Totem and Taboo

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Totem and Taboo
Freud Totem und Tabu 1913.jpg
German First Edition 1913
Author Sigmund Freud
Original title Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker
Language German
Subject Essay
Genre Psychoanalysis
Cultural studies
Religious studies
Publisher Beacon Press
Publication date

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics (German: Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker) is a 1913 book by Sigmund Freud. It is a collection of four essays first published in the journal Imago (1912–13) employing the application of psychoanalysis to the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and the study of religion: "The Horror of Incest"; "Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence"; "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts"; and "The Return of Totemism in Childhood".[1]

Géza Róheim considered Totem and Taboo one of the great landmarks in the history of anthropology, comparable only to Edward Burnett Tylor's Primitive Culture and Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough.[2] René Girard comments that, "Contemporary criticism is almost unanimous in finding unacceptable the theories set forth in Totem and Taboo," and that, "Everyone seems intent on covering Totem and Taboo with obloquy and condemning it to oblivion." Girard views the work differently, noting that Freud's concept of collective murder is close to the themes of his own work.[3]


Chapter 1[edit]

Freud examines the system of Totemism among the Australian Aborigines. Every clan has a totem (usually an animal, sometimes a plant or force of nature) and people aren't allowed to marry those with the same totem as themselves. Freud examines this practice as preventing against incest. The totem is passed down hereditarily, either through the father or the mother. The relationship of father is also not just his father, but every man in the clan that, hypothetically, could have been his father. He relates this to the idea of young children calling all of their parents' friends as aunts and uncles. There are also further marriage classes, sometimes as many as eight, that group the totems together, and therefore limit a man's choice of partners. He also talks about the widespread practices amongst the cultures of the Pacific Islands and Africa of avoidance. Many cultures do not allow brothers and sisters to interact in any way, generally after puberty. Men aren't allowed to be alone with their mothers-in-law or say each other's names. He explains this by saying that after a certain age parents often live through their children to endure their marriage and that mothers-in-law may become overly attached to their son-in-law. Similar restrictions exist between a father and daughter, but they only exist from puberty until engagement.

Chapter 2[edit]

Chapter 3[edit]

Chapter 4[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1918). Totem and Taboo. New York: Moffat Yard and Company. p. iii. 
  2. ^ Robinson, Paul (1990). The Freudian Left. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-8014-9716-7. 
  3. ^ Girard, Réne (2005). Violence and the Sacred. The Athlone Press: Continuum. p. 204. ISBN 0-8264-7718-6. 

External links[edit]