Frazer’s first psychological theories, formed before his acquaintance with the observations of Spencer and Gillen, were based upon the belief in an ‘outward soul’. The totem was meant to represent a safe place of refuge where the soul is deposited in order to avoid the dangers which threaten it. After primitive man had housed his soul in his totem he himself became invulnerable and he naturally took care himself not to harm the bearer of his soul. But as he did not know which individual of the species in question was the bearer of his soul he was concerned in sparing the whole species. Frazer himself later gave up this derivation of totemism from the belief in souls.
When he became acquainted with the observations of Spencer and Gillen he set up the other social theory which has just been stated, but he himself then saw that the motive from which he had derived totemism was altogether too ‘rational’ and that he had assumed a social organization for it which was altogether too complicated to be called primitive. The magic co-operative companies now appeared to him rather as the fruit than as the germ of totemism. He sought a simpler factor for the derivation of totemism in the shape of a primitive superstition behind these forms. He then found this original factor in the remarkable conception theory of the Aruntas.
As already stated, the Aruntas establish no connexion between conception and the sexual act
If a woman feels herself to be a mother it means that at that moment one of the spirits from the nearest spirit abode who has been watching for a re-birth, has penetrated into her body and is born as her child. This child has the same totem as all the spirits that lurk in that particular locality. But if we are willing to go back a step further and assume that the woman originally believed that the animal, plant, stone, or other object which occupied her fancy at the moment when she first felt herself pregnant had really penetrated into her and was being born through her in human form, then the identity of a human being with his totem would really be founded on the belief of the mother, and all the other totem commandments (with the exception of exogamy) could easily be derived from this belief. Men would refuse to eat the particular animal or plant because it would be just like eating themselves. But occasionally they would be impelled to eat some of their totem in a ceremonial manner because they could thus strengthen their identification with the totem, which is the essential part of totemism. W. H. R. Rivers’ observations among the inhabitants of the Bank Islands seemed to prove men’s direct identification with their totems on the basis of such a conception theory.
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The ultimate sources of totemism would then be the ignorance of savages as to the process of procreation among human beings and animals; especially their ignorance as to the rôle which the male plays in fertilization. This ignorance must be facilitated by the long interval which is interposed between the fertilizing act and the birth of the child or the sensation of the child’s first movements. Totemism is therefore a creation of the feminine mind and not of the masculine. The sick fancies of the pregnant woman are the roots of it. Anything indeed that struck a woman at that mysterious moment of her life when she first knows herself to be a mother might easily be identified by her with the child in her womb. Such maternal fancies, so natural and seemingly so universal, appear to be the root of totemism.
- The main objection to this third theory of Frazer’s is the same which has already been advanced against his second, sociological theory.
- The Aruntas seem to be far removed from the beginnings of totemism.
- Their denial of fatherhood does not apparently rest upon primitive ignorance; in many cases they even have paternal inheritance. They seem to have sacrificed fatherhood to a kind of a speculation which strives to honour the ancestral spirits.
- Though they raise the myth of immaculate conception through a spirit to a general theory of conception, we cannot for that reason credit them with ignorance as to the conditions of procreation.
- More than we could the old races who lived during the rise of the Christian myths.
Another psychological theory of the origin of totemism has been formulated by the Dutch writer, G. A. Wilcken. It establishes a connexion between totemism and the migration of souls. “The animal into which, according to general belief, the souls of the dead passed, became a blood relative, an ancestor, and was revered as such.” But the belief in the soul’s migration to animals is more readily derived from totemism than inversely.
- Still another theory of totemism is advanced by the excellent American ethnologists,
- Franz Boas, Hill-Tout, and others. It is based on observations of totemic Indian tribes and asserts that the totem is
- Originally the guardian spirit of an ancestor who has acquired it through a dream and handed it on to his descendants.
- We have already heard the difficulties which the derivation of totemism through inheritance from a single individual offers;
- Besides, the Australian observations seem by no means to support the tracing back of the totem to the guardian spirit.
Two facts have become decisive for the last of the psychological theories as stated by Wundt; in the first place, that the original and most widely known totem object was an animal, and secondly, that the earliest totem animals corresponded to animals which had a soul. Such animals as birds, snakes, lizards, mice are fitted by their extreme mobility, their flight through the air, and by other characteristics which arouse surprise and fear, to become the bearers of souls which leave their bodies. The totem animal is a descendant of the animal transformations of the spirit-soul. Thus with Wundt totemism is directly connected with the belief in souls or with animism.