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Title: The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
Author: Durkheim, Emile
Language: English
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  _The Elementary Forms
  of the
  Religious Life_




    _This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
    Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private
    study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under
    the Copyright Act, 1956, no portion may be reproduced
    by any process without written permission. Enquiry
    should be made to the publisher._

  _© George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1915_




  I.--Principal subject of the book: analysis of the simplest
    religion known to determine the elementary forms of the
    religious life--Why they are more easily found and explained
    in the primitive religions                                         1

  II.--Secondary subject of research: the genesis of the
    fundamental notions of thought or the categories--Reasons for
    believing that their origin is religious and consequently
    social--How a way of restating the theory of knowledge is
    thus seen                                                          9





  Usefulness of a preliminary definition of religion; method to be
    followed in seeking this definition--Why the usual definitions
    should be examined first                                          23

  I.--Religion defined by the supernatural and mysterious--
    Criticism: the notion of mystery is not primitive                 24

  II.--Religion defined in connection with the idea of God or a
    spiritual being.--Religions without gods--Rites in deistic
    religions which imply no idea of divinity                         29

  III.--Search for a positive definition--Distinction between
    beliefs and rites--Definition of beliefs--First characteristic:
    division of things between sacred and profane--Distinctive
    characteristics of this definition--Definition of rites in
    relation to beliefs--Definition of religion                       36

  IV.--Necessity of another characteristic to distinguish magic
    from religion--The idea of the Church--Do individualistic
    religions exclude the idea of a Church?                           42




  Distinction of animism and naturism 48

  I.--The three theses of animism: Genesis of the idea of the soul;
    Formation of the idea of spirits; Transformation of the cult of
    spirits into the cult of nature                                   49

  II.--Criticism of the first thesis--Distinction of the idea of
    the soul from that of a double--Dreams do not account for the
    idea of the soul                                                  55

  III.--Criticism of the second thesis--Death does not explain the
    transformation of a soul into a spirit--The cult of the souls
    of the dead is not primitive                                      60

  IV.--Criticism of the third thesis--The anthropomorphic
    instinct--Spencer's criticism of it; reservations on this
    point--Examination of the facts by which this instinct is
    said to be proved--Difference between a soul and the spirits
    of nature--Religious anthropomorphism is not primitive            65

  V.--Conclusion: animism reduces religion to nothing more than
    a system of hallucinations                                        68




  History of the theory                                               71

  I.--Exposition of Max Müller's naturism                             73

  II.--If the object of religion is to express natural forces, it
    is hard to see how it has maintained itself, for it expresses
    them in an erroneous manner--Pretended distinction between
    religion and mythology                                            78

  III.--Naturism does not explain the division of things into
    sacred and profane                                                84



  I.--Brief history of the question of totemism                       88

  II.--Reasons of method for which our study will be given
    specially to the totemism of Australia--The place which
    will be given to facts from America                               93





  _The Totem as Name and as Emblem_

  I.--Definition of the clan--The totem as name of the clan--Nature
    of the things which serve as totems--Ways in which the totem is
    acquired--The totems of phratries; of matrimonial classes        102

  II.--The totem as emblem--Totemic designs engraved or carved upon
    objects; tatooings or designs upon the body                      113

  III.--Sacred character of the totemic emblem--The churinga--The
    nurtunja--The waninga--Conventional character of totemic emblems 119


  TOTEMIC BELIEFS--(_continued_)

  _The Totemic Animal and Man_

  I.--Sacred character of the totemic animals--Prohibition to
    eat them, kill them or pick the totemic plants--Different
    moderations given these prohibitions--Prohibition of
    contact--The sacred character of the animal is less marked
    than that of the emblem                                          128

  II.--The man--His relationship with the totemic animal or
    plant--Different myths explaining this relationship--The sacred
    character of the man is more apparent in certain parts of the
    organism: the blood, hair, etc.--How this character varies with
    sex and age--Totemism is not plant or animal worship             134


