and all things, animate and inanimate, which belong to his class, are parts of the body corporate whereof he himself is part.”

There is a curious parallelism between this system and the ancient doctrine of the separation of the intelli268gent Universe into two great divisions, the celestial and terrestrial, or that of light and that of darkness. In the totemic system one great division includes the sun and summer, answering to the realm of light, and the other division comprises moon, stars, winter, thunder, clouds, rain, hail, answering to the realm of darkness. The American aborigines also show traces of the notion of the dual division of nature in their hero-myths, which, according to Dr. Brinton,348 are intended to express “the daily struggle which is ever going on between Day and Night, between Light and Darkness, between Storm and Sunshine.” It is not improbable that the American totem system is based on the idea of duality. Although the totem divisions or gentes are now so numerous, there is no reason to believe that, as long since mentioned by Lafitau349 in relation to the Iroquois and Hurons, that they had at one time not more than three gentes. Mr. Morgan states, indeed, that the Iroquois commenced with two gentes, and it is possible that the original totems of all the North Americans were only two in number. The Wolf and the Bear, which probably answer to Light and Darkness,350 are the only totems common to all the great families of tribes of that area.

The dualism of the American mythology possesses the element of antagonism between the powers of269 light and those of darkness, which was met with in the ancient mythologies. The Australian dualism appears to lose sight of that opposition, and to look upon the two great divisions of nature represented by light and darkness as forming parts of a great whole. This idea is not wanting, however, to one phase of what Lenormant terms the “naturalistic pantheism” of ancient religions. The French historian states351 that, although the Magi “preserved the dualistic form which the old Proto-Medic religion must have admitted,” yet they considered the antagonism between the good and the bad spirits to be only superficial, “for they regarded the representatives of the two opposing principles as consubstantial, equal in power, and emanating both from one and the same pre-existent principle.” Lenormant finds traces of this notion in the old Accadian system, and he affirms352 that Magism goes further than the perception of a common principle from which both the evil and the good principles emanated, seeing that it did not bind itself to the worship of the latter, but rendered equal homage to the two principles. This fact has an important bearing on the worship of the Evil Being so prevalent among the lower races, in combination with the simple recognition of the existence of a Good Being.

What has been said throws great light on the fundamental ideas of totemism, but it does not account for the notion of protection, which forms the real practical feature of that system. This notion can,270 however, be found in certain doctrines of the ancient Persian religion. Dr. M’Lennan refers,353 in support of his hypothesis, that animal gods were prolongations of the totems, to the opinion said to have been entertained by the Peruvians, that “there was not any beast or bird upon the earth whose shape or image did not shine in the heavens, by whose influence its similitude was generated on the earth, and its species increased.” From this he assumes “that the celestial beings were conceived to be in the shape of the animals, and to have special relations to their breed on the earth.” The Peruvian notion is, however, rather a phase of the ancient belief, expressed in the cosmogony of Zoroaster, that all things on earth had celestial prototypes which emanated from the Deity. As Lenormant remarks,354 “stars, animals, men, angels themselves—in one word, every created being had his Fravishi, who was invoked in prayers and sacrifices, and was the invisible protector who watched untiringly over the being to whom he was attached.” The Mazdian fravishis answer to the personal spirits of nature-worship, and, according to the Accadian Magical Table, every man had “from the hour of his birth a special god attached to him, who lived as his protector and his spiritual type.”355 We have here the271 idea of guardianship by a mysterious being which is so important in connection with the totem, but there is no suggestion that the fravishi itself ever became embodied in a terrestrial form, although there does not appear to be any reason why it should not do so.

We have, in the doctrine of transmigration of souls, however, a sufficient explanation of the special association between a particular totem and the members of the gens or family group to which it gives name. According to that doctrine,356 as stated in the Hindoo code, known as the Laws of Menu (chap. xii.), “with whatever disposition of mind a man shall perform in this life any act, religious or moral, in a future body endued with the same quality, shall he receive his retribution.” Numerous animals are named as proper for such re-incarnation, and even vegetables and mineral substances appear among them. Transmigration seems to have been considered by Oriental teaching essential to the attainment of perfection by the human soul, and the forms through which it is supposed to pass, include not only beasts, birds, and fishes, but also trees, stones, and other inanimate objects. The great Gautama himself is said to have passed through all the existences of earth, air, and sea, as well as through all the conditions of human life, before he became the Buddha. Dr. M’Lennan says357 it is of the essence of the doctrine of transmigration that272 “everything has a soul or spirit, and that the spirits are mostly human in the sense of having once been in human bodies.” We have here the key to the problem of totemism, which receives its solution in the idea that the totem is the re-incarnated form of the legendary ancestor of the gens or family group allied to the totem. The belief that the spirits of the dead do take on themselves animal forms is widely spread.358 The most remarkable example of this belief is that which views certain snakes, not merely as re-incarnations of human souls, but as re-embodiments of ancestors of the people by whom such snakes are venerated. Serpent-worship is, indeed, closely connected with the worship of ancestors. The followers of the serpent believed themselves “to be of the serpent-breed, derived from a serpent ancestor,” and we know that peoples have claimed to belong to the serpent race. Such a claim, or that to a monkey relationship made by some of the dark tribes of India, would be readily admitted by the savage mind, and it may be explained on the principle that the legendary ancestor of the race is supposed to have become re-incarnated in monkey or snake form, and that monkeys or snakes as well as men are his descendants.

