An essay on the meaning, origin, history and mythology of totemism and totemistic society from prehistoric times to its survivals in modern folklore.
Dedicated to my wife Pamela (1945-1986) and my sons
William (1975-2009), and Owen (b 1979),
who provided the inspiration and motivation for this opus.
“Man ascends from the kingdom of necessity
to the kingdom of freedom.”
“Women are the mothers of humanity, do not let us ever forget that or
underemphasise its importance. What mothers are to their children,
so will man be to man.”
M. F. Ashley Montague
“What is the price of experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the streets? No, it is bought with the
price of all that man hath.”
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please, they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past.”
“We should all want to help one another: human beings are like that.
We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”
“Very few academics have any ideas of their own, and their livelihood largely consists in handing on the teachings of the masters of their subject.”
Rodney Needham (1969).
2. Totemism and Academic Tradition
2 (a) McLennan, Tylor, Lang
2 (b) Robertson Smith
2 (c) Frazer
2 (d) Spencer and Gillen.
2 (e) Boas and the American anti-evolutionists
2 (f) Durkheim.
2 (g) Radcliffe-Brown and British Social Anthropology
2 (h) Levi-Strauss
3. Totemism in Evolutionary Perspective
3 (a) Women’s Evolution and Mitochondrial Eve
3 (b) Prehistory
4. Totemism in Historical Perspective
4 (a) Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Hither Asia
4 (b) Ancient Greece, Rome and the Mediterranean
5. Totemism in Global Perspective
5 (a) Australia
5 (b) The Americas
5 (c) Africa
5 (d) Asia and India
5 (e) Pacific and Indonesia
6. Totemism and Bear Cults
7. Morgan, Matriarchy, Mother Right and Exogamy
7 (a) Morgan, Engels and Social Evolution
7 (b) Matriarchy, Bachofen and Mother Right
7 (c) The Clan and Exogamy
8. Totem and Taboo
9. Totemism and Religion
9. (a) Animal Worship
9. (b) Anthropomorphism
10 Totemism, Magic, Ritual, and Art
10 (a) Magic
10 (b) Ritual, Symbolism and Rites de Passage
10 (c) Shamanism
10 (d) Hunting and Fertility Magic
10 (e) Shamanism and Prehistoric Art
10 (f) Totemism and Prehistoric Art
11. Totemism, Mythology and Ritual
12. Totemic Survivals and Folklore
13. Totemic Echoes and Whisperings
References cited and Sources consulted
The basic feature of primitive society is totemism “…or the system of totem and taboo.” (Reed, 1954). Totemism has been described as a magico-religious system characteristic of tribal society (Thomson, 1978) that provides a group with an identity that depends upon a certain intimate and exclusive relationship towards a particular animal or plant (Lewis, 1969), and therefore for many is “…both a religious and a social system.” (Stocking, 1995). Totemism is an important subject in the reconstruction of the most recent of human history and the means “…by which humankind elevated itself out of animality.” (Reed, 1978). True totemism is found only among Australian Aborigines, north and south Amerindians, in New Guinea, and parts of Africa and India (Cooper, 1992). That which has been described as the ‘riddle of totemism’ is an institution that has fascinated scholars ever since its wide distribution became known (Hays, 1964). Various definitions have been offered over time and include a “…special class of animals or plants to which a certain group of people pay reverence, assuming a mysterious affinity between themselves and the animal or plant.” (Karsten, 1935), and “…a class of material objects which people regard with superstitious respect, believing that there exists an intimate and altogether special relation with every member of the class.” (Frazer, 1910).
Totemism is an institution with a world-wide distribution and has both social and religious significance (Adam, 1954). As a phenomenon totemism “…is not one thing, but is a general name given to a number of diverse institutions, which all have, or seem to have something in common.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952). Totemism is a practical belief system scattered world-wide with totemism proper practised mainly by hunting peoples, but which “…disappears when agricultural ways take over.” (Cooper, 1995). It prevails all over the north American continent, in Peru, in Guiana, what was the African Gold Coast, in India, the South Seas islands, Australia, Siberia, Egypt and Semitic regions (Lang, 1893). Australia, America and Africa are the three main areas where totemism has been found in its most highly developed and widespread form (Hartland, 1908-1926). For the Amerindians the raven is the hero-trickster. The Bear Clan is the most important of the Hopi Indians, the totem of the Ouataouaks, with bear tribes in California, among the Huron, Iroquoi, and Ute of Colorado; the beaver is the totem of the Cayuse, Creek, Onondaga, Seneca, and Shuswop; the buffalo the totem of the Plains Indians such as Cree, Pawnee, Sioux, and the Mandan Okapi; and there are also deer tribes and clans (Cooper, 1995). Among the Australian Aborigines totemism is called Kobong and they have many totem clans including Dingo and Water-Hen. All birds were originally totems and ancestors of all aboriginals in the ‘Dreamtime’, and In Africa the buffalo is a Bantu totem. (Cooper, 1995).
The term totem is derived from oteteman (also ototeman), an Objibwa word cognate with the Algonquin dialect and meaning “his brother-sister kin” (Reed, 1986), however it has also been said to mean “…supernatural friend or helper…” (Adam, 1954) in the belief that the primeval ancestor of the group, clan, or tribe, was closely related to a particular animal (Lewis, 1969). In Algonquin totem means “my kin” and in Cree “his kin”. The word kinship means between uterine brothers and sisters who cannot intermarry. The subject of totemism was introduced into English by trader J. Long as totam but wrongly defined as the favourite spirit which each believed watches over him (Long, 1791), stating that “…this totam they conceive assumes the shape of some beast or other, and therefore they never kill, hunt, or eat the animal whose form they think the totam bears.” Totemism or totamism was also recognised by French missionaries including Reverend Joseph Francois Lafiteau (1671-1746) in 1724 and thus “…every warrior has his crest which is called his totem”. (Muller, 1876). Incidentally Lafiteau (Wallace, 1948) was the first to recognise matrilineal descent and was struck by the importance of totemism in the religious and social ife of the North American Indians (Spence, 1994). The first account of American totemism was by a Peter Jones (d. 1856) who wrote a ‘History of the Objibway Indians.’ Where he described toodaims or tribes but today are now regarded as clans or gens. An Ottawa Indian called Francis Assikinack spoke of ododam and Abbe Thevenal stated the word is actually ote and means ‘family’ or ‘tribe’ with the possessive otem meaning group. (Harrison, 1927). Totem therefore means tribe or group and as such the word speaks for itself and does not mean plant or animal but tribe. There is therefore a similarity between the Australian Kobong and the American totem (Grey, 1841). This system reflects the belief of a group of persons regarded as united by a bond of kinship real or fictitious. In essence totemism expresses “…an intimate relation which is supposed to exist between a group of kindred people on the one side and a species of natural or artificial objects on the other side, which objects are called the totems of the human group.” (Frazer, 1910).
The understanding of totemism is owed to Elkin, and Spencer and Gillen, for their work among Australian Aborigines (Lewis, 1969), where the totem appears to identify with the unity and solidarity of the group to which it is attached e.g., Kangaroo Men. Totemism has been divided into three classes, the individual, the social, and the cultic, encompassing a “…philosophy which regards man and nature as one corporate whole…” (Elkin, 1938). The system has been described as mutually beneficent (Stocking, 1995), comprising three major forms, the individual, the sex-group, and the clan which was “…a body of men and women who call themselves by the name of the totem, believe themselves to be of one blood, descendants of a common ancestor (the totem creature), and are bound together by common obligations to each other by a common faith in the totem.” (Frazer, 1910). Among Australian Aborigines totemism is a religious system in which the group depends on exclusive and intimate relationship with an animal or plant for its identity, and such a totem provides the group with its name, secondly this name becomes the visible, external sign of a supernatural force that binds the tribe together, and thereby the totem is considered the ancestor of the tribe – a sort of fund of energy out of which all tribe members originate (Lewis, 1969). In this respect it appears that totemism is both a religious and social system with the totem as the sacred object. The tribe or clan therefore, in general, takes its name from the totem (Notes and Queries, 1901). Tribesmen or clansmen thus “…hold themselves to be actually descended from material objects often the most diverse from human form…” (Hartland, 1891) because in the totemic system the mythic ancestor is known as the totem. For Australian Aboriginal totemism, the totem, and the ‘Dreamtime’ are indissoluble because totems “…link people with the non-empirical world and they established a firm foundation for belief in the essential unity between people and their natural environment.” (Berndt, 1970), where in ‘Dreaming’ people and nature are one (Cooper, 1995). As an object the clan totem is “…reverenced by a body of men and women who call themselves by the name of the totem, believe themselves to be of one blood, descendants of a common ancestor, and are bound together by common obligations to each other and by a common faith in the totem.” (Frazer, 1910).
The whole system of totemic belief reflects social structure, depending whether hunter-gatherers (Australia) or farmers (Central Africa), and this implies beliefs and mode of thought differ and thus several simultaneous systems exist throughout the world – different places, different times (Levy-Bruhl, 1923). Each tribe and its constituent clans is associated with a natural and material object which it calls its totem, and on this basis see themselves as akin to their totem species and descended from it (Thomson, 1978). There is a clear sympathy demonstrated by this mystical bond between nature and humans. This suggests that a mystical kinship exists between the group and their totem species or object and this supports a system of belief that an “…animal or plant, or sometimes a heavenly body, was mythologically at first, and at last sociologically, connected with all persons of a certain stock, who believe, or once believed, that it was their titular god, as they bear its name. Each clan or gens took as a badge or objective totem the representation of the titular daemon from which it is named.” (Malley, 1893). With regard to clan and moiety structure America and Australia show totemism in its most highly developed forms, a point of note is that totemic relationships “…are only a part of a ramified system which enters into the many departments of culture, of which the social order is but one.” (Jensen, 1963).
The definition of totemism requires a working hypothesis (Rivers, 1914; Lindsay, 1965), which provides an insight into the coalescence of the three elements comprising totemism. Three elements can be defined and these are the social, the psychological, and the ritual. The social component is the connection of a species with a group defined by society – which is usually an exogamous clan. The psychological component is the belief in a kinship relationship with the totem – that is between the recognised species and the human group that recognises descent from the totem. The ritual element manifests itself in prohibitions against eating the totem except in certain sacramental situations and which is based on respect. From this hypothesis it follows that totemism “…has two notes or characteristics: it has to do with a group not an individual, and that group is in a peculiar relation to another group of natural and occasionally of artificial objects (Harrison, 1927). The supernatural ambience of the totem is recognised as a benevolent and protective being for the clan or tribe.
A number of questions can be asked in order to determine if totemism exists within a group (Notes and Queries, 1901). These can be posited thus: (1) is the society divided into tribes, clans, or castes: (2) is there reverence for animal, plant species, or natural objects; (3) do tribal members call themselves by the name of a totem; (4) are there any clan stories about the totem; (5) may a man marry a woman of the same clan totem; (6) are clans distinguished by differences in dress, hair, tattoos, or badges etc; (7) are there any special ceremonies observed by the totem tribe, especially at child birth: (8) are rites of initiation carried out on girls and boys at puberty as a rite of passage to adulthood; (9) are references made to the totem at death and burial ceremonies; (10) is the totem supposed to help the tribe or clan. In other words is there a progenitor or sustainer; (11) are there dances for the totem; (12) does each member of the clan respect all other members of the clan species equally; (13) as well as a clan totem are there individual totems. For example Australian Aborigines often enjoy an intimate mystical relationship with a particular animal and which is closely related to beliefs in a ‘bush soul’; (14) are there any indications of a transition of totemism towards a more advanced system; (15) is the totem animal ever killed sacrificially; (16) is there any evidence of territorial totemism; (17) has the totem clan a special burial ground; and (18) do clan members believe that magical practices ensure a constant supply for the good of the community. Three issues need to be answered which are: (1) why name a tribe after an animal in the first place and furthermore (2); on what basis is the choice of animal or plant made and (3); why make a totem a divinity and honour it? (Carpenter, 1920). The Rivers (1914) definition has been described as incomplete and must have added to it: (d), a belief in the unity of the group, totem, mother and ancestors; (e), a dynamic and intensely felt sense of guilt, connected by blood, which enforces taboos and (f); a method of dialectical thinking that is based on the concept of the unity of opposites (Lindsay, 1965). Expression of the added provisos is found in the dual organisation and set of relationships comprising totem and clan, group and ancestors, and the ancestors and the natural world. As far as a totemic community is concerned three components will be seen to underpin the phenomenon and these are: the community is divided into clans named after a totem or animal ancestor (Haddon, 1902); there is a prohibition or taboo against eating the totem or marriage within the clan; and there exists totemic reverence as a reflection of the economic importance of the totem species (Radcliffe-Brown, 1951). It was through the system of taboo and totemism that “…humanity survived and thrived until it could reach a higher stage of social and cultural life.” (Reed, 1978), showing that totemism was of great importance in the “…whole problem of the nature of social development.” (Lindsay, 1965).
2. Totemism and the Academic Tradition
It was during the Enlightenment that the first attempts to offer scientific theories of cultural differences and social progress were made by scholars such as Adam Smith (1723-1784) and Denis Diderot (1715-1784). The principal theories concerning the origin of totemism are derived from three individuals – Frazer, Lang, and Baldwin Spencer (Gomme, 1908). Even though it has been described as a “…complex of mistaken beliefs that has influenced human thought and behaviour since the Old Stone Age” (Russell, 1977), totemism is not a figment of imagination or a non-subject (Read, 1978). Controversy and debate still surrounds the validity of the term and concept of totemism. Its study was the core of nineteenth century social anthropology, with noted protagonists between 1910 and 1950, including Frazer, Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski (1932), and Levi-Strauss (Mithen, 1998), with a renaissance of totemic studies in the 1970’s (Willis, 1990). Attempts to demolish totemism include Goldenweiser (1937), opposition from anti-evolutionists included Lowie (1940), Kroeber (1948), and Boas (1966), with the subject dismissed as “…speculations which eventuated in the totemic illusion.” (Levi-Strauss, 1962). Opposition to the liquidation of totemic studies came from the evolutionists such as Frazer (1910) and Tylor (1958; 1960). Nonetheless, apart from the view that totemism was irrelevant and only incidental Levi-Strauss still regarded the topic as indispensable for the study of social origins (Reed, 1986). There have been many and varied theories and hypotheses concerning the origin and history of totemism. During the early nineteenth century facts about totemism began reaching the shores of Britain from missionaries and travellers world-wide confirming therefore “…allusions to what were undoubtedly totemic conceptions could be traced in the authors of antiquity…” (Spence, 1994), which included Diodorus (active 60-30 BC), Herodotus 484-425 BC), Pausanias 110-180 AD), and Aelian (170-235 AD). In 1869 McLennan affirmed a number of totemic customs and beliefs had survived in various civilisations, both ancient and modern. In 1885 Frazer and Robertson Smith approached the subject, and later they were joined by Tylor, Spencer, Lubbock or First Baron Avebury (1834-1913), Lang, Jevons, and Grant Allen (1848-1899).
2 (a). McLennan, Tylor, and Lang
The Scottish ethnographer John Ferguson McLennan (1827-1881) was the first to put forward the idea that in the distant past the whole of humanity had passed through a totemic phase during which they worshipped animals and plants. To him we owe the discovery of the wide distribution of the social arrangements of totemism and primitive marriage, even though he never put forward a theory of totemism (Hays, 1965). McLennan attempted to develop a broad perspective in order to understand totemism (McLennan, 1869; !870), and argued that totemism was a stage “…through which mankind had everywhere passed.” (Lindsay, 1965). In addition McLennan, was the first to call attention to, and focus on the connection between exogamy and totemism, he later discussed the diffusion of it in Australia and north America (Hays, 1965). In doing so he managed to show where even Sir James Frazer had been “…unable to penetrate into the innermost core of the phenomenon.” (Reed, 1967). McLennan, in common with E. B. Tylor and L. H. Morgan, assumed that society had passed through successive stages out of an earlier and primitive form. Implicit in this view was the unquestioned acceptance of the unilineal evolutionary outlook. In iterating his view of totemism McLennan embraced E. B. Tylor’s theory that primitive peoples had worshipped fetishes which they believed were animated by anthropomorphic spirits (Kuper, 1988). McLennan therefore defined totemism as “…fetishism plus exogamy and maternal descent.” (Tylor, 1898) and proceeded to elevate “…the term ‘totemism’ to the status of a principle applicable to the whole of the primitive world.” (Marett, 1935). By stressing the animistic aspects of what he saw as a religion McLennan claimed fetishism resembled totemism and possessed three peculiarities (Kuper, 1988) which were (1) the appropriation of the fetish by the tribe; (2) hereditary transmission through the mothers; and (3) a connection with the jus connubi (McLennan, 1869). A requirement therefore of McLennan’s theory is that the archaic totemic tribes should be exogamous and matriarchal (Robertson Smith, 1889). For McLennan animism gave rise to totemism even though he “…supposed totemism to arise out of a system of naming individuals or groups after different kinds of animals and plants.” (Marett, 1935). For McLennan some primitive tribes and clans believed they were descended, through the female line, from their original totemic animal or plant ancestor. In the religious sense for McLennan the “…subjects of the enquiry are the totems and totem-gods, or, speaking generally, animal and vegetable gods.” (McLennan, 1869-70). Much of McLennan’s views were derived from the expeditionary journals of Sir George Gray to Western and North Western Australia (Grey, 1841), from which he “…deduced the existence in Australia of exogamous matrilineal groups, gentes, whose members share a common totem.” (Kuper,1988).
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor
In 1899 Tylor criticised what he regarded as the erroneous theories of McLennan doing so on the basis that totemism was being confused with the mere worship of animals and plants and that totemism is not the basis of religion. As with others Tylor recognised it was commonly agreed with McLennan “…that all or nearly all peoples have passed through this totem stage of human society.” (Tylor, 1869-70). Nonetheless, for Tylor animism was “… the theory which endows the phenomenon of nature with personal life. (Tylor, 1866). In other words Tylor claimed that totemism was the tendency of the human spirit to classify the world and the things in it and that, moreover, totemism signified a relationship between a particular animal and a clan. The totem animal was regarded by the clan as kinfolk so for Tylor “…totemism proper with its division of tribes into clans allied to species of animals…” (Tylor, 1898). This explains the respect a clansman has for the totem kin and the refraining from killing and eating their totem. Again, Tylor argued that in North America the totem animal “…only comes in as furnishing the family name which classified clanship within those limits marriage is forbidden.” (Tylor, 1898). The totem therefore divided tribes into totem clans with each having its own totem animal with “…the rule of exogamy forbidding marriage within the clan…” (Tylor, 1898), and thus making inter-marriage between clans a necessity. It was Tylor who followed the issue of totemism. It followed that, if the phenomenon was a form of social organisation, then it would not only have been universal it would have existed as of necessity (Jevons, 1899). For Tylor then the totems were the archaic and acted with considerable power in the consolidation of clan alliances and reinforced the larger tribal organisation. Despite totemism being intimately connected with a primary social division Tylor, added words of caution regarding the origin of the totemic system thus: “…while regarding such a theory affords a rational interpretation of the obscure facts of totemism, we must treat it as a theory not vouched for by sufficient evidence, and within our knowledge liable to mislead if pushed to extremes.” (Tylor, 1871).
Andrew Lang (1844-1912) was a Scottish scholar and man of letters who rejected in toto Sir James George Frazer’s theories of totemism (Gomme, 1908). Though respectful of Frazer’s views Andrew Lang was nonetheless an apostatic opponent of his postulate that magic came before the development of religious beliefs and practice, and regarded totemism as an “…extraordinary institution, whatever its origin, cannot have arisen except among men capable of conceiving kinship and all human relationships as existing between themselves and all animate and inanimate things.” (Lang, 1995, i ).
With regard to the views of Frazer about magic Lang stated that once groups “…found themselves with animal names (having forgotten how they originally acquired them), the processes of magic began to operate…” (Lang, 1905 a). Lang championed a nominalistic theory of totemism and therefore “…was as much concerned with totemism and exogamy as the vegetative gods…” (Stocking, 1995)’ stating that the universality of totemism was affirmed by “…savages everywhere use one word for their hereditary system…” (Lang, 1903). Lang therefore was committed to archaic monotheism and was not enamoured of Frazer’s idea that religion was preceded by magic. Local groups, such as clans or phatries adopted their totem names from the surrounding natural world. Such groups were trying to achieve an identity and differentiation and, in doing so they forgot the reason for their totemic names in favour of a mystical relationship with their animal or plant totem. For Lang the true totem was not just an animal, plant, or natural object it was also an hereditary friend and ally and “…totem names are the titles of groups of kindred, real and imagined…” and employed the word to mean “…the object which gives its name to a group of savage kindred, who may not marry within this hereditary name.” (Lang, 1903). Lang himself favoured a restrictive use of the term ‘totem’ and used it “…only of the object which lends its name, hereditability, to a group of kin.” (Lang, 1903 a). He was concerned on finding out what light totemism could throw the original form of the family and believed that the essence of the phenomenon took its later shape when “…men and animals, and plants were conceived of as physically akin; when names were handed through the female line; when exogamy was the rule of marriage…” (Lang, 1893). Totemism, for Lang, originated in the primary social groups beginning with necessity with exogamy. Not being interested in how these groups came to be named he believed they had forgotten so “…their way of thinking indicated an essential and mystical rapport between each group and its name-giving animal.” (Gomme, 1908), because savages looked upon animals as personalities in their own right (Lang, 1903 a). The belief in the necessity of totemic exogamy he affirmed by writing “…where totemism now exists in full force, there we find exogamy and derivation of the family name through women…” (Lang, 1893). In order to distinguish themselves from other groups they adopted plant and animal names, and this …kinship with animals being particularly mysterious was particularly sacred. From these ideas came tabus, and among others that of totemic exogamy.” (Lang, 1905 a). For Lang the human stock was derived from the mother with kindred traced to an animal, and female ancestry determining marriage customs, concluding that it “…is the rule, and not the exception, that savage societies are founded upon this belief.” (Lang, 1995, i.).
(2b) Robertson Smith
William Robertson Smith (1845-1894) was a Scottish Orientalist and Old Testament scholar, theologian, professor of divinity, and a pupil and friend of J. F. McLennan, who argued to confirm his mentor’s theories. Robertson Smith traced a sacrificial meal connection to totemism amongst the Semites showing that “…the initiation ritual was performed in order to transfer a man’s soul to his totem for safe keeping.” (Hays, 1964).
William Robertson Smith
For Robertson Smith the Arabic pre-Islamic sources showed that tribal groupings were sometimes named after the moon and sun but often after animals (Smith, 1889; Kuper, 1988). For Robertson Smith the Semitic societies of ancient Arabia were composed of matrilineal clans which possessed a sacred relationship with a species of animal which was their totem (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). The conclusions of Robertson Smith, despite the existence of strong patriarchal ancient Arabian societies, were only correct if McLennan’s theory of totemic stages could be upheld. The patriarchal societies had to be preceded by matriarchal societies, therefore in enquiring “…whether the Arabs were once divided into totem stocks, we cannot expect to meet with any evidence more direct than the occurrence of such relics of the system as are found in other races which have passed through but ultimately emerged from the totem stage.” (Smith, 1903). Robertson Smith’s generalisation “…is that nature, like mankind, is divided into groups or societies or things, analogous to the groups or kindreds of human society.” (Smith, 1907)
Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941) was a Scottish ethnologist and social anthropologist who influential in study of comparative religion and mythology. An apostle of Robertson Smith he dealt with totemism in the greatest detail (Jensen, 1963), and is regarded as a founding father of modern anthropology.
Sir James George Frazer
For Frazer totemism was an “…intimate relation which is supposed to exist between a group of kindred people on the one side and a species of natural or artificial objects on the other side, which objects are called the totems of the human group.” (Frazer, 1910). Frazer treats of totemism under three headings which are: (1) the clan totem; (2) the sex totem in Australia; and (3) the individual totem of a single person which does not pass to descendants (Lang, 1903; Hartland, 1902), which bind people together in social groups. Frazer, in 1905, attempted to develop a conceptual theory to explain the origins of totemism despite his opinion that no satisfactory explanation of the origin has so far come forth (Stocking, 1995), as well as exhorting us to “…constantly bear in mind that totemism is not a consistent philosophical system…” (Frazer, 1927). Frazer did consider the essence of totemism as “…nothing more or less than an early theory of the mysterious process of conception, which presented itself to savage man at a time when he was still ignorant of the true cause of the propagation of the species.” (Frazer, 1928; 1910). In other words Frazer believed the ultimate source of totemism lay in man’s ignorance of the reproductive mechanism (Karsten, 1935), therefore “…the ultimate source of totemism…was the savage ignorance of the physical process by which men and animals reproduce their kinds.” (Stocking, 1995).For Frazer conceptualist cultures were where women became impregnated when a spirit of a totem animal entered their bodies. The theory was derived from researches carried out in Melanesia and Australia implying that originally totem clans were derived from a specific natural creature (Frazer, 1910). Prior to this Frazer’s first theory postulated that totemism originated in a belief in an external soul. His second theory was derived from the Australian evidence of Spencer and Gillen whereby totemism arose out of a need to procure a plentiful supply of things from nature (Stocking, 1995), and then dividing the spoils among the various totem groups. Frazer worked out a ten point formula for the determination of totemic beliefs and customs as follows: (1) descent from the totem; (2) restriction against injury to the totem; (3) restrictions against using the totem for food; (4) preservation of the totem; (5) mourning for and burial of totems; (6) penalties for disrespect of the totem; (7) assistance by the totem to his kin; (8) assumption of totem marks; (9) assumption of totem dress; (10) assumption of totem names (Gomme, 1908). In his analysis of the social aspect of totemism Frazer “…insisted that the totemic tie is more solid than the tie of blood or of the family in the modern sense.” (Moret, 1926).
(2d) Spencer and Gillen
The simplest form of totemism was initially described by Sir Baldwin Spencer in Australia and A. C. Haddon stating that every “…tribe is composed of several divisions or clans, and it is the rule…for each clan to be intimately associated with at least one class of animals, plants, or natural objects. This animal, or whatever it may be, is spoken of as the totem of the clan.” (Haddon, 1932).
The discovery of totemism in its most complete form was amongst the tribal societies of Australia and the islands of New Guinea and is described in the works of Walter Baldwin Spencer and A. C. Haddon (Russell, 1976). Walter Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) was a British-Australian biologist and anthropologist, of Aboriginal Australia (Petch, 2009), from Stretford, Lancashire. Oxford educated he helped move the Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers Collection from London to Oxford. Francis James Gillen (1855-1912) was born in South Australia and carried much anthropological fieldwork alone when Spencer was back home in Melbourne (Petch, 2003). Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940) was a British ethnologist who conducted field work in the Torres Straits Islands with C. G. Seligman and W. H. R. Rivers. On this basis totemism “…provides a cohesive force in a society of very small units.” (Cranstone, 1973). For Spencer and Gillen “…the identity of the human individual is often sunk in that of the animal or plant from which he is supposedly originated.” (Spencer, 1889), and Spencer, Gillen, and Haddon all “…consider totemism to have arisen from economic conditions.” (Gomme, 1908). Haddon pointed out primitive human groups were not large and that members were closely related and tended to occupy a restricted range (Gomme, 1908). The collaborative field work “…of Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen in Central Australia from 1894 to 1903 is well known…at least for the use made of it by James Frazer, Emile Durkheim, and others.” (Petch, 2000).
(2e) Boas and the American anti-evolutionists
Franz Boas (1858-1942) was a German-American anthropologist who suggested that totemism showed no evidence of a single historical or psychological origin, and who declared the social aspect was a later phenomenon with its origin in individual worship of guardian animals (Tokarev, 1966). It was the considered opinion of Franz Boas that “…the animal and a member of its clan are considered relations. Thus the wolf gens will pray to the wolves, ‘we are your relations; pray don’t hurt us.’ But notwithstanding this fact they will hurt wolves without hesitation.” (Boas, 1889). Franz Boas was opposed to the systemisation of totemism and regarded it pointless to ask questions about its origins. A critique of evolutionary notions concerning totemism came from Alexander A. Goldenweiser (1880-1940), a Russian-American ethnologist and anthropologist. He claimed that totemism was an academic creation and subjected the phenomena to sharp criticism, including the views of Lang, Frazer, and Durkheim in 1915, 1916, and 1918. A lasting influence in America he saw three aspects of totemism that just existed singly and these were: (1) clan organisation; (2) clan names means having emblems; and; (3) a belief in the relationship between groups and totems. For Goldenweiser (1918; 1921) “…the phenomena in question so diversified that the term loses all meaning which…has been the fate of the word totem.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). For Goldenweiser therefore three disparate phenomena had been brought together under the umbrella of totemism thus: (1) the primitive clan organisation; (2) attribution of animal and plant names to those clans; and (3) the belief that a relationship existed between clan and animal (Lindsay, 1965). This negative viewpoint gained predominance in the 1920’s among anthropologists such as Lowie and Boas. Academically, in terms of the trend towards “…evaporation of anthropological categories” (Read, 1978), that “Goldenweiser and others…showed that totemism simply did not exist…It became a non-subject.” (Schneider, 1972). Robert H. Lowie (1883-1957) was a Viennese born American anthropologist, expert on native Americans, and of the mainstream Boasian school who as a cultural relativist was opposed to the cultural evolutionism espoused by the Victorians. The anti-totemic school was led by Boas, Goldenweiser and Lowie who have “…sought to dispose of the riddle of totemism by denying that it was a social and historical reality.” (Reed, 1967). In a riposte it was later stated that “…Sometimes I think that the primary function of establishment anthropology is to fog the truth.” (Harris, 1975)). Richard Thurnwald (1869-1954) was a Viennese born ethnologist and Americanist who saw in totemism the expression of a specific way of thinking among non-industrial communities.
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) of the French school of sociology was credited with being the father of sociology who thought that totemism was a motivating force in the formation of human society (Jensen, 1963) Durkheim attempted to erect a sociological theory of totemism (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952) and developed a most explicit concept of totemism (Tokarev, 1966), whereby the totem is the most primitive clan itself “….hypostacised and represented…under several forms of plant or animal serving as the totem.” (Durkheim, 1965). Durkheim identified human social groups with spiritual totems whereas for Tylor all religion came from animism. For Frazer religion was the product, the spawn, from an understanding of magic. On this basis Durkheim believed the principle of the totem preceded supernatural beliefs. The clan therefore, being at one with the totem, was therefore sacred. Durkheim examined the phenomenon of totemism from a theological and sociological standpoint so, for him, the sacred sphere was a reflection of the underlying emotions accompanying social activities. However, for him the clan was a domestic society comprising people who believe themselves descended from a common ancestor (Moret, 1926).
(2g) Radcliffe-Brown and British Social Anthropology
The dominant early twentieth century research direction was known as functionalism and structural functionalism. Functionalism regarded the main aim of social anthropology was to elucidate the recurrent functions of institutions and customs rather than explain the origins of differences and similarities in culture. Professor A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955) was born in Birmingham and developed the sociological theory of structural functionalism as well as founding the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford, and recognised as a leading representative of British social anthropology and structural functionalism. Radcliffe-Brown thought the main object of social anthropology was even narrower than that of functionalism He stressed the contribution of biological and psychological welfare of individuals in the maintenance of social systems. Sceptical that totemism could be described in a unified way he took a different view from and opposed the pioneering Malinowski. For Radcliffe Brown a sociological interpretation of totemism has to show “…that totemism is simply a special form taken in certain definite conditions by an element or process of culture that is universal and necessary.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952). In Radcliffe Brown’s sociological theory “…totemism stands for a variety of institutions in which selected portions of nature serve as material objects by reference to which segments of society express their respective unity and individuality, on the one hand, and their interdependence in a wider structure on the other, in terms of attitudes, observations and myths.” (Fortes, 1966). Such a sociological theory has to also “…study systematically a much wider group of phenomena, namely, the general relation between man and natural species in mythology and ritual.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952). Radcliffe-Brown was careful to point out that there must be an “…important reason why all peoples all over the world find it appropriate to represent social groups in this way by associating each one with some animal or plant.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1968). His opinion was that totemism consists of elements derived from different institutions and sources and the commonality was their tendency of define segments of the community. In essence totemism required universal elements of culture such as (1) dependence partly or wholly on natural produce of subsistence, and (2) the existence of segmentary organised communities of calsn and moieties.
Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) was an important 20th century Polish born leading British functionalist anthropologist who tutored Raymond Firth, Evans-Pritchard, Edmund Leach, and Meyer Fortes. Totemism for Malinowski was not a cultural phenomenon but resulted from attempts to satisfy basic human needs within the natural world. Confirmation of the unity of totemism was his aim. In his view totemism had two sides, one of which was religious and the other a mode of social grouping. Malinowski sated that totemism “…expresses primitive man’s interest in his surroundings, the desire to claim an affinity and to control the most important objects: above all, animal or vegetable species, more rarely useful inanimate objects, very seldom man-made things. As a rule species of animals and plants used for stable food or at any rate edible or useful or ornamental animals are held in a special form of ‘totemic reverence’ and are tabooed to the members of the clan which is associated with the species and which sometimes performs rites and ceremonies for its multiplication. The social aspect of totemism consists in the subdivision of the tribe into minor units, called in anthropology clans, gentes, sibs or phatries.” (Malinowski, 1974). Malinowski had a selective interest in the nature of totemism and he posed three questions concerning its connection with man’s selective interest in nature (Malinowski, 1974): thus (1); “…why does a primitive tribe select for its totems, a limited number of species, primarily animals and plants, and on what principles is this selection made?”, then (2); “…why is this selective attitude expressed in beliefs in affinity, in cults of multiplication…in the negative injunctions of totemic totems…in injunctions of ritual eating…?”; and (3) “…why with subdivision of nature into a limited number of selected species does there run parallel a subdivision of the tribe into clans correlated with species?”.
The French archaeologist Salomon Reinach (1858-1932) “…accepted the comparative and universalist proposals of British evolutionary anthropologists…” (Palacio-Perez, 2010), and assimilated the theories of Tylor, McLennan, and Frazer about the origins of religion. Historically speaking one considered view averred that evolutionism “…was succeeded by diffusionism, which was supplanted by functionalism, and this in turn was super-ceded by structuralism; but after all these academic shifts and turns the state of secure understanding of man and his works has remained disappointingly static…with increasing specialisation and professionalism, social anthropology has actually become steadily duller and more trivial.” (Needham, 1973).
Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009), French ethnologist and anthropologist, was a central figure in the structuralist school of thought which claimed to “…search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity.” (Doland, 2009). He was a leading exponent of the cultural uniformities that arose from the structure of the brain and conscious thought processes. Structuralism is concerned with psychological uniformities that allegedly underpin differences in thinking and behaviour. Structuralism is concerned with describing the similarities between cultures but not with explaining differences. In a his criticism of the phenomenon of totemism Levi-Strauss, the representative of modern structuralism, denied the existence of totemism (Levi-Strauss, 1966). In common with Goldenweiser he reiterated the latter’s sceptical rejection of evolutionary theories and went to claim that totemism was an outdated and erroneous construct. Levi-Strauss commences with attempting to explain the association of human groups with natural species. In contrast to the functionalist assumption that totemic species are good to eat he proceeded to interpret totems with a good to think priority (Levi-Strauss, 1966), thereby distinguishing between a system of nature and a system of culture. (Fortes, 1966). A definite dualistic concept of totemism that identified four kinds of relationship between nature and culture within totemism which specified: (1) animal species or plants identified with a group; (2) species identified with an individual; (3) a particular animal or plant identified with an individual; and (4) a particular animal or plant identified with a group. For Levi-Strauss nature and culture are mutually exclusive and opposed with the difference being bridged at (1) the infra-structural level by various forms of practice and (2), at the super-structural level by conceptual schemes (Levi-Strauss, 1966). Levi-Strauss removed the basis by only concerning himself with the second level because “…totemism does not for him belong to the domain of ritual beliefs and practices nor to that of moral relations between society and nature…” (Fortes, 1966). For Levi Strauss totemism was “…just one specialised variety of a universal human activity, the classification of social phenomena by means of categories derived from the non-social human environment. “ (Leach, 1965). Totemism as a subject was for Levi-Strauss mere speculation which only led to totemic illusions (Reed, 1986), which put him the totem liquidationist camp occupied by Lowie, Goldenweiser, Boas and Kroeber. For Levi-Strauss the problem was “…not to understand totemism, but to abolish it.” (Worsley, 1968). Unlike the nineteenth century founders of anthropology, who discovered totemism and regarded it as a central institution of savagery, Levi-Strauss embarked upon the thesis that totemism never existed (Reed, 1967). Unlike the evolutionary anthropologists Levi-Strauss was opposed to overall developmental continuity in history so he belongs with “…the piece-meal anthropologists who sever history into fragments.” (Reed, 1967). We are all victims of an illusion because for him totemism was just a collection of arbitrary beliefs and customs. Lev-Strauss therefore became firmly entrenched in the anti-totemic school. The subject of totemism became a non-subject, an exercise in the logic of the primitive or savage mind, with ethnology reduced primarily a topic of psychology. As far as functional analysis is concerned it is actor centred meaning totemism refers “…to the special relations of a ritual character between defined social groups and species of animals.” (Fortes, 1966). The essence the Levi-Strauss analysis is that “…totemic objects are not just of objects, they are messages.” (Levi-Strauss, 1966), and he rejects the “…naturalistic or utilitarian…” explanation of totemism (Radcliffe Brown, 1962). The utilitarian explanation contends that totemic objects are chosen because of their usefulness either as food, or in terms of some other economic good.
3. Totemism in Evolutionary Perspective
Much of past theoretical discussions concerning totemism have almost entirely been concerned with speculations and ruminations about its possible origin and the “…historical process by which an institution or custom or state of culture comes into existence, then it is clear that the very diverse forms of totemism that exist all over the world must have had very diverse origins.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). The problem becomes one of how did totemism originate? The principal early theories of its origin are essentially the three postulated by Baldwin Spencer, Frazer, and Lang (Gomme, 1908). The ramifications of totemism and the totemistic stage of society show few hunting peoples that show no traces of the custom with its “…common features so numerous as to warrant the guess that we are in the presence of a very ancient distribution of a culture…” of great antiquity (Marett, 1935). Even though totemism is not universally distributed amongst human kind it nonetheless “…must have originated (whether in one or several places) under particular conditions.” (Read, 1925), and there has to be an “…important reason why all peoples all over the world find it appropriate to represent social groups in this way by associating each one with some animal or plant.” (Radcliffe- Brown, 1968).
When considering the nature and origin of totemism its most characteristic form shows a “…development among peoples whose system of kinship is based on descent through females.” (Wake, 1967), indicating “… the search for the origin of totemism must be made from the women’s side of the social group.” (Gomme, 1908). Totemism is a way in which early societies were organised in relation to two adaptive functions (Russell, 1976), which were (1) the promotion of tribal organisation and integration, and (2) the conservation of resource species. At this juncture totemic beliefs have to be considered in terms of their material, and therefore, social, roots. Such beliefs originated during an epoch of human social development in which the prevailing activity was primitive hunting and gathering. A stage when the pre-clan and clan structure was the universal form of social organisation. At this time, whether considered religious or not, early clan relations were merely reflected in totemistic rituals and beliefs. This shows that the ‘social side’ of totemism was not a derivative, secondary or non-essential feature but “…it is the very basis of totemism.” (Tokarev, 1966), which proves that the early clan structure is the only ground on which totemistic ideas could originate. It follows that totemism “…thus became involved with man’s first attempts to form a coherent view of the social and natural worlds…” (Russell, 1976), and totemism is like “…every other human institution, the result of a long process of development are important parts of the evidence as to origins.” (Gomme, 1908).
One of the problems associated with the study of totemism is the determination of the social groupings to which totemistic beliefs are attached. Australian evidence points to the clan, the moiety, the section, and sex, as well as individual totemism. The question is which is the earliest form? When discussing cultures in any part of the globe the words clan, totem, and taboo are recognised as being in general use (Russell, 1976) with clan first used for the matriarchal kinship group in ancient Ireland, totem in North American Indian societies, and taboo (from the Polynesian tapu) came into use after Europeans visited Tahiti. Each totemic clan has a special relationship with its own totem animal or plant which coincides with the belief that the first ancestor was a being with “…the characteristics of both men and animals which were not then distinct.” (Cranstone, 1973). It follows that as human clans and animal and plant species are both descended from a common ancestor they are therefore akin. These clans by their ceremonies as conserving the existing universal order and thus “…the totemic system with its symmetrical elaboration builds a complete world picture, with man and nature both separate and united. Everything fitted in.” (Lindsay, 1962). The earliest form is the dual exogamic division (Zolotarev, 1964) which is “…the oldest and most primitive organisation in human society and that traces thereof are conserved in the present day phatries (moieties) of Australian and many other tribes.” (Tokarev, 1966), and first shown by Frazer. An explanation of totemic organisation indicates that individual and personal totems are one aspect only. It is the group totem, the collective totem, which endows the group with its cohesion and constitutes its true essence. This is genuine totemism with personal totems separate from group totemism (Haddon, 1902).
Sex totemism is not as frequent as individual totemism which is a later and a form of fetishism (Moret, 1926), and indicative of the beginning of clan decomposition. The manner in which totems are distributed among clans and phatries is incompatible with individual choice and proves collective origins of totemism (as the evidence from Australia attests). According to McLennan clansmen “…were conceived to be of one blood, and their totems also; and of the same blood was the god of the clan…” (Evans- Pritchard, 1984).
Totemism has its origins in the earliest epochs of human history and probably precedes the formation of clan organisation and which “…shows the feeling of a connection with a given species (or several species) of animals and plants, conditioned by the material production.” (Tolstov, 1931). The proportion of different types of totem does bear a relation to the use of natural resources by the clans. Within the clan and tribal organisation there is “…a feeling of a tie…” of a human group “…with the occupied territory… and with the productive forces of the territory.” (Tolstov, 1931). This shows another of the social aspects of totemism or the blood feud whereby all clan members regard each other as kinsman or brothers and sisters. The totem bond is stronger than the blood bond. Totemic tribes therefore, every local is necessarily composed (due to exogamy) of members of at least two totem clans, there exists the potential for dissolution of its totem elements due to blood feud. At this time the recognition of a blood relationship did not exist and the stage was still at the level of a pre-class epoch. It was still at this time that female nurturing combined with cooperative traits that enable the females to make “…the great advance from the maternal brood in the animal world to the maternal clan system in the human world.” (Reed, 1978). It is here that the origin of clan and totemic organisation can be looked at in terms of the evolutionary history of the prehistoric clan mothers.
3 (a) Woman’s Evolution and Mitochondrial Eve
The evolutionary history of ancient populations can be inferred or deduced from modern populations (Cavalli-Sforza, 1994), this forms the basis of the hypothesis that we all share a common female ancestor (Cann, 1987), an African woman, the common African mother. All mitochondria are descended from a person’s maternal grandmother’s mitochondria (mtDNA) therefore “…mitochondria constitute an independent record of the past, uncontaminated by the main nuclear DNA…” (Dawkins, 2001). Fundamentally, unilineal inheritance combined with occasional mutation is “…sufficient to allow geneticists to reconstruct ancient genetic prehistory from extant mtDNA types.” (Foster, 2004).
Mitochondria “…play a role in energy-capture physiology and perform several other functions.” (Weiss, 2008). In the remoteness of time the ancestors of mitochondria were free living bacteria that became part of other bacteria or within larger cells creating, thereby, a community of prokaryotic (non-nucleate) bacteria or the large eukaryotic (nucleated and complex) cells which are an “…enclosed garden of bacteria…” we call our own, (Dawkins, 2001). Importantly mitochondria contain their own genes (Weiss, 2008), thus have their own DNA (mtDNA), sixteen and a half thousand bases in length, confined to a single ring chromosome, as in other bacteria. Each mitochondrion, containing all the enzymes for final aerobic metabolism, are not inside the nucleus but enclosed in a membrane in the cytoplasm (Sykes, 2002). These within cell organelles are not only power cells or energy factories, but also contribute to anthropological genetics (Weiss, 2008), with modern DNA “…particularly maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), is now routinely used to trace ancient human migration routes and to obtain absolute dates for genetic prehistory.” (Foster, 2004). We get our mitochondria from our mother only because it is passed on only through the maternal line – no sperm mitochondria makes it into the ovum because it is lost on fertilisation (Dawkins, 2001; Weiss, 2008). It follows that, for all individuals whether male or female, their “…mitochondria are all descended from an initial inoculation of…mother’s mitochondria. (Dawkins, 2001).
The human species originated in Africa some 150,000 years ago which means most mtDNA sequences found outside of Africa are closely related to the sequences found within the continent (Weiss, 2008). In Africa around 100,000 to 140,000 years ago there occurred the transformation of archaic to modern Homo sapiens (Lewin,1987). All modern-day human beings are descended from that African population. Homo sapiens arose some 200,000 to 80,000 years ago and the fossil record confirms that this was the period when archaic forms of genus Homo made the transition to anatomically modern humans. It is Africa which is the likely source of the human mitochondrial gene pool, and it was the prevailing ice age conditions during the last 100,000 years that substantially determined the routes and occasions for prehistoric humans to migrate and settle the world. (Foster, 2004). The initial and modest spread of humans within Africa occurred more than 100,000 years ago, with a re-expansion within Africa around 60 to 80,000, with the eventual “…out-of-Africa migration of a single, small group which settled in Australia, Eurasia and America during windows of opportunity at least partly dictated by fluctuations in sea levels and climatic conditions.” (Foster, 2004). These populations that moved out of Africa eventually completely replaced all existing archaic sapiens groups (Lewin,1987). The theory of a Mitochondrial Eve, as the grand-ancestress of us all and who lived in Africa, implies we are all “…descendants of an African diaspora within the last quarter of a million years.” (Dawkins, 2001). This common ancestress, who existed some 140,000 to 290,000 years ago, possibly in or near present-day Tanzania, must be linked to all surviving mtDNA types.
The ‘Eve’ or ‘African Eve’ label is applied to the hypothesis of a recent African origin for all human-kind with the implication that an ‘African Eve’ is the single and sole female ancestor of all people (Cann, 1997). This African or Mitochondrial Eve probably lived much earlier than the Out-of-Africa migration which is thought to have occurred between 95,000 to 45,000 years before the present (Endicott, 2009), therefore existing around 180,000 years ago as the single maternal ancestor of all mankind.” (Richards, 2001). It is the science of “…molecular biology that has given us the charismatic African Eve.” (Dawkins, 2001), and the concept of this “…hypothetical female ancestor…, this “…last mother of us all…” (Cann, 1987), based on the study of maternally inherited genes. The mitochondrial clade as defined by African or Mitochondrial Eve is the species, our species known as Homo sapiens sapiens, and the current population known as the chronospecies (Dawkins, 2004). A clade is a species which is extinct or extant, that contains one ancestor, and is a grouping of that ancestor plus living and deceased descendants. It follows that a sub-clade is a sub-group of a sub-genus or haplogroup. It is the variations detected in mtDNA between different people that is used to estimate the time between now and that of the common ancestor. The time is based on the molecular clock technique of correlating elapsed time with observed genetic drift. The African Eve hypothesis states that earlier Asian populations left no surviving descendants and therefore all surviving humans are ‘Africans’ (Dawkins, 2001). With the rise of Homo sapiens the maternal “…lineages of all human beings coalesce in mitochondrial Eve, born in South or East Africa more than 130 ka.” (Foster, 2004), implying the mtDNA is possibly derived from an archaic sapiens species who is not yet an anatomically modern human (Lewin, 1987). In this scenario Mitochondrial Eve is an archaic sapiens which raises certain questions. Firstly, did modern humans arise in one location and then migrate throughout the rest of the world? Secondly, because mtDNA variation would require 180,000 to 360,000 years to attain modern population levels, what is the actual time since the divergence from the common ancestor? If we “…humans are all definitely descended from the same single individual…(Dawkins, 2001), then we also share common descent, by matrilineal reckoning, with all other humans.
The mitochondrial group that has become known as the Seven Daughters of Eve are considered to be the ‘founding mothers’ or seven ‘clan mothers’ of Europe (Sykes, 2001). In this context it is best to stress that Mitochondrial Eve, of anything back to 200,000 years ago, is neither our common ancestor nor common genetic ancestor. No, she is the most- recent common ancestor or MRCA, and this means that the MRCA of all humans is derived from Mitochondrial Eve. However, via the mtDNA pathway she is not the unqualified MRCA of all humanity. Mitochondrial Eve is the MRCA of all humans alive on earth with respect to matrilineal descent. The genetic genealogy of mtDNA is inherited maternally which means matrilineal lineages of individuals can be traced by means of genetic analysis. Human mtDNA “…is the female equivalent of a surname…” (Foster, 2004), which is passed down from the mother to her offspring in each and every generation. It follows, therefore, that the more offspring a mother and her female descendants produce “…the more common her mtDNA will become.” (Foster, 2004).
The so-called founding mothers of Europe are the mitochondrial group known as the seven clan mothers. A haplotype is a combination of DNA sequences at adjacent locations (loci) on a chromosome that are transmitted together (Sykes, 2001). A haplogroup, therefore, is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor. Seven European clan mothers have been identified and designated. Their names awarded according to their haplogroup and these are: Ursula, haplogroup U (U5) from 55,000 years ago; Xenia (X) of 30,000 years ago; Helena (H) of 12,000 years ago; Velda (V) of 12,000 years ago; Tara (T) of 10,000 years ago; Katrine (K) of 12,000 years ago; and Jasmine (J) of 45,000 years ago.
According to the determinations of Sykes (2001; 2006) clan Ursula (Latin for ‘she-bear’) originated in the Greek mountains at the beginning of the Ice Age and had an average life expectancy of 35 years. One of the first permanent representatives of Homo sapiens and first modern humans in Europe she left the highest proportion of descendants in Scandinavia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The clan Xenia (Greek for ‘hospitable’) is the second oldest of the seven European clans and is estimated to be 25,000 years old. One of the second wave of human beings just prior to the coldest part of the last Ice Age. Her descendants comprise 7% of native Europeans. The third maternal clan (or haplotype H) is that of Helena (Greek for ‘light’) and the largest group known so far and now distributed in the Scottish highlands, Norwegian fjords, the Urals, Russian steppes, and also the Pyrenees some 20,000 years ago between France and Spain in the region of Perpignan. Clan Helena is the most common haplogroup in Europe and is also common in the Middle East and North Africa. Evolved in West Asia and arrived in Europe from the Middle East. Migrated along the Mediterranean from west Asia into Europe some 25-35,000 years ago, and reached England around 12,000 years ago. The clan’s arrival is contemporary with the Gravettian Culture. The clan remains are known from Gough’s Cave in Somerset and therefore 3000 years older than those in Cheddar Man cave, with other evidence from excavations in Italy dated to 28,000 BP. The clan Velda (Scandinavian ‘ruler’) is the smallest of the seven European clans comprising 4% of Europeans. The clan originated 17,000 years ago in the wooded plains of north-east Italy and the southern cliffs of the Alpine region. From there clan Velda spread through central and northern Europe. This haplogroup has high concentrations among the Saami and the Basque’s with 10.4% and 16.3% with the Berbers of Tunisia.
The clan Tara (Gaelic ‘rocky hill’), or haplotype T, comprises slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans and has a wide distribution in the south and west. Tara is known 17,000 years ago in north-west Italy and Tuscany and has high concentrations in Ireland and west Britain, and thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent (modern Syria) and Turkey around 45-50,000 years ago. The haplotype of clan Tara was carried by migrants to north west Europe about 10,000 years ago. Tara herself arose in Tuscany about 17,000 years ago. It is assumed the group during the Neolithic ‘revolution’ brought agriculture and pastoralism to Europe and is thus a main genetic signature of Neolithic expansionism. Haplogroup K, the most common sub-clade of haplotype U8, or Khatrine (Greek ‘pure’) is a medium sized clan and comprises some 10% of the population of Europe. Khatrine originated 12-15,000 years ago in the wooded plains of north-east Italy and spread from there to central and east Europe making up a sizeable fraction of the European and West Asian lineages. It comprises 6% of European and Near East populations, 16% of the Druze, 12% of the population of Kurdistan, and 32% of Askenhazi Jews. Ancient DNA shows a presence in pre-pottery Neolithic B in Syria circa 6000 BC and skeletons of early European farmers around 5500-5300 BC. A woman from an Amorite tomb at Tell Ashara in Syria is dated at 2650-2450 BC. The indication is that Neolithic culture spread from its points of origin by migration. European distributions of clan Khatrine show 17.5 to 15.3% of the French in Perigord, 13.3% in Norway and Bulgaria, some 12.5% in Belgium, 11% in Georgia, and 10% in Austria and Great Britain. The clan Jasmine (Persian ‘flower’), or haplogroup J, is the second largest of the European clans and the only one with an origin outside Europe. Arose some 45,000 years ago in the Near East and the Caucasus and associated with peoples who migrated into Europe. Comprises 12% of the European population and were among the first farmers (Neolithic) bringing agriculture and herding from the Middle East around 8,500 years ago. Have 12% distribution in the Near East, 11% in Europe, 8% in the Caucasus, and 6% in North Africa. The foregoing are the seven major mitochondrial lineages for modern Europeans, but may now constitute 10 to 12 with the addition of haplotypes I, M, and W. Some 29 additional clan mothers have been identified (Sykes, 2001) and these are named (Fufei, Ina, Aiyana/Ai, Yumi, Nene, Naomi, Una, Uta, Ulrike, Ulla, Ulaana, Lara, Lamia, Latasha, Malxshmi, Emiko, Gaia, Chochmingwu/Chie, Digigonasee/Sachi, Makeda, Lingarine, Lubaya, Limber, Lila, Lungile, Latifa, and Layla.
Haplogroup U originates with a woman from haplogroup R around 55,000 years ago. This group has several sub-groups or sub-clades. Haplogropu U1, or clan Una, is mostly from the Middle East and Mediterranean with a scattering in Europe plus Georgia in the Caucasus. Haplogroup U2, called Uta, is common in south Asia but with a low frequency in central and west Asia. Among 30,000 year old hunter-gatherers in southern Russia. Haplogroup U3, called Uma, has very low levels in Europe of only 1%, with 2.5% in the Near East, central Asia with 1%, the Caucasus 6%, Georgia 4.2%. However, the Lithuanian, Polish, Spanish Romany populations Uma shows between 35-56.6%. Haplogroup U4, or Ulrike, has its origin in the European Upper Palaeolithic of around 25,000 years ago. Its wide distribution is the result of the expansion of modern humans into Europe before the last Glacial Maximum. The level in the Caucasus is 8.3%. Haplotype U5 is an extremely ancient clan found in European remains of Homo sapiens. The oldest in Britain is Cheddar Man of 30-50,000 (possibly 65,000) years ago. Europeans are 11% with 10% amongst European Americans. This haplogroup predates the end of the Ice Ages and the expansion of agriculture in Europe. The group is calculated to have arisen at Delphi in Greece some 45-50,000 years ago. Date human remains from the mesolithic have been found in England, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, France, as well as the far north Saami, Finns, and also Estonians. Haplogroup U6, called Ulla, is common in north Africa with a maximum of 29% amongst Algerian Berbers. Europe levels are at 10% with the Canary Islands at 18%. The group entered north Africa from the near East some 30,000 years ago, having arrived from west Africa. The estimate of its origin is between 25,000 and 66,000 BP but it appears to be specific for north Africa. Haplogroup U7, called Ulaana, is lacking in many European populations. The possible homeland of the group is the Indian Gujarat and Iran with Gujarat showing 12% and Iranians 10%. The group shows some 4% in the near East and 5% in Pakistan. The clan of Ulrike (German ‘Mistress of All’), who was not one of the original seven ‘mothers’, lived about 18,000 years ago in the cold refuges of the Ukraine. It European population numbers 2% and are found mainly in the east and the north with high levels in the Baltic region and Scandinavia.
Haplogroup A is the clan of Aiyana, founder of the four major maternal clans that colonised north and south America, originated in east Asia 18,000 years ago. They crossed the land bridge across the Bering Straits and thence to the Great Plains. The descendants of the four clans, were the initial population of the Americas. These four clans were Chochmingwu, Djigonasee, Aiyana, and Ina. Some 1% of native Americans are clan Xenia which originated on the borders of Europe and Asia. All four clans are still found in modern Siberia and Alaska but clan Ina is only found in south and central America. In the far east of Asia the predominant clan is Djigonasee. The far east of Asia also has representatives of the clans Ina, Aiyana, Fufei, Yumi, Nene, Malaxshmi, Emiko, and Gaia. Haplogroup X diverged from Haplogroup N and further diverged some 30,000 years ago. The group comprises 2% of the population of Europe, the Near East, and north Africa. The population expanded after the last glacial maximum some 21,000 years ago. The greatest concentration is found amongst the Druze who are a minority people in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In north America haplotype X totals 3% but for the Algonquin clan it is 25%, the Sioux at 15%, the Nuu-Chah-Nulh are 11-13%, the Navajo at 7%, and the Yakama are 5%.
The term ‘Eve’ is a “…cute and newsworthy but badly misleading way that mixed religion and science as mitochondrial Eve.” (Weiss, 2008). As has been made known mitochondria are “…found in all nucleated cells of the body and are concerned with the production and transfer of energy within cells and the production of RNA that is involved in the process of making proteins.” (Foster, 2004). The concept of ‘Eve’, even true in a restricted sense, can also be muddled and misleading (Lewin, 1987). Mitochondrial or mtDNA is used to reconstruct family or phylogenetic trees. Those family trees can be inferred from the data derived from mtDNA studies which in essence trace maternal inheritance. The problem is that mitochondrial Eve of African origin, some 200,000 years ago, is not necessarily the same thing as the last common ancestor (Lewin, 1987). A number of misconceptions have arisen out of the mitochondrial Eve concept. Firstly, a major misconception is that (a) if all women alive today are descended in a direct unbroken female line then (b), it is ‘Eve’ that was the only woman alive at that time (Dawkins, 2004). Secondly, mitochondrial Eve is not the most recent ancestor shared by all humans. The actual fact is that mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common matrilineal ancestor, and not the most recent common ancestor or MRCA, making all humans “…alive today share a surprisingly recent common ancestor, perhaps within the last 5,000 years…” (Rohde, 2004). There has arisen confusion of most recent common ancestor with the concept of most recent common ancestor in the purely female line. To be correct it must be stated “…only that Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent woman of whom it can be said that all modern humans are descended from her in the female line only.” (Dawkins, 2001).The ‘Eve’ sobriquet is somewhat unfortunate because it assumes that the only woman on earth would create an evolutionary bottle-neck. This original ‘Eve’ could not have been the only woman because she would have had numerous companions of both sexes.
It is established that we all share “…descent from a common African gene pool…this gene pool probably existed between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago.” (Cann, 1997). It is from this ancestral source that anatomically modern humans arose, and whose migratory waves into other continents eventually replaced older populations of humans. New Guinea was originally colonised some 40,000 years ago by a group of 18 cIans founded therefore by 18 different females. Within clan variation would have arisen after each founding clan mother arrived in the region which begs the question what connection has mitochondrial Eve have with the origin of modern humans? Tentative interpretations seem to fit the known fossil record thus “…mitochondrial Eve would also be the first modern human female, and the date of 200,000 years would mark the origin of Homo sapiens sapiens.” (Lewin,1987). In genetic terms there is a need to identify the lineages of humans that are basal to the mtDNA tree. The problem becomes one of proving that a “…mitochondrial mother gave rise to an unbroken line of female descendants, whose genes we carry in us today.” (Cann, 1997). Consideration can be given to the development of totemism through prehistory in relation to the social evolution of matriarchy, mother right, and totemic clan society, recognising the basis of woman’s evolution is “…the priority of the maternal clan system or matriarchy.” (Reed, 1978).
3 (b) Prehistory
The ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ gene pool is supposed to have originated in Africa around 200,000 to 100,000 years ago (Cann, 1997) and thence modern humans around 150,000 years ago (Weiss, 2008), with the transition to modern humanity in Africa between 140,000 and 100,000 years ago (Lewin, 1987). The Out of Africa migrations of these modern humans occurred between 95,000 and 45,000 years ago (Endicott, 2009). In the case of Europe the seven founding clan mothers migrated into Europe between 55,000 and 10,000 years before present (Sykes, 2001). Other maternal clans were in Australia circa 55,000 BP, hither Asia around 45,000 BP, in New Guinea 40,000 BP, and the Americas around, if not before, 30,000 years ago. It is now possible to relate these maternal clans, and their migrations to an archaeological timescale for the development of pre-totemic and totemic social organisation amongst earlier human populations. In terms of comparative ethnology and archaeology prehistory comprised the hunters of the Upper Palaeolithic epoch, with the following consisting of the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. In this scenario even though archaeology “…deals with the material remains of extinct communities…it tells us nothing directly about social organisation.” (Thomson, 1978). Nonetheless, even though earlier anthropologists were unable to pay detailed attention to the economic side “…of primitive man’s economical conditions…that when we understand what these economic were…an explanation of the origins of totemism.” emerges (Haddon, 1902).
The Lower Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) lasted from between 2.7 and 2.5 million years ago to 300,000 years ago and was when modern humans including Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis emerged. Cultures extant during this period were the: Olduwan from 2.6 to 1.8 million years ago; the Acheulean from 1.7 to 0.1 million years ago; and the Clactonian from 0.3 to 0.2 million years ago. The Middle Palaeolithic lasted between 400-300,000 until 70-50,000 years ago and included the following lithic cultures: Mousterian 300 to 30 thousand years ago; the Aterian of 82 to 10,000 years ago; Chatelperronian 35 to 29; Aurignacian 32 to 26; Solutrean 21 to 17; and Magdalenian 18 to 10,000 years ago. The Neanderthals had been replaced between 42-35,000 years ago whilst the transition from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Upper Palaeolithic took place between 45-42,000 BP, and during this period there arose evidence of the first spiritual beliefs. This age was the time of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens when the genus Homo had migrated beyond the confines of Africa. It was during this age that the earliest significant religious practices appear, with art, intentional burial, and evidence of cooking. The Upper Palaeolithic, which had a duration of 30,000 years, began between 50 and 40,000 years BP and was super-ceded by the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) around 12 to 10,000 BP. During the Upper Palaeolithic there occurred the first beliefs in the supernatural, the appearance of hybrid sculptural animal and human figures which may have been shamanistic (the first shaman was a woman or around 30,000 BP), and the cave paintings at Lascaux (17,000 years ago) and Chauvet (32,000 years ago).
Human society and the civilisations it engendered “…has passed through a long, infinitely slow process of evolution…in a consistent process of differentiation, in all climes and in all quarters of the globe, has passed through many stages…” (Bebel, 1904). There is a need to define the earliest human groups and the best is that “…the earliest social group is ‘primal horde’. It is more accurate to refer to the ‘maternal primal horde’ (Reed, 1986), because totemism originated during a very remote time prior to clan organisation known as the epoch of the human herd (Semenov, 1962). In terms of archaeology and comparative ethnology the Upper Palaeolithic is characterised by the hunting grades and its archaeology “…deals with the material remains of extinct communities…” but unfortunately “…it tells us nothing directly about social organisation.” (Thomson, 1978). Totemic classifications are not the earliest form of social relations and nor is the totemic period the most ancient stage in human history. During the archaic period ancient peoples were obviously aware that humans and were social animals and so in the “…most primitive state…we find man living not only in hordes or flocks, like many of the superior animals, but constituting social groups and obeying various scruples which were the embryo of morality and law.” (Reinach, 1909). Predating the totemic system we detect a pre-totemic social state when the tribe is still one unit and not broken into its totemic groups (Harrison, 1927). During this archaic stage all labour was collective with individuals unable to survive except as a member of a group and “…reproduction of the group was inseparable from production of the means of subsistence.” (Thomson, 1978). In the pre-hunting stage of human activity there was no production in the later or modern sense, and when totemistic thinking was common to all peoples at the stage of developing critical awareness of the origins of origins and knowledge. With the pursuit of hunting by men and food gathering by women a division of labour became universal in hunting tribes “…the totemic clan originated as a small nomadic band attracted to the breeding ground of a particular species of animal or plant…” (Thomson, 1977). Inevitably during this initial pre-totemic stage, the clan identified with the species upon which it depended and fed. At this time the clan still had no consciousness of itself as distinct from the rest of nature it follows that “…although totemism, or a particular species of reverence paid by groups of men to wild animals and plants, probably always originated in the hunting stage of society, it has by no means been confined to that primitive phase of human development but has often survived not only into the pastoral but into the agricultural stage…” (Frazer, 1927).
When considering the origin of totemism the essential link with the food supply must not be ignored, especially the question why certain animals were chosen instead of others. In essence – the original basis for totemism was economic (Thomson, 1977). This is the juncture where the totem and the mothers merge as life centres and food sources (Lindsay, 1965). The clan ancestors most likely habitually or exclusively fed on their totem species because “…totemism goes back to a time when technique of hunting had been so rudimentary as to impose severe restrictions on the quest for food …specialised diet.” (Thomson, 1978).
At this point in time the horde “…the primitive commune…the primitive herd, based on community of blood, language, customs, etc, is the first condition for the appropriation of the objective necessities of life, and for the reproductive and productive activities of its members…the earth the working tool as well as the working material…the seat, the basis, of the community. At this stage the people regard the earth naively as being the property of their community in its process of production and reproduction through their labour. The individual has a share in this property only as a member of the community; it is solely in this capacity that he is owner and occupier of the earth.” (Marx, 1964). The segmentation of the primal horde is the first stage in the development of totemism. The horde divides in order to gain access to further and different sources of food. The process is accompanied by the development of two inter-dependent clans who become integrated and share the food produced between them. The horde represents the first human community the defence for whose existence was the so-called “…theory of the social contract, which places an isolated human being at the beginnings of human development…an invention utterly foreign to reality, and it is therefore worthless for the theoretical analysis of human institutions as it is for a knowledge of history. Man should, on the contrary, be classed with gregarious animals, that is with those species whose individuals are combined into permanent groups.” (Meyer, 1902).
Each group develops into a totemic clan, a matriarchal and exogamous clan who share with the other clan with this “…cooperation maintained by means of a taboo on the direct appropriation of the totem species…” (Thomson, 1978). For Palaeolithic peoples this cooperation “…such as we find it at the dawn of human development, among races that live by the chase…is, on the one hand, on the ownership in common of the means of production and, on the other hand, on the fact that in those cases the individual has no more torn himself off the navel-string of his tribe or community than each bee has freed itself from connection with the hive.” (Marx, (1964). Hand in hand with his advances in obtaining the necessities of life and developing his forms of social organisation primal peoples also changed their mode of thought, and developed “…a first form of realisation of the unity of human groups.” (Semenov, 1962). We can now envisage how totemism “…became involved with man’s first attempts to form a coherent view of the social and natural worlds, and in this view the two were inextricably entwined.” (Russell, 1977).
Rather than being special type of social structure totemism can be seen as a stage in the origin, nature, validity and theory of knowledge. For totemism its basis is the “…group unity, aggregation, similarity, sympathy, a sense of common group life and…thus participation, this unity is extended to the non-human world…” (Harrison, 1967) and therefore a reflection of a very primitive form of thinking and feeling about the universe. Totemism certainly does not purport to “…prove the existence of an alleged ‘savage mental attitude’, which assumes a kindred between man and beast.” (Massey, 1888) because it is a relationship between kindred and strangers. The kinship system of totemism divides humanity into two categories “…with most people equivalent, to mankind, and its members call themselves simply ‘men’, ignoring the rest of the human race…” (Briffault, 1927; 1931), and this indicates how early “…the solidarity and psychological actuality of the tribe was recognised…” (Carpenter, 1920). During the totemic stage this level of thinking demonstrates a belief in a change of form without any loss of individual identity (Hartland, 1891), and wars against confusing “…the mystical descent according to the totemic type with an actual descent from the original animal; to mistake the sign of kin for kinship.” (Massey, 1888). In a psychological sense recognition of totemic thinking, and its eventual incorporation into mythic thinking, brings “into our ephemeral consciousness an unknown psychic life belonging to a remote past. This psychic life is the mind of our ancient ancestors, the way in which they thought and felt, the way in which they conceived of life and the world, of gods and human beings.” (Jung, 1940).
What were the hypothetical groups before totemism like, how did they adopt their names, and how did they vary according to different environments? Initially these early pristine groups were small and lived in the country as hunters and gatherers (Burne, 1902), wandering as family groups, practising sexual taboos tending towards exogamy. When considering the origin of totem names we have to recognise that the archaic groups are anonymous and each refer to themselves as ‘the men’ or ‘we’ and adopt, according to Haddon’s theory, the kinds of animals and plants existing in the area occupied by the clan or group. Totemism is a group phenomenon in origin and it is the “…persistent affirmation of primitive man in the totemistic stage that he is an animal or a plant…has in fact obscured the other main factor in totemism, the unity of the human group.” (Mackenzie, 1995). Two opposing groups or phatries show the dual organisation that is the most ancient stage of the primitive communal system, and therefore a duality that “…may well be regarded as the simplest, the most illustrative and the most ancient, sociological model of what we generically define as ‘they’ and ‘we.” (Porshnev, 1970).
For primeval people members of his own group are his people whereas all others are regarded as strangers, enemies, threats, or individuals who he looks upon with possible hostility or mistrust (Briffault, 1927; 1931). The duality appears in the customary, repetitive, recurring collective notions of the group as a concept of ‘alien’ and ‘own’. In other words the ‘we’ groups establish themselves by adopting a negation of the ‘they’ groups. Many clans, tribes, and groups refer to themselves as ‘people, thus for the community that “…existed in primeval times, the connection between individuals was perceived by all through rites and customs underscoring the fact that they belonged to a community as distinct from ’they’…” (Porshnev, 1970). In order for primeval groups to have an initial concept of ‘we and they’ or ‘they and ‘we’ they had to have encountered and then disassociated themselves from ‘them’ or ‘they’. ‘We’ always stood for the ‘people’ and always meant ‘not they’ whereas ‘they’ obviously is means ‘not we., the ‘we’ being the weak concept compared to the more pronounced ‘they’. Eventually the initial duality was replaced by a relationship between two individuals as ‘I and you’ rather than between two communities. Consideration has to be given therefore to the distinction between “me” and “not me” during the totemistic age, and a situation where man “…rarely sets himself as individual over against his tribe; he rarely sets himself as man over against the world around him.” (Harrison, 1967).