  TOTEMIC BELIEFS--(_continued_)

  _The Cosmological System of Totemism and the Idea of Class_

  I.--The classification of things into clans, phratries and classes 141

  II.--Genesis of the notion of class: the first classifications of
    things take their forms from society--Differences between the
    sentiment of the differences of things and the idea of class--
    Why this is of social origin                                     144

  III.--Religious significance of these classifications: all of
    the things classified into a clan partake of the nature of the
    totem and its sacred character--The cosmological system of
    totemism--Totemism as the tribal religion                        148



  _The Individual Totem and the Sexual Totem_

  I.--Individual totem as a forename; its sacred character--
    Individual totem as personal emblem--Bonds between the man and
    his individual totem--Relations with the collective totem        157

  II.--The totems of sexual groups--Resemblances and differences
    with the collective and individual totems--Their tribal nature   165



  _Critical Examination of Preceding Theories_

  I.--Theories which derive totemism from a previous religion: from
    the ancestor cult (Wilken and Tylor); from the nature cult
    (Jevons)--Criticism of these theories                            168

  II.--Theories which derive collective totemism from individual
    totemism--Origins attributed by these theories to the
    individual totem (Frazer, Boas, Hill Tout)--Improbability
    of these hypotheses--Reasons showing the priority of the
    collective totem                                                 172

  III.--Recent theory of Frazer: _conceptional_ and local
    totemism--The begging of the question upon which it rests--The
    religious character of the totem is denied--Local totemism is
    not primitive                                                    180

  IV.--Theory of Lang: that the totem is only a name--Difficulties
    in explaining the religious character of totemic practices from
    this point of view                                               184

  V.--All these theories explain totemism only by postulating other
    religious notions anterior to it                                 186



  _The Notion of the Totemic Principle, or Mana, and the Idea of

  I.--The notion of the totemic force or principle--Its ubiquity--
    Its character at once physical and moral                         188

  II.--Analogous conceptions in other inferior societies--The gods
    in Samoa, the wakan of the Sioux, the orenda of the Iroquois,
    the mana of Melanesia--Connection of these notions with
    totemism--The Arunkulta of the Arunta                            191

  III.--Logical priority of impersonal force over the different
    mythical personalities--Recent theories which tend to admit
    this priority                                                    198

  IV.--The notion of religious force is the prototype of that of
    force in general                                                 203



  _Origin of the Idea of the Totemic Principle or Mana_

  I.--The totemic principle is the clan, but thought of under a
    more empirical form                                              205

  II.--General reasons for which society is apt to awaken the
    sensation of the sacred and the divine--Society as an
    imperative moral force; the notion of moral authority--Society
    as a force which raises the individual outside of himself--
    Facts which prove that society creates the sacred                206

  III.--Reasons peculiar to Australian societies--The two phases
    through which the life of these societies alternatively passes:
    dispersion, concentration--Great collective effervescence
    during the periods of concentration--Examples--How the
    religious idea is born out of this effervescence                 214

  Why collective force has been thought of under totemic forms: it
    is the totem that is the emblem of the clan--Explanation of the
    principal totemic beliefs                                        219

  IV.--Religion is not the product of fear--It expresses something
    real--Its essential idealism--This idealism is a general
    characteristic of collective mentality--Explanation of the
    external character of religious forces in relation to their
    subjects--The principle that _the part is equal to the whole_    223

  V.--Origin of the notion of emblem: emblems a necessary condition
    of collective representations--Why the clan has taken its
    emblems from the animal and vegetable kingdoms                   230

  VI.--The proneness of the primitive to confound the kingdoms and
    classes which we distinguish--Origins of these confusions--How
    they have blazed the way for scientific explanations--They do
    not exclude the tendency towards distinction and opposition      234



  I.--Analysis of the idea of the soul in the Australian societies   240

  II.--Genesis of this idea--The doctrine of reincarnation
    according to Spencer and Gillen: it implies that the soul is
    a part of the totemic principle--Examination of the facts
    collected by Strehlow; they confirm the totemic nature of
    the soul                                                         246