At the same time it is very probable that some savages do not distinguish between the man and the animal incarnation, and that if they think at all of the ancestor of the race, it is under the animal form. It must be remembered, however, that what to us is a monkey or a bear is to the uncultured mind an incarnate spirit, and it is this spirit-existence which is referred to when men speak of their ancestors as273 animals or plants. This explanation is applicable also to the case where descent is claimed from one of the heavenly bodies. Particular stars are often identified with persons who, distinguished while on earth, are thought to be no less distinguished after death. The spirit of the dead person thus becomes identified with the star. When, therefore, a man or family claims the Sun or the Moon as an ancestor, the spirit of the luminary is really referred to. In fact, to the lower races the Sun and the Moon are great beings, and there is no apparent reason to them why a great man should not be descended from the spirit of the Sun or Moon, or after death be identified as that spirit. Perhaps, when the Egyptian Monarch was called Pharaoh, he was thought to be actually a descendant of Phra, the Sun.359 Such may have been the case also with the Incas and other royal families who have claimed to be of solar descent. Whether the Sun was regarded as the great ancestor of the race, or only as the re-embodiment of his spirit, it would be an equally powerful totem, a remark which applies as well to the Moon or other heavenly bodies. In ancient times the Solar and Lunar races were very powerful in the East, and their representatives are still to be found in India among the Rajpoots and Jats.360 In ancient philosophy, the Sun and the Moon would represent the two realms of Light and Darkness, into274 which the visible Universe was divided, and as totems they probably stood at first in the same relation to other totems as those of the Australian primary classes stand to the totems of the secondary groups or gentes. It is known that various animals were anciently associated with the Sun or the Moon, or were venerated as emblems of the Solar or Lunar Deity. Thus, the Lion, the Bull, the Horse, the Elephant, the Monkey, the Ram, and the Eagle, with others, were solar animals; while, among other animals, the Cow, the Hare, the Dog, the Beaver, the Dove, and the Fish, were lunar animals.361 An example of the process by which certain creatures became associated with those heavenly bodies is noted by Macrobius, who says of the Lion, “this beast seems to derive his own nature from the Sun, being, in force and heat, as superior to all other animals as the Sun is to the Stars.” Another example, but of a different character, and taken from a very different quarter, may be cited.

The Mount Gambier tribe of South Australia, as we have already seen, divides everything in nature between two great classes, and although Mr. Stewart, who is responsible for the information, could not find any reason for the arrangement, it appears from his remarks that the natives knew to which division any object belongs. Mr. Stewart asked what division a bullock belongs to. The answer was, “It eats grass, it is Bourtwerio.” He then said, “A Crayfish does not eat grass: Why is it Bourtwerio?” but the only275 reply he could get was, “That is what our fathers said it was.”362

We are now able to qualify the definition previously given of the totem as a “badge of fraternity,” or the “symbol of a gens.” We see that the totem is something more than a symbol or a badge. This description might answer for the pictorial representation of the totem, but not for the totem itself, which is regarded as having actual vitality as the embodiment or re-incarnation of an ancestral spirit. Any object is fitted for this spirit embodiment, and therefore totemism may be looked upon, not as a phase of nature-worship, but as a combination of this religion with ancestor-worship. The ancestral character of the totem accounts for the association with it of the idea of protection, which is based on the existence of a fraternal relationship between the totem and all the individuals belonging to a particular group of kin. The totem, as a badge or symbol, therefore represents the group of individuals, dead or alive, towards whom a man stands in a fraternal relation, and the protection of whom he is therefore entitled to, so long as he performs all the obligations on his part which flow from the existence of that relationship. The ideas embodied in the totem are no doubt more ancient than totemism as a developed social institution. This fact will furnish an answer to the objection that totemism is known only to peoples of a low degree of culture, who can hardly be supposed capable of rising to the con276ception of nature, as a whole, on which that system is founded, or the idea of a relationship existing between all the objects in nature.

Dr. Brinton363 answers those who object that the cosmogonical myth of the Algonkins is “too refined for those rude savages, or that it smacks too much of reminiscences of old-world teachings,” that “it is impossible to assign to it other than an indigenous and spontaneous origin in some remote period of Algonkin tribal history.” The same reply may be given in relation to the universal totemism of the Australians, with the qualification that the tribal history of this race would have to be carried back to a period when it was in contact, on the Asiatic Continent, with peoples among whom originated or developed the ideas on which totemism is based, if, indeed, they did not belong with them to a common stock. The existence among the natives of Australia and America of that system may have been due to the establishment of the gentile institution on the basis of female kinship, and the intermingling of the gentes or family groups, owing to wives leaving their own kin on marriage to live among their husband’s kin, as the result of the practice of exogamy. Some of the Australian tribes have a legend according to which the use of totems was introduced, by command of the Supreme Being, to put a stop to consanguineous marriages. This shows that the totem was connected with marriage and kinship, but, considering how universal is the objection among savages to marriage between277 near relations, it is more than probable that the legend was formed to explain an already existing phenomenon, that of totemism. As the conditions of social life were changed, totemism as a system would gradually become effete, and totems would come to be regarded chiefly as curiosities of nomenclature. The preference for kinship through males, in connection with the tracing of descent, over kinship through females, combined with the practice of wives leaving their own family to live among their husband’s kin, would take from the totem one of its most important uses, as all the members of a “family” would dwell together instead of being, like the individuals belonging to the American or Australian totems, intermingled in one group. Totems would then be useful chiefly as ensigns, or as surnames to establish community of descent, and therefore the evidence of marriage disability; as with the Chinese, among whom no persons of the same family name can intermarry, however distant may be the actual relationship. When the mere possession of a common surname was no longer an absolute bar to intermarriage, and kinship came to be traced equally through both parents, totemism ceased to have any value, except so far as the study of its phenomena can throw light on the constitution and habits of ancient society.


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