With regard to prehistoric understanding attention has to be paid to the problem of pre-logical thinking. Durkheim, Frazer, and Levy-Bruhl posited an antithetical view claiming that “…primitive thinking or the thinking of human beings in a primitive society is basically opposite to logical thinking of the contemporary man…” (Porshnev, 1970). For Frazer pre-logical thought could be traced to psychological laws that governed the association of notions. Levy-Bruhl developed a generalised theory to describe the logics of human thinking in primitive societies known as his law of participation. This theory covered all mental operations and contradicted the logic of contemporary civilised humans, and thus surmised that not only was primitive thinking pre-logical it was also mystic. Durkheim also sought laws appertaining to primitive thinking and in his view “…in a primitive society all irrational notions and rites personified the community or collective…” (Porshnev, 1970), thereby identifying and reducing prehistoric society to a collective of notions and mental constructs. The true significance of prehistoric origins of totemism will be apparent when considering its indissoluble connection with taboo, ritual, magic, mother right and exogamy, prehistoric art, and collective thinking in its lack of differentiation, which is”…characteristic not of one race, but of all races at a given stage of their mental development.” (Harrison, 1977). Importantly much research did lift the veil from the earliest stages of human history. These investigations began with Bachofen, McLennan and Lubbock, were elaborated by Morgan and then Engels who “…added a number of historic facts, economical and political in character.” (Bebel, 1904).
The first stage in the evolution of totemism was the segmentation of the primitive horde which divided in order to gain access to different areas of food supply (Thomson, 1978). Hunter-gatherers do not, and never have, just lived in a landscape of animals and plants, rocks, hills and caves, because their “…landscapes are socially constructed and full of meaning…” and it is no doubt “…that the Upper Palaeolithic hunters were also living in a landscape full of symbolic meanings.” (Ingold, 1992). Early women eventually learned “…how to cultivate the soil, advancing from gardening in the last stage of savagery to agriculture in the first stage of barbarism.” (Reed, 1986). As pairs of clans evolved into a tribe that divided into moieties, phatries these totemic associations expanded until “…they formed a cosmological system embracing the whole of the known world.” (Thomson, 1977), where the tribal order and the natural order were parts of one another. The relations between the sexes since primordial days had special importance but these relations changed and were transformed as the result of changing methods of production and distribution and it was woman who was “…human being which came into servitude. Women were slaves before men.” (Bebel, 1904). According to Thomas (1987), in Neolithic society women carried on a sedentary life being preoccupied with practical pursuits compatible with agriculture, pottery, weaving, tanning, brewing, fire tending – not to mention motherhood – and other activities associated to the by-products of hunting, and which were developed by women. In this milieu women domesticated man and animals. Woman built her houses and it was hers and did not locate to her husbands group after marriage. The children were hers and remained so. Indeed, the high status of women was “…most visible during the early period of agriculture, which marked the end of savagery and the first stage of barbarism.” (Reed, 1986). It is noteworthy that the word ‘medicine’ is derived from a root meaning ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’ (Briffault, 1931). Indeed, the name of Medea, the medical herbalist and witch comes from the same root.
4. Totemism in Historical Perspective
4 (a) Mesopotamia, Egypt and Hither Asia
Totemism, in historical perspective, arose during the Palaeolithic but in the broader scenario the cultures “…of the ancient empires of the Near East, of Greece and Rome, and of medieval Europe, all rest on the technical achievements of the neo-lithic age.” (Farrington,1949). Historically totem gods were the first to emerge (Freund, 1964), and the anthropomorphic gods or goddesses did not come upon the scene until the 4th millennium BC where they appear “…almost simultaneously in Mesopotamia and Africa.” (Newberry, 1934). The oldest cult appears not in Egypt but Sumer (Woolley, 1928), although the course of development was the same for both religions.
Sumer is the name given by the Semites to southern Mesopotamia and means the ‘House of Mer’ or the home of Ninurta, the lightening god who made the fields fertile. KI-EN-GI was the name given by the Sumerians and had much the same sense thus: KI or dwelling place; EN is lord god; and GI means land or Sumer (Newberry, 1934).The Sumerians migrated from the Persian Gulf led by a sacred fish, and settled in southern Mesopotamia (Newberry, 1934) and it is thought that they were “…a people who probably once dwelt in the mountains near China, and later moved across India and the Persian Gulf, to establish themselves in Mesopotamia.” (Freund, 1964). The fish was an ancient totem in Syria (Reinach, 1909). In Chinese mythology the home of the gods is Mount Sumeru, the tallest mountain in the Hindu Kush. The Hindus have a similar tradition for their ’Mount Olympus’ in their mythology which is called Mount Meru. The implication is that had they arrived via Baluchistan, by way of the Persian Gulf, the Sumerians must have set out from the mouth of the Indus or nearest Indian port. These people brought with them the basis of a complete civilisation as well as agriculture, metal-working, and the earliest written language. They were recorded by a Babylonian priest of Bel called Berossus in the 3rd century BC (Sykes, 1930), and known to be settled in Ur around 3500 BC. These Sumerians were akin to the Egyptian pre-dynastic inhabitants even though they had migrated from between India and China (Hooton, 1931).
In ancient Sumer the kings were also sacred priests and as such “…the human representatives of the city deity who had replaced the tribal god, divine monarchs…in every sense of the word.” (Newberry, 1934). The logic was that if kings were gods then gods were kings, the human monarch the deputy of the god. Just as each clan once had its own totem then each city in Sumer had its own local lord or Ba’al. The totem, by now transformed into an anthropomorphic god, was now the kin as heir to the tradition with the result that “…the sensuality of the Sumerian god was the natural effect of humanising the totem…” (Newberry, 1934). The names of the earlier and oldest gods became the oldest numerals and still exist in modern ‘lucky’ numbers of the onetime ‘gods of luck’. Also, traces of totemism derived from influential sky animals of the Babylonian zodiac represent the ancient cult of astrology (Freund, 1964), the totems the property of the clans. Similarly in ancient Egypt where hieroglyphic images finally became phonetic and eventually their “…zoomorphic and totemic typology was eternized in the zodiacal and other celestial signs as determinatives of time and starry ideographs of the elements and seasons…” (Massey, 1888). The clans remained static with their representational totems. The Sumerian kings had their own domestic entourages consisting of priests, priestesses, favourite wife and secondary wives, as well as varying degrees of concubine. Secondary wives had liberties and could feely engage in trade, were free to marry human husbands even though “…the fruit of their wombs was attributed to the god.” (Newberry, 1934). Guarded by strict prohibitions and taboos the woman who represented the sacred mate of the king was often his, or one of, his daughters.
Every year the totem was killed in a ritual ceremony and its remains shared out between the clan which it was identified, and similarly “…the god was sacrificed in his yearly festival, sometimes in human form…usually incarnated in a beast which was devoured by his worshippers. For the participants the sacrifice or the slain, was the same as the slayer, thus one entity. The communal meal, which was part of the ritual, was meant to ensure a closer bond between the sacred lord and his initiates. The belief in the rebirth of the sacrifice gave credence to the idea that “…the slaughter of a sacred animal and the feast upon its flesh became the annual death and resurrection of the god of fertility.” (Newberry, 1934). Below the sacred mates and wives of the king came the temple harlots. Sacred prostitution eventually led to the realisation and discovery of the real causes of reproduction. At the Temple of Ishtar each female initiate was made to sacrifice her virginity to a stranger, and it was this event which was construes as the sacred marriage. As the totem was seen as female and male, then so was the god. Reincarnation of the totem, of the god, therefore required a sacrifice, the sacred marriage. The god therefore, in order to live again, had to unite with a goddess and thus beget a second version of himself. A single ritual encompassed both the marriage and the funeral of the god and his deputy the king. Obviously the erotic functions of the god were later transferred to the king and reminiscent of the later feudal droit de seigneur. In this sense the later totemic form as the triune Father, Mother, and Son came into being because “…the god was more than a deified king, or a deified royal family, just as the totem was more than a sacred beast.” (Newberry, 1934). These offshoots of the ritualised sacred marriage imply a sacred demon, or the ghostly groom’s mystic union with nuns as the Lamb of God. The later ritual has the “…same primordial root, which goes back to the totemism of Palaeolithic times.” (Newberry, 1934). For the Sumerians and their mythology they regarded Tiamat as the goddess of water or the mother of all life. The Sumerian sign for water also signified ‘seed’ with water identified also with the eternal feminine. In Sumerian mythology the antithesis of the immemorial male is ‘fire’, the opposite of water. It follows that a union of the aqueous planet, or the moon, with its opposite igneous planet the sun, was indeed a marriage of the skies.
The question arises whether the ancient Egyptians worshipped animals as representatives of tribal ancestors or ‘totems’ (Budge, 1900; Budge, 1899). For ancient Egypt totemism can be described as the “…recognition, exploitation and adjustment of the imaginary mystic relationship of the individual or the tribe to the supernatural powers or spirits that surround them (Spence, 1994). Egyptian gods appear as the combination of human and animal features, for example Thoth has the head of an ibis or sometimes a baboon, Osiris often has the form of a bull, whereas his half-sister and wife Isis was often a hawk (Freund, 1964). Sekhmet has the head of a cat or lioness and an original warrior goddess of healing in Upper Egypt as well as a solar deity. As to the question of the totemic origin of certain ancient Egyptian deities there is “…little doubt that the origin of the conception whereby the gods took upon themselves the forms of animals was a totemic one…” (Spence, 1994). At the dawn of history the king or pharaoh was mystically identified with a totem (for example Horus) thus “…other totems had similarly become incarnate in chiefs before the Horus chief conquered the whole of Egypt, subduing the other totems and their earthly representatives.” (Childe, 1963). In the Nile Valley “…there is indirect evidence of the survival of totemic clans. The Later Neolithic villages seem to have been the settlements belonging to such clans.” (Childe, 1951).
During the historical period these Neolithic villages became the centres or capitals of parishes or nomes. The many ancient Egyptian standards represent the nomes of Egypt and are characterised by figures of animals and birds, therefore such totems “…are invariably carried on banners, poles, shields, and it is unlawful to kill them.” Spence, 1994). Thus parish nome standards were clan emblems. They had names like Elephantine, Falcontown or Hierakonpolis and obviously derived from the local clan totems of elephant and falcon. The emblems of ancient Gerzean period Egypt represent the totems and divine patrons and ancestors of kinship groups which in the Semainian, (3200-3000 BC) or before, had become local groups (Childe, 1963).
The annual Nile flood and needed attendant irrigation in a co-ordinated manner. There developed directly from a group of tribal societies a large bureaucratic empire. The existing totemic system was transferred directly to a complex civilisation. The tribes of ancient Egypt were “…groups of stable clans that eventually replaced the family as an institution. All clan members were regarded as kin “…in virtue of mystical descent from a totem ancestor…”, generally an edible animal or plant that was “…important in the tribal economy…” (Childe, 1960). The prehistoric social organisation of these ancient Egyptians from the Gerzean culture period (3500-3200 BC or late 4th millennium) clearly belonged to totemic clans. Each clan possessed pole mounted emblems of its animal or plant totem. The taboos associated with these clan totems were enforced by the authorities. Ancient Egyptian religion was complex and bizarre and possessed a profusion of animal headed gods, goddesses, and animal cults and taboos. The practice of keeping animals in temples as incarnations of gods is explained by their being regarded as ancestors. Despite conquests of Egypt by Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, these animal cults survived. Egyptian amulets, which conferred mana, were sometimes “…carved into the shape of a totem or a ‘thing of power’…engraved with magic patterns or representations of the totem.” (Childe, 1960). In Egypt traces of totemism “…can be identified in the symbols of deities and in the representations of cult scenes in which the participants are dressed as animals (Childe, 1960), and which later became the country standards of the nomes.
The final conquest of ancient Egypt was achieved by the Falcon clan led by its chief Menes “…and himself magically identified with its totem, the divine falcon (Horus), has conquered the rest of the Valley and the Delta.” (Childe, 1960). was an Early The Falcon clan, and its Scorpion and Lion Clan allies, fought the clans of the Owl, Frog, and others. The result was the welding of independent villages into a single state and the establishment of the Empire. The conquering Falcon clan members were predominantly a hunting people for whom it was improper to worship or sacrifice any but a wild animal. Within this empire the totems of the victors and their allies gained a great significance throughout the kingdom. Menes, the Early Dynastic pharaoh of 3010-3050 BC, was no longer the head of a single household, a tenant farmer of a god, but now himself a god made immortal by magical rituals. Sanctifies by seals and ritual objects we have “…glimpses of totemic survivals, of magic, fertility rites…” (Childe, 1960). There was from this point on a universal taboo on killing the falcon or ibis which was of importance because the falcon-headed Horus, and ibis-headed Thoth. The unification of Egypt was seen as the victory of Horus who was now personified in the Chief of that Falcon clan over all the other clans now degraded to second class gods or local deities (Childe, 1951). In ancient Egypt it is the “…identification of the god with an animal suggests totemism.” (Mackenzie, 1995), thus Egyptian gods are now portrayed wearing masks of totem animal ancestors. In this way the cult of the totem “…had been super-ceded by the worship of a god of resurrection who was sacrificed in a yearly ceremony.” (Newberry, 1934). Egyptian gods, just as others in mythology were represented by zootypes that remained as witnesses “…to the immense period of pre-monumental development in the old totemic times of Egypt that preceded…anthropomorphic representation of the One Supreme God.” (Massey,1888). The surviving zootypes included the Eel of Atum, the Hare of Osiris, the Crocodile of Sevekh, the Kaf-Ape of Shu, the Jackal of Sut-Anup, the Lioness of Tefnut, the Scorpion of Serk, the Cat of Pasht, the Hawk of Horus, the Ibis of Taht, and the Water-Coe of Typhon. The victory of Horus meant that “…paths to salvation were mainly magic rituals, initiations and purifications taken straight from totemism…” (Childe, 1951) enacted in the presence of a sculptured human god wearing the mask of a sacred beast.
Evidence of pre-patriarchal forms of social organisation are shown by the Queen of Sheba for whom marriage rites of some Arab peoples reflect survivals of exogamy, and these facts “…appear sufficient to prove that Arabia did pass through a stage in which family relations and the marriage law satisfied the conditions of the totem.” (Smith, 1889). The question was asked if there were totem clans in the Old Testament and could the views of McLennan be applied to the ancient Hebrews? Therefore it appeared that a tribal arrangement existed among early Hebrews that resembled that of native Americans. Dietary abstinences among Hebrews was explained as “…survivals of totem-worship, since every member of a totem-clan religiously abstains from eating the eponymous animal…” (McLennan, 1870). A view accepted by others in the field of study (Sayce, 1906).
4 (b) Ancient Greece, Rome and the Mediterranean
In early Europe, including ancient Greece and Rome, clans and tribes were associated with certain animals from which descent was claimed (Cooper, 1992), and these included: the Greek Myrmidons or ants, Mysian mice from Anatolia, Lycian wolves from Anatolia, Arcadian bears from the Peloponnese, the Cynadae or dogs (Cynus) Athens; and the Porcii of Rome .There are not many traces of totemic society amongst the ancient Greek genos. Evidence that does exist occurs with Attic deme names that correspond with totem names. The Attic genos was once exogamous and reckoned kinship on the side of the mother (Lang, 1893) with evidence to established links between ancient gens and totem kindreds, as well as from mythology. Nonetheless, another source states that totemism left more than traces in ancient Greece as shown by the familiar animals of the gods which suggests an earlier stage when the animals had been the gods (Reinach, 1909). For example, the eagle of Zeus, the hind of Artemis, the dolphin of Poseidon, and dove of Aphrodite.
When the ancestors of the ancient Greeks passed from pastoralism and became agriculturalists the “…Totemic rites of the nomads and shepherds did not disappear, but they received a new interpretation.” (Reinach, 1909). Sacrificial animals, whether real or substitute effigies, were still ancient totems. Towards 1100 BC invasions by northern tribes, including the Dorians, ended the Minoan civilisation at its apogee, and the Mycenean towards the century’s end. It is assumed that behind ancient Greek religion there lies totemism “…and that Greek religion can only be rightly understood on this assumption.” (Harrison, 1977). To understand ancient Greek totemism it needs to be seen not as a totemic social system, but in terms of totemic thought, and that it as a religion it emerged early from the totemistic magical stage.” (Harrison, 1977).
There are traces of totemism among the ancient Roman gentes which were homogenous groups of totem kindred, deriving the names through their mothers, and practising exogamy (Lang, 1893). Well known and familiar totems among the ancient Roman groups are derived from the sun, and include the Aurelian gens of Sabine descent, from aurum and urere meaning ‘the burning thing’. Similarly the Fabii; Cornelii; Papirii; Pinarii; and Cassii; all have a wild etymology connected to plants. However, the Porcii, the Aquillii, and Valerii are all connected to swine and eagles. Examples of totem groups are the Piceni or woodpeckers, and Hipini who are descendants of the wolf. The ancient Romans thought the leaders of the ver sacrum were animals meaning at one stage “…that Aryans may once have been totemists…” (Lang, 1893). In terms of ancient Greek and Roman consanguineous kinship of the gens the core and “…composition of Greek and Roman tribes and commonwealths cannot well be explained except on the hypothesis that they resulted from the joint operation, in early times, of exogamy and the system of kinship through females only.” (McLennan, 1886 a). It follows that during prehistory the homogenous groups became totem kin for the Greeks and Romans. It is within the corpus of Greek mythology that echoes of totemism remain enshrined. Not to forget the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus being raised by a she-wolf.
5. Totemism in Global Perspective
5 (a) Australia
The search for a consistent and complete totemic system must be made in Australia alone (Lindsay, 1965). With regard to Australian totemism will be found the most primitive stratum of the phenomenon from which we can deduce its original form and thus analyse and relate both to a coherent evolutionary process and arrive at an “…approximation to the history of totemism in general.” (Thomson, 1978). It will be seen that Australian totemism is to some degree much less advanced than the more advanced stage reach by north American totemism (Gomme, 1908). The Australian Aborigines have failed to progress from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural economy and remain as genuine palaeolithics. Arriving in the continent from the 8th millennium BC their integrally Palaeolithic culture retains a uniformity and inner consistency (Lindsay, 1965). Australian totemism therefore represents the most primitive stratum of the phenomenon of totemism. Contemporary Australian totemism is derived from the original form via an evolutionary process and “…the result may be accepted as an approximation to the history of totemism in general.” (Thomson, 1978). The whole system of totemic belief reflects social structure, depending on whether hunter-gatherers in Australia or farmers in Africa, and this implies bliefs and mode of thought differ and thus several simultaneous systems exist throughout the world – different places, different times (Levy-Bruhl, 1923).
Totemism proper now occurs only in Australia in two major matrilinear and patrilinear divisions. With regard to North American and Polynesian tribal systems it is more accurate to use the terms sub-totemic or totemic survivals. For the Australian Aborigines totemic ideology has been expanded into a comprehensive outlook on the natural world and is “…a theory and a practice concerned with the relation between the natural and social world.” (Firth, 1965). This includes trees and the birds that nest in them, water and water-fowl and fish (Howitt, 1904; Radcliffe-Brown, 1931). In other areas of the globe, such as the Americas and Polynesia, the system has been arrested or collapsed. What remains is a residual sense of common descent kinship and distinctive ancestral cults, exogamy, the proliferation of totemic myths, and formal taboos concerning particular animals (Thomson, 1978). Nonetheless in regard to totemism it has been said that it is “…not a separate ‘ethnographic’ specimen peculiar to the Australians and some other peoples but a particular instance of a much more general phenomenon…” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952). In one study of Australian totemism (Elkin, 1933) the phenomenon was fragmented into a various assortment of totemisms. These divisions were sex totemism, clan totemism, moiety totemism, dream totemism, local totemism, section totemism, and also subsection totemism (Worsley, 1968). Adolphus Peter Elkin (1891-1979) was and Anglican clergyman and Australian anthropologist and proponent of the assimilation of indigenous Australians. In London he studied under the Australian anatomist Elliott Smith (1871-1937). It was Elkin who distinguished between Australian brothers, sisters and cousins pointing out that “Moiety means half…each tribe is divided into two halves or moieties. This division, known as the dual organisation, is a definite social and ceremonial grouping.” (Elkin, 1974). The analysis and conclusions of Elkin were described by Levi-Strauss (1964) in terms of “…instead of helping to slay the hydra [of totemism] …has dismembered it and made peace with the bits.” In Australia a clan may have secondary or tertiary totems, with the Aranda having more than 400 totems in some 60 categories but which do not affect the significance of the main central totem. The majority of Australian totems are edible species of animals and plants and the remainder natural objects. Of 200 species identified by Spencer and Gillen (1889) some 150 were edible. Natural totemic objects included stones, stars, wind, rain, and various processes. Original totems concentrate on plants and animals and the edible ones concentrate on the food supply. Australian tribes also exhibit some evidence showing subsidiary personal totems are acquired at puberty. In addition, besides the clan and personal totems, each sex in some tribes may have a totem (Notes and Queries, 1901) and, where the personal totem is an animal, the animal is regarded as a tutelary being. For the Kangaroo tribe they are really leaping kangaroos and real men are kangaroos, so “…men-kangaroos when they danced and leapt did it not to imitate kangaroos – you cannot imitate yourself…” (Harrison, 1947). Dieri of Western Australia have the crow, shell parakeet, and the emu as totemic ancestors, whereas other Dieri have black lizard totems. Other Aborigines trace themselves to ducks and swans.
Local Australian tribes display a unity created by contiguity and common local interests and not necessarily a blood relationship. Consisting of groups of local kin these tribes nonetheless regard themselves to be related by blood ties and common descent from an animal, plant, or natural object. Studies of Australian totemism have shown that, in the view of one scholar, “…(1) that the natives think themselves actually akin to animals, plants, the sun, and the wind, and things in general; (2) that those ideas influence their conduct, and even regulate their social arrangements because (3), men and women of the kinship of the same animal or plant may not intermarry, while men are obliged to defend, and in case of murder to avenge persons of the stock of the family or plant from which they themselves derive their family name.” (Lang, vol 1, 1995). In essence Australian kinship “…is totemic in nature…each moiety has in some regions an animal or bird for its totem and name…” (Elkin, 1974). However, clan totemism is in the wider sense only one variety of totemism because, in many parts of Australia the tribe exists as two exogamous moieties in both patrilinear and matrilinear regions (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952).
For Central Australian tribes totemism began, according to tradition, by people regularly eating their totems and mating within the same totem kin group as themselves (Frazer, 1899). For Central Australians any man’s totem was seen, as elsewhere, as the same thing as himself. Therefore by absorbing the flesh of the animal was acquired the qualities of that animal. It is possible to correlate totems with the concept of the unity of opposites which thus underlies dual organisation (Lindsay, 1965). This arrangement or duality divides everything in the universe into two categories. For Australian totemism these categories correspond to the two moieties of a tribe. The dual organisation implies a tabu against marriage in one’s own group with a positive injunction to marry in the linked and opposing section of the group, and “…the totems of the Australian class divisions are strictly exogamous under penalty of death.” (Wake, 1891). This explains why tribes sub-divided into matrilinear and patrilinear moieties have strict marriage rules based on descent patterns. Dual moiety social organisation shows symmetrical sections, or dual groups, that are both linked and opposed at one and the same time as an example of a unity of opposites. The concept of the unity of opposites lies at the core of the totemist universe with the notion embedded in the dual organisation, exogamy, and totemic thought (Lindsay, 1962). Fundamentally primitive thought is essentially dialectical.
The majority of tribes in Australia, as with other peoples, are partially patriarchal with the women going to live with the families of their husbands. The effect of this is that the women are reduced in status where once “…formerly matrilineal descent and matrilocal marriage were general and the status of women much higher.” (Hawkes, 1965). In matrilineal clans the role of the father is minimised with what matters concentrated in the thought and feelings of the mother. In such circumstances clan members are regarded as ‘all of one flesh’. In some languages the same word is used for both flesh and totem. Matrilinear totemism is the earlier form because in later patrilinear forms the concept of territoriality has displaced the idea of unity in the flesh of the mothers and the totem. The patrilinear clans do not show such intensity of union as the matrilinear clans. For patrilinear clans the totem tends to be rather a spirit or dream. As a result the link with the totem is expressed through sites in the tribal territory. This form of totemism is regarded as a conceptional method of determining the totem and may be the place of conception or both. The divergence of matrilinear and patrilinear forms is largely the result of territorial settlement where patrilocal forms of marriage develop into actual patrilinear systems. This leads to the breakdown of the original unity of the mother, the totem, and eventually the group. Matrilinear groups live in a large part of eastern Australia comprising Queensland, New South Wales, Western Victoria, eastern South Australia, plus a small coastal area of the south west of Western Australia. The patrilinear groups are found in the north-west desert region across to the coast, in north east parts of Queensland, and throughout the central region. The divergence of forms makes sense if the matrilinear form is regarded as primary with other forms as derivations or expressions of disintegration. Nonetheless the impress of the original matrilinear system remains apparent everywhere.
The Arunta and other central Australian tribes of remote antiquity referred to the transmigration of souls as Alcheringa, and their totemic system is “…based upon the idea of the reincarnation of Alcheringa ancestors, who were the actual transformations of animals and plants, or such inanimate objects as clouds, or water, fire, wind, sun, moon, and stars.” (Spencer, 1889). The concept of reincarnation enshrined in Alcheringa is the “…fundamental feature of the totemisms of the Central Australians…that each individual is the direct reincarnation of an Alcheringa ancestor, or of the spirit part of some Alcheringa animal which carried a churinga…” (Spencer, 1889). Clan members have a strong sense of identity and affinity with their totem species (Spencer, 1927). Clan members are their totem from whence arises ancestor worship in the form of the totem (Landtman, 1938). The evolution of totemism develops from the segmentation of the primitive horde driven by the need to gain access to other sources of food supply. Ceremonies of propagation of the totem species begin at the opening of the breeding season at the totem centre or clan hunting ground. The totem centre is the actual breeding ground (Spencer, 1889; Frazer, 1937). For the clans food distribution is cooperative with a tabu on the appropriation of totem species. Each group or totemic clan shares with other clans. However, the totem system as an economic basis is lost with improvements of production with the concomitant development of magical practices (Thomson, 1978). For community benefit each group became a totemic clan and shared its products with another clan. It was the tabu on a totem species that determined the cut off from the economic origin. The result was the modification of ceremonies with the development of the celebrations of the life events of clan ancestors (Spencer, 1889). However, Central Australian clan headsmen are obliged to eat a portion of the totem in order to work their magic (Spencer, 1889; Spencer, 1914). Ceremonies became events celebrating ancestral fertilisation and the transmission of clan social and cultural traditions to the next generation (Landtman, 1938; Webster, 1932), which led to the development of a magico-religious system which sanctioned the resulting social structure. For the Australian Aborigine totemism, compared to other forms elsewhere, is the “…most elaborate and deeply welded in the social life…” (Firth, 1965). Their attitude to the kangaroo and North Amerindians to the grizzly bear, “…is one of affection tempered by deep religious awe.” (Harrison, 1947).
5 (b) The Americas
Yukon Indians are both man and she-wolf (Freund, 1964), and the Hopi and Zuni assert that all clans are sired originally by animals. The Wyandot have eleven totems including deer, hawk, beaver, wolf, sea snake, porcupine and four species of turtle (Kohler, 1975). Several of these totem clans have associated phatries with the eleven clans distributed between four phatries. The Chimariko Indians of California have a coyote as an ancestor (Freund, 1964), and in another tale they are have a frog ancestor. The Black Shoulder Clan of the Omaha have the shaggy buffalo as their totem. Totemism has more or less disappeared among the Western tribes of Oregon and California, and it is much the same for the Navajo and Apache. However, the Northern Amerindians such as the Tlingit have retained their whale, raven, wolf, and eagle totems. The Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands regard themselves as the result of a one-time encounter between a male raven and a beach mollusc. The people of British Colombia are totemic, with a totemic cosmology (Kohler, 1975), with whale, eagle, raven, wolf and frog totems, do not hurt the totem, and descended from their totems.
In North America totemic divergences can be remarkable with the Tlingit of South Alaska divided into two exogamous phatries (Hartland, 1908). These two exogamous phatries are those of the raven and the wolf which are divided into a number of totemic clans. They reckon descent through the mother, do not gather in one place, and are distributed by social rather than geographical groups. Another example is the North American Delaware’s who regard themselves as descended from the rattlesnake. The Delaware with the Mohegans (Mohicans) also have the turtle, the turkey, and wolf as totems. The Crane Clan of the Objibwa’s are obviously from cranes, the Carp Clan of the Ootowak are carp fish, and the Choctaw’s have a crawfish band (Freund, 1964). The Objibwa’s have twenty three totems, the Potawatomi have fifteen, whereas there are only three totems present among the Oneida and the Mohawks. The Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga have eight totems, as do the Tuscarora. Thus these Iroqouis tribes, including the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, and the Tuscarora have nine totems – wolf, bear, turtle, beaver, deer, snipe, heron, eel, and hawk, some of whom split into sub-totems (Kohler, 1975). Among the Iroqouis the custom of animal dancing and face painting were connected with totemism.
Northern Amerindians have cosmological legends that record their descent and believe after death they turn back into their ancestral or totemic animal (Kohler, 1975). Their ceremonies mimic animal dances, masquerading as the animal, and wear face masks and imitatory costumes. The totemic nature shows clearly the doctrine of descent from and the reverence for the totem animal. North Amerindians and others tattoo their totems on their bodies and others paint their totem marks on their weapons, canoes, huts, while some paint or carve the totem on the tomb of a clansman, or grave post, or placed beside the deceased person (Gomme, 1899).
A number of south American societies and tribes have had fully developed totemic systems and were divided into exogamous clans named after animals and plants so “…the totem clans of the Goajiros all draw their names from animals such as the tiger, the rabbit, the peccary, the vulture, the hawk, the dog, the stork, the owl, the rattlesnake, the fox…” (Karsten, 1935). Such tribes are the Arawaks in Guiana and the Goajiros of Colombia. The largest clan of the Goajira are the Urianas who have Uriana tigers, Uriana rabbits, and Uriana lizards. Each of these exogamous and matriarchal clans is therefore showing a mystical connection with an animal that is eponymic. Obviously animals play a role in the superstitious beliefs and religion of the indigenous Indian populations in many parts of south America. It follows that in south America for many clans a “…totem is an object or an animal, usually the latter, with which the people of a tribe believe themselves to be connected by ties of blood and from which they are descended.” (Spence, 1995). Other totemic clans and tribes include the Borororos , an Xingu tribe, of Brazil who claim descent from the red plumaged parrot. The Borororos are macaws and the macaws are Borororos. The Piaroas of the Orinoco whose ancestor is the hoofed tapir and look forward to becoming tapirs on after death. The idea extant amongst the Indians of Brazil is that of the transmigration of the soul into an animal or plant on death. For the Indians in Brazil food animals are the permanent abode of human souls and proves that traces of totemic clan organisation exists within tribes. Transmigration of the soul, and thence reincarnation in birds which are important food sources, includes tapirs, the capybara, deer, and jaguar, which then are subject to a taboo as a food source. Among the Aurucanians of Chile there exists the idea”…characteristic of all truly totemistic peoples, that the souls of kindred persons are always thought to enter after death into one and the same kind of animal.” (Karsten, 1935).
In Mexico and Peru the jaguar and bear are revered for their fierceness and strength the monkey and fox for their cunning, and the condor for its size and because “…several tribes believed they were descended from it.” (Spence, 1995). The Canari Indians of Peru include in their ancestors the ara which is a member of the macaw family. Some Peruvian tribes in the jungle have totemic pumas, others have condors, and the Canelos of Equador believe they become jaguars when they die and thus return to what they were originally (Freund, 1964), whilst the Aymara of Bolivia consider themselves the children of Eagle Men. Among the Aurucanians of Chile it is found that some are descended from lions, some from tigers, some from eagles, and others from birds such as fishes, trees, stones, and plants. A totemic system exists among the Arawak Indians of the Guyanas and elsewhere. Some 50 clans have totem names derived from indigenous animals and plants that include deer, black monkeys (Ateles beelzebub), the redbreast bird, as well as the rat, tortoise, bee, hawk, armadillo, mocking bird, coriali parrot, and the razor-grinder. The implication for Arawaks is they believe “…that each family was descended from its eponymic animal, bird, plant…” (Karsten, 1935), certainly suggesting the relationship is totemic in character. These animistic concepts contribute to the understanding of how a “…social system like totemism has originated.” (Karsten, 1935).
5 (c) Africa
The West African coastal region comprises groups of peoples in nations divided into groups of kin. Twelve totem kindreds twelve names “…are derived from animals, plants and other natural objects, just as in Australia.” (Lang, 1955 (i); Bowditch, 1873). The totem clans include the buffalo, plantain, cornstalk, parrot, wild cat, red earth, dog and panther. The Incra clan of the Ghana Ashanti are a clan of ants, which reminds us of “…a race of Mymidons, believed to be descended from or otherwise connected with ants, in Ancient Greece.” (Lang, 1955, vol 1). Again in Ghana the Horse-mackerel clan believe they are descended from a man and a mackerel.
In east Africa there are many accounts that “…tell of the descent of man wholly from a totem animal…”, and “…no mating with a human is suggested.” (Freund, 1964). For example the Masai, Nilotic pastoralists from Kenya and Tanzania, who believed they are from dogs. In the Sudan the Shilluk attest they “…owe their beginning to the sacred White Cow of the Nile…a typical totem myth of this kind.” (Freund, 1964). The Shilluk are a Nilotic population of southern Sudan and neighbours of the Dinka and Nuer. Similarly the East African Wanika are from the hyena, and another African ancestor is the hippopotamus. The Wanika live in the Coast Province, the Shimba hills and east plains of southern Kenya (Rattray, 1878; Murcock, 1959). For some Malagasy people in Madagascar they have a lemur as the totemic animal which is known as the Betsimisaraka or Aye-Aye. In totemic terms the Bechuanas people, who live in South Africa, are divided into the Bakuenas of crocodile men and call it their father and their chief is the Great Man of the Crocodile. The Batlapis are the men of the fish, the Banarer are the men of the buffalo, the Banukas are the people of the porcupine, and the Bamararas the men of the wild vines. The Batlapis are the men of the fish, the Banarer are the men of the buffalo, the Banukas are the people of the porcupine, and the Bamararas the men of the wild vines. It is apparent that for north America and Australia that these people lived in a society with a specialised totemic organisation wheras, for Africa and Asia “…totemism is subordinate to, or at all events in close or equal association with other elements…” (Gomme, 1908).
5 (d) Asia and India
There is direct evidence of the existence of totemism in Siberia. Among the Tartars (a Turkic people from the Ural-Altaic region of Russia) names are taken from certain animals such as the elk and reindeer but “…the corresponding animals are not the objects of any particular cult significance…” because the phenomenon is “…a clan totemism with a purely social not a religious significance.” (Karsten, 1935). The Samoyedic peoples of the Kelt River in Siberia are nomadic reindeer hunters who claim descent from the bear, wear bear emblems claimed to represent the ‘all father’ or the totem animal. The River Tas Samoyeds claim descent from the swan and similarly with the exogamous Yenisei-Ostiaks a Finno-Ugric population iof north west Siberia who are divided into three clans. In addition the Yenise-Ostiaks see swans as female beings. We have then totemic clan organisation with animal names among the Ostiaks which confirms the view of McLennan that “…any form of animal and plant worship must have a totemistic origin.” (Karsten, 1935). The Yakuts of Yakutia in Russia are legendary Turkic horse people who regard certain family animals as sacred such as the swan, the goose, and the raven which are never eaten. The southern Yakuts engage in husbandry of horses and cattle and the northern Yakuts are semi-nomadic hunters and reindeer breeders. The swan in parts of Central Asiatic mythology is regarded as a femeale being, who for the Buriats is Swan Woman who married a hunter. Some Buriats, a Mongolian indigenous group in Russian Siberia, trace their descent, or uthka, from a swan. The bird called khun among the Serel-Mongols and sen among the Khangin tribe denotes the Siberian swan. Families along the Amur trace decsent from the tiger and the bear with many Asiatic peoples reckoning descent from some animal. The Bersit tribe believe their ancestor was a wolf. This clearly shows “…the idea of animals as the ancestors of families and whole tribes occur among a great many Siberian peoples.” (Karsten, 1935). The Mongols have several myths of origin that indicate a totemism. Mongols supposedly sprang from a woman who met a bear by whom she had two children. The Kirghiz claim descent from a wild boar and therefore refuse to eat pork meat. The existence of such clan organisation and associated totemic ideas among central Asian populations shows the “…common occurrence, among all lower races of mankind, of ideas about animals, which, under certain circumstances, might develop into full totemism.” (Karsten, 1935).