  III.--Generality of the doctrine of reincarnation--Diverse facts
    in support of the proposed genesis                               256

  IV.--Antithesis of the soul and the body: what there is objective
    in this--Relations of the individual soul with the collective
    soul--The idea of the soul is not chronologically after that
    of mana                                                          262

  V.--Hypothesis to explain the belief in its survival               267

  VI.--The idea of a soul and the idea of a person; impersonal
    elements in the personality                                      269



  I.--Difference between a soul and a spirit--The souls of the
    mythical ancestors are spirits, having determined functions--
    Relations between the ancestral spirit, the individual soul
    and the individual totem--Explanation of this latter--Its
    sociological significance                                        273

  II.--Spirits and magic                                             281

  III.--The civilizing heroes                                        283

  IV.--The great gods--Their origin--Their relations with the
    totemic system--Their tribal and international character         285

  V.--Unity of the totemic system                                    295






  I.--The system of interdictions--Magic and religious
    interdictions--Interdictions between sacred things of different
    sorts--Interdictions between sacred and profane--These latter
    are the basis of the negative cult--Leading types of these
    interdictions; their reduction to two essential types            299

  II.--The observance of interdictions modifies the religious state
    of individuals--Cases where this efficacy is especially
    apparent: ascetic practices--The religious efficacy of sorrow--
    Social function of asceticism                                    309

  III.--Explanation of the system of interdictions: antagonism of
    the sacred and the profane, contagiousness of the sacred         317

  IV.--Causes of this contagiousness--It cannot be explained by
    the laws of the association of ideas--It is because religious
    forces are outside of their subjects--Logical interest in this
    property of religious forces                                     321



  I.--_The Elements of Sacrifice_

  The Intichiuma ceremony in the tribes of Central Australia--
    Different forms which it presents                                326

  I.--The Arunta Form--The two phases--Analysis of the first: visit
    to sacred places, scattering of sacred dust, shedding of blood,
    etc., to assure the reproduction of the totemic species          327

  II.--Second phase: ritual consumption of the totemic plant or
    animal                                                           333

  III.--Interpretation of the complete ceremony--The second rite
    consists in a communion meal--Reason for this communion          336

  IV.--The rites of the first phase consists in oblations--Analogies
    with sacrificial oblations--The Intichiuma thus contains the two
    elements of sacrifice--Interest of these facts for the theory of
    sacrifice                                                        340

  V.--On the pretended absurdity of sacrificial oblations--How
    they are explained: dependence of sacred beings upon their
    worshippers--Explanation of the circle in which sacrifice seems
    to move--Origin of the periodicity of positive rites             344


  THE POSITIVE CULT--(_continued_)

  II.--_Imitative Rites and the Principle of Causality_

  I.--Nature of the imitative rites--Examples of ceremonies where
    they are employed to assure the fertility of the species         351

  II.--They rest upon the principle: _like produces like_--
    Examination of the explanation of this given by the
    anthropological school--Reasons why they imitate the animal
    or plant--Reasons for attributing a physical efficacy to these
    gestures--Faith--In what sense it is founded upon experience--
    The principles of magic are born in religion                     355

  III.--The preceding principle considered as one of the first
    statements of the principle of causality--Social conditions
    upon which this latter depends--The idea of impersonal force or
    power is of social origin--The necessity for the conception of
    causality explained by the authority inherent in social
    imperatives                                                      362


  THE POSITIVE CULT--(_continued_)

  III.--_Representative or Commemorative Rites_

  I.--Representative rites with physical efficacy--Their relations
    with the ceremonies already described--Their action is wholly
    moral                                                            371

  II.--Representative rites without physical efficacy--They confirm
    the preceding results--The element of recreation in religion:
    its importance; its reason for existence--The idea of a feast    376

