Totem

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For other uses, see Totem (disambiguation).
A totem pole in Ottawa.

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe. The totemic symbol may serve as a reminder of the kin group's ancestry or mythic past.[1] While the term "totem" is Ojibwe in origin, belief in tutelary spirits and deities is not limited to indigenous peoples of the Americas but common to cultures worldwide. Totemistic beliefs are found in regions of Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Arctic.[citation needed] Contemporary neoshamanic New Age and mythopoetic men's movements not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion may appropriate "totem" terminology for the personal identification with a tutelary spirit or guide.[citation needed]

Totemism[edit]

Main article: Totemism
Personal Totem of Mohegan Chief Tantaquidgeon, commemorated on a plaque at Norwich, Connecticut.

Totemism (derived from the root -oode- in the Ojibwe language, which refers to something kinship-related, c.f. odoodem, "his totem") is a religious belief that is frequently associated with animistic religions. The totem is usually an animal or other natural figure that spiritually represents a group of related people such as a clan.

Totemism was a key element of study in the development of 19th and early 20th century theories of religion, especially for thinkers such as Émile Durkheim, who concentrated their study on Indigenous societies. Drawing on the identification of social group with spiritual totem in Australian aboriginal tribes, Durkheim theorized that all human religious expression was intrinsically founded in the relationship to a group.[citation needed]

In his essay "Le Totémisme aujourd’hui" (Totemism Today), the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that human cognition, which is based on analogical thought, is independent of social context. From this, he excludes mathematical thought, which operates primarily through logic. Lévi-Strauss argues that the use of physical analogies is not an indication of a more primitive mental capacity. It is, rather, a more efficient way to cope with this particular mode of life in which abstractions are rare, and in which the physical environment is in direct friction with the society. He also holds that scientific explanation entails the discovery of an "arrangement"; moreover, since "the science of the concrete" is a classificatory system enabling individuals to classify the world in a rational fashion, it is neither more nor less a science than any other in the western world. Lévi-Strauss diverts the theme of anthropology toward the understanding of human cognition.[citation needed]

Cultural flag of the Kanak community, showing a flèche faîtière - a spear-like wooden totem monument placed atop Kanak traditional dwellings.

Lévi-Strauss looked at the ideas of Firth and Fortes, Durkheim, Malinowski, and Evans-Pritchard to reach his conclusions. Firth and Fortes argued that totemism was based on physical or psychological similarities between the clan and the totemic animal.[citation needed] Malinowski proposed that it was based on empirical interest or that the totem was 'good to eat.'[citation needed] Finally Evans-Pritchard argued that the reason for totems was metaphoric. His work with the Nuer led him to believe that totems are a symbolic representation of the group. Lévi-Strauss considered Evan-Pritchard's work the correct explanation.[citation needed]

Carl Gustav Jung, part of the chapter The Importance of Dreams, book: Man and His Symbols (clarifies the meaning of totem)[edit]

There are historical reasons for this resistance to the idea of an unknown part of the human psyche. Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature and still in "experimental" period. It is fragile, threatened by specific hazards, and easily damaged. As noted by anthropologists, one of the most common disorders produced among primitive peoples is called "lost Ia of a Soul", which means, as the name suggests, a perceptible break (or, more technically, a dissociation) of consciousness. Among such people, whose consciousness is on a different level of our development, the "soul" (or psyche) is not considered unitary. Many assume that primitive man has a "bush soul" besides his own, and that Selvatica soul is embodied in a wild animal or a tree, with which the human individual has some kind of pslquica identity. This is what the eminent French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl called a "mlstica participation." He subsequently withdrew that term under pressure of adverse criticism, but I think his critics were wrong. It is a well-known psychological fact that an individual can have such an unconscious identity with another person or object. This identity takes diverse forms among primitive. If the bush soul is that of an animal, the animal itself is considered as a kind of brother to him. A man whose brother is, for example, a crocodile, it is assumed that is safe when swimming in a river infested with crocodiles. If the bush soul is a tree, the tree is supposed to have something like a paternal authority over the individual concerned. In both cases, an offense against the bush soul is interpreted as an offense against man. In some tribes is assumed that man has several souls; this belief expressed the feeling that some primitive each linked but consists of several different units. This means that the individual psyche is far from being properly synthesized; on the contrary, threatens fragmented very easily just attacks unbridled emotions. While this situation is known to us by the studies of anthropologists, is not as alien as it may seem, our own advanced civilization. Also we can get to dissociate and lose our identity. We can be possessed and altered by bad mood or make us unreasonable and unable to recall important facts ours or others in such a way that the people ask, "But (what the hell is wrong with you" We talked about being able to "dominate" but self-control is a rare and remarkable virtue can believe we dominate us, but a friend can easily tell us things about which we know nothing (see: chapter the importance of dreams mentioning the book.). there is a Walt Disney film Brother Bear, expressing this concept very well done.