Some Tibetans believe they evolved from a monkey and other Asian peoples claim descent from the leopard. The Chinese had a masculine boar-god called Chu-Pa-Chieh or Lord of the Milky Way who raped the daughter of the sky. In India the Hindu deity Prajapati as Lord of the Creatures in his boar form raised the earth out of the sea and in his later representation of Rudra, a boar of heaven, he created the world. Another totem-god was the Lord of the Waters was the tortoise and was a later representation of Rudra. In another Hindu legend the world rests on the back of a tortoise and is a manifestation of Vishnu. Hindu deities have many animal incarnations with the boar god Prajapati representing a boar. The boar is also sacred to the Sumerian Tammux who becomes the later Adonis and thus predecessor of the Christian saviour.
5 (e) Pacific and Indonesia
The Trobriand Islands (modern Kiriwina and an archipelago off New Guinea) have four clans called the Lukulbuta or iguana clan, the Lukuba who are the dog clan, the Malasi or pig clan, and the Lukwasisiga or opossum clan. (Malinowski, 1961). In Seram (also called Serang, Seran, and formerly Ceram) is in Indonesia and totemic survivals regard serpents and iguanas as ancestors. Throughout the Malayan archipelago “…totem practices and traditions are equally prevalent.” (Freund, 1964). In Different clans in Amboina pay homage to the octopus, the pig, shark and eel. Despite the assertion there was no evidence of totems or totem clans proper in Fiji (Tylor, 1898), those islanders of the south Pacific do talk of the rat as father, and in Sumatra the Battas people regard apes, cats, white buffalos, turtle doves and goats as totemic ancestors (Freund, 1964). The Orokolo, a patrilinear clan on the south coast of New Guinea, have fish totem which they may catch but are not to eat (Knappert, 1992), and similarly the Dyaks of Borneo have a totem fish called a puttin. In New Guinea, among certain Papuans, a man’s totem is represented as a tattoo on either his chest or back (Notes and Queries, 1901). For the New Zealand Maori their religion conceives everything, including natural elements, as connected by common descent through whalapapa, or genealogy. The Maoris also identify with numerous animals, insects, honey ant, rain, and the sun. They also make totem-pole-like objects in reverence of totemic groups.
6. Totemism and Bear Cults
The bear cult or arctolatry is the religious practice of worshipping bears and is found in many North American and North Eurasian ethnic circumpolar religions, for example the Sami of Finland. Arctolatry is derived from the Greek arktos for bear, and latreia meaning service or worship. The European bear comprised two species. Firstly, the cave bear Ursus speleus, and secondly the brown bear Ursus arctos. The cave bear became extinct due to the effect of hunting and the prevalence of disease, so “…the type of bear generally known as cave bear completely disappeared, but not before leaving a deep impression on the mind of Palaeolithic man.” (Matheson, 1942). The cave bear, Ursus speleus, lived during the European Pleistocene as became extinct at the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum around 27,500 years ago.
The bear is regarded as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of sacred animals with evidence of bear cults since earliest times (Cooper, 1995). Evidence suggests that the Neanderthals had sacred shrines and altars dedicated to the Master Bear with bear skulls ritually interred with human skulls. Bear cults are believed to have existed during the Middle Palaeolithic period. Possible evidence of a Bear Cult has been found in caves with apparently deliberate arrangements of ancient bear skulls and bones. It is suggested therefore that such depositions were the result of ceremonial activities by Homo neanderthalensis. The remains of bears associated with Middle Palaeolithic and Neanderthal artefacts frequently occur in cave sediments (Stiner, 2010). The worship of the cave bear suggests the Neanderthals may have indulged in bear cult practices at the Drachenloch Cave at Vattis in Switzerland. At the entrance of this cave seven bear skulls were arranged facing the entrance with a further six skulls lodged in niches. Also in the cave were found stone chests containing 4 or 5 bear skulls (Mattheson, 1942), with similar findings at Petershohle in southern Germany and Drachenhohle in Austria. These findings are regarded as a supposed indicator of a ‘Cult of the Cave Bear’, and are therefore connected with religious conceptions. In southern France several Aurignacian cave bear representations as well as French Magdalenian brown bear pictures show that Man “…of the Aurignac period as well as Man of the Madeleine period connected religious and cultic conceptions first with the Cave Bear, and, after his extinction, with the brown bear – also that these ideas have survived, in the same way that the even older religious conceptions of Mousterian Man have survived…over an almost inconceivably long period of the history of mankind…” (Abel, 1934-35). Basua Cave in Savovo in Italy was apparently used by Neanderthals for bear worship with scattered bones of bears suggesting the likelihood of some sort of ritual practice (Campbell, 1996). A similar phenomenon was found at Regourdou, in Southern France, where the remains of 20 bears were discovered covered by a stone slab in a rectangular pit.
There is no agreed academic acceptance of the existence of cave bear cults because none “…of the examples support the notion of ritual use of cave bear remains by ancient humans.” (Stiner, 2010) but this does not mean “…the Middle Palaeolithc record is not without provocative indications of Neanderthal…social sensibility.” (Stiner, 2010). Despite one view that “…cave bear worship during the early and middle Palaeolithic period belong to the realm of legend.” (Wunn, 2001), others believed there is sufficient evidence of the extent to which the cave bear figured in the minds of its human contemporaries, and that Mousterian man “…associated certain cult conceptions with the bears he had killed…” (Mattheson, 1942; Abel, 1934-35). Nonetheless there are several hypotheses that explain how the bones of cave bears accumulated in caves (Karsten, 1976) whether broken, burnt, or located in niches. It is plain that the fossil bear bones, and bear symbolism, as well as being widespread throughout traditional northern hunting tribes also extend far back in time (Germonpre, 2007).
In the northern boreal zone the bear is respected as the Lord of the Animals (Janhunen, 2003) and is depicted as sacred in a wide area encompassing Iceland, Finland, Siberia, Japan, Korea and North America, as well as the Animal Master’ that instructs shamans (Cooper, 1995). Ethnographically the bear is worshipped in Finnish paganism and the Ainu of Japan call the bear Kamui which translates as god and whom they regard as the King of the Forest. The bear is particularly revered in Lapland and Siberian tribes may not mention it by its real name and are thus subject to a tabu. Hence it is referred to as The Old Man, the Grandfather, the Chief’s Son, or Crooked Tail. For Amerindians the bear is the Grandfather of All Animals and is spoken of in terms to propitiate the spirit of the hunted. In the Finnish Kalevala the bear is called Honey Eater, the Fur Adorned or Forest Apple as well as Dog of God. In Japan the bear symbolises wisdom and benevolence but in China strength and bravery. The Mongols claim descent from a woman who had two children by a bear. All Siberian cultures “…together with the Ainus, regard the bear as their mythical ancestor…” (Cooper, 1995), for whom there is no greater god than the bear, so killing a bear is a “…sacred act, by which they ley let him return to his home as a god…” (Kindachi, 1949). The bear is often associated with the worship of the dead and regarded as a person incarnate rather than as an animal. In addition Amerindian, Finnish, Tartar and Ugrarian tribes, along with the Samoyeds of the Ket River, assert descent from bears. The Innuit regard their shaman as being in touch with the Great Spirit who is manifested as the Polar Bear. Bear gods are often seen as hunter gods who work through a shaman wearing the skin of a bear during the ceremonial.
Was a bear cult a single cult? Considering cave art It seems only bears, not other beast, appear in the gory scenes, for example the bear in extremis at Les Trois Freres is covered with circles and ovals or assumed wounds? This may indicate the existence of a bear cult in the Upper Palaeolithic accompanied by images of human heads wearing bear masks and bear heads depicted on their own. Is this a totemic cult ritual with the killing of the animal during a special ceremony? It may be that the cult derived from the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) rite even though all bears painted, engraved, or sculpted during the Magdalenian are brown bears (Ursus arctos). Kindred ideas are found in remote parts of the world. The bear is the oldest verifiable sacrificial animal. From earliest times there have been bear-cults. Neanderthal man had sacred shrines of ‘Master Bear’ with bear skulls and bones interred with human skulls (Cooper, 1995). It is worthy of note that, considering the location of much cave art, in the carnivals of the Pyrenees the bear is still a notable figure. Finds of bear remains “…in more or less clear association with human remains or artefacts are of course numerous” (Matheson, 1942), and comprise two species – the cave bear and the brown bear. In southern France there are several representations of cave bears from the Aurignacian, but later French Magdalenian picture only brown bears. The drawings, which are claimed to show erotic symbolism, may indicate that “…Man of the Aurignac period as well as Man of the Madeleine period connected religious and cultic conceptions with the Cave Bear, and after the extinction, with the brown bear…” (Abel, 1934).
7. Morgan, Matriarchy, Mother Right and Exogamy
Matriarchy is group power residing with the women or mothers of a community. Sometimes confused with gynocracy the term is derived from the Latin matri (mother) and archon (governor or ruler). Matrifocality is distinct from matriarchy and means women hold a pre-eminent place in kinship structures. It occurs in societies where maternal authority is prominent in domestic relations. This is due to the husband joining the wife’s family, rather than the wife moving to the husband’s village or tribe. Existing matrifocal cultures include the matrilineal Bunts of Mangalore, the Udupi in South India, and the system is common in Kerala but now rarely practised. In China the Mosuu of Lake Luga are matrifocal. Semi-matriarchal customs still exist in the Western Sahara. The custom is found in the Polama archipelago of Guinea Bissau. In South America the Guajaro tribes of Colombia and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela are matrifocal, and their children are raised by the mother’s brothers (avunculism). In Judaism the religion is traditionally inherited through the mother. If the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish, but if the father is Jewish and the mother not then the child is not considered Jewish.
Matrilinearity is a more common form of female pre-eminence in society and is distinct from matriarchy. With matrilinearity children are identified in terms of their mother rather than their father. Matrilineality is a system in which lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors with a matriline or a mother line. A matriline is a line of descent from female ancestor to a descendant, of either sex, in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers. Matrilineal descent, therefore, is in contrast to patrilineal descent. The matriline of historical nobility has females of enatic (related on the mothers side) or uterine ancestry which matches patrilineal agnatic ancestry. With hunting indicating a division of labour within matrilineal descent groups the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilinearity could preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times. The early development of the matrilineal famil group, liked to the practice of exogamy implies that “…the original and persistent association of the social and cultic aspects of totemism must be accepted.” (Hawkes, 1965). In addition it becomes obvious that, in a matrilineal society descent implies that “…where the mother is the nearest of kin to her children in a sense quite different to that in our society, they share in and inherit from her all her possessions.” (Malinowski, 1961). In such societies the basis of social organisation was, indeed, the woman, her children and thence their children. The old women were the elders and heads of society though eventually men developed a warrior caste, a fighting organisation accompanied by techniques which eventually swallowed up the pre-existing matrilineal kinship system.
Group membership in some cultures is inherited matrilineally and includes many ancient and contemporary cultures. In North America matrilineal peoples include the Huron, Cherokee, the Iroquois Confederacy, Hopi, Navajo, and the Gitksan. Old World cultures included Ancient Egypt. It is found among the Minangkabau of West Smatra in Indonesia, among the Nairs and Kurichiyas of Kerala in India, and also among the Billavas, and Majaveeras of the Kamchatka peninsula. The Pillai caste in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Khasi, the Jaintia and Garo of Meghalaya are also matrilinear. Other examples of matrilineal cultures are found with the Nakhi in China, the Basques, the Alan, and the Tuaregs. The Indo-European peoples were mainly patriarchal and patrilinear. However, evidence from mythology indicates that certain ancient myths do expose ancient matrilineal customs existing prior to historical records. Translations of the Greek Myths (Graves, 1979) attest to the ancient Lycians reckoning by matrilinear descent as did the Carians. In Greek mythology the royal function was a male privilege, but the devolution of power was passed through women, and thus the future king only inherited his power by marriage to the queen heiress. The Homeric myths illustrate this where the noblest Greek men compete for the hand of Helen for the throne of Sparta.
Matrilineal patterns are discernible in the Celtic myths of the Welsh Mabinogi stories, especially that of Cullwch and Olwen, as well as the Irish Ulster Cycle where Cuchulain is trained by a warrior woman called Scathach, and whereby he becomes lover to her and her daughter. While king Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht it is his wife Medb who holds the real power. Similar motifs are found in Breton stories, as well as the legends of King Arthur. Similar echoes of ancient matrilinearity lie behind the plots of various fairy tales and vestiges of folk tradition. Other ancient matrilineal culture patterns were found in ancient Elam where the succession to the throne was matrilineal, with the nephew succeeding the maternal uncle. In ancient Egyptian dynasties royalty was carried by women. There is evidence that matrilinearity existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, as well as among the Yemeni Amorites, and some Nabateans of north Arabia. The Tuaraeg are a Berber ethnic matrilineal people. In South Africa dynastic descent and inheritance of the Rain Queen are subject to matrilineal primogeniture. Also in west Africa the Akan and their sub-group the Ashanti are traditionally matrilineal. In China original Chinese surnames are derived matrilineally but by the time of the Shang Dynasty they had become patrilineal. Archaeological data from the Neolithic period indicates that Chinese matrilinear clans evolved into patrilinear property owning families (Sykes, 2001). It is obvious that matrilineal structures still survive in many regions of the globe. It is the very persistence that “…formerly matrilineal descent and matrilineal marriage were general and the status of women very much higher.” (Hawkes, 1965) as shown in north America, Africa, Dravidian India, as well as relics and echoes in Melanesia, Micronesia and Indonesia where the “…widespread prevalence of various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity” (Hawkes, 1965). Furthermore, wherever matriliny is still in force we find that patriarchal institutions were either non-existent or only weakly developed. This raises three important issues (Reed, 1978) and these are: (1) opponents of matriarchy do not deny the existence of the matrilineal kinship system which then begs the question of origin. The conundrum becomes “…if not from the ancient matriarchal epoch.” (Reed, 1978), then from when?; then (2) why has the passage from matrilineal to patrilineal always been in that singular direction and never the other way around?; and (3) why is the ancient matrilineal descent system only found today in primitive regions but never in patriarchal advanced societies? It is because modern patriarchal societies have long forgotten and lost their matriarchal origins (Reed, 1978), because it was not until the patriarchal family “…made it appearance in history that the individual father and mother emerged from the undifferentiated clan collective.” (Reed, 1986).
Matrilineal surnames, or matrinames, are mother-line surnames inherited from mother to daughter, to daughter, and are similar to the more familiar patrilineal surnames or patrinames (Sykes, 2001). The matrinames existed before patrinames since even before 1600 BC. Maternal surname means mother’s surname not matriname. It has been established that mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA is handed down from the mother to her child whereas the Y chromosome (Y-DNA) is from father to son. It follows that a patriname is handed down from father to son with their built in Y-DNA, and the matriname is handed down from the mother to daughter with their built in mtDNA
7 (a) Morgan, Engels and Social Evolution
The tribe can be compared to a multicellular organism that evolved from a primitive horde. This process occurred on the basis of a sexual division of labour that was determined by the laws of production. This evolutionary development was effected by the rule of exogamy which was supplemented by mimetic magic, and “…projected ideologically in the form of zoomorphic ancestor worship.” (Thomson, 1978). The fundamental rules of totemic society are those that regulate marriage and sexual intercourse. There are three social elements of totemism which are the blood feud, the rule of exogamy, and descent. However, blood kinship destroys rather than generates the phenomenon of totemism, which makes it necessary to get behind blood kinship to find the origins of totemism. In the beginning therefore “…rudimentary totemism was the basis of a social system founded on artificial associations with an animal or plant…kinless in character…” (Gomme, 1908). However, a kinless primitive horde appears to deny the maternal role of the ‘mothers’ when paternity was completely unrecognised. At the beginning, when unrecognised individual parenthood was not a significant issue, it was the “…progressive definition of individual parenthood, determined by the growth of individual rights of property that destroyed collective marriage.” (Thomson, 1978). Eventually blood kinship became antagonistic to totemism and replaced it in time with the rise of property owning class society. If the appearance of blood feud destabilised the clan and tribal structure then the researches of Morgan, Bachofen, and McLennan confirm “…that such a wavering marks a transition from female to male descent and not conversely.” (Stocking, 1995).
Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) was an American ethnologist and anthropologist was the first to discover the correspondence between native American totem groups and the ancient Roman gentile organisations (Bebel, 1904). Morgan’s analysis of the social evolution of culture was a theory of unilineal evolution comprising three basic phases of development. Morgan divided the history of mankind into three epochs of savagery, barbarism and therefore lower, medium, and higher stages (Bebel, 1904). For Morgan the savage stage corresponded to the hunter-gatherer mode, the barbaric stage with agriculture and metal working, culminating with civilisation with writing. These stage themselves were further sub-divided. The sub-divided stages comprised Lower Savagery, Middle Savagery, Upper Savagery, Lower Barbarism, Middle Barbarism, Upper Barbarism, and Civilisation. These stages were then correlated with patterns of family, marriage and political organisation he stated “…it is undeniable that portions of the human family existed in a state of savagery, other portions in a state of barbarism, and still others in a state of civilisation, it seems equally so that these three distant conditions are connected with each other in a natural as well as necessary sequence of progress. (Morgan, 1977). The epoch of Lower Savagery corresponded to the Lower (5000,000 – 1.75 million YA), and Middle Palaeolithic (400,000 – 70,000 BP), the 99% primeval condition of humankind, where the basic feature of existence was dependence on wild sources of food supply (Clarke, 1946). Modern populations of neanthropus lived in the epoch of higher savagery during the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000 BP – 12,000 BC) The lithic cultural periods were the Chatelperronian to the Aurignacian of Cro-Magnon man to the Gravettian, on to the Solutrean and thence the Magdalenian.
It was Morgan who discovered that all “…existing peoples have family relations and systems of relationships that differ markedly from our own…but which must have prevailed generally among all peoples at a remote period of civilisation.” (Bebel, 1904). Furthermore, the similarities shown by Amerindians, Aborigines of India, and Hindustan indicate that similar systems must have existed everywhere originally. Moreover, studies in the Americas and Australia proved that “…social and sex relations constituted the foundation for the development of all nations of the world.” (Bebel, 1904). For Morgan, during the epoch of Savagery, all women were polyandrous and all men were polygamous, implying that wives and children were held in common ownership. Morgan further postulated that the consanguinous family, as a higher form of sexual relationship, developed out of the general promiscuous state (Bebel, 1904). This arrangement permitted marriage groups on a generational basis. Examples can be seen in the Indian and Amerindian systems of kinship where a sister or brother can never be the mother and father of the same child. A similar arrangement existed for the ancient Etruscans, Lycians, Cretans, Egyptians, and Athenians. I regard to the ancient Semitic mythology Adam and Eve were not actual individuals but were the names of the gentes constituting the Jews in prehistoric rimes.
In mythological terms the Palaeolithic savagery of the Pleistocene hunter gatherers was also referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ (Hesiod, 1981; Bullfinch, 1965). The myth of the Golden Age reflects the tradition of tribal subservience to the Bee-goddess (Graves, 1979), and savagery of course being pre-agricultural. However primitive man “…did not share the disdain of modern men for the work of women. It was precisely through the technological advances made by women that men were finally liberated from reliance on hunting and moved to higher forms of labour activities.” (Reed, 1986). Similarly, the ‘Silver Age’ correlated with Neolithic barbarism with its pastoralism, agricultural cultivation, and sexual division of labour (Bullfinch, 1965; Hesiod, 1981). Indeed the Neolithic crafts “…have been presented as household industries. Yet the craft traditions are not individual, but collective traditions. The experience and wisdom of all the community’s members are constantly being pooled…The occupation is public; the rules are the result of communal experience…And the Neolithic economy as a whole cannot exist without cooperative effort.” (Childe, 1951). The myth of the Silver Age reflects matriarchal conditions which persisted into classical time with the Picts (Graves, 1979). The “Brazen Age” corresponded to time of archaeology with the beginnings of civilisation and class society with the surviving priestesses and priesthood of the Neolithic. There is a strong case to believe that the totemic life of surviving ‘stone-age’ cultures perpetuates that of the Palaeolithic era of between ten and fifty thousand years ago, indicating that the “…original basis for the totemic classification was economic.” (Thomson, 1977). The essential decline of totemism is by no means a new phenomenon because it “…arises in a low condition of savagery and is connected in its typical forms with matrilineal descent.” (Hartland, 1908-1926). In other words with increasing complexity of social organisation totemism passes thence from degeneration to disintegration.
Property and inheritance had developed and family structure was undergoing transition to the patriarchy which meant for men, once they had achieved ownership of their own transmissible property, “…they could affect the full transition from the matrifamily to the one-father family…the new social order founded upon private property and the father family vanquished the matriarchy.” (Reed, 1986). The development of the patriarchal and therefore monogamous family was according to Engels (1972) “…the first form of the family to be based not on natural but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property.” It is interesting to note at this juncture that the origin of the “…word chattel, which means any object of personal ownership is derived from the Old French chattel…cattle has the same origin. Chatel has its ultimate etymology in the Latin caput, or head. Chatel in ancient France referred to the property of the greatest value, head property. Cattle were so much the chief form of property among our pastoral ancestors that our specialised word for personal property grew from the same root.” (Hoebel, 1949). Morgan also believed that human society has originated as a “…horde living in promiscuity.” (Morgan, 1877) with no real family structure, and therefore regarded humankind as developing from a common origin to a common destiny. Morgan was one of the first to investigate systematically the kinship structure as the basic organising principle in pre-urban societies. For others the merit of Morgan’s work is that it “…has shown us totemic society in its highest form of development.” (Gomme, 1908). Over time Morgan’s three stages of social evolution, which was a comprehensive evolutionary approach, was substitutes by descriptive and empirical studies of contemporary primitive peoples in various parts of the world (Reed, 1978). Further criticism aimed at Morgan’s ideas on kinship claimed his work was an invention and “…in the way in which Morgan and his followers have used it, does not correspond to any cultural category known to man.” (Schneider, 1972).
Frederick Engels (1820-1895) was a German-English author, social scientist and political theorist, philosopher, industrialist, who collaborated as a founding father of Marxist theory with Karl Marx (1818-1883). Engels did not emphasise the importance of psychological development but instead concentrated of the social relations of human power and control over material resources, and their relation to technological development. Accepting Morgan’s stages of social evolution Engels by focussing on the two stages of savagery, barbarism, the transition stages to civilisation, thereby developed an historical review of the family in relation to female subjugation, class society, and the development of private property (Engels, 1891).
For Engels savagery was the epoch whereby humankind appropriated the natural products and resources of their natural environment. Still interwoven with natural history Palaeolithic savagery was the first period of human history with the first tools (Childe, 1951). At this stage material culture or artefacts of human making and are primarily instruments which are used to procure necessities. Barbarism was regarded as the period during which humans learned to practice agriculture and breed and herd domestic animals, and therefore acquiring methods to further increase the supply of natural products by their own activity. In terms of agriculture and tribalism Marx (1970) stated “Let us take as an example pastoral tribes. (Tribes living exclusively on hunting and fishing are beyond the boundary line from which development begins). A certain type of agricultural activity occurs among them and this determines land ownership and retains this form in a larger or smaller measure, according to the degree to which these people maintain their traditions…”. Civilisation, Engels asserts, was the time during which humankind learns more advanced application of labour to increasing the products or nature which develops proper industry, writing and the arts.
For Morgan the basic unit of primitive society was the gens representing the whole community (Read, 1954), and a federation of gentes or clans comprised the tribe, a community and not family cells. According to Morgan the gens arose out of marriage prohibitions with the presupposition that the gens itself was the “…tracing of biological connexion through the female line” (Llobera, 1979). This initial matriliny, for Morgan, was due to marriage prohibitions creating a scarcity of potential wives, so he “…placed the development of the matrilineal form of the gens at the end of the ethnical period of savagery to the Lower Status of Barbarism.” (Llobera, 1979). The blood relationship had no significance in primitive society from which it follows that “…the solidarity of the primitive groups…is applicable to the clan-brotherhood only; beyond the group it has no meaning…” (Briffaut, 1927). According to Morgan (1907), therefore, descent within the ancient gens is through the female line with a supposed female ancestor implying a common gentile name. The gens came into being upon three main conceptions: (1) a bond of kin; (2) pure lineage through female descent, and; (3), non-intermarriage between clan members. It is possibly worth distinguishing clans of matrilineal descent, the possible older system, from the gens where the offspring belong to the father’s group, and within clan subdivisions of a social, educational, and religious duties to the community, and where invariably “…clans and gens are exogamous.” (Hawkes, 1965). Further evidence for the gens was found in Greece and Rome where the gens was found to be extremely ancient. Such was the antique and obsolescent character of the gens that they comprised all persons of the same gentile name, as in Australia, America and Africa all persons “…bearing the same totem name belong to that totem kin.” (Lang, 1893).
For the Native American Ojibwa the totem or dodaim was a device or symbol of the gens and all members of the particular gens have the same totem. In other words the gentile organisation was synonymous with the totemic system. Similarly the Australian tribe or division totems had symbols of the family group. In likewise manner the American totem was a gens device. The implication is that the obligations of the totemic system means “…the gens originated in the idea of kinship, with descent in the female line, and prohibition of marriage in the gens.” (Wake, 1967). All individuals who have the same totem therefore must treat each other as brethren “…not only to human beings, but also to the totem objects.” (Wake, 1967). It is clear that in North America the gentes were totem groups and the totem names of the gentes were old village sobriquets, and where the old totem kindreds with male descent were thus derived from localities. (Burne, 1902). The family forms of savagery and barbarism were characterised by singular social and sex relations and it was Bachofen and Morgan who discovered independently that “…in primeval society the relations of the sexes differed vastly from those prevalent during historic times and among modern civilised nations.” (Bebel, 1904).
7 (b) Matriarchy, Bachofen and Mother Right
Matriarchy is a gynocentric form of society with power residing in the mothers of the community and is the opposite of patriarchy. Often confused with gynococracy the concept was discovered by Joseph Francis Lafiteau (1681-1746) who named it ‘ginocratie’. The term is derived from the Greek mater (mother) and archein (to rule). The word gynecocracy means ‘wife’s rule’ but the implication is not only ‘power of female’ but also ‘power of female as a mother. In matriarchy what is termed the ‘uterine family’ is the elementary social group consisting exclusively of mothers and children (Reed, 1954).. The term ‘matriarchy’ emerged into common usage after the publication of the studies on ‘Mother-right’ (Bachofen, 1861), which stressed: (a) children’s descent was traced only through the mothers; that (b) property was passed only from mothers to children; and (c) this gave women their ‘mother-right’ and dominant social status. The implication is not only ‘power of female’ but also ‘power of female as mother’, and therefore women’s power as motherhood and maternal status in the community. Among nineteenth century scholarship there developed the hypothesis of matriarchy representing an early stage of human development that is now mostly lost in prehistory. There is no consensus on the proposition and it has been, and still is disputed, even though its existence was proven by Morgan and Engels. The archaeological hypothesis of the theory of ancient matriarchy was recognised by Bachofen (1861) and investigated by Morgan. Jane Ellen Harrison studies myths, oral traditions, and the female cult figures of the Neolithic. Marija Gimbutas developed the theory of the ‘Old European Culture’ in Neolithic Europe. On this basis it has been postulated that matriarchal traits were replaced by the patriarchal system of the Proto-Indo-Europeans that spread from the Bronze Age. Some theories argue that all past human societies were matriarchal (Diner, 1930; 1965), and that the ancient Great Goddess was worshipped widely (Eisler, 1987). It will be seen that there are two institutions common to matriarchal society and its customs and they are (a) totemism and (b) the primitive kinship system following on from the fact that “…matriarchy was the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.” (Reed, 1978).
Matriarchy has near synonyms in matrifocal and matricentric implying a community having a mother as head of the family or household. Both Bachofen and Morgan confined the concept of ‘mother-right’ to within the household, and regarded it as the basis of female influence upon the whole of society. Twentieth century opinion refer to are gynocentric formations and gynocentrism from gyno- for gynaeco-, where the dominant or exclusive focus is on women. Gimbutas spoke of a women centred society surrounding Goddess worship in Neolithic Europe and coined the term matristic to describe communities exhibiting influence or dominance by the mother figure. In the prehistoric Aegean the Minoan ‘Great Goddess’ was worshipped in a society whose women and men were apparently equals. Greek mythology contains numerous traces and references to earlier matrilinear systems. On the periphery of Greek culture there existed the legendary gynocracy of the Amazon society. Earliest Egyptian writings support the concept that there had been a previous egalitarian social organisation. Ancient Egyptian women held property, had positions of power and in religious and social organisations, as well as the right to divorce. Ancient Egyptian lineages could be traced along maternal lines with some Egyptian roots apparent in Palaeolithic culture.
Despite patriarchal theories, which tend to be Eurocentric and western views, there are a number of matriarchal societies among contemporary observed peoples. Examples include the Nagovisi of Bougainvillea in the South Pacific, the Khasi of Meghalaya of India, and the Machingnenga in Peru. In addition there are a large number of societies where women enjoy full sexual and economic control. These include several Pacific and Native American cultures such as the Pueblo Indians (Zuni, Laguna, and Hopi); as well as pre-nineteenth century Iroquois and Innu, as well as in Vanatinai and Hawaii. It needs noting that those patriarchal theorists who reject matriarchy are also those who fail to understand totemism because “…it was the female sex that instituted it.” (Reed, 1978). Certain contemporary views in anthropology have decried matriarchy as a non-subject with theories of kinship and totemism relegated to a type of limbo, which has led to a “…vaporisation of primitive institutions.” (Reed, 1978 – from subject to non-subject.
Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887) was a Swiss antiquarian jurist and anthropologist, who as professor of Roman law at Basel University, demonstrated motherhood was the source of human society as well as postulating the archaic existence of “mother-right”. In 1861 Bachofen proposed four phases of cultural evolution referred to as Das Mutterecht.
Johann Jakob Bachofen
The first stage was haeterism which was a wild nomadic “tellurian” phase regarded as a form of primitive communism and polyamorous. By haeterism was meant a general system of temporary or continued sexual relations outside marriage or the holding of women in common. As for tellurian it is implied that these ancient people were earth inhabitants or hunter gatherers. The dominant deity of this phase was an earthy proto-Aphrodite. The second stage of Das Mutterecht or matriarchal “lunar” phase was based on agriculture and characterised by the emergence of chthonic mystery cults with the dominant deity being an early Demeter. It was Bachofen who stated succinctly that every woman’s womb “…the mortal image of the earth mother Demeter will give brothers and sisters to the children of every other woman; the homeland will know only brothers and sisters and sisters until the day when the development of the paternal system dissolves the undifferentiated unity of the mass…” (Bachofen, 1967).
The next or Dionysian stage was a transitional phase when the preceding traditions became masculinised as patriarchy began to emerge. The dominant deity was now Dionysos. The fourth, or Appollonian period, was the patriarchal “solar” phase where all trace of matriarchal and the Dionysian past is eradicated and modern civilisation emerges. The views of Bachofen were then analysed by Frederick Engels (1891) in the following way. Firstly, man originally lived in a state of sexual promiscuity rather than Bachofen’s mistaken concept of haeterism or concubinage. Secondly, as such promiscuity excludes certainty of paternity, then descent could only be reckoned through the maternal line. This was according to mother-right and the original case amongst all peoples of antiquity. Thirdly, since women as the only recognisable parents of all of the younger generation, they held a highly respectful position that there existed a regular, in Bachofen’s view, a rule of women the gynaecocracy. Fourthly, for Engels, during the transition to monogamy the women belonged to one man exclusively. This involved the violation of primitive religious law, or the traditional right of other men to the same woman, which therefore demand expiation by surrender or purchase of the woman’s indulgence. Bachofen had been inspired by the functional and holistic theories of culture and, for him, descent from the mother only could be recognised as the biological foundation of kinship (Diner, 1965.
Some principles of mother-right have been attempted (Kohler, 1897; 1975) and listed as: (1) naming after mother at birth; (2) there is historical evidence of mother-right progressing to father-right; (3) mother-right is factually more probable; (4) that father-right was supposedly brought about by the abduction of women and bride purchase; (5) full mother-right is vital in totemic societies; (6) ancient examples are found among Amerindians and shown by (6a) the rights of mother’s brothers; (6b) if no sons then inheritance passes to brother or sister etc; (6c) marriage prohibitions are not limited to the agnatic (coming from the father) line. It is the fact that the mother gives birth that provides the grounds for mother-right and therefore “…the relation to her is regarded as decisive is so natural that the contrary must seem highly improbable.” (Kohler, 1975; 1897). In terms of exogamy mother-right groups are those where women in a local group are the sexual companions of males from outside the social group of the women (Gomme, 1908). The question arises of what is a ‘mother’? To modern society a ‘mother’ is a woman who gives birth to a child and is not a mother until she has done so but “…in primitive society motherhood was a social function of the female sex; thus all women were actually or potentially ‘the mothers of the community,.” (Reed, 1978). Again it was stated quite succinctly by Frazer (1910) that “…we confuse our word ‘mother’ with the corresponding but by no means equivalent terms in the languages of savages who have the classificatory system. We mean by ‘mother’ a woman who has given birth to a child: the Australian savages mean by ‘mother’ a woman who stands in certain relation to a group of men and women, whether she has given birth to any of them or not.” Mother-right is found among Australian Aboriginal tribes as well as the branches of the Iroquois nation of north America. For them the child belongs to the clan of the mother and to which clan the father does not belong. For example, British Colombian tribes have mother-right and the child has the name of its mother and among the Amerindians of the far north, the Aleuts, Kutchin, and Kenai, mother-right prevails, but the Inuit show a mixed system whereby though father-right exists in theory divorce means the children stay with the mother (Kohler, 1975; 1897). Survivals of mother-right among the Omaha occur as the avunculate, various marriage prohibitions and some subsidiary inheritance rights. Among the Australian Aborigines women look outside their class or totem structure for the sexual mates which leads to localised males moving from female group to female group with the “…development into a system of one of the results of the enforced migratory conditions of early man…” (Gomme, 1908). For Australian Aborigines and mother-right a man “…will call his actual mother Mia, but at the same time he will apply the term not only to other grown women, but to a little girl child, provided they are all belong to the same group…the term Mia expressed the relationship in which she stood to him.” (Spencer, 1889). For one scholar the origin and principle of totemic society was that in was not a kinship system, but was kinless in the sense that “…totemism is essentially a system of social grouping, whose chief characteristic is that it is kinless – that is to say, the tie of totemism is not the tie of blood kinship, but the artificially created associated with natural objects or animals: it takes no account of fatherhood and only reckons with the physical fact of motherhood.” (Gomme, 1908).