  III.--Ambiguity of function in the various ceremonies studied;
    they substitute themselves for each other--How this ambiguity
    confirms the theory proposed                                     383



  Definition of the piacular rite 389

  I.--Positive rites of mourning--Description of these rites         390

  II.--How they are explained--They are not a manifestation of
    private sentiments--The malice attributed to the souls of the
    dead cannot account for them either--They correspond to the
    state of mind in which the group happens to be--Analysis of
    this state--How it ends by mourning--Corresponding changes in
    the way in which the souls of the dead are conceived             396

  III.--Other piacular rites; after a public mourning, a poor
    harvest, a drought, the southern lights--Rarity of these rites
    in Australia--How they are explained                             403

  IV.--The two forms of the sacred: the pure and the impure--Their
    antagonism--Their relationship--Ambiguity of the idea of the
    sacred--All rites present the same character                     409


  To what extent the results obtained may be generalized             415

  I.--Religion rests upon an experience that is well founded but
    not privileged--Necessity of a science to reach the reality at
    the bottom of this experience--What is this reality?--The human
    groups--Human meaning of religion--Concerning the objection
    which opposes the ideal society to the real society              416

  How religious individualism and cosmopolitanism are explained in
    this theory                                                      424

  II.--The eternal element in religion--Concerning the conflict
    between science and religion; it has to do solely with the
    speculative side of religion--What this side seems destined to
    become                                                           427

  III.--How has society been able to be the source of logical,
    that is to say conceptual, thought? Definition of the concept:
    not to be confounded with the general idea; characterized by
    its impersonality and communicability--It has a collective
    origin--The analysis of its contents bears witness in the same
    sense Collective representations as types of ideas which
    individuals accept--In regard to the objection that they are
    impersonal only on condition of being true--Conceptual thought
    is coeval with humanity                                          431

  IV.--How the categories express social things--The chief category
    is the concept of totality which could be suggested only by
    society--Why the relations expressed by the categories could
    become conscious only in society--Society is not an a-logical
    being--How the categories tend to detach themselves from
    geographically determined groups                                 439

  The unity of science on the one hand, and of morals and religion
    on the other--How the society accounts for this unity--
    Explanation of the rôle attributed to society: its creative
    power--Reactions of sociology upon the science of man            445




In this book we propose to study the most primitive and simple religion
which is actually known, to make an analysis of it, and to attempt an
explanation of it. A religious system may be said to be the most
primitive which we can observe when it fulfils the two following
conditions: in the first place, when it is found in a society whose
organization is surpassed by no others in simplicity;[1] and secondly,
when it is possible to explain it without making use of any element
borrowed from a previous religion.

We shall set ourselves to describe the organization of this system with
all the exactness and fidelity that an ethnographer or an historian
could give it. But our task will not be limited to that: sociology
raises other problems than history or ethnography. It does not seek to
know the passed forms of civilization with the sole end of knowing them
and reconstructing them. But rather, like every positive science, it has
as its object the explanation of some actual reality which is near to
us, and which consequently is capable of affecting our ideas and our
acts: this reality is man, and more precisely, the man of to-day, for
there is nothing which we are more interested in knowing. Then we are
not going to study a very archaic religion simply for the pleasure of
telling its peculiarities and its singularities. If we have taken it as
the subject of our research, it is because it has seemed to us better
adapted than any other to lead to an understanding of the religious
nature of man, that is to say, to show us an essential and permanent
aspect of humanity.

But this proposition is not accepted before the raising of strong
objections. It seems very strange that one must turn back, and be
transported to the very beginnings of history, in order to arrive at an
understanding of humanity as it is at present. This manner of procedure
seems particularly paradoxical in the question which concerns us. In
fact, the various religions generally pass as being quite unequal in
value and dignity; it is said that they do not all contain the same
quota of truth. Then it seems as though one could not compare the
highest forms of religious thought with the lowest, without reducing the
first to the level of the second. If we admit that the crude cults of
the Australian tribes can help us to understand Christianity, for
example, is that not supposing that this latter religion proceeds from
the same mentality as the former, that it is made up of the same
superstitions and rests upon the same errors? This is how the
theoretical importance which has sometimes been attributed to primitive
religions has come to pass as a sign of a systematic hostility to all
religion, which, by prejudging the results of the study, vitiates them
in advance.