Native North American totems[edit]

The word totem comes from the Ojibway word dodaem and means "brother/sister kin". It is the archetypal symbol, animal or plant of hereditary clan affiliations. People from the same clan have the same clan totem and are considered immediate family. It is taboo to marry someone of the same clan.

The Ojibway scholar Basil H. Johnston defines dodaem, or totem, as "that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being," and states that "the bonds that united the Ojibway-speaking people were the totems."[citation needed] He further asserts that the feeling of oneness among people that occupy a vast territory is based not on political, economic, or religious considerations but on totemic symbols that "made those born under the signs one in function, birth, and purpose."[citation needed] This means that men and women belonging to the same totem regarded one another as brothers and sisters having kinship obligations to each other.[citation needed]

In North America, there is a certain feeling of affinity between a kin group or clan and its totem. There are taboos against killing clan animals, as humans are kin to the animals whose totems they represent. In some cases, totem spirits are clan protectors and the center of religious activity.[2]

North American totem poles[edit]

Main article: Totem pole
A totem pole in Thunderbird Park, Victoria, British Columbia

Totem poles of the Pacific Northwest of North America are monumental poles of heraldry; the word totem is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem [oˈtuːtɛm], meaning "his kinship group".

They feature many different designs (bears, birds, frogs, people, and various supernatural beings and aquatic creatures) that function as crests of families or chiefs. They recount stories owned by those families or chiefs, and/or commemorate special occasions.

Possibly totemic culture in ancient China[edit]

The Sanxingdui Culture in southern China, dating back more than 5000 years, possibly placed bronze and gold heads on totems.[citation needed] Chinese transliterates totem as tuteng (圖騰). Sanxingdui bronze masks and heads (radiocarbon dated circa 1200BCE) appear to have been mounted on wooden poles. Some scholars[citation needed] have suggested that totemic culture spread from ancient Asian populations to the rest of the world. Others conclude that totemism arose separately in numerous cultures; totemic cultures in North America are estimated to have been more than 10,000 years old.[citation needed]

Korean Jangseung[edit]

A Jangseung or village guardian is a Korean totem pole usually made of wood. Jangseungs were traditionally placed at the edges of villages to mark village boundaries and frighten away demons or welcome people in. They were also worshipped as village tutelary deities. Jangseungs were usually carved in the images of janguns (equivalent to admirals or generals) and their wives. Many jangseungs are also depicted laughing but in a frightening way. Many of the villages felt that the frightening laughter of the jangseungs would frighten away the demons because the jangseungs have no fear.[citation needed]

Totem beads in the Himalayan region[edit]

In the Himalayan region as well as on the whole Tibetan plateau area and adjacent areas, certain beaded jewelry is believed to have totemistic capabilities. Tibetans in particular give much importance to heirloom beads such as dzi beads. Though dzi beads were not produced in ancient Tibet, but by an unknown culture, most ancient dzi beads are owned by Tibetans. Different protective qualities depend on design, number of eyes, damage, color, shine, etc.[citation needed]

The ancient Polish rodnidze[edit]

The rodnidze known among the pre-Christian ancestors of the Poles is considered to have been roughly similar to the totem as mentioned above. In historical times, scholars considered that the animals and birds represented on the coats-of-arms of various Polish aristocratic clans may have been remnants of such totems (see Ślepowron coat of arms and Korwin coat of arms, possible remnants of a raven-rodnidze).[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Native American Religions, page 307.

External links[edit]