The fratriarchy was the cooperative association of men which “…represents the growing achievement of the totemic system which was instituted by women.” (Reed, 1978). Within the matriarchal system the fratriarchal brotherhood have way eventually to a new social order that had new relations of production at is basis, thus a “…new kind of competitive struggle for private ownership of wealth and property.” (Reed, 1954).`This process was a transitional phase in the movement from the totemic matrilineal clan proper to the advent of class society (Lindsay, 1965). With totemism the “…tribal order and the natural order were parts of one another. Thus totemism is the ideology of savagery, the lowest stage in the evolution of human society.” (Thomson, 1977). It was during the period of Palaeolithic savagery that the “…persistent affimation of primitive man in the totemistic stage that he is an animal or plant…has in fact obscured the other main factor in totemism, the unity of the human group.” (Harrison, 1927). The wider view must include the fact that the “…individualism of early woman from which originated the domestication of animals, the cultivation of fruits and cereals, and the appropriation of such trees and shrubs as were necessary for primitive economics.” (Gomme, 1908).
7 (c) The Clan and Exogamy
A clan is a group of people united by an actual or assumed kinship and descent even though actual lineage patterns may be unknown or obscured. A clan shares a stipulation or agreement that there was, or is, a common ancestor who symbolises clan unity, against a background where “…the maternal clan system, which gave an honoured place to women, was also a collectivist order where the members of both sexes enjoyed equality and did not suffer oppression or discrimination (Reed, 1975). When the posited ancestor is not human the totem is referred to as animalian and clans in indigenous societies are likely to be exogamous. In different cultures the clan may mean the same thing as other kin groups such as band or tribe, or be a smaller part of a larger social group. Examples of clans existing as kin groups are Scottish and Irish clans, Chinese and Japanese clans, Rajput clans, the Nair Clan in India, the Malayala Clan in both India and Pakistan.
The original human communities comprised groups of people who were related to each other, shared a common origin, and during this earliest stage of “…development that a blood relationship is often a figment of the imagination, an imagined relationship to justify the association of people in a tribe.” (Porshnev, 1970). It is at this particular juncture of the process that “…the clan had identified itself with all the species on which it fed…it had no consciousness of itself as distinct from the rest of nature…” (Thomson, 1977). It has been stated that totemism is a “…complex of beliefs and distribution which is based on the mystic self-identification of a human group or individual with some non-human natural kind.” (Marett, 1935). This allows many to claim that they are descendants of some animal of a particular species, the descendants of an imaginary ancestor implying “…the concept of blood relationship, even at the lowest totemism stage is not as natural as it seems.” (Porshnev, 1976). The family at large, the tribe, the clan or sept developed on the basis of a brotherhood under some totemic relationship.. The members of the clan have respect for one another’s lives and claim “…a common mother or a common father.” (Reinach, 1909), but where matriarchy was also “…the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.” (Reed, 1975). Archaic humans have a social outlook or instinct that goes beyond that of the species and eventually a similar principle protects clansman and totems against violence or caprice.
Totemic clans had their origins as small nomadic bands that migrated to the breeding ground of a useful species of animal or plant. It is assumed that a clan identified with the animal, plant or species it utilised for food. The development of permanent relations between two clans was on exchanges of food, one clan supplying the other, and with the passage of time, it followed that “…with the development of economic and social relations between the two clans, each asserted its distinctive identity in opposition to the other by identifying itself with the species which formed its distinctive contribution to the common food supply (Thomson, 1977). However, for ancient peoples what was also “…common to all of them, what appears to have existed everywhere, is the clan and totemism. The clan is composed of individuals who recognise a common ancestor. It is an extension of the family.” (Renard, 1929). The relationship, the economic arrangement between clans, was one that “…puts them as far as he can on a footing of equality with himself and with his fellows, the members of the same totemic clan.” (Frazer, 1927). Clans were also bands of magicians. Therefore their function as such was to control the phenomena and viscitudes of nature for the common good. This implies the existence of an elaborate social organisation. It is an arrangement based on mutual cooperation involving several clans. Its purpose is nothing less than the systematic control of the surrounding natural world, therefore under the totemic system “…the various clans or stocks do not live isolated from each other, but are skilled up together within a narrow area, and exert their magic powers for the common good.” (Frazer, 1899).
Concerning the origin of exogamy it was McLennan’s eight point hypothesis which postulated (Wake, 1891) that: (1) primitive groups were assumed, when consanguinity was first thought of, to be one stock; (2) marriage was at first unknown; (3) special attachments of children to mothers made for rude family groups, and the rise and consolidation of the system of kinship through women only; (4) a want of balance between the sexes; (5) the practice of wife capture may have given rise to exogamy; (6) the system of capture and female kinship led to the destruction of group homogeneity; (7) stock groups became local tribes, having within them many gentes of different stocks; (8) many groups disappeared in the struggle for existence. A totemic group is usually exogamous stipulating that it is only permitted to marry into another totemic group (Lewis, 1969). Exogamy is the obligation to find a marital partner outside the group of which one is a member. In this way links are formed between clans, tribes and lineages, as well as between village groups. Descent is essentially limited to the regulation of membership of the family, social group of clan, being most pronounced in clan organisation. In other words the practice of exogamy separates the social groups called clans (Rivers, 1926). Friendship and mutual relations are therefore established between such groups because exogamy not only means amity between spouses but also between their kin. In exogamous societies, therefore, a man or woman may not marry who they like because they are involved in a mate selection process according to well defined rules. More especially a man and a woman may not marry anyone within their own totemic group. Exogamy therefore means that marriage outside the group or clan is obligatory. This denies to prospective mates a segment of their society from which they can obtain a husband or a wife. Likewise, the rules of exogamy define a segment of society from whence a spouse must be sought. In general, lineages and clans are exogamous in mating practice, and such a mating and marriage pattern serves a double purpose. In the first place exogamy prevents complications arising from sexual relations with closely related persons or groups. In the second place, and of great importance, exogamy establishes co-operative and amicable relations with other clans, tribes and lineages. In turbulent times this established mutuality can afford much succour and peaceful reception. Mutual co-operation is a characteristic of most totemic and pre-literate societies, and seen in the activities of hunting, food gathering and sharing, as well as protection, support and comfort, thus among “…peoples who possess the clan organisation, kinship carries with it a large mass of social duties…” (Rivers, 1926).
Marriage in such situations and societies is seen as an exchange between two clans – for example we can recognise the system of bride price. As a method of exchange of marital partners bride price was described as a pump that forces women, or men, out of their consanguineous groups and redistributes them amongst their affines. Exogamy implies that the occurrence of marriage within a clan is regarded with the same revulsion as an incestuous union or act within the particular society concerned. Exogamous marriage means that with regard to wealth property owning societies marriage alliances become a consideration for individuals, families and lineages. The implication is that in prehistoric societies and cultures that exogamy is inherent in the structure of the totemic clan. Therefore if they were totemic they must have been exogamous. It follows that the tribal system was the initial stage in the social evolution of humankind.
The original prehistoric appearance of the matrilineal family and the practice of exogamy implies also that “…the original and persistent association of the social and cultic aspects of totemism must be accepted (Hawkes, 1965). When the mother was considered the head of the family the evolved matriarchate determined the foundation of family relations and inheritance (Bebel, 1904). In anthropological and archaeological terms there is a strong case to recognise that the “…entire totemic life of…surviving Stone Age cultures perpetuates something of what was evolved by Palaeolithic man between ten and fifty thousand years ago.” (Hawkes, 1965). The Lycians, whose practices were part Cretan, part Carrian, recognised maternal law and reckoned descent through the female line. The powers of the matriarchate was recognised in all “…social relations of the ancient peoples…the Babylonians…Egyptians…Assyrians…Greeks before the Heroic Age…Italic tribes before the founding of Rome, the Scythians…Gauls…Iberians…Cantabrians, the Germans and others.” (Bebel, 1904). The existence of the matriarchate means logically the existence of a matrimonium rather than a patrimonium therefore of mater familias rather than pater familias. It was, at the time, a motherland where the gens were founded on the common ownership of property, and where matricide was considered a heinous crime.
8. Totem and Taboo
Originally it was thought that concepts of imitation and contagion, which are inter-related with primitive humankinds’ concepts of religion, supernatural and magical ideas, were the sole motive in the social life of ritual and taboo. Primitive humans were not so illogical as this. Unlike modern religions and mystical preoccupations, primitive humans did not regard the supernatural and natural worlds as dichotomies. In their need to supplement all known ways of dealing with external world, primitive humans made use of whatever forces there were that he could not handle in a practical way. Thus, as a result, they did not divide their world into natural and supernatural, especially if their use of these forces were recognised as part of the natural world. The numinous refers to the combined attitudes of both attraction and awe which has been an almost constant aspect of humankind’s relations with what is regarded as the supernatural. Taboos are sets of negative sanctions, prohibitions and interdictions whereby the supernatural can be approached in a reverent, non-casual manner.
The supernatural is a help in trouble, but it is also a source of danger and disaster if it is not handled with circumspection and propitiated. These are acts of appeasement, atonement, conciliation and expiation. The concept of ritual taboo is as widespread as ritual power. Taboo is an aspect of ritual power, and rests upon the belief in the efficacy of symbols. Efficacy is the capacity to produce an effect, a mode effecting a result. Taboos can be very effective indeed, and can discourage theft and enhance prestige. In relation to all ritual taboo is an essential part of reinforcement processes. Taboo reinforces values upon adherence to which the smooth running of society depends. Ritual taboos are also a mechanism of separation of higher groups from lower groups, and attach reverence and sanctity to the kingship and the priesthood. The system of taboo sanctifies individual appropriation to glorify chiefs. Priests, and often the king, are regarded as sacred. They are guarded against contamination by profane things. Profane things are not sacred, they are common things and are ‘without the temple’. Care must be taken to prevent sacredness from being injuriously communicated to persons or objects. Priests are often required to abstain from meat, shed no blood, and not allow their hair and nails to touch commoners. Every sacred rite requires of the worshipper similar ritual purity to that of the priest. Prior to participation there is a period of preliminary purification and abstention from the forbidden things. Sacred things are temples, stones, trees, images, and objects of worship. Purification takes place after visits from ancestral spirits. A crop failure is the result of a broken taboo, a matter of pollution, and the un-expiated defilement, hence the cruelty of many rites. This cruelty can take the form of human sacrifice and the tearing to pieces of living animals. The roots of these rituals are in fear and terror – the terror of the breach of a taboo, a terror of the forbidden thing. There are a number of taboos and rites that are centred around the warrior. The propitiation vessels used are considered sacred and continence and personal cleanliness must be observed before a battle. Care must be taken to prevent the enemy obtaining anything by which they can work magic. Blood is potent and a slayer, and nor must the warrior go near the tribe until he has performed the necessary rites of purification. Rituals to with purity and impurity create unity in experience. It can deduced, therefore, that the symbolic patterns that are worked out and displayed have a social purpose. People therefore try to influence one another’s behaviour and beliefs, and thus reinforce and exert social pressures. Political power is claimed as usually held precariously, but this is no exception in primitive society. Hence the legitimate pretensions of the rulers, kings and priests, are reinforced by beliefs in extraordinary powers that emanate from their persons, insignia and utterances. This is an example of taboos which are a reinforcement of status.
Tabus, or taboos, generally fall into two classes which are firstly those ritually announced and imposed and, secondly inherent prohibitions charged supernaturally and therefore bestowed with danger and mysterious power. (Leach, 1972). Totemism and tabu (taboo) are inextricably linked and permeate the whole of so-called ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’ society (Reed, 1986), and thus cannot be explained by a single definition. The definition of tabu (Steiner, 1967) is concerned with: (1), social mechanisms of obedience which have ritual significance; (2) specific, restrictive behaviour in dangerous situations; (3), protection of individuals in danger; and (4), protection from those endangered. In other words ‘dangerous persons’. Recent interpretations have encompassed concepts of purity and contagion, the clean and the unclean, the cooked and the uncooked (Douglas, 1978; Levi-Strauss, 1962; 1969). Taboo can be seen in relation to the thing feared. Taboos originate in the fear of that which cannot be wholly understood. Taboo therefore engenders fear and respect for the supernatural, and thus sustains the awareness the numinous and reinforces attitudes of care and mystery.
The concept of purity and danger (Douglas, 1978) postulates that primitive religions are inspired by fear, and at the same time are inextricably confused with defilement and hygiene. Equating hygiene with dirt in general, dirt becomes essentially comparable with, and represents disorder. Following from this concept the elimination of dirt is not a negative act but a positive effort to organise the environment, to create order. This re-ordering of the environment is a creative function, a unifying experience and makes the purification of primitive society conform to an idea. Whether this idea is an ‘a priori’ notion, or a reflection derived from society is not absolutely clear. Was the ‘idea’ man’s concept of society and the supernatural? Or was the ‘idea’ the ‘supernatural’? The ideal order of society is guarded by what are termed ‘dangers’, and these dangers threaten transgressors. Danger beliefs are also used as an effective means of mutual exhortation. Thus a development from this situation is that certain moral values are upheld and certain social rules are defined by beliefs in the contagious nature of danger. These pollution beliefs can be used in a dialogue, a negotiation of claims and counter-claims in status. The ideas of separation, purification, and the punishment of transgressions has the main aim of imposing a system on a possibly inherently untidy experience. It follows that these ideas exaggerate the differences between such opposite concepts as ‘within’ and ‘without’; ‘above’ and ‘below’; ‘male’ and ‘female’; ‘with’ and ‘against’. Through this system the concepts of taboos there emerges a semblance of order in the society concerned.
The protection of individuals in danger is interconnected with the protection of those in society from those endangered, that is to say dangerous persons, and where “…taboo is an element of all those situations in which attitudes to values are expressed in terms of danger behaviour.” (Steiner, 1967). It is restrictive behaviour which ensures the power of the charm, the charm or taboo being intended to impose on others in the interest of others, for example the protection of property. Therefore it is the involvement of taboos that renders danger controllable by institutionalised society. Danger is not a quantitative concept because to face danger is to face another power (Steiner, 1967). Hence taboos narrow danger, and this narrowing down has the effect of localising danger. This localisation, this restriction of danger to part of, and not the whole, is the function of taboo. Social relations then become describable in terms of danger, through the contagion of danger there is social participation in danger. Taboo then has two quite separate, but interdependent social functions: firstly the identification and classification of dangers and transgressions and, secondly the institutionalised localisation of that which is the danger – hence protection of society. Taboos act as punishment for attitudes of carelessness and profanity. Moreover, a violator of taboo becomes the object of communal vengeance in primitive society, for example the violation of the laws of exogamy.
A modern assessment of tabus describes them as social and religious interdictions and prohibitions. A tabu can set a thing, a place, a name, a person apart, or an action as untouchable, unsayable, unmentionable , or not to be done for many reasons. The tabu prohibitions were rationalised on the basis of: (1) sacredness or holiness; (2) possession of some mysterious inherent power such a a pregnant or menstruating woman, king or stranger; (3) it has been subject to supernatural infection; (4) it is unclean as a food, a person, a sick or criminal individual, or corpse; 5 to affect an end or interfere in a process such as birth or marriage; (6) to insure protection from crime, damage, or loss (Leach, 1972). In addition a tabu that has been violated can be self-avenging and need not be punished by man and may enable death or disease overtake the transgressor. Emile Durkheim (1915; 1965) took the view that on the origin of the word ‘taboo’, and especially in Polynesian languages, the word was used to designate the “…institution in virtue of which certain things are withdrawn from common use.” Another definition of taboo stated it is “…a restraint or prohibition placed against certain acts, words and things, which if violated, lead to an automatic penalty inflicted by magic or religion.” (Lewis, 1969). It is at this juncture that the connection between animals, plants, and totemism is met, and that there is no sharp distinction between sacred and unclean animals. The mere fact that an animal is subject to a taboo is inclusive. Another, more inclusive analysis of taboo was by Fritz Steiner (1967) who postulated that taboo was concerned with all the social mechanisms of obedience which had a ritual significance. This was of the nature of specific and restrictive behaviour in relation to dangerous situations. Hence taboo deals with the social aspect of danger itself. There are taboos concerned with the processes of birth and death. The mystery of life and death is supernatural to primitive humankind, and so accordingly taboos develop. The mysterious processes of the nature of reproduction are viewd with reverence and awe After the attainment of puberty women are surrounded by innumerable taboos, particularly concerning menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. At these times the woman is sacred and therefore dangerous and possessed of mystic influence. Taboos are also associated with death and any person who comes in contact with a corpse is rendered taboo. This taboo is contagious and thus the prohibitions concerning death extend to the whole house, family and clan.
In essence tabus function to separate the workaday world from ‘wonder-world’, the separation of the sacred and the profane (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). With regard to tabus E. B. Tylor (1873) developed the concept of ‘survivals’ which are “…processes, customs, opinions and so forth, which have been carried on by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home, and they thus remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out of which a newer has been evolved.” Steiner (1967) referred to the “…interdependence of totem and taboo…” in reference to the argument developed by Smith (1927) because the “…affinity of such taboos with laws of uncleaness comes out most clearly when we observe that uncleaness is treated like a contagion…”. It was Frazer who discussed ‘totemism and religion’, its beliefs and myths in connection with ‘totem taboos’, the penalties for their violation, the benefits conferred by the totem, and a variety of ‘totemic ceremonies as having the “…same desire for protection against supernatural danger may be the motive of similar totemic customs, if not totemism in general.” (Stocking, 1995). In terms of contagion it is axiomatic “…in primitive thought that a taboo is transmissible, e.g., a mourner is quite as dangerous as the corpse he has touched.” and thus “…contact with what is holy or taboo makes a thing holy or taboo.” (Reinach, 1912). A tabu is an authoritative commandment that has been internalised that exists in a “…form commonly taken by the totemic rules…” and which holds emphatically for conduct adopted to demonstrate identity.” (Fortes, 1966). This applies not only in Africa but throughout other parts of the world.
Taboo was discovered and noted by Captain Cook as a phenomenon in the South Seas (Steiner, 1967).The English word ‘taboo’ is derived from the Polynesian ‘tabu’, pronounced tapu and for the people of the Sandwich Islands it is tafoo, which means to forbid or forbidden and is applied to any type of prohibition. From New Zealand to Tahiti the word, which is derived from the words ‘to mark thoroughly’, is also tapu but in Hawaii it is kapu and tabaka in Malagasy. These customs have been referred to as ‘ritual avoidances’ or ‘ritual prohibitions’ and are “…a rule of behaviour which is associated with a belief that an infraction will result in an undesirable change in the ritual status of the person who fails to keep the rule.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1968). Essentially with regard to such prohibitions “…primitive man dreads to have anything to do with what is tabu…The deterrent motive is dread of the consequences.” (Briffault, 1927). When considering totemism in relation to taboo we must “…put the notion of the unity of opposites at the heart of the totemist universe: a notion that is embodied in the dual organisation, exogamy, and the whole method of totemic thought.” (Lindsay, 1965). Therefore, in the most remote periods where pure totemism existed it is probable that “…every clan had at least one totem which might no more be killed or eaten than the human individuals of the clan.” (Reinach, 1909), and in all truth the totem was protected by a taboo.
Respect for totems or other sacrosanct animals is shown either positively or negatively and such taboos generally forbid the killing of the animal. It may not be eaten, even if killed by another person, in some cases not even touched, except for oath taking (Hastings, 1908). In South Africa it is thought unlucky to see the siboko and in some cases there are objections to using the ordinary name of an animal. Elsewhere it is sometimes forbidden to imitate the voice of an animal or bird, or unlucky to keep in the home or nearby. Eggs of birds may not be taken, with strong objections to using the feathers of certain birds for beds. In England it was a common belief that the harrying of a robin’s nest is then punished by an accident, such as bone fracture, to the offender. Of other birds it is said that he who kills them is killing a father or mother. Leprosy, madness, death by lightening and various diseases are penalties for disrespect for sacred animals. In Samoa the sacred animal is thought to take up abode in the man who breaks a protective taboo and this will kill him. Similar are the violation of name-taboos. All taboos are an indication respect for the animal whose name is avoided. Dangerous or destructive animals having their name uttered may actually summon them, in the same way as the name of a dead man summons him back. Various words are forbidden among fishermen and it may be unlucky among seafarers to mention land links. For the Inuits the naming of an animal or fish may warn it that it is being followed or hunted.
Food taboos are cultural prohibitions against the consumption of some animals. Considering food taboos most totems are edible because in the epoch of Savagery food was a primary necessity, therefore “…the prohibition so commonly laid on members of a totem clan to eat this totem animal or plant.” (Frazer, 1899). Food taboos reflect in a practical way a system whereby the everyday wants and needs of prehistoric humankind are obtained in a clear and straight forward manner. Many taboos are prevalent with regard to eating the totemic animal (Kohler, 1975). Amongst the Amerindians of the Americas the Elk Clan may not eat male elk or deer, but the Black Shoulder Buffalo Clan have several food prohibitions. The Hanga Clan claims descent from the buffalo but have several sub-clans with several different taboos. With the Catuda Clan some may not eat black bear but others may not eat small birds, others no turtles. The Green Clay Clan may not consume verdigris, and the Buffalo Tail Clan may not eat calves, cattle or the white buffalo because they are still red. Similarly the Buffalo Calf Clan may not eat buffalo calves. It follows that the Reptile Head Clan are forbidden to eat reptiles.
Judaism prescribes strict rules called Kashrut detailing what may and may not be eaten. The Deuteronomic and Priestly Codes forbid the eating of amphibians such as frogs, and also crocodiles, and especially bats. In Judaism bears are not kosher. The Torah bans the eating of eagles, vultures, ospreys and ostriches. As well as prohibiting camel consumption. Cat meat is forbidden to be consumed under Judaic law. Almost all types of seafood are forbidden because they do not have fins or scales. Islam divides foods into forbidden or haraam foods and permitted or halal foods. Islamic Shariah Law forbids bat consumption and the eating of all predatory animals. Islamists accept ostrich eating but forbids birds of prey. Cats are forbidden to be eaten. In Islam most non-piscine food is forbidden by Shia Muslims except for shrimps. Hinduism has no specific proscriptions against meat but cannot eat cows which are considered sacred. Some Hindus apply the principle of ahimsa or non-violence to their diet so are vegetarian. Many Hindus, especially Brahmins abstain from eating meat but those who do eat meat do not consume beef. But dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and ghee are highly revered. By Indian law the slaughtering of cows is forbidden except in Kerala and West Bengal. The Jains often follow vegetarianism as a religious directive.
In the United States companionable animals or pets are not eaten, such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and horses. For others intelligent animals, such as whales and primates, are not eaten, and horsemeat is often taboo in the Anglo-sphere. America avoids eating urban pigeons but not country pigeons or doves. Many cultures avoid eating carrion and scavenger birds such as crows, as well as song-birds or back-yard wildlife consumed. In many Western parts of the world there is a strong taboo or aversion to eating cats, especially in most of the Americas and Europe. Some ethnic Chinese abstain from eating cow meat as its regarded as having great agricultural importance. In the Congo area it is believed that women of the kin will miscarry, or give birth to animals of the totem species, or die of some dreadful disease, if a totem animal is eaten. The Inuit think that land and sea animals must be kept apart when cooking.
Prohibition or taboo is a form of social organisation existing “…in relation to two adaptive functions…the promotion of tribal integration (through mating taboos) and the conservation of resource species (through food taboos)”. (Russell, 1977). The incest taboo is inextricably connected with the food taboo which confirms both form the central feature of totemism (Russell, 1977), and where the totem and mother merge as the life centre and food sources (Lindsay, 1965).. The system of totem and taboo therefore has a social purpose that pervades every crevice of primitive life, where “…every aspect of primitive society, every avenue of investigation, ultimately led every investigator back to this central feature: taboo.” (Reed, 1954). Totemism as a system was symmetrical which established “…a complete world picture with man and nature both separate and united. Everything fitted in.” (Lindsay, 1965). It is thus symmetry that is such a striking feature and in cultural evolution is “…the emergence of similar themes and images through convergence, continuity or diffusion, in the most diverse cultures.” (Russell, 1977).
Developments in social organisation led to the development of intolerance between sisters and brothers. This conflict is put under an incest ban which gradually extends to all collateral relatives on the mother’s side. The result is the evolution of the consanguine family so the gens now comprises natural and remote sisters and their children, but also including natural and remote brothers on the mother’s side. In other words the “…gens has a common ancestress to whom the groups of female generations trace their descent.” (Bebel, 1904). It follows that men are not part of the gens of their wives, but to that of their sisters, with these men’s children part of the gens of this mother. This scenario explains why the ancient gentile organisation prohibited marriage between individuals belonging to the same gens. For example among ancient Jewry the ancient maternal law was the system that prevailed.
The numerous totemic brothers and sisters were not blood relations at all. However, the incest taboo was a powerful prohibition, an imperative unmatched by any other taboo. (Webster, 1932). At this stage there was a two-fold cleavage of primitive society where the totemic system showed that “…a sexual gulf separated those who, as kinfolk, lived and worked together in the same totemic group, or labour collective.” (Reed, 1954). Mating taboos were consciously created, the establishment of a bond or covenant which was considered inviolate. In this context some mysteries were tattooed on the bodies of initiates in order to avoid incest. This rite of blood covenant thus extended to the beast of the totem, which also shows “…the unity of the totemic and incest taboos.” (Lindsay, 1965).
9. Totemism and Religion
It has been said that primitive religion conveys a “…sense of the Extraordinary, Mysterious, or the Supernatural.” (Lowie, 1925). The concept of the numinous was popularised in the early 20th century (Otto, 1943) and describes the presence and power of a divinity that has the power to attract, fascinate, compel, and lead to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy and the transcendental. The implication is a reverential “…experience of a mysterium tremendum et fascinosum, a confrontation with a ‘wholly other’ outside the normal experience and indescribable in its terms; terrifying, ranging from sheer demonic dread through awe to sublime majesty; and fascinating, with irresistible attraction, demanding unconditional allegiance.” (Jacobsen, 1976). For many religious activity and faith enhance and establish all the valuable attitudes of the participants. These sentiments of value to the social group are affirmed, strengthened and renewed by ritualistic experiences, and instil a reverence for tradition, harmony, courage and confidence. Faith becomes an encouragement for them in their struggles with difficulties, with their efforts to control their environment. These beliefs and the accompanying feelings are embodied in the cult and the ceremonial activities and thus achieve a social value. For others primitive religion was construed as ‘pre-animism’, as ‘animism’, or ‘fetishism’ which some “…would include under the religious rubric such topics as magic, totemism, taboo, and even witchcraft.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1984).
Unlike modern religious and mythical preoccupations, primitive peoples did not regard the supernatural and natural worlds as dichotomies. In their need to supplement all known ways of dealing with the external world primitive people made use of whatever forces there were that they could not handle in a practical way. As a result they did not divide their world into the natural and supernatural, especially when using whatever forces at their disposal, because they recognised them as part of their natural world. One of the main aspects of primitive religion is that it expresses certain important social sentiments which today would be called ‘values’ (Beattie, 1964). These ‘values’ include such concepts as the need for mutual support and solidarity between community members, which underlies the essence of the totemic group. It follows that, unless enough people held and acted upon these ‘values’ or ‘sentiments’, the society would not survive. Religion therefore comprises two fundamental elements and social customs that appear in the collective conscience which means it has “…in a word within it two factors indissolubly linked: ritual, this is custom, collective action, and myth and theology, the representative of the collective conscience.” (Harrison, 1967).
Emile Durkheim agreed with those scholars, who included McLennan, Robertson Smith, Frazer, Jevons, and Freud, who saw in totemism the origin of religion (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). Though later Durkheim included a broader class of the sacred and Frazer’s later writings included the category of magic in the origin of religion, and thus Frazer radically differed from E. B. Tylor in his claim that religion was preceded by a magical phase (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). For his own part Tylor protested against the “…manner in which totems have been placed almost at the foundation of religion.” (Tylor 1898), asserting that totemism taken up as it was by Frazer “…has been exaggerated out of proportion to its real theological magnitude.” (Tylor, 1898). Frazer’s conclusion that totemism was religious and magical in origin was rejected by Andrew Lang who claimed that its social aspect was a secondary manifestation by insisting “…that totemism must be viewed primarily as a social phenomenon which was only later invaded by religion.” (Stocking, 1995). Durkheim’s four cardinal concepts on the topic were derived from the ideas of Robertson Smith which were: (1) primitive religion was a clan cult, which (2): a cult which was totemic; (3) the god of the clan is the clan divinised, and: (4) totemism was the most elementary or primitive and original form of religion (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). For Durkheim then, in essence, the clan religion was totemism and the result of social segmentation where “…the god of the clan, the totemic principle, can therefore be nothing else than the clan itself, personified and represented to the imagination under the visible form of the animal or vegetable which serves the totem.” (Durkheim, 1915). For Durkheim the totem was seen as sacred to the members of the particular totem group whereas Radcliffe-Brown preferred the term ritual relation on the basis there existed “…a ritual relation whenever a society imposes on its members a certain attitude towards and object, which attitude involves some measure of respect expressed in a traditional mode of behaviour…” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1968). In the functionalist view of Radcliffe-Brown “…the totemic objects belong to the sacra of society and serve as a necessary objective focus for the sentiments of attachment of persons to their groups…” (Fortes, 1966). This suggests the idea that the position of the worshipper is that of a flaneur or “…detached and external onlooker…” (Jakobson, 1961). Therefore, from the functionalist view the internal observer has become “…adjusted to the native speaker and decodes the messages…” (Jakobson, 1961).
In the beginning totemism had nothing to do with religion, but was gradually “…coated with magical rites and therefore grew inseparably ties with religion.” (Semenov, 1962). In view of this it is obvious that totemism “…at its foundation was based upon a theoretical conception of relationship between man and animal or plant.” (Gomme, 1908).It is not easy to erase so deep-rooted phenomenon as totemism from the prehistoric record.” (Reed, 1967), especially so if totemism “…is a phase or stage of collective thinking through which the human mind is bound to pass.” (Harrison, 1927). Certainly as religious sacraments “…can only be understood in the light of totemic thinking…” (Harrison, 1927), it then follows that “…totemism is a thoroughly practical system designed to meet everyday wants…there is nothing vague or mystical about it.” (Frazer, 1927). Accepting that totemic practices and principles have “…survived in virtually every primitive region of the globe…” (Reed, 1967), we can see that perhaps totemism in relation to religion “…in its more developed forms the institution involves a social and religious structure that is not likely to have prevailed in Palaeolithic times. In practice it is a particular and specialised system of economics with its own technique for the supernatural control of the food supply and the elaborate kinship organisation of society it entails, presupposing a long process of development.” (James, 1988).
Later preoccupation with totemic religion concerned its direction with the problem of sacrifice with emphasis placed on the two themes of methodological and sociological analysis (Kuper, 1988). In methodological terms rites were claimed to be the most authentic indicators of earlier religious ideas, and they were associated with dogma and myth as a later accretion thus “…the ritual was fixed and the myth was variable, the ritual was obligatory and faith in the myth was at the discretion of the worshipper.” (Smith, 1889). From his sociological point of view Robertson Smith (1889) stated that the “…fundamental conception of ancient religion is the solidarity of the gods and their worshippers as part of one organic society.” However, for others pure totemism cannot be a system of worship because worship “…involves conscious segregation of god and worshipper.” (Mackenzie, 1995). For Robertson Smith (1889) gods and men or the god and his worshippers “…make up a single community, and…the place of the god in the community is interpreted on the analogy of human relationships.” At a later stage of knowledge the idea of a god is where the worshipper stands off from his own imagination and worships and reveres what connotes an object of worship, which implies that between “…totemism and worship stands the midway stage of magic.” (Mackenzie, 1995).
9 (a) Animal Worship
Totemism which has been simplistically described as tribal heraldry was not in fact “…founded on the human worship of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Zootypology,, in totemism as elsewhere, did not commence as zoolatry.” (Massey, 1888), and further totemism does not imply any worship of animals on the part of primitive man. Durkheim noted that totemic creatures were not in any sense worshipped, as Tylor and McLennan had believed, even though the “…exclusive admirer of the hypothesis of Totemism will find evidence for the belief in worship of the golden calf and the bulls”. (Lang, 1898). Ronald Ranulph Marett (1866-1943) the University of Oxford based ethnologist of the British evolutionary school concluded that “…in the earliest, pre-animistic stage, religion cannot be differentiated from magic…” (Marett, 1914). Religious behaviour is believed to have arisen by the Upper Palaeolithic sometime before 30,000 BP, but rites of burial have been dated back to the Middle Palaeolithic of around 300,000 BP (Luquet, 1982). Whether religious in character or not such behaviour combines elements of ritual, spirituality, mythology, magic, and animism that indicates a separate development in that epoch. Fertility and corn spirits were originally female. It was only later that they were coalesced into animal and vegetation cults. Men began to take part in the fertility cults of women and thus began to see anthropomorphic and animal deities as goddesses. Examples of such are Epona and Damona. With the increased participation of men in agriculture the spirits of the goddesses became male, or the consorts or mothers of the gods of fertility. The evolution of the divine priest-kings replaced the earlier cult priestesses, thus the “…the innumerable multitude of spirits or demons was generalised and reduced to a comparably small number of deities; animism was replaced by polytheism.” (Frazer, 1927).
Many scholars, it is obvious, had difficulty in defining ancient religion. Certainly animism and tabus were considered major components of religion and mythologies, as were the two other significant factors of totemism and magic, with animism seen as “…a kind of worship rendered to animals and vegetables, considered as allied and related to man.” (Reinach, 1909). It was Salomon Reinach (1858-1942) the French archaeologist of the French School of Athens who applied the idea of Tylor “…that ancient and modern religions are no more than versions transformed from a series of principles and practices that were found in their original state in primitive societies.” (Palacio-Perez, 2010). Animal and plant worship shows evidence of survival in all ancient societies and remained, as sacred animals, as companions or attributes of those gods. For example the divine swans and eagles of Zeus of Jupiter were super-ceded when the gods of Greece and Rome began to be worshipped in human form with the advent of anthropomorphism with Reinach (1909), pointing out that the religions of Egypt, Syria, Greece, Italy and Gaul “…are all impregnated with totemism.”, with the phenomenon being regarded “…the one foundation of all religious thought, the aboriginal basis for every myth and cult.” (Newberry, 1934). Indeed, ancient Europe had no gods because Neolitihic Europe comprised a remarkable homogenous system of religious ideas “…based on the worship of the many titles Mother Goddess, who was also known in Syria and Libya. (Graves, 1979).