There is no occasion for asking here whether or not there are scholars
who have merited this reproach, and who have made religious history and
ethnology a weapon against religion. In any case, a sociologist cannot
hold such a point of view. In fact, it is an essential postulate of
sociology that a human institution cannot rest upon an error and a lie,
without which it could not exist. If it were not founded in the nature
of things, it would have encountered in the facts a resistance over
which it could never have triumphed. So when we commence the study of
primitive religions, it is with the assurance that they hold to reality
and express it; this principle will be seen to re-enter again and again
in the course of the analyses and discussions which follow, and the
reproach which we make against the schools from which we have separated
ourselves is that they have ignored it. When only the letter of the
formulæ is considered, these religious beliefs and practices undoubtedly
seem disconcerting at times, and one is tempted to attribute them to
some sort of a deep-rooted error. But one must know how to go underneath
the symbol to the reality which it represents and which gives it its
meaning. The most barbarous and the most fantastic rites and the
strangest myths translate some human need, some aspect of life, either
individual or social. The reasons with which the faithful justify them
may be, and generally are, erroneous; but the true reasons do not cease
to exist, and it is the duty of science to discover them.

In reality, then, there are no religions which are false. All are true
in their own fashion; all answer, though in different ways, to the given
conditions of human existence. It is undeniably possible to arrange them
in a hierarchy. Some can be called superior to others, in the sense that
they call into play higher mental functions, that they are richer in
ideas and sentiments, that they contain more concepts with fewer
sensations and images, and that their arrangement is wiser. But
howsoever real this greater complexity and this higher ideality may be,
they are not sufficient to place the corresponding religions in
different classes. All are religions equally, just as all living beings
are equally alive, from the most humble plastids up to man. So when we
turn to primitive religions it is not with the idea of depreciating
religion in general, for these religions are no less respectable than
the others. They respond to the same needs, they play the same rôle,
they depend upon the same causes; they can also well serve to show the
nature of the religious life, and consequently to resolve the problem
which we wish to study.

But why give them a sort of prerogative? Why choose them in preference
to all others as the subject of our study?--It is merely for reasons of

In the first place, we cannot arrive at an understanding of the most
recent religions except by following the manner in which they have been
progressively composed in history. In fact, historical analysis is the
only means of explanation which it is possible to apply to them. It
alone enables us to resolve an institution into its constituent
elements, for it shows them to us as they are born in time, one after
another. On the other hand, by placing every one of them in the
condition where it was born, it puts into our hands the only means we
have of determining the causes which gave rise to it. Every time that we
undertake to explain something human, taken at a given moment in
history--be it a religious belief, a moral precept, a legal principle,
an æsthetic style or an economic system--it is necessary to commence by
going back to its most primitive and simple form, to try to account for
the characteristics by which it was marked at that time, and then to
show how it developed and became complicated little by little, and how
it became that which it is at the moment in question. One readily
understands the importance which the determination of the point of
departure has for this series of progressive explanations, for all the
others are attached to it. It was one of Descartes's principles that
the first ring has a predominating place in the chain of scientific
truths. But there is no question of placing at the foundation of the
science of religions an idea elaborated after the cartesian manner, that
is to say, a logical concept, a pure possibility, constructed simply by
force of thought. What we must find is a concrete reality, and
historical and ethnological observation alone can reveal that to us. But
even if this cardinal conception is obtained by a different process than
that of Descartes, it remains true that it is destined to have a
considerable influence on the whole series of propositions which the
science establishes. Biological evolution has been conceived quite
differently ever since it has been known that monocellular beings do
exist. In the same way, the arrangement of religious facts is explained
quite differently, according as we put naturism, animism or some other
religious form at the beginning of the evolution. Even the most
specialized scholars, if they are unwilling to confine themselves to a
task of pure erudition, and if they desire to interpret the facts which
they analyse, are obliged to choose one of these hypotheses, and make it
their starting-point. Whether they desire it or not, the questions which
they raise necessarily take the following form: how has naturism or
animism been led to take this particular form, here or there, or to
enrich itself or impoverish itself in such and such a fashion? Since it
is impossible to avoid taking sides on this initial problem, and since
the solution given is destined to affect the whole science, it must be
attacked at the outset: that is what we propose to do.

