• W. Brede Kristensen


“Totem” is a word from the Algonquin language, and it means the object, whether animal or plant or something else, which is viewed as the divine representative and bearer of the life of a particular group of people (a tribe or clan). The relationship is of such a kind that the group takes for its name the name of the totem. Totemism was first observed among the American Indians at the end of the eighteenth century; later, about the middle of the nineteenth century, similar ideas were found among the Australian aborigines. In the decade between 1870 and 1880, these ideas were also discovered among other peoples. Whether it is also demonstrable among the Indo-European peoples depends on what one understands by totemism. The most abundant and trustworthy material comes from Australia and America. In 1887 Frazer wrote the first comprehensive survey, Totemism. This book is solely descriptive, and the same is true of the four volume work in which it was later included (Totemism and Exogamy, 1910).1 This too is only a collection of data. The first one who tried to penetrate to the heart of the phenomenon was Robertson Smith in his classic Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (1889).2


Sacred Animal Essential Identity Native Tribe Classic Lecture Sacred Object 
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Chapter 7

  1. 1.
    J. G. Frazer, Totemism, Edinburgh 1887; Totemism and Exogamy (4 vol.), London 1910Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robertson Smith, Rel. Sem. Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Spencer and Gillen; A. W. Howitt, The native tribes of South-east Australia, London 1904Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Spencer and Gillen, 202Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., 181Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., 271,386Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., 159–162Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1960

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  • W. Brede Kristensen

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