9 (b) Anthropomorphism
Anthropomorphic religion was preceded by totemism with which it was imbued with its elements and it was anthropomorphism that undermined and weaked the concept of the immolation of the god in the form of a divine drink and sacred flour (Reinach, 1909). From the start, in the terms of totemism, we must “…be rid forever of an ancient and most pernicious orthodoxy, the old doctrine that the religion of primitive man was anthropomorphic.” (Harrison, 1967). Anthropomorphism was not a feature of primitive religion because it was preceded by theriomorphism and phytomorphism. The term theriomorphic is applied to a deity that has animal form, whereas therianthropic is especially that of a deity that has the combined features of both animal and human. The term is derived from the Greek therion meaning ‘wild animal’ or ‘beast’ and ‘anthropos’ meaning human being. The worship of animals therefore is known as theriolatry. The implication is that over the course of time the “…tribal totem tends to pass into an anthropomorphic god.” (Stocking, 1995), though it must be considered that the “…vast majority of gods known to the antique religions and to savage races may thus have originated in post-totem times, and never themselves totems.” (Jevons. 1899). In addition there arises the concept that the “…worship of many beasts or of a single composite animal which might serve for all the clans “ (Newberry, 1934) would lead to or result from amalgamation of clans. It is known that tribes with two or more totems are common in Africa and that a newcomer will be assimilated to a totem clan and into the totem system of the community in question (Jevons, 1899). Theriocaphaly is the quality of having the head of an animal and commonly used to describe the depictions of human deities with animal heads. The term is derived from the Greek therion for ‘beast’ and ‘kefali’ or head. Examples of theriocephalic Egyptian deities include Horus with the head of a falcon, Anubis with the head of a jackal, the desert-god Set with the head of an unknown creature. Other deities are the Horned God of Wicca, the Minotaur from Greek mythology, in Hinduism the god of wisdom Ganesha has the head of an elephant, and the Eastern Orthodox icon Saint Christopher has the head of a dog.
The royal regalia of ancient Egyptians demonstrated the development of therioanthropic religion from theriomorphism. The totemic arrays of the Egyptian Pharoahs “…symbolises the fusion of tribes which led to the unification of the kingdom…and ceaseless rivalries between the cities of the Tigris and Euphrates are mirrored in the composite and unstable Babylonian pantheon.” (Thomson, 1978). The totem, now in its new disguise still represents the whole of the tribe. This means that the “…old democracy of animal creation gave way to an oligarchy of anthropomorphic gods…” (Newberry, 1934), the result of a social process where an “…animal which originally was a clan totem may become the deity of a whole tribe…possible for a clan totem to evolve into a tribal deity…” (Jevons, 1899). These anthropomorphic gods are still incarnated in their animal forms and are still retain their sacred animals, still begotten by animals in miraculous births (Thomson, 1978). Now the former rulers of the underworld have transmuted into the slaves of humankind, where the reminiscences of the animal origin of the god or goddess, have permeated the symbolism of the religion. All our knowledge and epistemology therefore appears to have begun “…with the cult of a totem-animal which was the creed of the cave man” (Newberry, 1934). Stage one of the process was the conception that the sacred beast was essentially human who was the representative of the totem clan, past, present and future. It was Reinach (1900 a) who explained Judaism and Christianity as survivals of previous phases that had been marked by totemism and magic when he wrote that the “…Eternal One placed one in the Garden of Eden and began by imposing a food taboo…the background to this narration is previous to the concept of a personal and anthropomorphic god; in origin, it is no more that the human being in the presence of a tree and the taboo fruit.”
The religious beliefs of ancient Egypt, Syria, Greece, Italy and Gaul are all “,,,impregnated with totemism.” (Reinach, 1909), but however traces of totemism among “…the Mycanean worshippers were not totemistic pure and simple but that the mode of their worship points to its having been developed out of still earlier totemism.” (Cook, 1894). It is of interest that the goddess Eurynome or ‘wide wanderer’ is the ‘exalted dove’ of the Sumerian goddess Iahu. In ancient Greece the dead totem was often mourned as a clansman, the celebration of the rite of new birth, and the frequent custom of tattooing the totem animal or plant, are indications of “…not a regular totemistic social system, but of totemistic ways of thinking.” (Harrison, 1927). Greek mythology provides evidence of heroes and gods being transformed into animals, trees and even stones in processes known as metamorphoses. Archaeological evidence from Crete, known for its sacred grottoes and altars adorned with animal horns, shows a goddess between two lions who is analogous to classical Greek Cybele. Flat statues of a nude goddess from 2500 BC represent the Earth Mother while others hold two serpents, as does the Arcadian Artemis, and another two doves. From Troy around 2500 BC clay vases with owl heads and crude breasts are deemed an owl goddess. A name for Athene was Glaukopis or the goddess with the face of an owl, whereas in Mycenae an excavated silver head of a heifer recalls Hera bo-opis with her eyes and face of a heifer (Reinach, 1909). Two doves are sacred to Aphrodite-Astarte of Cyprus who is also worshipped as trees and pillars in the islands of the Greek archipelago as far as Phoenicia. All of these examples show the survival of animal worship in ancient Greece. In totemic terms, at the time of Aristotle, it was an offence to kill a stork in northern Greece. Such divinities with human features are termed aniconic and show that from Homeric times Greek religion was characterised by anthropomorphism.
Greek religion did not begin with anthropomorphism because its earliest features, including ancient rituals, comprised elements of religion and mythology, animism, totemism, and magical practices. Animism provides the will and soul to rivers, rocks, mountains, stones, trees, the earth and sky, as well as the heavenly bodies, and thus the earth was Gaia. Spirits are therefore originally conceived of with animal forms and only later in human guise. The sacred animal eventually becomes a divine companion and the means whereby the Greeks “…apportioned their totems among the gods.” (Reinach, 1909). A later development was the emancipation from the animal form and the transformation into a companion or attribute of the god. Sacred animals, as companions to the gods, include Apollo Sauroctonus as the slayer of lizards; the boar before becoming the slayer of Adonis was actually Adonis himself; similarly the wolf was both Apollo and Ares. During the epoch of the matriarchy the male culture hero evolved into the patriarchal god. Before this transition there had been no gods, only goddesses. The result of this shift in emphasis was that the world of myth was no longer populated by the mothers, their culture-hero sons and grandsons, but by gods and their sun-god sons, a story where “…an anthropomorphic god or hero succeeds to the exploits of the animals, of theriomorphic gods and heroes, is the most common in mythology…” (Lang, 1893). In the process the goddesses were reduced to the son-bearing wives or concubines of the gods. In the era of the mothers, of goddesses, the moon-goddess, not the sun-god, was the deity who demanded men should pay spiritual and sexual homage, because “…men’s love was properly directed toward women, and that Moira, Ilithyia and Callone – Death, Birth and Beauty – formed a triad of goddesses who provided over all aspects of generation whatsoever: physical, spiritual or intellectual.” (Graves, 1981).
The difference between developed religion and totemic reverence is that totemism has no prayers, only commands. Therefore worshippers impose their will by the compulsion of magic. Developed religion is characterised by more advanced forms of worship because, with totemism, there are no social or economic inequalities permitted beyond individual merit. Advanced religions imply the existence of gods or a god, as well as the presupposition of a surplus to allow for chiefs and priests. Such worship, therefore, reflects that a few may live on the labour of many. The propitiation of the totem, which has assumed human shape, develops into a god. The chieftainship is no longer elective and becomes an hereditary office. Further expansion proceeds to class privileges, and increasing complexity of the divine powers that sanctify and justify its existence. The ruling or dominant clan then absorbs or annexes the totem-gods of other or subservient clans. The ancient gods never rid themselves of the signs of their origin. They are still incarnated in their original animal forms, still retain their sacred animals, still regarded as begotten by and from animals by miraculous births. The totemic rite became a sacrifice once the totem became a god, with the implication that totemic taboos were adapted to a new function, to new circumstances
10. Totemism, Magic, Ritual, and Prehistoric Art
10 (a) Magic
The theory of sympathetic magic, similarity and contagion originated with the works of Sir James George Fraser (1854-1941), the Scottish anthropologist who influenced the early progress of modern studies in comparative religion and mythology. It was his opinion that if “…we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to action each other after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not.” Frazer, 1933). In the view of Frazer sympathetic magic or the Law of Sympathy “…can be subdivided into its two branches. Firstly, Homeopathic Magic or the Law of Similarity, and secondly, Contagious Magic or the Law of Contact.” (Frazer, 1933).
The foregoing describes the classic division of sympathetic magic into two principles of thought (Frazer, 1978; Ucko, 1967), a theory that is based upon a “…proposed relationship or identity between an image and its subject.” (Pearson, 2002). Therefore acting upon an image equates with acting upon a person or animal. With regard to the mystique of ancient totemic charms and amulets they “…encompass a “…particular kind of mediation, and interplay between authoritative knowledge (science) and enchantment (magic).” (Macdonald, 2005). Essentially ‘primitive’ magic is based on the idea and rests upon the principle “…that by creating the illusion that you control reality, you can actually control it. (Thomson, 1973). In other words, as a guide to action, “…the ideology of magic embodies the valuable truth that the external world can in fact be changed by man’s subjective attitude towards it.” (Thomson, 1978). The strength of magic and its persistence “…lies in the strength of the beliefs that these assumptions are valid.” (Firth, 1964). and that such practices exist even when we know that their principles are not true. It can be assumed that “… a superstition is an irrational belief in luck, omens, spells and supernatural powers.” (Roud, 2008). From time immemorial peoples have had respect for the numinous which can be regarded as a “…mythic reverence for the unknowable.” (Seelig, 1905).
Anthropologists of the nineteenth century paid much attention to the question of totemism, however “…totemism is but one aspect or inflection of a larger principle…” (Campbell, 1982. vol 1), rather than always a vestige of animals in myth or rite. The consideration of totemism and magic is an example of the persistence of the effect of oral transmission of belief even after the original reason for the belief has long ceased to exist, and such beliefs are “…explained in terms of the acceptance of certain assumptions about the nature of things and logical argument from them.” (Firth, 1964). Archaic humankind were no mean technicians, they could perform many activities of social life and collective behaviour. They could hunt, saw, reap, build and create, as well as possessing a wide knowledge of plants and animals, make and use bronze and iron implements and make pottery. Ancient humans however had limits to what they could achieve with their varying levels of technology. Hence, they could not prevent crop failures, could not guarantee to feed themselves securely, and thus prevent starvation and disease. With this in mind totemism can be better understood by referring to the various developmental stages of magical practice, and its relation to religion. During stage 1 the whole group acts or reacts on the whole animal or plant group, a continuous process. During stage 2 there occurred an advance in intelligence and individual observation which replaced collective suggestion. This led to an obscuring of the sense of unity. Stage 3 showed a gradual focussing on dysfunction during which time consciousness increases in humankind that they are not an animal. In magical terms the magician elite continued to identify themselves with the totem of the clan “…and to monopolise communion with the animal or object that all clansmen had once revered as their common ancestor.” (Childe, 1951). With the decline and disintegration of totemism it followed also that with the encroachments of class society “…the totemic taboo…is disintegrated and shared out by the individuals who are cornering property and power.” (Lindsay, 1962). Taboo became more complicated and developed into systems favouring the kings and nobles.
10 (b) Ritual, Symbolism and Rites de Passage
Rituals are all stereotyped modes of behaviour which are highly traditional, organised and formalised. The contemporary definition of ritual therefore “…is that it can be identified as formal, patterned, and stereotyped performances…” (Evans, 1996). Such rituals are primarily concerned with the issues of birth, death, marriage, agriculture, tribal feats and festivals of initiation. The performance of ritual keeps constantly in the minds of the participants these sentiments. Ritual thus reinforces the ideas and aim of securing the maintenance of social order. The significance of such rituals are that they are essentially public, and significantly collective activities. This is in evidence in clan feasts and harvest festivals. Rituals are occasions for reunions, community gatherings, times of happiness and social harmony. The proceedings take place in an atmosphere of fellowship and benevolence. Such activities help bind the members of the group together, raise them above the subjective concepts of the individual and the self, so that the participants lead a life superior to that which they would if they pursued their own individual ideas. Symbolic rites are not ineffective because ritualism, symbolism, art and religion are related. Symbolic ritual has strong psychological and social consequences. The ritual conveys to the participants ideas and feelings of putting heart and luck into their efforts. The symbolic rituals serve to order and coordinate everyday practical activities.
There is a strong belief that symbolic activity is very effective when it expresses deep and passionate desires. Essentially a symbol represents something. Symbolism, as a means of expression, can be powerful and dramatic, and that a belief in symbolism can be effective in the reinforcement and supplementation of what a group does. What people do as practical women and men is according to their ability, with their known ways and means, thereby organising their lives and their society. In one view symbolism exists to maintain the social order, that it gives society a sense of permanence and solidity (Levy-Strauss, 1969). This view, being based upon individual sentiments and the efficaciousness and expression of symbols, therefore demands a collective expression that is fixed upon concrete objects. Symbols are therefore assigned a definite place within the ideas of the community. Such a structural outlook attempts to argue that symbolism is the means by which society is given permanence. However, if society is in a constant state of flux and change, then symbolism can only be a part of an attempt to maintain the status quo, thereby disregarding the role of symbolism in the pressures for social change.
Man gets all that makes him a man from society, it is the religious cult and ritual that recreates him, imbues him, initiates him into the life of the tribe, and therefore regenerates the tribe itself (Lewis, 1969). The relationship is ritualistic involving rites connected with totem animals, usually including dancing, mimetic animal movements, and cries (Cooper, 1995). These elements are all part of process of initiation and rites of passage. Originally, individuals survived as members of a group with group reproduction inseparable from subsistence existence (Thomson, 1978). Hunters are part of a sexual division of labour graded through children, adults, elders (Webster, 1932), where children help women, men hunt, and elders direct and supervise. The transition from one grade to another is effected by rites of initiation or rites de passage (Van Gennep, 1909), thus at puberty an individual dies and is reborn. The newborn is a clan ancestor reborn, a reincarnation of the clan totem that determines naming (Thomson, 1978), the name being the totemic symbol, but revealed because it is a totemic secret (Frazer, 1910). In Latin name and mark are nomen and nota, kin and know are gens and gnosco, which means name and mark correlate with oral and visual with “…the totem incarnate in the bearer.” (Thomson, 1978). The totemite receives manhood or womanhood and individual essence from the tribal spirit which possesses him in ceremonies and rites of totemism and initiation (Lewis, 1969).
Two social ingredients, which are common but not universal, to the exogamous clan system (Hawkes, 1965) apart from the totemic are the admission and related initiations of rites de passage. Initiation means admission to adult status, not admission to the clan, with the implication that it is admission to a totem cult where one exists. The communities of the Palaeolithic were fully aware of the totemic cycle of birth and death (Burkitt, 1925; Baldwin-Brown, 1928), as shown by their contracted ‘uterine’ burials which were almost universal by the Neolithic. Initiation rites symbolise the idea of death and rebirth “…into the full life of the tribe.” (Hawkes, 1965). In many cases a dying person is wrapped in the skin of their totem animal, implying the souls of the clan are closely bound by their totem and reincarnated in that animal with children named after the animal from which the tribe has descended (Cooper, 1995). With initiation at puberty the child dies and is born again as a man or woman, whereas the death of an elder is numbered among totemic ancestors (Thomson, 1978). Therefore birth is death and death is birth, part of an internal process of change (Van Gennep, 1909), with the interment of the corpse in a foetal position “…the posture of the unborn child…” (Webster, 1932). In the circumstances of caves and rock shelters hidden and daylight art signifies daylight totemic images and hidden recess art are initiation images (Ucko & Rosenfeld, 1967). For example, at Montespan, heel prints on a clay floor left by “…men of hunting, sexual and religious maturity…” are not merely dancing magically but sharing a religious experience…” (Lissner, 1961), thus in Lake Chad (Niger) mahalbi (hunters) leave initiation sites walking on their heels. A characteristic Australian rite of passage are marks of mutilation, sub-incision and tooth evulsion. In the Capsian culture of Africa a number of human skulls have the upper middle incisor missing. This practice is reminiscent of the Palaeolithic rite of initiation. The outspread or apotropaic hand symbolises an intitiation rite from the Mediterranean and the Near East. A widespread feature of initiation rituals is amputation. This may include penetration of the hymen, circumcision, sub-incision of the prepuce, knocking out a tooth, amputating a finger, or hair cutting. The amputated part is often carefully preserved. Other rites of passage include ordeals and purification rituals.
The social function of totemic rites is to be discerned by considering the “…whole body of cosmological ideas of which each rite is a partial expression.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1968). Eventually rituals were modified and changed thus “…instead of representing the activities of the totem species as such they became celebrations of events in the life of the totem ancestors.” (Thomson, 1978), thereby the “…supreme rise of power is to allow itself to be contested ritually in order to consolidate itself more effectively.” (Balandier, 1970). The first helping of the sacramental meal, which began with the sacrifice, was proffered to the god of the clan. This idea was one where the god had to die, had to be sacrificed so his people could live, was already implicit in totemic ritual. Not only is this a feature of the resurrection and the holy mass and communion of later Christian religions, but folklore reflects it in the offering of first fruits in agricultural communities and modern harvest festivals. This indicates that sacraments are embedded, have their origin, in the rituals of totemic taboos. The rite of holy communion is really a sublimation of the ancient communal consumption of the wealth produced by the clan’s collective labour.
Totemic rituals, with the breakdown of the totemic system, persist for a long time after the faith in the unity of the dead or dying has gone. Such a process occurred in gradual stages. Rituals were elaborate practices before the breakdown and break-up of traditional native culture. In historic societies totemic elements are transformed, some elements persist but “…a general disruption of all totemic sanctions and balances appears with settled existence.” (Lindsay, 1962). Not only does the clan or tribe cease to carry out magical ceremonies but such rites become the province of a class of medicine-men. Eventually, the power vested in the individual or head medicine-man, resides in the king whose functions are originally magical rather than political. With the development of agriculture there emerged the chieftainship, the expansion of warfare, and also privileged elites and brotherhoods, with hierarchical systems and property relations (Lindsay, 1965), with the totem becoming a badge, a crest, or a familiar denoting private property.
10 (c) Shamanism
Shamans are ritual specialists in hunter-gatherer societies (Lewis-Williams. 2002) who are more potent and important than witch-doctors (Lewis, 1969). Shamanism is a religious practice where there is communication with good and evil spirits through “…a professional class of priest-seers…” (McKillop, 1998), and thus associated with “…archaic techniques of ecstasy….” (Eliade, 1964), and a widespread practice across Eurasia and elsewhere as a primitive religion survival. Presently shamanism is a religious phenomenon characteristic of Siberian and Ural-Altaic peoples. The term shaman is Tungus in origin from saman meaning ascetic (McKillop, 1998) and in sanskrit it is sramanas. Shamanism is not limited to circumpolar peoples as it occurs in south-east Asia, Oceania, and with the Amerindians. The name comes from Siberia where a shaman is also called a tabid and female shamans called shamankas. Inuti are angekok, in Lapland noi’de (Sandars, 1968), with shamanism the basis of Finno-Ugric religion (Guirand, 1982). In Siberia a shaman is such by hereditary transmission or spontaneous vocation, whereas in north America shamanism is a voluntary quest. Shamanism also occurred all over the ancient world (Matthews, 1991), and is an animistic belief that “…presupposes an elemental force in all objects which can be dominated by a greater force…” (Guirand, 1982).
A shaman is not a magician, nor a visionary, not a healer, are usually male but female shamans occur, but importantly it is the “…intensity of his experiences that makes him unique, his ability to extend his consciousness beyond that of the ordinary human being.” (Matthews, 1991). A shaman is a particular type of individual combining functions and abilities (Lommel, 1966) who requires specialist training, with separation from cares and distractions of ordinary life (Lewis, 1969). A shaman often shows signs of mental instability, excitability, and hysterical dissociation, exhibiting suggestibility and subject to hallucinations (Lewis, 1969), but shamanism is not linked to mental illness because the shamanistic mind is “…a complex interweaving of mental states, visions and emotions.” (Lewis-Williams, 2002). A shaman must have mana to carry on his which can only be obtained by being predestined for it, as well as by submitting to certain rituals (Adam, 1954). Mana, a term originating in Polynesia, can be considered as an immaterial power believed by many pre-literate peoples to be inherent in certain privileged persons and things.
Hunter-gatherers exhibit a number of characteristics of shamanism (Lewis-Williams, 1997), which distinguishes it from other religions by “…the power that man or rather certain men particularly endowed, the shamans, exercise over nature…” (Guirand, 1982). Hunter-gatherer shamans are therefore specialists with authority and prestige who mediate between people and surrounding natural and supernatural powers (Sandars, 1968). Characteristics of shamanism are: (1) it posits a range of institutionalised altered states of consciousness: (2) the visual, aural and somatic experiences of altered states are seen as conceptions of alternative reality; (3) people with special powers and skills – shamans – have access to this alternative reality; (4) the nervous system via altered states leads to dissociation. Shamans use dissociation to achieve four ends which are also features of hunter-gatherer shamanism: (1) shamans are believed to contact spirits and supernatural entities; (2) they heal the sick; (3) they control the movements and lives of animals; (4) have the ability to change the weather. These four functions coupled with altered states are believed mediated by and facilitated by “…a variously conceived supernatural potency of power…” and this potency is “…commonly associated with animal helpers in the performance of their tasks.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997; 2002).
The antiquity and ubiquity of shamanism implies it was practised by hunter-gatherers of the European Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 2002), but was not static or unchanging across western Europe during 30,000 years, indeed “…shamanism is the most archaic form of magico-religious relation of man towards himself and his surroundings.” (Wiercinski, 1989). Upper Palaeolithic people associated logically consistent concepts to their cave painting (Lommel, 1966), thus prehistoric man attempted to integrate into life surrounding him by performing symbolic actions that included mimicry, dance and vocalisations. Hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic had specialists, or shamans, whose authority and prestige permitted them to mediate between the surrounding natural and supernatural powers and their own people (Sandars, 1968). Their art was thus “…the particular expression of shamanic cosmology and social relations as it existed at a given time and ina given period.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). The prevalence of art deep within the caves is the “…cornerstone of the totemic and magical interpretations.” (Ucko & Rosenfeld, 1967), that deals the death blow to ‘art-for-art’s sake’ theories. The Palaeolithic cave artist therefore “…does not differentiate his aesthetic activity…in a world of mystic perception which is a single unity.” (Read, 1949). There are two reasons to assume that Upper Palaeolithic shamanism existed (Lewis-Williams, 1997) which are (1) the ubiquity of hunter-gatherer shamanism, and (2) the ability of the human system to achieve altered states of consciousness. Despite the world-wide similarities of shamanism (Eliade, 1972; Vitebsky, 1995) it is therefore probable “…that some form of shamanism – not necessarily identical to any ethnographically or historically recorded type of shamanism – was practised by the hunter-gathers of Upper Palaeolithic Europe.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).
10 (d) Hunting and Fertility Magic
The classic division of sympathetic magic is into two principles of thought (Frazer, 1978), with (1) like produces like and thus effect resembles cause, and (2) things once in contact continue to act on each other (Ucko & Rosenfeld, 1967). The theory of sympathetic magic is based upon a “…proposed relationship or identity between an image and its subject (Pearson, 2002), therefore acting on an image equates with acting upon a person or animal represented. For Upper Palaeolithic people there were two major aspects of sympathetic magic – hunting and fertility magic (Ucko & Rosenfeld, 1967). Their magic resting therefore upon the principle “…that by creating the illusion that you can control reality you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1978). Cave art, as a magico-religious function, served sympathetic magic which (1) depends upon belief that similarity or relationship equates with identity, and (2) that anything down to an image or related part will affect the thing itself (Hawkes, 1965). The three main aims of magical practice are hunting, fertility and destruction (Pearson, 2002). As a guide to action “…the ideology of magic embodies the valuable truth that the external world can be changed by man’s subjective attitude towards it.” (Thomson, 1978).
Hunting magic, by possessing the image of the desired animal thereby possesses the animal itself (Pearson, 2002), and was applied to great hunted herbivores – bison, horses, aurochs, ibex and deer. Destructive magic was applied to animals dangerous to humans – felines and bears. Upper Palaeolithic images rest upon the premises of sympathetic magic, within the scenario that magical arts have a utilitarian objective in aiding survival (Pearson, 2002), therefore totemic magic is the pictorially dramatic representation of the sacred animal driven by the “…implicit theory of the kinship of all forms of life.” (Thomson, 1978). Hunting also involves a sexual division of labour – with mobile hunters being male (Malinowski, 1932; Bancroft, 1875),females immobile due to pregnancy and lactation (Zuckerman, 1936).With hunting positing a division of labour within matrilineal descent the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilinearity could preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times.
Mimetic dance increases the power of the hunter and ceremonies for species propagation are “…performed at opening of the breeding season at a prescribed spot, called the totem centre, on the hunting ground of the clan to which the totem belongs.” (Thomson, 1978). Clansmen are forbidden to eat but not kill the totem, but there are exceptions, with the headman obliged to eat a little to get the totem inside him to work his magic (Spencer & Gillen, 1904). The interpretation of Palaeolithic art has been used “…as evidence of beliefs in the efficacy of magic…” (Ucko & Rosenfeld), therefore there was Upper Palaeolithic sympathetic magical practice, as well as the allusion to totemic beliefs. An increase ritual represents the growth of the totem and includes dances by disguised performers who mimic the species, because mimicry of a successful operation is the essence of magic (Thomson). Magic is employed to useful animals – reindeer, bison, horse, and hunted for food, plus magic associated with dangerous animals – bear and lion (Grazioli, 1960). Therefore the exteriorisation of the magical art for “…reproduction of visual reality by the need to attain practical ends” (Grazioli, 1960), evinced by the cave paintings. Countless bison, horses, oxen, ibexes, reindeer are engraved or painted with weapons transfixing bodies, arrows and javelins fly around animal figures at Lascaux (Grazioli, 1960). At Niaux animals are painted stuck by arrows, with a carved bison with engraved arrows, another with engraved wounds. At Montespan a horse engraved on clay is pockmarked with spear thrust holes, and images of wounded animals are plentiful. Magic practices are related to capture of prey portraying nets and traps (often paimnted next to animals) with associated animal figures. In addition hand-prints mean taking possession of prey in connection with animal images.
Fertility magic and ritual is “…thought to assist the procreation of useful species by depicting pregnant females or animals of opposite sex in pre-couplin scenes” (Pearson, 2002), and Breuil (1965) interpreted Palaeolithic art as a reflection of fertility and hunting magic. Sympathetic magic is the basis of Palaeolithic art, the cave is the sanctuary where magic is used for reproductive rituals, destruction of predators, and increase ceremonies for animals and human beings (Ucko & Rosenfeld, 1967). Upper Palaeolithic artists imaged animals to symbolise earth’s cyclic rebirth creating a “…mystic rapport with the animals, a rapport negotiated by their shamans, and cemented by their paintings (Krupp, 1997). Fertility magic plus hunting magic usually combined as one overall sympathetic magic interpretation, therefore “…totemic and fertility magic interpretations are the most clearly related (Ucko & Rosenfeld, 1967). Scenes of hunting as pictorial magic are found worldwide.
With regard to fertility magic and cave art ritual renewal in Upper Palaeolithic Europe is “…evidence for a theme of cyclic renewal everywhere in Upper Palaeolithic art.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility compositions and images occur in Franco-Cantabria (Grazioli, 1960), and deliberately relate the different the different sexes. At La Marne a bull pursues a cow, at La Portel two bison face each other, thus in compositions where two animals form a scene “…they are almost invariably male and female animals…connected with the proprietary magic of reproduction.” (Grazioli, 1960). At Font-de-Gaume two reindeer approach each other, at Levanzo a bull follows a cow, at Chaire-a-Caluini a horse is in bas-relief copulation, at Fonte-de-Gaume a horse is copulating, and one pursues a mare. At Tuc d’Audoubert a clay statue shows male and female bison in copulation. At Spanish Cogul women surround a man and suggest celebrants in a fertility cult, and at Tuc d’Audoubert signs of rites celebrated indicate fertility magic and beyond that fertility religion, it suggested ‘Venuses’ are “…crystallisations of the Mother Goddess concept.” (Hawkes, 1965). A number of wall engravings and low-reliefs of females demonstrates fertility related images.
Fertility and mobiliary art is shown with the Aurignacian ‘Venuses’, which are little statuettes of exaggerated form, are in a class by themselves (Lewis, 1969). Found in France and Austria they represent a fertility cult of 20,000 tyears ago – all violently distorted with head, legs and arms, treated in summary fashion, the purely sexual features enlarged confirm fertility cult purpose. Aurignacian ‘Venuses’, not found in Spain, are little figures of ivory, limestone and other materials, and intended to symbolise fertility, thus “…the statuettes from the Grimaldi Caves were associated with some form of fertility cult.” (Lissner, 1961). The Savignano ‘Venus’ has female features, conical coiffure or cap, and the Venus of Willendorf has a basket-like coiffure of limestone and is perhaps an Almer Mater or Earth Mother, whereas the gagarino ‘Venuses’ (Upper Don) are two obese ivories and resemble the Willendorf Venus (Lissner, 1961). The Venus of Laussel is a rock relief carving circa 15,000 to 10,000 BC. At Ma’lta (north of Irkutsk) evidence of twenty statuettes of mammoth tusk, reindeer antler, were all slender in form. Figurines at Ma’lta and Gagarino, found inside the remains of ancient huts, hung up in niches near the hearth, may represent female ancestresses (Lissner, 1961). Many figurines found in dwellings at Kostienki Island, Mezin (Garonne), Vestonice and Predmost (Czechoslovakia), and Mainz (Germany), can be compared to the constantly moving hunters of the Magdelanian. The unique female head from Brassampouey (Lourdes) has an arranged cap or coiffure known as a tete a la capouche. The Venus of Lespugues (Haute-Garonne) seems to represent the golden age of the Aurignacian. It has an ‘apron’ at the rear which is similar to the second Venus of Willendorf – and may represent animal tails as worn with modern shaman attire. Upper Palaeolithic figurines are the earliest tangible expression of the idea which views womankind as embodying the beginning and continuance of life. Palaeolithic peoples portrayed the hman form, especially during the earlier Aurignacian-Perigordian period with female statuettes, stressing attributes of fertility and seen “…dedicated to a different cult – the cult of maternity.” (Grazioli, 1960).
10 (e) Shamanism and Prehistoric Art
Caves show no sign of habitation or domestic use because they were sanctuaries for religious rituals, dark retreats within Mother Earth for initiation ceremonies (Krupp, 1997), where “…men may be transported into animals and vice-versa.” (Lommel, 1966) with the artistic result that humans appear as beasts and later as hybrid beings. The penetration of darker recesses from the daylight suggests a “…growing interest in and insistence on spatially distinct ritual areas.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). Initially it was thought that animal images were a component of imitative hunting magic, however most paintings do not show wound marks. This suggests they “…played only a small part in the prehistoric diet.” (Krupp, 1997), because the artists had an “…ancestral bond with particular beasts and avoided eating them…” (Krupp, 1997). Palaeolithic communities being totemic were aware of the totemic cycle of birth and death. For example the ‘uterine’ or ‘foetal’ burial position is not known in Australia but is “…common in Palaeolithic interments…” (Thomson, 1978).
Considering shamanism and cave art it appears that a large amount of Franco-Cantabrian cave art is shamanistic and “…produced by shamans and derived from their modes of thought.” (Lommel, 1966), therefore archaeologically cave art includes images that can be called shamanistic. For example Basque myths from the region are concerned with ghosts, shamans, red bulls, cows, horses, birds and snakes (Lommel, 1966), and significant are the half-human and half-animal spirits. The female is Mari, male spirits are Maide and associated with female Lamin, thus Mari and Lamin are “…probably preserved characteristics of the more ancient Mistress of the Beasts (Lommel, 1966). Thus the consideration that the “…repetively portrayed Palaeolithic ‘sorcerers’ or ‘shamans’ were divine owners of animals and forests.” (Gimbutas, 2001). Cave imagery is a palimpsest resulting from changing exploitation of the topography coupled with changing shamanistic beliefs and social relations (Lewis-Williams, 1997; Clottes, 1992), implying Upper Palaeolithic people “…did not adhere rigidly to set formulae.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). Therefore, as the Upper Palaeolithic progressed, the historically and geographically situated forms of shamanism changed. In order to understand shamanic cave art it is best to look in more detail at two examples – the so-called ‘Sorcerer’ in the Sanctuary at Les Trois Freres, and the ‘Man and Bison’ composition in the shaft at Lascaux.
The ‘Sorcerer’ has an antlered deer head and hide who appears to be leading a dance to secure success in hunting (Lewis, 1969). The image is of a masked human being to endow a unique, magical or religious act with greater permanence by mans of pictorial recapitulation (Lissner, 1961). The unreal atmosphere is compounded by this half-human half-animal that is engraved and painted in an innermost recess of the complex Ariege Cave (Grazioli, 1960), implying this ‘sorcerer’ is a mystical being. The painting is of a powerfully symbolic magico-religious ritual. The shaman is harnessing a group effort through group ritual dance to objectify the killing of an animal (Lewis, 1969). This shaman at Lourdes, wearing a tail, deer antlers and a beard can be compared to Tungus shamanic portrayals because “…the adoption of several animal characteristics is thought to increase a shaman’s chances of sending his soul on its travels…” (Lissner, 1961).
The ‘man with a bison’ in the shaft at Lascaux is a shamanic scene with a sacrificial bison and outstretched man (with a bird mask) lying on the ground in a trance (Lissner, 1961). The rhinoceros in the composition is insignificant because it is the man and bison in confrontation (Blanc, 1949). The supine figure is the shaman and the bird his tutelary spirit, and its perch a grave stick or sky-pole. Wooden bird poles symbolise a shaman’s spiritual journey and is thus ”…a path to heaven symbolised by an upright pole and the belief that a bird can carry a shaman’s soul into the sky.” (Lissner, 1961). The shaman sends his soul to heaven while he lies as though dead (Lommel, 1966), as he hunts animal spirits or negotiates with the Mistress of the Animals. A number of factors indicate the shamanic nature of the composition. The bird is gallinaceous or grouse-loke and resembles the grouse carving on a spear-thrower from Le Mas d’Azil (Davenport & Jochim, 1988). The feet are humanoid, as is the phallus, but the hands are four-toed typical of a bird, and as such a pictographic symbol. The artist has portrayed the shaman and his spirit helper (the bird-headed wand) at the moment of his transformation or shape-shift into a Black Grouse or Capercaille (Davenport & Jochim, 1988), a performance quite familiar to the Palaeolithic hunter, resembling the communal dances, strutting, and ritualised fighting of the Blackcock. The secret of successful hunting magic is mimicry (Lommel, 1966), and a successful expedition is envisioned by a shaman beforehand. The entrails of the bison are wrenched out by a barbed spear and the whole image means for Abbe Breuil (1965) the hunter is wounded by the bison and then killed by the rhinoceros, whereas for Leroi-Gourhan the man is dying from wounds inflicted by the bison (Lissner, 1961). However, the shaman is most likely in a trance state. Rock art in South Africa is historical evidence for ceremonies and roles of trance plus hallucinogens, so perhaps “…decorated caves in Palaeolithic Europe, at the end of the last Ice Age, might also reflect shamanic practices and trance ceremonies (Pitts, 2001). In addition, shamanistic practices among early Celtic divinations wore cloaks of bird feathers as Siberians did, bearing in mind the Celtic belief in metamorphosis – shape-shifting – or ability to change shape or appearance at will.
At Santander there are wall engravings of men in bird masks who seem to be dancing, and the bird-men of Altamira are also shamans, as are the masked figures at Les Combarelles (Lissner, 1961). At Teyat, Abri Mege (Dordogne) three strange figures resembling sea-horses are probably shamans dancing in ibex masks. There are further examples of hybrid figures as hunters or shamans occupying territory between the human and animal world (Grazioli, 1960). Examples of shamanism and mobiliary art are shown by the Palaeolithic batons or ‘wands’ which are assumed also to be shaman drumsticks, and certainly more than items of everyday use (Lissner, 1961), and female statuettes are the earliest known figurative representations in the world and may have a shamanic ritual role as auxiliary dolls. The female statuettes of Siberian tribes, who often have female shamans, may be shamanic. At Ma’lta (50 miles north-west of Irkutsk) female figures and birds carved in bone represent duck and geese, reminiscent of bird figures which modern Siberian tribes place on top of their shamanic sky-poles.