Besides this, outside of these indirect reactions, the study of
primitive religions has of itself an immediate interest which is of
primary importance.

If it is useful to know what a certain particular religion consists in,
it is still more important to know what religion in general is. This is
the problem which has aroused the interest of philosophers in all times;
and not without reason, for it is of interest to all humanity.
Unfortunately, the method which they generally employ is purely
dialectic: they confine themselves to analysing the idea which they make
for themselves of religion, except as they illustrate the results of
this mental analysis by examples borrowed from the religions which best
realize their ideal. But even if this method ought to be abandoned, the
problem remains intact, and the great service of philosophy is to have
prevented its being suppressed by the disdain of scholars. Now it is
possible to attack it in a different way. Since all religions can be
compared to each other, and since all are species of the same class,
there are necessarily many elements which are common to all. We do not
mean to speak simply of the outward and visible characteristics which
they all have equally, and which make it possible to give them a
provisional definition from the very outset of our researches; the
discovery of these apparent signs is relatively easy, for the
observation which it demands does not go beneath the surface of things.
But these external resemblances suppose others which are profound. At
the foundation of all systems of beliefs and of all cults there ought
necessarily to be a certain number of fundamental representations or
conceptions and of ritual attitudes which, in spite of the diversity of
forms which they have taken, have the same objective significance and
fulfil the same functions everywhere. These are the permanent elements
which constitute that which is permanent and human in religion; they
form all the objective contents of the idea which is expressed when one
speaks of _religion_ in general. How is it possible to pick them out?

Surely it is not by observing the complex religions which appear in the
course of history. Every one of these is made up of such a variety of
elements that it is very difficult to distinguish what is secondary from
what is principal, the essential from the accessory. Suppose that the
religion considered is like that of Egypt, India or the classical
antiquity. It is a confused mass of many cults, varying according to the
locality, the temples, the generations, the dynasties, the invasions,
etc. Popular superstitions are there confused with the purest dogmas.
Neither the thought nor the activity of the religion is evenly
distributed among the believers; according to the men, the environment
and the circumstances, the beliefs as well as the rites are thought of
in different ways. Here they are priests, there they are monks,
elsewhere they are laymen; there are mystics and rationalists,
theologians and prophets, etc. In these conditions it is difficult to
see what is common to all. In one or another of these systems it is
quite possible to find the means of making a profitable study of some
particular fact which is specially developed there, such as sacrifice or
prophecy, monasticism or the mysteries; but how is it possible to find
the common foundation of the religious life underneath the luxuriant
vegetation which covers it? How is it possible to find, underneath the
disputes of theology, the variations of ritual, the multiplicity of
groups and the diversity of individuals, the fundamental states
characteristic of religious mentality in general?