10 (f) Totemism and Prehistoric Art
Hunters do not produce – they participate in the life of their milieu (Lommel, 1966), so they try to kill prey needed thereby leaving animal reproduction to nature. Totemic ritual is an expression of social cohesion whereby man’s significance is not individual but tribal membership – in other words his entire personal domain is the sacred, supernatural, divinised tribe. Some cave art compositions with a strange, incomprehensible and otherwise esoteric stance may have magical connotations and thus belong to “…a fantastic, unreal, possibly mythical world which has no apparent connection with the clear, elementary and practical world of hunting magic (Grazioli, 1960). The mode of thought of the hunter and his art is dominated by animals and such a mythology does not distinguish between man and animal. Feeling at one with nature the hunter sees his environment as both spiritual and material, thereby his art “…attempts to impose the power of his intellect upon his surroundings…” (Lommel, 1966).
Art was a complex, essential ingredient of Upper Palaeolithic life, essential for very existence, a deeply felt need rooted in this activity (Grazioli, 1960). Indeed prehistoric art “…is not imitation, but art and also ritual frequently and legitimately contain an element of imitation” (Harrison, 1947), which links art with magical practices. The relation of art to religion is one where primitive art grew out of ritual and “…art is in fact but a later and more sublimated, more detached form of ritual.” (Harrison, 1947). Prehistoric artists were not practising ‘art for art’s sake’, the drawings, paintings, reliefs and sculptures had a religious purpose explaining the use of inaccessible cave areas (Lissner, 1961), and only experienced hunters could portray animals in such a realistic way. Four strands permeate Upper Palaeolithic art (Sandars, 1968): (1) a diffused sense of sacredness; (2) an order of relationships with no account of genetic barriers allowing ideas of metamorphosis ; (3) unhistorical time and returning cycles with ancestor actions, culture heroes, myths and rituals; (4) the character and position of the shaman. Cave art and associated forms of ritual served to promote a “…necessary social cohesion in the face of competition or spatial separation.” (Jochim, 1983), but not all cave art is mysterious or religious though some is certainly tied to ritual and ceremony (Bahn, 1998), and it does contain messages. In terms of totemism, shamanism, and fertility rituals it must be considered that “…there can no longer be a single meaning…to account for the thousands of images, media, contexts, and uses of what we lump together under the term ‘Palaeolithic art’ (Lewis-Williams, 1997).
Sympathetic and co-operative magical ceremonies restored and reinforced community life for hunter-gatherers – thus between totemism and religion stands magic (Harrison, 1977) and cave art “…had definite magical connotations, and may cave pictures may have been executed with magic in view.” (Lissner, 1961). In Palaeolithic art all coupled animals, pregnant females, wounded, trapped, or being hunted are “…clear and well defined instances of a certain kind of magic…” (Grazioli, 1960). For example, handprints in prehistoric art are a mysterious practice that must have involved dancing, magic or religion (Verbrugge, 1957), but Franco-Cantabrian hand prints were not art, but ritualistic effigies or two-dimensional representations of the human hand (Lissner, 1961). Cave painting did not appear until the mid-Aurignacian but hand prints are much older whereas hand silhouettes date from much later periods (Lissner, 1961). Positive hand prints are not common and always red, but negative hand prints are normally black. Additionally hand prints could possibly be part of a totemic initiatory or ‘rites of passage’ ritual where the print substitutes for the unmentioned totemic secret name. Hand stencils and hand prints are usually in the ‘red’ entrance area of a cave while, incidentally, reindeer, bison, Megaloceros, aurochs and horses areonly black implying that “…each location was chosen for a special function or was used by people of different status.” (Chippindale & Tacon, 1998).
Fertility rituals were elaborate totemic rites employed to maintain the life-force of the animal (Lewis, 1969), ensuring its reproduction and availability for others. For Durkheim (1915) sacramental rites confirmed the sacredness inherent in the totem which was transferred to those of the totemic group and ritual as existing to strengthen and symbolise group solidarity. Thus rituals have considerable survival value and he calls such universal and unquestionable values and assumptions “…collective representations.”. We do not know if Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers regarded themselves as communicants with Mother Earth of if they perceived themselves as interacting with an otherworld Master of the Animals (Krupp, 1997). If fertility rituals took place in cave sanctuaries it is plausible that they regarded the earth’s interior as a womb-like coral for the seasonal, cyclic return of animals as suggested by cave bear cults. Cave images in north-west Spain and south-west France are directed towards successful hunting – but not just hunting because the caves are also for cult ceremonies, places of initiation. Or even that caves were places of seasonal aggregation for tribal ritual and trade (Bogucki, 200) for hunter-gatherer ‘bands’ or exogamous clans.
Many unique developments occurred in the European Upper Palaeolithic which indicates increasing social complexity (Jochim, 1983) that included climatic deterioration and consequent population movements. In this context ‘primitive’ art from its inception was both decorative and geometric, as well as realistic and symbolic, but ‘primitive’ does not imply child-like because it was frequently advanced in both sophistication of handling and technique. Upper Palaeolithic people did not process caves in a rigid formalistic way (Lewis-Williams, 1997), as suggested by Leroi-Gourhan (1968), because they “…explored and adapted each cave in accordance with its peculiar topography…” (Lewis-Williams, 1997; Vialou, 1982; 1986). Note must be made of the social conditions, cosmologies, and religious beliefs of the different times at which a cave was used (Pearson, 2002). A recent and major interpretation of cave art postulated the introduction of order and that analysis of painting positions reveals a general scheme, therefore that “…there is order in Palaeolithic man’s art provides a basis for investigating its evolution.” (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968). Problems of chronology include the fact that there are few instances of mobiliary art associated stratigraphically, whereas parietal art is not stratified at all, thus “…classifying Palaeolithic art…is considerably harder that the classification of prehistoric man’s other material remains.” (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968). Cave art did not have a single beginning or a single climax but instead “…many variations between regions and periods…” (Bahn, 1998), it had many heydays, many beginnings, which means cave art is the “…tangible manifestation of complex cultural beliefs during the Upper Palaeolithic…” (Chippindale & Tacon, 1998). Four strands permeate Upper Palaeolithic art (Sandars, 1968): (1) a diffused sense of sacredness; (2) an order of relationships with no account of genetic barriers allowing ideas of metamorphosis; (3) unhistorical time and returning cycles with ancestor actions, culture heroes, myths and rituals; (4) the character and position of the shaman. It has been postulated that one function of art is to “…feed and nurture the imagination and the spirit, and thereby enhance and invigorate the whole of human life.” (Harrison, 1947), which is far from the untenable view that art is for pleasure, far from the vacuous idea that art is for art’s sake.
Considering totemism and cave or parietal art it is believed that Ice Age artists, with ancestral bonds with certain animals, avoided eating them, so paintings are therefore clan emblems (Pearson, 2002). The animals depicted having but a small part in prehistoric diets (Krupp, 1987). A particular totem animal can be an item of group diet. Therefore totemic rituals can be thought of as maintaining the species to provide food for other groups (Lewis, 1969). In south-west Africa the Busmen are a totemic hunting people and their pictures are found all over the continent, from the Sahara to Lake Tanganiyika (Leakey, 1936; Adam, 1940). In Transvaal a herd of ostriches, one with bow and arrows and human legs is a huntsman from the ostrich clan? (Thomson, 1978). He is surrounded by both sex onlookers wearing antelope heads which may be the mimetic dance of the ostrich clans (Adam, 1940; Schapera, 1930). Paintings on cave walls show clan members have a strong sense of affinity or identity with clan species, implying that clan elders are ancestor worshipped in totemic form (Landtman, 1933). The ritual identification of animal/human ancestor of totemic type is “…a man fully identified with an animal, his totem otherwise, in fertility rituals for the increase of the species.” (Hawkes, 1965). Ritual participation is associated with animal totemism. For many the ‘sorcerer’ is the same realm of ideas as the Lord of the Animals, therefore some supernatural being rather than a man in disguise (Hawkes, 1965; Breuil, 1965). Most pre-literate peoples have a Lord of the Beasts, a protector of game, a “…preserver and patron of the hunting culture.” (Lissner, 1961). The famous image of the ‘fallen man’ with a bison at Lascaux is a case for both totemic and shamanic practice. The man appears bird headed while beside him a bird-headed wand , so “…this picture may be of totemic significance, showing the human member and his totemic emblem.” (Hawkes, 1965). The well known ‘bison’ scene’ in the cave at Lascaux has many different interpretations including “…given a totemistic explanation and interpreted as an initiation scene.” (Hawkes, 1965; Danthine, 1949), and also as shamanistic ritual (Kirchner, 1952). According to this theory “…the anthropomorphic figure would be a human being (shaman) collapsing in a state of complete ecstasy” (Hawkes, 1965). Strong contenders as totemic animals include the bull, the boar, rhinoceros, mammoth, salmon, and especially the bear, compared to cave bone assemblages of hunted animals. .The bull is the “…primary symbolic and sacrificial animal of the hunter.” (Cooper, 1995), having been revered and worshipped from earliest times. Boar bones have been ritually placed in graves and caves with the head of special importance, with many ritually interred bones including bear, ox, bison, horse, ibex, woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, and hyena. The salmon is sacred to North Amerindians. Dances as imitation of animals at tribal festivals are found with Amerindians and Australians – the animals usually totems or objects of the hunt including bears, buffalo, deer (Cooper, 1995). The deer is an Amerindian totem animal and the deer-dance a fertility rite for south-west Amerindians. Reindeer sacrifices are made by Lapps, and palaeo-Siberian peoples have a ‘Lord of the Reindeer’, whose shamans can take the form of a reindeer. Bison are subjects of mask dances and sympathetic magic among Plains Amerindians. Chauvet Cave is problematic because of the dominance of fearsome animals, some 61% of which comprise rhinoceros, lions, mammoths and bears (Chippindale, 1998). Moreover, Aurignacian sites in the Dordogne include three times more dangerous animals than those of Gravettian origin in the same area, therefore concluding that “,,,the enormous number of dangerous animals at Chauvet is not a unique phenomenon.” (Chippindale, 1998).
With regard to totemism and mobiliary art the people of the Upper Palaeolithic had a rapprochement with their environment and themselves, and this can be seen with the female figurines showing the existence of anthropomorphic imagery in their art (Bahn & Vertut, 1989; Leblanchet, 1989). Some 25,000 years ago, during the Upper Palaeolithic, there appeared the first symbolic representations of women. This was the mobiliary or portable art of Western Europe that are euphemistically called ‘Venuses’. Sometimes called ‘fertility figurines’, they were described in three categories (Marshak, 1975; 1995), those carved on rock walls, finely made portable figures, and less fine portable examples. These figurines have been interpreted as goddesses with a possible connection to a lunar cycle of thirteen months. Palaeolithic people had a cyclic awareness of the passage of time which implies the female figurines were central to seasonal rituals and female periodicity. It may be that the early figurines were prototypes of the later Mother-Earth goddesses. Many portable female figurines were possibly used in magical rites related to puberty and childbirth. With rock art there are human figures of both sexes, but especially females with exaggerated secondary sex features, and are also often identified with edible animals and plants that gives an added totemic dimension to them. Ritual renewal in Ice Age Europe shows a theme of cyclic renewal everywhere in the Upper Palaeolithic. The hunters of the Ice Age Solutrean and Magdalenian “…may have used the animals to symbolise the earth’s cyclical rebirth…” (Krupp, 1997). In this sense they would have made portable figurines to symbolise their own cyclical renewal (Marshak, 1975). Similarly, with cave painting where cyclical rebirth was part of “…a mystic rapport negotiated by their shamans and cemented in their paintings.” (Krupp, 1997).
At Chauvet Cave around 30,000 BC a figure with a head and torso of a bison and the legs of a human is therefore anthropomorphic thinking that reflects the “…seamless integration between social and natural history.” (Mithen, 1998). Human as animals and animals as humans suggests totemic ritual and anthropomorphism. The image of an animal with human attributes, or a human descended from a lion, is anthropomorphism reflected in totemic thought. Mobiliary art is an expression of Palaeolithic mentality with processions of anthropomorphic figures surrounding bison is a curiously repeated composition (Grazioli, 1960). Some mobiliary engravings on ivory and bone may be indicators of clan membership if worn as neck pendants. In the 7,800 year old cemetery at Oleneostrovski Magilnik in Karelia some graves were associated with snake effigies, others with effigies of elks (Mithen, 1998), the clusters of two graves suggesting two groups divided on a totemic clan basis (O’Shea & Zvelebil, 1984, cited by Mithen, 1998). Aurignacians and Magdalenians shaped and carved bone and antler plaques in ways similar to Australian churingas (Hawkes, 1965). The impressive parietal and mobiliary art is evidence of long-distance exchange as a reflection of cultural adjustments. The obvious ornamental features of mobiliary art is complimented by clear signs of magic in much cave art (Grazioli, 1960), thus for parietal we can read sacred and for mobiliary we can read profane (Riddell, 1942). The original meaning of profane being ‘without the temple’.
Utilitarian purpose and aestheticism are not incompatible because “…cave art hinged on creation of images almost exclusively connected with magic, the same cannot be said of mobiliary art…” (Grazioli, 1960). Above all, the cave and home artists were most likely hunters themselves, practically engaged in activities to secure good hunting so to try to “…separate art and magic and religion in the unified life of early man shows the folly of the over-analytical mind.” (Hawkes, 1965). Over 30,000 years there were periods of progress, stagnation, and regression in Palaeolithic art therefore development was not linear (Bahn, 1998). In essence cave art is: (1) more diverse than first assumed; (2) there was not linear evolution from the awkward to the more elaborate; and (3) compositions were painted long before or at same time as others and, importantly “…the contents of the art did not change considerably over time.” (Chippindale & Tacon, 1998). The art of the Upper Palaeolithic indicates a psychic unity of Homo sapiens that is not a ‘mythogram’ of sequential styles pre-ordained and pre-planned. The thirteen sea animals and Caprids (goats) at Grotte Cosquer indicates what the “…influence of local biotope played in painters myths.” (Chippindale & Tacon, 1998). The environment of Grotte Cosquer was one of limestone hills favouring ibex and chamois, whereas the Magdalenians of La Vache hunted mostly ibex in contrast to the cave art at Niaux with its overwhelming numbers of bison and hyena. At Chauvet there were many rhinoceros, lions, long-eared owl, panther and hyena. The theories of Leroi-Gourhan (1968; 1978) are no longer tenable after the evidence from Chauvet, especially as his Style 1 is detectable in only a few Dordogne sites, and his views are now challenged (Clottes, 1996). The placing of lions and rhinos are central at Chauvet, not in entrances or bottoms, and moreover rather than a ‘mythogram’ Leroi-Gourhan’s dates “…appear to be totally random and irrelevant, offering no redeeming feature at all (Bednarik, 1995). The artists of the Upper Palaeolithic were us and, in order to appreciate the meaning of their art, we must try and put ourselves in their circumstances, look through their eyes, and try to walk in their footsteps, and not as was said earlier indulge ourselves with over-analytical minds.
11. Totemism, Mythology and Ritual
Mythology is the comparative study of myths which can be described as sacred narratives with myth being a “… traditional story explanatory of archetypal truths of the creation of the earth, of man’s relationships with God, of the origins of social institutions and so forth.” (Tolstoy, 1995). In other words mythology can be construed as a form of ideology encompassing number of myths that serve to justify and explain the origin of existing social institutions, organisation, and hierarchical status quo. In this sense myths are “…revelations of man’s condition, making an otherwise chaotic cosmos explicable and accessible in human terms. Frequently they account for the beginnings of things, though they are not exclusively concerned with the past.” (Tolstoy, 1985). It can be claimed that “…anthropological theories of myth are theories of culture applied to the case of myth.” (Segal, 2004) whereby origin is concerned with why and how myth arises and function implies why and how myth persists. Against the background of the phenomenon of myth stands the fact that “…while myths never explain the facts which they attempt to elucidate, they incidentally throw light on the mental condition of the men who invented or believed them…” (Frazer, 1930). Myth must be distinguished from all the other things loosely called as such, e.g., legend, fable, tale, fantasy, mass delusion, popular belief and illusion, and plain lie (Hyman, 1958). For example in Hebrew myth the tale of Jacob and Esau represents an explanation of the replacement of hunting cultures by a nomadic pastoral culture and “…in this sense, therefore myth represents reality. It is possible too, for myth and history to overlap, and for the same event to be seen in historical and mythical terms.” (Tolstoy, 1985).
Myth has been described as a narrative, usually religious in nature that is generally established by tradition and closely related to ritual (Bullfinch, 1965). Moreover, it is a fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural personages who embody popular ideas concerning natural phenomena. Mythology as a form of ideology could be described as the philosophy of primitive and ancient humankind encompassing the beginnings of and first attempts “…to answer those general questions concerning the world which have doubtless obtruded themselves on the human mind from the earliest times…” (Frazer, 1930). It will be noticed that very often “…myth history and tradition were framed in male terms. The tributes formerly paid to the woman creatrix of the world now went to a male creator.” (Reed, 1986). Myths are not devoid of meaning. In many respects they are profound revelations “…for they have sprung from the soul of the people and are founded upon ancient customs and traditions that have gradually disappeared but continue to survive in the myths glorified by a halo of religion.” (Bebel, 1904). If such myths are supported by historical facts then it can be assumed that the myth does have some historical importance.
Myths can be the idealisation of experience an exaggerated description of historical events, perhaps explanations of rituals, sometimes the personification of natural phenomena, or justification of religious ideas of creation, or allegorical tales and fables used as a symbolic or rhetorical device to convey a meaning, principle, or tenet of belief. It follows that a true myth “…may be defined as the reduction to narrative shorthand of ritual mime performed on pubic festivals…dramatic performances, which, with their iconographic and oral records, become the prime authority, or charter, for the religious institutions of each tribe, clan, or city” (Graves, 1979). If myth actually represents reality, and does on occasions overlap with history, then myth is not “…an intellectual explanation, or an artistic imagery, but a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.” (Malinowski, 1926). In the form they are presented, told or enacted, no myth is true “…but many myths contain truth.” (Thomson, 1977) and, as a representation “…myth is the dream-thinking of a people, just as the dream is the myth of the individual.” (Harrison, 1903). In regard to the origin of totemism and the origin of the mythos it appears that the greatest myth of all is that mythology was not a system of explanation “…but a typological mode of representing natural phenomena, that the earliest actors or dramatis personae in this mode of representation were animals and not human beings…” (Massey, 1888). Of importance is the intimate inter-relationship between myth and ritual with myth the ideology of the ritual. In essence myth is the means to the efficacy of the ritual, so therefore true myth may be defined “…as the reduction to narrative shorthand of ritual mime performed on public festivals…dramatic performances, which, with their iconographic and oral records, became the prime authority, or charter, for the religious institutions of each tribe, clan or city.” (Graves, 1979).
No discussion about totemism and mythology can ignore discussion of the process of mythopoeic thinking or thought. Mythopoeic thought has been described as a hypothetical stage that preceded modern thinking which was proposed in the 1940’s (Frankfort, 1961). Proposed by Henri and Henrietta Frankfort ancient and primitive thought represented a ‘mythopeoic’ stage where humanity did not think in terms of generalisations and impersonal laws but saw each and every event as an act of will on the part of a personal or supernatural being. Henri Frankfort (1897-1954), was an Egyptologist, archaeologist and orientalist whose wife and colleague was Henrietta Frankfort (1896-1982). The idea of mythopeoic thinking reinforces the idea of the “…importance of myths as documents of human thought in embryo is now generally recognised, and they are collected and compared…for the light they throw on the intellectual evolution of our species.” (Frazer, 1930). Mythopeoic thinking explains apparently the ancient propensity to create myths in order to portray the events pertaining to gods and spirits. The Frankfort hypothesis was that such thinking was personifying and concrete whereas modern thought worked in the realm of the abstract and the impersonal. Mythopeoic thought was thus pre-philosophical and modern thought is philosophical (Segal, 2004), thus “…the fundamental difference between the attitudes of modern and ancient man as regards the surrounding world is this: for modern, scientific man the phenomenal world is primarily an ‘it’, for the ancient – and also for the primitive – man is it is ‘thou’”. (Frankfort, 1961).
For modern man most things are seen as impersonal objects, but ancient man saw them as persons. The process of ‘myth-making’ comes from the Greek muthos, which means ‘myth’, and poiein or ‘to create’ with the myths ideologically “…all grave records of ancient religious customs or events, and reliable enough as history once their language is understood and allowance has been made for errors in transcription, misunderstandings of obsolete ritual, and deliberate changes introduced for moral or political reasons.” (Graves, 1981). Therefore, for Frankfort the “…ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians lived in a wholly mythopeoic world (Segal, 2004), whereas for them the divine was immanent and the gods were in nature (Frankfort, 1961), for the ancient Hebrews each major event was seen as a divine act and divine will as well as the law behind all natural occurrences. In the Ancient Near East thought appeared embedded in the imagination with speculation “…distinct from mere idle speculation in that it never breaks entirely away from experience.” (Frankfort, 1961), and in this sense the realm of nature and the realm of man are not distinguished. For Frankfort (1931) mythology “…is but one, if the richest, expression of mythopeoic thinking.” because in the Ancient Near East people were at the stage of culture that is properly called the ‘pre-philosophical’.
The interpretation of allegory and myth have been analysed in the context of euhemerism which goes back to ancient times. Euhemerus was a late 4th century BC Greek mythogapher who treated mythological accounts as a reflection of historical events, and mythological characters as historical persons. Euhemerism maintained that the first gods were actually great kings who were deified after their deaths, thus it was argued that “…mythical beings are nothing but personifications of natural objects and natural processes; on the other hand, it has been maintained that they are nothing but notable men and women who in their lifetime…made a great impression on their fellows…whose doings have been distorted and exaggerated by a fake and credulous tradition.” (Frazer, 1927). Euhemerism and its falsification of myth has been called ‘history in disguise’ and at times referred to as the historical interpretation of myth. Of interest in this connection are the mythological figures of totem ancestors where the “…totem ancestor is a personification of a human community in a zoomorph and mythological form, though this personification never takes a strictly personal appearance.” (Zolatarev, 1934).
In E. B. Tylor’s simplistic terms a myth was a story turned into a tacit argument where the argument is still expressed by the story. It has been commonly accepted that the nineteenth century theories of myth “…focussed on the question of origin and that theories of the twentieth century have focussed on the question of function and subject matter.” (Segal, 2004). A myth is a story about a significant event which according to Levi-Strauss extends beyond the story itself to the underlying structure of the myth which is conveyed by the structure of the story. It was E. B. Tylor who preoccupied himself with the personalised nature aspects of myths whereas Malinowski focuses his attention almost exclusively on the function of myth. It was Tylor who became the main exponent of the view that science and myth were at odds with each other. As a result he subsumed myth under religion and then proceeded to subsume both religion and science under philosophy. According to Tylor myth operated independently of ritual and thus myth was explained in terms of the physical world and not the ritual. In other words ritual was the application of myth not its subject.. The foremost criticism of Tylor’s view is that it confines both myth and ritual to ancient and primitive religion.
Along with Tylor it was Frazer who saw myth as a component of primitive religion and primitive religion a component also of philosophy. Again, primitive religion was contrasted to natural science. In Tyor’s view myth and religion functioned as counterparts to scientific theory and that primitive religion explained events. In other words primitive religion functioned to effect events. With Frazer the functions of religion served as the counterpart to applied science. The tripartite division of all culture by Frazer into the stages of magic, religion, and science also underlay his myth-ritualist theory. For him ritual enacted into myth with the ritual functioning on the basis of the magical Law of Similarity “…according to which the imitation of an action causes it to happen.” (Segal, 2004). Essentially, for Frazer, myth and ritual combined are in fact religion and magic combined. The Scottish biblicist and Arabist E. Robertson Smith (1846-1894) argued that belief was central to modern religion but not so for ancient religion where ritual was central. For Smith myth was secondary, ritual was obligatory, and the myth was optional which meant that “…the myth is merely the explanation of a religious usage; and ordinarily it is such an explanation as could not have arisen till the original sense of the usage had more or less fallen into oblivion.” (Smith, 1907).
The French philosopher and armchair anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl (1857-1939) postulated that primitive peoples thought differently from modern people. Bruhl’s primary interest was in primitive mentality and he influenced the psychologist Carl Jung. For Bruhl the primitive mind did not differentiate the supernatural from reality and was therefore non-logical or ‘pre-logical’. It was Levi-Strauss who attempted to revive the intellectualist view of primitive myth. In the view of Levi-Strauss primitive peoples created myths because they possess different thought processes from modern peoples. Essentially, for both Levi-Strauss and Levy-Bruhl “…myth is the epitome of primitive thinking.” Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) followed the ‘mythic’ or ‘mythopeoic’ analysis of Levy-Bruhl. Mythic thinking was loaded emotionally and, as part of religion, was a projection of mystical oneness onto the world. Ernst Cassirer therefore characterised myth as a form of knowledge in a world of symbol making and world creating activity and thus he stated that the “…description of the role of magic and mythology in primitive society applies equally well to highly advanced stages of man’s political life. In desperate situations man will always have recourse to desperate means.” (Cassirer, 1946).
With Frazer and Tylor it was thought that primitives do think like modern people but in a less vigorous way with logical but erroneous thinking. For Frazer and Tylor primitive people perceive the same world as modern people but conceive of it differently. Levy-Bruhl regarded primitive peoples as regarding themselves and their artefacts being part of “…all phenomena, including humans and their artefacts…part of an impersonal sacred, ‘mystic’ realm, pervading the natural one.” (Segal, 2004). Not only is mystical thinking the opposite of scientific thinking for all three of them myth is part of religion. It was stipulated by Malinowski (1884-1942) that primitives sought to control nature rather than explain it, whereas Levy-Bruhl insisted that primitives tried to commune with nature. For Malinowski the primitive community was too busy to indulge in reflection on nature. For them myth was used as the fallback to science, and they “…use science to control the physical world, Where science stops, they turn to magic.” (Segal, 2004). When the magic stops there is recourse to myth when the need arises to reconcile themselves to aspects of their world that they cannot control. It was on this basis that it was stated that myth is not for primitive people “…an intellectual explanation or an artistic imagery, but a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.” (Malinowski, 1926). However, in terms of totemism and mythologies, the totems of the phatries, or exogamic moieties of the tribe, were the earliest of all totems. It was these phatry totems that began to be mythologised and thence transformed from real animals into nebulous mythical figures (Tokarev, 1966). Remnants, traces, and echoes of this twin or dualistic mythology are found among peoples in all parts of the world.
Totemism has left its mark on the world’s mythologies and, in one view, the science of mythology represents “…a stage in the evolution of the modern family system.” (Lang, 1895, i), and reflects a mental attitude where man and his world assume a kindred alliance. For the least ancient of the Palaeolithic populations, the Magdelanians, it is not impossible they “…had a mythology in the strict sense of the word: that is to say, that they attributed to certain supernatural beings not only a specific form but specific acts.” (Luquet, 1982). In terms of the origins of totemism the origins of myths were a later accretion because the “…myth making period is of course long after the origin of totemism…” Gomme, 1902). In terms of totemism and myth the ancients always saw man “…as imbedded in nature and dependent on cosmic forces.” (Frankfort, 1961). The ritual approach to the study of mythology presents three related problems, that of origin, that of structure, and that of function. The myth of origin is the aetiological myth and an early form that provides an imaginary explanation of the origin of a custom, a name, or an object. It has been stated that the myth “…is not at first aetiological, it does not arise to give a reason; it is representative, another form of utterance, of expression. When the emotion that started the ritual has died down and the ritual though hallowed by tradition seems unmeaning, a reason is sought in the myth and it is regarded as aetiological.” (Harrison, 1912). A fundamental question arises if myth is a “…product of human imagination arising out of a definite situation and intended to something…” (Hooke, 1976), then what is myth intended to do?
The myth and ritual school asserted the primacy of ritual over myth hypothesis and included Robertson Smith, Frazer, Harrison and Hooke who believed “…every myth is derived from a particular ritual and that the syntagmatic quality of myth is a reproduction of the succession of ritual act.” (Meletinsky, 2000). For Robertson Smith ritual was primary because he postulated that modern religious doctrines had a central doctrine whereas ancient religion had ritual as central. The aetiological interpretation of myth argues that myths originated from attempts to explain the origin, or aetiology of natural phenomena. Again, myth arose from ritual performance or ritual before myth. The ritual from myth school was represented by Tylor who believed myth functioned to explain the world as an end in itself. In this scenario ritual applies the explanation to control the world and thus myth gives rise to ritual (Segal, 2004).
The myth-ritualists Jane Harrison and S. H. Hooke (1874-1968) put forward the idea that there were no distinct prior stages of magic and religion, because they considered “…myth-ritualism the ancient and primitive counterpart to modern science…” (Segal, 2004). Both Harrison and Hooke regarded myth as intimately connected with ritual and thus making myth a narrative description of a corresponding ritual. This implies that the primary meaning of myth is the spoken equivalent of the sacred rite and the thing done. In other words it is asserted that the spoken word, just like the performed ritual, was considered to have magical potency. In magical terms the spoken word had the efficacy of an act. The theories of Harrison and Hooke were consequently applied to the mythology, tragedies, comedies, science and philosophy of ancient Greece, by the classical scholars Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Francis Macdonald Cornford (1874-1943), and Arthur Bernard Cook (1868-1952).
The Greek connection was “…interpreted as latent expressions of the myth of the birth and death of the god of vegetation.” (Segal, 2004), reaffirmed later by the study of mythology being “…based squarely on tree-lore and seasonal observation of life in the fields.” (Graves, 1981). The intimate connection between myth and ritual was postulated by the Hungarian American classicist Gregory Nagy who argued myth was so closely entwined with ritual, or performance, as to be ritualistic itself thus once “…we view myth as performance, we can see that myth itself is a form of ritual: rather than think of myth and ritual separately and only contrastively; we can see them as a continuum in which myth is a verbal aspect of ritual while ritual is a notional aspect of myth.” (Segal, 2004). Beliefs and myths embodied in ritual symbolise life, and those rituals in turn organise that life, regulate its workings so rites “…it is true, were connected with myths, but myths do not, for us, explain rites; rather the rites explain the myths.” (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). Ceremonial gatherings therefore lend a solemn and collective expression to those social sentiments within the community.
Lord Raglan (1885-1964) the English folklore scholar constructed a detailed pattern comprising 22 steps to describe the hero myth. This was then used to link myth with ritual whereby the hero myth is the actual god of the ritual. Essentially, a broadly generalised account of the ritual origins of all myths (Raglan, 1937), and a ritual theory of taboo (Raglan, 1933). For Jennie Weston (1850-1928) myth and ritual for the ancients consisted of the fertility of the land expressed as the fertility of the king (Weston, 1920). In this context the Grail Quest in Arthurian myth and legend represented the rejuvenation of the king The Grail romances represent therefore a misinterpretation of the record of the fertility rite (Hyman, 1958). Psycho-analytical theories of myth and ritual are found in the writings of Sigmund Freud (1856-1938) and Karl Jung (1875-1961) who held that myths are original revelations of a pre-conscious psyche (Graves, 1979). Contemporary Freudian analysis contrasts myths to fairy tales and tends to favour myths over fairy tales thus “…seeing myths as serving the ego or super-ego and seeing fairy tales as serving the id.” (Segal, 2004). In Freud’s view myths parallel dreams and provide the model whereupon Freud and Jung analyse myths. However the difference being that dreams are private but myths are public. The work of Jung on myth appears to increasingly move towards mystic religion and away from psychological analysis despite his insistence on the archetypal identity of myth and symbol (Hyman, 1958). However, the true scientific science and study of myth begins with the study of archaeology, comparative mythology, and history “…not in the psycho-therapist’s consulting room. Though the Jungian’s hold that myths are original revelations of the pre-conscious psyche…” (Graves, vol 1, 1979).
Classical mythology has survived the decline of the two thousand year old religion of which it was originally a component part. Biblical mythology remains a part of the monolithic religion of which it was an original component. It was, however, the French missionary and author Joseph Francois Lafiteau (d. 1740) who was “…perhaps the first writer who ever explained certain features in Greek and other ancient myths and practices as survivals from totemism.” (Lang, i, 1995). It needs to be recognised that “…many of the Greek myths were not native, but imported from Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia.” (Raglan, 1958), which explains the Egyptian origin of many elements of Greek mythology and religion. The study and analysis of Greek mythology must of necessity start with “…consideration of what political and religious systems existed in Europe before the arrival of Aryan invaders from distant North and East.” (Graves, 1979).
For Greek myth, as with all other mythologies, ritual takes priority over myth or theology (Marett, 1907). It is myth that arises out of rite and not the other way around (Harrison, 1912), where myth is “…the spoken correlative of the sacred rite, the thing done; it is to the legomenon as contrasted with or rather as related to to dromenon.” (Hyman, 1958). In Greek this is expressed as ‘ta legomena epi tois dromenois’ translated as ‘the things said over a ritual act’.
Important survivals in Greek mythology are the amours of Zeus in the guise of an animal, and a number of noble families trace their origin to Zeus and Apollo (Lang, 1893). Zeus as bull, serpent, tortoise, ant, or swan had seduced the mother of the race The reference to Mother of the Race means the mother of the Arcadians who became a she-bear similar to the mother of the Iroqouis bear-stock a notion where “…an anthropomorphic god or hero succeeds to the exploits of animals, of theriomorphic gods and heroes the most common in mythology…” (Lang, 1893). In totemic mythology Zeus became a swan in order to seduce Leda and represents a fable that “…must have arisen in a group of tribes which had the swan for their totem.” (Reinach, 1909).The twins of Leda were winged horse, Diooscuri Castor and Pollux, originally seen as swans who made their appearances in the theophanies. A theophany is the appearance of gods to humankind that occurs throughout Greek mythology. Daphne who was pursued by Apollo was transformed into a laurel whose leaves are used to inspire prophetic delirium. This was a rite associated with the worship of Apollo. Later, the Greek clans on becoming nations bore totemic animal names such as the Myrmidons or ants, and the Arcadians or bears. In Phrygia and Parium were found clans called the snake-born, and a snake clan lived at Psylli, and Dionysus the god who shifted shape between a snake, a lion, and wild bull (Harrison, 1927). In such a way Greece “…preserved traditions of tribes which believed that they were related to certain noxious creatures.” (Reinach, 1909). Two other totemic clans were the goat-totem tribesmen or Satyrs, and the horse-totem tribesmen or Centaurs.
Following the triumph of anthropomorphism certain deities are found to have the heads or bodies of animals. A popular belief in ancient India and Greece was metempsychosis and is an extreme consequence of totemism. As such it is the belief in the transmigration and eventual reincarnation of the soul. Primitive sacrifices are perpetuated in ritual and to understand ritual origins it is necessary to “…bear in mind two essential elements of totemic rites: masquerade and adoption of a name…the object of the sacrifice of the totem was to deify the faithful who took part in it…” (Reinach, 1909). Simulation or masquerade is imitative magic and examples are ritual marriages which are known as simulacra or hierogamies. Examples of such masquerades are baptism which is a simulacra of drowning, and similarly ‘taking the veil’ and ‘veiling brides’ represent dying. Ritual practices and religious feasts where raw flesh was consumed were called omophagies.
In ancient Greek religion such masquerade and imitation is found among the Maenads who dressed themselves in the skins of fawns, as well as maidens from Athens who dressed as, and called themselves, bears when worshipping Bear-Artemis. In ancient Greece the first kings were also priests, and magistrates and family heads also continued to carry out religious rites and ceremonies. Priestesses or prophetesses of Dodona were called doves and those of Artemis were bees implying they “…had their origin in totemic forms of worship which these creatures were the objects.” (Reinach, 1909). The hero Heracles is perceived as a lion in Lydia and is depicted wearing a lion’s skin. Orpheus the fox is shown wearing a fox skin on his head, and is the sacred fox torn to pieces by women of the fox tribe. These women are the Bassarides from bassareus the ancient name for the fox. The Tritons adorn themselves with the bodies of fish and Phigalian Demeter wears a horse’s head. The same Demeter whose chief animal was the mountain lion and chief bird the dove. Demeter and her daughter Persephone were, like Astarte of Byblos, originally sows. Sacrifice is attested by the great stag Actaeon being sacrificed by women who refer to themselves as the great doe and little does. Pentheus the fawn is killed in like manner and also represents the fact that the ritual represents the killing and eating of the god. Such echoes of totemic practice and mythic belief can be readily understood within the clan structure of ancient Greece rather than the demonstrably unsound “…blind up-rushes of the Jungian collective unconscious, to which no precise meaning had ever, could ever, have been attached…” (Graves, 1979).
Ancient Greek anthropomorphism progressed to the sacrifice of a victim in the guise of a gift and represents the vestiges of the communal totemic sacrifice and feast. It was not the consumption of the animal or totemic object but its ritual absorption. Examples include sacred flour and a divine drink, and suckling pigs in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Greek mysteries were in essence initiation ceremonies with those of Eleusis functioning in the classical period apparently mere survivals. The mystery of Eleusis involved a food taboo because its participants abstained from chicken sacred to the goddess (Krappe, 1942). Hippolytus, who rejected the love of Phaedra, dies the victim of terrified horses, and thus Hippolytus “…means in Greek ‘torn by horses’. Hippolytus was himself a horse, whom the worshippers of the horse, disguised themselves as horses, tore to pieces and ate.” (Reinach, 1909). Lycurgus is also torn to pieces by wild horses or, more accurately, by the priestesses of the Mare-headed goddess (Graves, 1979). In primitive mythology the eagle was the bird who mounted the sun and took fire from it as a gift to man. It was Prometheus who stole fire from heaven and gave it to man and in punishment was nailed to a rock in order for an eagle to devour his liver. Eagles are regarded as immune to thunderbolts and as aetri (eagles) are the pediments on Greek temples. Sacrificed animals, whether real or in effigy, represent ancient totems and the associated rites are totemic sacrifices. The son of Apollo was Phaeton the Brilliant who drove the chariot of the sun but who fell into the sea. His demise was celebrated annually at Rhodes with the casting of a chariot and white horse into the sea. The influx into ancient Greece of increased slave numbers as well as foreign traders allowed the reception of forms of religion which were different from the accepted creeds. These religions were more acceptable to the foreigners, slaves, and women. An example is the invasion of Athens by the Phrygian called Sabazios, the Syrian Aphrodite, and the Thracian Cotytta.
The primitive mythos only makes sense as a ‘pre-human’ construction where the non-human proceeds to the inhuman and thence to the ante-human, to be changed eventually into the anti-human. Archaic peoples confused the stars in the firmament with animals. For them the mute dog star is transformed into the barking dog or howling jackal. In other words the constellations become serpents, and the moon is seen as a cat and seer of the night. This mythos shows a pre-totemic and mythical relationship between man and beast, making proto-totemism a complex older, the original in time. (Jensen, 1963). For Malinowski myth was not an artistic imagery or intellectual explanation, but “…a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.” (1926), implying that originally a myth “…is not to begin with and necessarily ‘aetiological’; its object is not at first to give a reason; that notion is part of the old rationalist fallacy that saw in primitive man the leisured and eager enquirer…” (Harrison, 1927).
In archaic society women were regarded as witches because of assumed powers of reproduction and production. Their powers of procreation determined them, as sorcerers and witches, and thus the predecessors of the goddesses. As fertility goddesses or as Mother Earth, women brought forth food in abundance, they bore children, and as the spinners and weavers of human destiny they became the ‘Fates’, the ‘Graces’, and the ‘Charities’. Regardless of the names bestowed on women – Pot or Venus, witch, or goddess – in the beginning they were the original mother governesses of the matriarchy. Through their ‘mysterious’ powers women controlled fire, established settlements, and administered the social behaviour of men. However, with the passage to patriarchy some of the witches were transmuted to goddesses, as well as subordinate companions or wives to the gods. Eventually, during the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, the original goddesses and female deities were replaced by male figures (Reed, 1974). With the passage of time original rituals and ceremonies died out “…while myths survive…we are left to infer the dead ceremony from the living myth.” (Frazer, 1927).
For Graves (1979) the Greek myths referred to “…archaic magic-makings that promoted the fertility or stability of the sacred queendom or kingdom”, an ideological imperative suggesting that “…the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-Goddess or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age…” (Graves, 1981). In ritual terms for the ancient Greeks a mythos “…was primarily just a thing spoken, uttered by the mouth. Its antithesis or rather correlative is the thing done, enacted…” (Harrison, 1927), emphasising in its primary sense mythos is the said, spoken, chanted rather than acted. For Frazer (1927) many myths had their origin and counterpart in magic and were intended “…to be acted as a means of producing in fact the events which they describe in figurative language.” Myth considered relative to religion, can also be contrasted to ritual where the “…primary meaning of myth in religion is just the same as in early literature; it is the spoken correlative of the acted rite, the thing done…” (Harrison, 1927). Ritual participation and a regular repetition possesses a fixity in ritual. This is important and essential for the development of ritual into art, from the dromenon to drama. Following on from this the rudimentary conceptions of the natural world “…found expression on the one hand, in the form of magic, which served as an illusory technique of production supplementing the deficiencies of the real technique, and, on the other, in the form of myths, which began as nothing more than the oral accompaniment to the magical act, but developed gradually into a rudimentary theory of reality.” (Thomson, 1977).
At this juncture it can be seen that totemism has been interpreted in many ways. Three totemic features can be found in the evolution of the human mind set. Firstly: the universality of totemism among groups of humanity whose lifestyle is that of the hunter-gatherer; (2) totemism demands a cognitive awareness in thinking about people, animals and plants; (3) totemism appears to have been pervasive in human social organisation, according to the evidence of archaeology, since the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic (Mithen, 1998).
12. Totemic Survivals and Folklore
Modern folklore contains and provides numerous examples of totemism and “…recurrent patterns of kinship, pagan, and Christian names can be found not only in Italy, but practically everywhere in Europe.” (Alinei, 1985), and indeed much of so-called modern folk literature can be even older than some ancient myths (Propp, 1946). Survivals of totemism in folklore were subjected to a special study because “…folklore contained some remarkably perfect examples of totemic belief and custom…” (Gomme, 1908), with a considerable distribution of beliefs and customs connected with animals and plants. The classification of these echoes and survivals undoubtedly led back to a totemic origin. Many common and surviving forms of ancient myths explain misunderstood totemic customs. Relationships between people and their totems, regarded as old ideas, are not lost sight of because they remain as beliefs in lucky or unlucky animals. Omens are still drawn from their inadvertent appearance or based on old totem beliefs in the divinity of animals. In the 1930’s Soviet scholars “…grounded the study of myth and ritual in folklore and in the world view of popular culture.” (Meletinsky, 2000). Outworn archaic cults exhibit vestiges in preserved and traceable ceremonies in most of the advanced religions (Kuper, 1988) and such survivals represent fossils of cultural institutions. An example is the opinion of Tylor who regarded sacrifice, or the ritual of sacrifice, as the preservation of primitive religious notions, such totemic survivals mean “…that some rite, or institution, or other feature of totemism continues to exist amongst people who have once been, but no longer are, totemists.” (Jevons,1899). The echoes of ancient totemic beliefs in folklore require an anthropological interpretation in order to explain their survival which has been clearly stated as “…custom and tradition must have preserved many relics of totemism, and that so far from seeking to explain custom and tradition by the theory of totemism, we must seek to explain the survival of totemism by custom and tradition.” (Gomme, 1908). Not only are many clan names derived ultimately from ancient totemic associations, but also the “…superstitious belief that the tribes were descended from the animals from which their names and crests or badges were derived.” (Elton, 1882).
Even though some may think totemism may not have existed universally it must have originated in one of several places and under particular circumstances (Read, 1920), with most earliest totems being animals. The antiquity of totemism is known with the Egyptian deities Hathor and Anubis being formerly totemic. It is also considered that Palaeolithic carvings and cave paintings had a totemic significance. With regard to civilisation it is recognised that totemic beliefs and practices were well established in all areas where civilisation emerged, thus for example ancient Greek mythology is replete with allusions to totemism. So, it is apparent that vestigial elements “…of totemism are well-nigh universal in historic and modern human societies, supporting the idea of a very early origin.” (Russell, 1976). With regard to the persistence of totemism in civilisation it has to be seen that the essentials of totemism survived “…the transition from hunting and food-gathering to settled farming life in villages.” (Russell, 1976). It was when clan totems became the emblems of districts and territories. The development of city-states led to the considerable modification of the forms totemic system and organisation. Gomme (1908) suggests that if a “…reasonable proportion of the superstitions and customs attaching to animals and plants; preserved in folklore…” then we we can assume “…the origin of such superstitions and customs is to be sought for in a primitive system of totemism…”. It is reasonable to conclude therefore, as well as prove, that “…certain customs and superstitions are identical, or nearly so, with the beliefs and customs of totemism…this identity of form provides an identity…” (Gomme, 1908).
With regard to the British Isles for example a certain number of customs and beliefs attached to animals and plants are preserved in folklore, suggesting “…the origin…superstitions and customs is to be sought for in a primitive system of totemism which prevailed amongst the people once occupying these islands.” (Gomme, 1908).
Amongst the ancient Britons, as in ancient Ireland, there were “…certain restrictions…by which particular nations or tribes were forbidden to kill or eat certain kinds of animals.” (Elton, 1882). We can infer, from the evidence, that totemism existed among the tribes who conquered Britain, and this proves “…that the totem organisation, though surviving as a name-system was at its very last stage of existence.” (Gomme, 1889). Relics of totemism are to be found in Britain and its proof of existence is provided by: (1) clans or tribes named after an animal; (2) the concept that clan members are of the blood eponym animal and ; (3) ascription to the totem of a sacred character, so that a totem animal is regarded with veneration, and not used as ordinary food (Gomme, 1889).
For Gomme (1889) the characteristic features of a “…totem tribe, in its tribal or local form, must of course have become scattered under the crushing influence of a thousand years of civilising powers”. In what became Anglo-Saxon England the Teutonic invaders are known to have possessed traces of Germanic clans. The first Germanic invaders were led by Hengist and Horsa which mean stallion and mare. From these clan names, or totem names, come the Horsings or ‘sons of the mare’ as well as Horsington in Lincolnshire and Somerset (Plender Leith, 1881). Also Horstead and Horstead Keynes with Horsham and Horsley having a similar provenance. The son of Hengest was called Aesc which means the ‘ash’ from the totemic tribe of his mother or the Aescings (Gomme, 1889), as well as hinting at a matrilinearity. From this origin comes Ashenden in Buckinghamshire, plus Ash in Durham, Gloucester, Shropshire, as well as Ashingon in Northumberland. Other Germanic totemic names are: Berings meaning bear; Buccings meaning buck; Bercings meaning birch; and the Wolfings meaning sons of wolves. The totem name wolf can be found in Beowulf and Ethelwulf proving “…the Anglo-Saxons had totem…clans.” (Gomme, 1889).
In British folklore plants also occur as totems as well as in the Ardennes and Antrim where there was a prohibition against removing old rowan trees, thus the “…protection of the trees upon a purely totemic basis.” (Lyall, 1882). Another well known English superstition is the one where “…the maypole and the mistletoe are supposed to be relics of early Celtic tree-worship.” (Lyall, 1882). Again, these are further examples that totem clans once existed in ancient Britain – from whence we have today extraordinary examples exemplified in folklore. The assumption of totem-marks and totem-clan customs is often seen in totem-formed settlement, where the totem serves as a surname. In this sense the origin of a totem village is one where “…those who bore the same totem had their distinct quarters in the village, and set up their device on the posts of their gates (Abrahall, 1864). The conclusion is that the roots of English superstitions and customs are to be found in the archaic system of totemism ”…which once prevailed among the tribes occupying these islands.” (Gomme, 1889). Local cults are often connected to totemic reverence. Totemism was affected by the introduction of Christianity. In other words a religion supplanted echoes totemic, therefore “…the distinct totem-belief, where totemism has grown into a religious cult, that no change takes place in the totem-object…” (Gomme, 1889). Therefore both folklore and archaeology pay testament to the totemic survivals in Britain and their incorporation in later Christian festivals and sacred sites.
Totemic survivals and echoes are to be located in the quasi-totemic personal names found in Wales (Palmer, 1889). In Welsh the prefix cyn means dog from which is derived Gwrgi or Man-dog; Cynfarch or Dog-horse; Cynfran as Dog-crow; Maelgwn or Hero-dog; Hoywgi as Sprightly-dog; and Cyngen or Dog-born. In terms of Arthurian legend Arthgen means Bear-born, and Arthflaidd means Bear-wolf. The name Gwrfarch means Man-horse and Llewfarch is Lion-horse, with Llewfran meaning Lion-crow. Birds are evidenced by the name Bran which means crow and also occurring as Morfran or cormorant and Corfran or jackdaw. The name Haiarn-gen means Iron-born, Sulgen means Sun-horse, Gwrgeneu is Man-whelp, Morgeneu is Sea-whelp, and Gwyn-geneu is White-whelp. It is also apparent that two animal names are sometimes combined to form a single personal name. Parallels in ancient totemic belief and practice are seen with the Druids to whom ravens were sacred birds and they domesticated them for purposes of auguries obtained from its croaking (O’Curry, 1873). I ancient Wales it was believed that King Arthur was still living in the form of a raven (Gomme, 1889). The chirping of wrens were also used in Druidic divination and which was also domesticated for this purpose. In the mythology of the Druids the the sanctuary “…of one of the great druidic gods was presided over by the deity in the shape of a bull.” (Elton, 1882), but sometimes by a sow and the chief priest was perceived as a bull.
Tribal and kinship totemism is shown by the survival of totem kindreds in Western Europe which “…proves from survivals in folklore that totemistic people once lived in ancient Ireland…” (Gomme, 1908), as well as archaic forms of totemic survival in Britain. The word ‘clann’ means ‘children’ in the Irish and Scottish languages with the Gaelic term for clan being ‘fine’. The heroic and divine groups of ancient Ireland were named after the mother, not the father. For example in Ireland the children of Danu and Don were the men of Dommu, and similarly Anu as mother of the gods gave the Buanann of the heroes. According to the ancient Irish sagas the earliest colonists of Ireland were women, and it follows that in the sagas the gods and heroes often have matronymics rather than patronymics. The father’s name was often omitted giving, for example, Lug mac Ethnead and Cochobar mac Nessa. Again there was Indech son of De Domnann, as well as Corpre, the son of Etain. There was also the parallel custom of referring to men after their wives as with the son of Fergus being called Fer Tiachtga. In other words he was Tiachtga’s husband. In the ancient sagas high places were accorded to the goddesses as heroines. Such women often selected their own lovers or husbands. On the whole the evidence and customs of the early Irish sagas indicates the existence of totemism and the matriarchate amongst the early Celts. The Claddagh fisherman of Galway will not go out to fish if they see a fox. They still retain the old clan attire of blue cloaks and red petticoats. They take their names from fish which include Jake the Hake, Bill the Cod, Pat the trout, Joe the eel, and Matt the Turbot (Gomme, 1889). In the West of Ireland it is unlucky to kill a magpie. One superstition of totemic origin and ancestor worship is the belief that the souls of dying people take the shape of birds and animals. Similarly in Ballymoger butterflies are seen as the souls of one’s grandfathers.
Descent from the totem was an important component of belief. The ancient name of Long Island is Innis Cat or the island of the cat or catey, and this can be traced among people with Cat Taobh and Cat Side in Sutherlandshire (Gomme, 1889). In Caithness the Cat Nis and the Chatten clan are regarded as descendants of the cat or catey. In addition the Clunie of Perthshire had the superstition that cats, hares, and magpies were able to shape shift into humans. This reminds us of the belief that witches could take the form of cats, hares as their familiars. In old witchcraft trials a toad was baptised in vertain places for magical purposes, being kept fed, and adorned with ribbons (Dalyell, 1834). In Scotland, and also Ireland, certain districts have a fish taboo and it “…seems reasonable to connect the rule of abstaining from certain kinds of food with the superstitious belief that tribes were descended from the animals from which their names and crests or badges were derived.” (Elton, 1882). The common white butterfly is a favourite in West Scotland (Napier, 1879), as well as being unlucky to kill the dark brown or spotted butterfly (Gomme, 1889). Again, in North East Scotland it is unlucky to shoot a cat, and as early as the seventeenth century there was an aversion to eating pigs (Dalyell, 1834). In common with Sussex, East and North Yorkshire Ridings, and in Scotland one may not injure a swallow.
13. Totemic Echoes and Whisperings
With regard to totemic survivals and echoes of totemism in folklore one needs to account for how early groups got their totem names. In terms of folklore survivals it is a fact that “…Morgan has shown us totemic society in its highest form of development, untouched by other influences of sufficient consequence to divert its natural evolution.” (Gomme, 1908). Important survivals are found in Greek mythology where Zeus occurs in animal forms, where many noble families traced their origin to Zeus or Apollo who “…as a bull, tortoise, serpent, swans or ant, had seduced the mother of the race.” (Lang, 1893). The implication is a connection between a kindred and an animal, plant, or other object where ancient clans “…invent the explanatory myths of descent from, and kinship…with, the name-giving objects.” (Burne, 1902). An archaic example is the Mother of the Arcadians became a she-bear, as did the mother of the bear stock of the Iroquois (Lang, 1893). At this early stage of human thought and belief the recognition flows of a “…mysterious connection between men and the plants and animals from which they were named.” (Burne, 1902). Echoes of totemism are shown by the existence of clans and tribes named after plants and animals; plus the prevalence of the conception that kindred members are of blood descent from the eponymous animal; and that the totem is regarded as sacred in character (Smith, 1903).
Grant Allen, it has been pointed out “…has sought for totem names in some of the tribal and clan names of the early English…his suggested derivation of these names are most likely ultimately to prove correct.” (Gomme, 1885). Early Anglo-Saxon settlements show the clan Billings and Arlings are derived from animals and plants scattered by the totemic organisation (Lang, 1893). Some among the Anglo-Saxons and German tribes had sacred animals with, for example the boar sacred to the goddess Freya, and bearing or wearing a figure of a boar was said to propitiate the goddess (Gomme, 1889). In Great Crosby in Lancashire there is the Annual Goose Fair where “…the goose itself…is considered too sacred to eat…” (Notes and Queries, 1901; Dyer, 1900). In Nidderdale the local people considered the nightjar to embody the souls of unbaptised infants. In Hampshire it was thought unlucky to kill a cuckoo or swift, and in South Northamptonshire the robin was considered sacred. The same superstition is found in the West of Scotland and Lancashire where it may not be killed. In Wales there are examples in early poems, including Aneurin’s Goddoddin, of warrior totemic disguises at the Battle of Cattraeth. These included tribes of wolves, bears, and ravens (Skeene, 1876-80). Warriors included the followers of Cian the Dog known as ‘dogs of war’. In some parts of Wales hares represent Saint Monacella’s Lambs and as such must not be killed (Gomme, 1889).
The eponymous ancestor of the Scots clans was the woman called Scota. In Scotland the Caledonians and other Picts were tattooed with divers kinds of figures and animals.” (Gomme, 1889) compared to the Southern Britons who were marked with figures of different animals. In addition animal skins were used as disguises which is explained as survivals of old clan totems and festivals. Similarly the ancient Britons dressed in animal skins in battle. According to Frazer “…in order to to put himself more fully under the protection of the totem, the clansman is in the habit of assimilating himself to the totem by dressing in the skin or other part of the totem animal (Frazer, 1887; Gomme, 1889).n Scotland there are several totem-named clans. An early Gaelic poem mention the ‘cat tribe’ and ‘dog tribe’ (Gomme, 1889), and hund or hind was the name of a chieftain. Clans in the Scottish highlands wear individual tribal bonnet badges, including the fir or pine of the Grant’s, the juniper of the Macleod’s, and yew of the Frazer’s. The Mackenzie’s sported the holly, the Macdonald’s had the heath or heather, and for the Mackintosh’s the box (Gomme, 1889). One restriction against injuring a totem is not to mention its name. Therefore, in North East Scotland it is not allowed to be spoken of at sea. Several Scottish villages do not mention pigs when at sea and the salmon is never spoken about. Similar prohibitions exist for dogs, the trout, and the green crab.
Many of the names of early and ancient Irish kings are purely totemic. For example : Cougall the white or brilliant hound; the royal hound of Conaig a Mor; Curoi or hound-king; Cuchulain the hound of Culain; Conaill or noble hound; Cucorb or chariot hound; and the hounds’ whelp of Conboch (Gomme, 1889). However, the name of an Irish king was Cairbar of the Cat’s Head. The MacMahons regarded themselves as sons of bears, as well as the griffin, calves, and red deer, so it would seem that the tribes took their names from those animals, with Ogham scribed stones citing muc (Skeene, 1876; O’Curry, 1873; Elton, 1882). Tabulation of the totem objects in Ireland starts with the wolf and the seal (Gomme, 1889), there being a remarkable echo in Ossory. There descent from the totem animal was assumed with recognition of the sacredness of the totem. In Connemara the cuckoo is sacred, and in Mayo the souls of virgins who led remarkable lives are thought enshrined as swans.
The Isle of Man has a name which is totemic in origin and is “…most probably derived from the tribe of people who first inhabited the island, namely the Manninee…” (Gomme, 1889), and are philologically linked to the tribal names of Mevania, the Manavia, the Monagia, the Monavia, the Menagia, and Menavia, and the Menapia. Among these peoples will be found the tribes of the Menevii in Britain and the Menapil of Ireland and it was the Manninee who emigrated to and colonised the Isle of Man. The Manninee denotes the tribe or clan of the kid or fawn because in ancient Erse and Brythonic the word mannan means kid or fawn (Harrison, 1881).
In fairy tales there occurs the motif of the estrangement of a man and his fairy wife e.g., Swan Maidens and Beauty and the Beast, with such stories “…of this sort told by totemic peoples to explain their totemic taboos …sprang directly or indirectly from the cycle of ideas and customs which centre around the institution of totemism.” (Frazer, 1903). All these echoes and archaic forms are examples of the proof and survival of totemism (Smith, 1903), that require enquiry into the decayed and scattered remnants of totemic beliefs and customs. In such tales as totemic survivals are fond references to shape shifting, bestial or vegetable changes to human form and back, reflecting infringements of taboos. Such stories “…explained naturally and simply on the supposition that they referred originally to husbands and women who, under a system of totemism and exogamy, would claim kindred with animals or plants…the husband assimilating himself to one sort of creature and the wife to another.” (Frazer, 1927). Celtic animal worship dates back to the period of primitive hunting and pastoral activities. It was a time when people worshipped the very animals they hunted and herded. A time also when care was taken to protect especial sacred animals who were not herded but domesticated. Archaic sacramental killing survived in the religious aspect of winter slaughter. Such customs survived with the development of agriculture which became an art in the hands of women and the consequent cult of the Earth-mother. It is therefore apparent that with regard to many a survival in folklore that “…the ancient significance of the custom as a magical ceremony designed to direct the course of nature has almost wholly obscured by a thick after-growth of legend and myth.” (Frazer, 1927). In consideration of witchcraft and the sexes the power of witchcraft is “…universally regarded as appertaining to women. The witch is a woman, the wizard is but a male imitation of the original wielder of magic power…every woman, wherever magic powers are believed in, is credited with the possession of those powers because she is a woman.” (Briffault, 1931).
At this juncture it can be seen that totemism has been interpreted in many ways. Three totemic features can be found in the evolution of the human mind set. Firstly: the universality of totemism among groups of humanity whose lifestyle is that of the hunter-gatherer; (2) totemism demands a cognitive awareness in thinking about people, animals and plants; (3) totemism appears to have been pervasive in human social organisation, according to the evidence of archaeology, since the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic (Mithen, 1998).
Totemism is not a one way relationship of dependence upon the numinous because the totem requires sacred rituals to provide strength and fecundity (Lewis, 1969), therefore totem, tabu, and ritual are indissoluble parts of an independent and dynamic relationship. Totemic institutions imply exogamy, mimetic magic, and zoomorphic ancestor worship (Thomson, 1978). With modern hunter-gatherers the totemic clan system collapsed, leaving only: (1) a sense of kinship motivated by common descent; (2) a distinctive ancestral cult; (3) the practice of exogamy; and (4) a formal taboo on particular species; and (5) the proliferation of totemic myths (Thomson, 1978). It is their much attenuated persistence and prevalence that “…various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity.” (Hawkes, 1965).
The phenomenon of totemism and its origin is exemplified by the evidence from Australia and North America where five defining characteristics can be identified, and these are: (1), composed of bands or clans of men and women each united among themselves by kinship real or imagined; (2) the clan is distinguished by the name of a species of animal or plant; (3) the species or object which gives it its name to the clan is conceived as related to the can, and to every member of it; (4) such species or object is usually subject of a religious or quasi-religious emotion, therefore every individual specimen is the subject of taboos; (5) the members of the clan are entitled to mutual defence, protection, resentment of injustice, and clan members may not marry within the clan. (Hartland, 1908-1926). These features and characteristics are general and vary to some extent from clan to clan, tribe to tribe, area to area, through epochs, stages of social evolution, and therefore through and across time. In the study of the origins of totemism we must see how “…necessary it is to separate totemism at its beginning from totemism it its most advanced stages.” (Gomme, 1908). From the beginning myth and symbol, or myth and totemism, were twin brothers and, it terms of thinking it is “…the mode more than the matter which makes the mythos.” (Massey, 1888). Totemism is the other side of the human and animal coin because it “…involves embedding human groups and individuals within the natural world.” (Mithen, 1998), and is epitomised by tracing descent from non-human species, and for tribal hunters and gatherers operating clan exogamy, the “…study of natural species provided non-literate and pre-scientific groups with a ready-to-hand means of conceptualising relations between groups.” (Willis, 1990).
It appears there is no single definition of totemism because “…totemism and its taboos permeated the whole of savage society and passed through a long evolution.” (Reed, 1986). The following points result naturally from the concept of totemism: (1) no individual can belong to more than one totem or clan, and the clan is based on either mother-right or father-right; (2) totemism depends on the blood tie, the totem animal descends from animals, moreover the family develops from totemism as does the clan- based organisation; (3) the totem clan is of necessity exogamous witth such exogamy universal because no animal can may itself. The system is found among American Iroquois, the Omaha, Pawnee, Nayandot, the Caddo, and the Southern and British Columbian tribes, as well as the northern tribes such as the Tlingit (Kohler, 1975). Also it has been pointed out that “…totemism has not spread everywhere, or evenly, and that it has not survived equally in all regions.” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952). Australian Aborigines possess the oldest tribal groups to survive which determines “…whether or not totemism existed as a fundamental phase of social development.” (Lindsay, 1965). It is the forms of American, African and Polynesian tribal organisation that exhibit the type of disintegrating totemism that we can now see developing. Therefore it is impossible, considering the ways of cultural and social development, to expect an identity of pattern in groups at such different levels as Australian, American, Asian and Polynesian tribes (Lindsay, 1965). Totemism is a phenomenon consisting of ideas, practices and symbolic meanings derived from the assumed relationship or connection between an animal or plant known as a totem and a social group or individual. These totemic systems are well known amongst the Australian Aborigines and Native Americans, as well as in Africa, Malaysia and Guinea. It is in Australia alone, however, where the search for a consistent and complete totemic system must be carried out.
In totemic society descent is traced to an original totemic ancestor, and where taboos against the killing, eating, or touching the totem are prohibited. Individuals therefore, as members of a totemic group regard themselves as partially identified with or even assimilated to their totem. The basis of totemism is the specificity of the relationship between people and the power of nature. Within totemism as a primitive social system or form of social organisation, clan members reckon kinship through their mothers. However, totemism is no longer thought of as a religion. In economic terms totem plants and animals were originally useful resource species. There may be, nonetheless, a religious relationship in totemism involving elements of animism or ancestor cults. In this case worship may involve a plant or animal seen as a master. It is worthy of note that in the Old Testament there occur many names of places and personal names derived from animals and plants. Again, the totem symbolises or identifies a group that shares a common interest or unity.
At this juncture it can be seen that totemism has been interpreted in many ways. Three totemic features can be found in the evolution of the human mind set. Firstly: the universality of totemism among groups of humans whose lifestyle is that of the hunter-gatherer; secondly, totemism demands a cognitive awareness in thinking about people, animals and plants; thirdly, totemism appears to have been pervasive in human social organisation, according to the evidence of archaeology, since the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic, so that we can “…presume that totemism has been universal for it has been found in America,, in Australia, in ancient Egypt, among the Eskimos, and traces have been found of it among the Greeks, the Romans, the Celts, and the Germans. The clan, composed of related groups, appears to have had the same universality.” (Renard, 1929).
Totemism represents fusion, a state of non-differentiation that reflects in a very primitive way a manner of thought and feeling. It reflects aggregation and group unity based on similarity and sympathy. In other words it stresses participation with the non-human world. Totemism proper is practised essentially by hunter-gatherer peoples with their totems linking them to a non-empirical world that allows them to believe in the unity between them and their everyday world (Cooper, 1995). In such a world matrilinear forms of social life are primary with other forms as deviations or examples of disintegration (Lindsay, 1965). Henceforth we have the appearance of internecine strife, primitive fraternities, the emergence of chiefs with hierarchical systems that lead to property and class stratifications. In these circumstances the totems become mere crests, badges, animal familiars that symbolise private property. With modern hunter-gatherers the totemic clan system has collapsed, leaving only: (1) a sense of kinship motivated by common descent; (2) a distinctive ancestral cult; (3) practice of exogamy; (4) a formal taboo on particular species, and; (5) proliferation and prevalence of totemic myths (Thomson, 1978). It is their persistence and prevalence (much attenuated) that “…various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity.” (Hawkes, 1965).
In spite of the fact that with totemism there may appear to be a strong religious undercurrent (Hawkes, 1965) people nonetheless felt an affection for, and kinship with, their own totem because both were assumed to share descent from a common ancestor. The progenitor was often a figure of ambivalence with both animal and human aspects. The animal standards of ancient Egypt were certainly totemic survivals. Other popular cults enjoyed communion expressed through the sacramental consumption of a divine animal reflected, for example, in the ceremony of Dionysos the Bull and Christ the Lamb (Lindsay, 1965). In the totemic stage of social development man “…rarely sets himself as an individual over and against the world around him.” (Harrison, 1927), and therefore considers not the difference between ‘me’ and ‘not me’. In order to make sense ot totemism, and also taboo, it becomes necessary to avoid “…the uncritical ragbag method of Frazer and the disproving demolition exercises of the Americans.” (Lindsay, 1965). In addition some modern anthropologists have dismissed totemism and kinship as fragments in the minds of earlier anthropologists with the topic suffering an “…evaporation of anthropological categories…” where the subject is now “…in the hands of confused and desperate men.” (Reed, 1978).
Totemism is of great importance for the study of the problem of the nature of social development. Various aspects of totemistic thought continued up to the development of civilisation. For example half human and half-animal gods of ancient Egypt seem to be totemic survivals. Similarly exogamous systems carry on in tribal societies up to the beginnings of city life (Lindsay, 1965). The existence of cults and communion by means of partaking of the divine animal in sacramental rituals is shown by those of Dionysos the Bull and Jesus the Lamb. The ritual of eating a wafer and drinking the red wine in the ritual of the Christian mass symbolises the body and blood of their sacrificed god, and represents an attenuated form of eating the totem. Despite the superficial view of Levi-Strauss (1969) as a form of organisation “…totemism was indispensable in liberating humans from the hazards of primeval existence, enabling them to join together as sisters and brothers in social life and labour.” (Reed, 1967).
It cannot be taken for granted that the social organisation of modern tribes is fully totemic because “…the economic and material culture of these tribes has been arrested at a stage of development Europeans passed through some ten thousand years ago, their mental development stopped dead at the same point.” (Childe, 1936). In common with every historical social institution “…totemism carries within itself the element of decay…” (Kohler, 1975), and that the social organisation of tribes has therefore not remained static, because they have carried on developing in directions determined by prevailing and modern relations of production (Thomson, 1978). The decay and disintegration is one where clans split, for sub-clans the originality is forgotten, and what remains of totemism is “…a general tribal system, which however, in the end has only mythological and cosmic interest.” (Kohler, 1975). Once the totemic system enters its decline and begins to break down compartmentalism also declines and thus “…the band of magicians, and later the individual medicine-man or medicine-king begin to claim control over the food supply and over fertility in general…” (MacKenzie, 1995). The magician-king becomes the wielder of power relying on specialism and individualisation, with eventually this omnipotence extended to attempting to control the weather. Another factor operating against totemism was the individual totemism, the Manitu or “…belief that each individual has a protective animal, which may be more or less freely chosen.” (Kohler, 1975). For example in Malaysia there is a form of individual totemism based on dreams, with strong taboos against killing, or eating, and entire species of spirit animals. Nonetheless, as is seen in folk survivals and the echoes seen in custom totems still reflect numerous traditions as “…actual survivals of totemism or as relics of the ideology, tenacious became so deeply rooted, which totemic practices have generated.” (Thomson, 1978).
Totemism, as a process of social progress that includes animal domestication, agriculture, the abandonment of hunting in favour of pastoralism, transitions that “…were due to totemism and could not have occurred without it.” (Newberry, 1934), this implies that “…unless we realise the origin and nature of the totemic system, we cannot understand with any adherence the cultural phases of civilised life.” (Lindsay, 1965). Against this background of cultural diffusion operated in all ages, and its affects are cumulative (Thomson, 1978). Totem animals and plants which were not used themselves for food were seen as guardians of the clan. The persistent belief of ancient humankind in the totemic stage is that he is an animal, he is a kangaroo, a wolf, a bear, and thus “…has in fact obscured the other and main factor in totemism, the unity of the human group.” (Harrison, 1967). Over time the “…totemism that circled around the globe had then for its material results the taming of animals and the cultivation of crops.” (Newberry, 1934). Prior to this stage, known as the time of non-human objects, the human group saw itself in a special relationship with another group, a relation “…between the human and non-human group is so close as to be best figured by kinship, unity of blood, and is expressed in terms of an actual identity.” (Harrison, 1927). T must not be overlooked that each totem group had the responsibility of maintaining and controlling some aspect of nature. From this connection the totemic clan took its name showing that totemism was “…an organised and cooperative system of magic designed to secure for the members of the community on the one hand, a plentiful supply of all the communities of which they stand in need, and…immunity…struggle with nature.” (Frazer, 1899).
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