Things are quite different in the lower societies. The slighter
development of individuality, the small extension of the group, the
homogeneity of external circumstances, all contribute to reducing the
differences and variations to a minimum. The group has an intellectual
and moral conformity of which we find but rare examples in the more
advanced societies. Everything is common to all. Movements are
stereotyped; everybody performs the same ones in the same circumstances,
and this conformity of conduct only translates the conformity of
thought. Every mind being drawn into the same eddy, the individual type
nearly confounds itself with that of the race. And while all is uniform,
all is simple as well. Nothing is deformed like these myths, all
composed of one and the same theme which is endlessly repeated, or like
these rites made up of a small number of gestures repeated again and
again. Neither the popular imagination nor that of the priests has had
either the time or the means of refining and transforming the original
substance of the religious ideas and practices; these are shown in all
their nudity, and offer themselves to an examination, it requiring only
the slightest effort to lay them open. That which is accessory or
secondary, the development of luxury, has not yet come to hide the
principal elements.[2] All is reduced to that which is indispensable, to
that without which there could be no religion. But that which is
indispensable is also that which is essential, that is to say, that
which we must know before all else.

Primitive civilizations offer privileged cases, then, because they are
simple cases. That is why, in all fields of human activity, the
observations of ethnologists have frequently been veritable revelations,
which have renewed the study of human institutions. For example, before
the middle of the nineteenth century, everybody was convinced that the
father was the essential element of the family; no one had dreamed that
there could be a family organization of which the paternal authority was
not the keystone. But the discovery of Bachofen came and upset this old
conception. Up to very recent times it was regarded as evident that the
moral and legal relations of kindred were only another aspect of the
psychological relations which result from a common descent; Bachofen and
his successors, MacLennan, Morgan and many others still laboured under
this misunderstanding. But since we have become acquainted with the
nature of the primitive clan, we know that, on the contrary,
relationships cannot be explained by consanguinity. To return to
religions, the study of only the most familiar ones had led men to
believe for a long time that the idea of god was characteristic of
everything that is religious. Now the religion which we are going to
study presently is, in a large part, foreign to all idea of divinity;
the forces to which the rites are there addressed are very different
from those which occupy the leading place in our modern religions, yet
they aid us in understanding these latter forces. So nothing is more
unjust than the disdain with which too many historians still regard the
work of ethnographers. Indeed, it is certain that ethnology has
frequently brought about the most fruitful revolutions in the different
branches of sociology. It is for this same reason that the discovery of
unicellular beings, of which we just spoke, has transformed the current
idea of life. Since in these very simple beings, life is reduced to its
essential traits, these are less easily misunderstood.

But primitive religions do not merely aid us in disengaging the
constituent elements of religion; they also have the great advantage
that they facilitate the explanation of it. Since the facts there are
simpler, the relations between them are more apparent. The reasons with
which men account for their acts have not yet been elaborated and
denatured by studied reflection; they are nearer and more closely
related to the motives which have really determined these acts. In order
to understand an hallucination perfectly, and give it its most
appropriate treatment, a physician must know its original point of
departure. Now this event is proportionately easier to find if he can
observe it near its beginnings. The longer the disease is allowed to
develop, the more it evades observation; that is because all sorts of
interpretations have intervened as it advanced, which tend to force the
original state into the background, and across which it is frequently
difficult to find the initial one. Between a systematized hallucination
and the first impressions which gave it birth, the distance is often
considerable. It is the same thing with religious thought. In proportion
as it progresses in history, the causes which called it into existence,
though remaining active, are no longer perceived, except across a vast
scheme of interpretations which quite transform them. Popular
mythologies and subtile theologies have done their work: they have
superimposed upon the primitive sentiments others which are quite
different, and which, though holding to the first, of which they are an
elaborated form, only allow their true nature to appear very
imperfectly. The psychological gap between the cause and the effect,
between the apparent cause and the effective cause, has become more
considerable and more difficult for the mind to leap. The remainder of
this book will be an illustration and a verification of this remark on
method. It will be seen how, in the primitive religions, the religious
fact still visibly carries the mark of its origins: it would have been
well-nigh impossible to infer them merely from the study of the more
developed religions.

The study which we are undertaking is therefore a way of taking up
again, _but under new conditions_, the old problem of the origin of
religion. To be sure, if by origin we are to understand the very first
beginning, the question has nothing scientific about it, and should be
resolutely discarded. There was no given moment when religion began to
exist, and there is consequently no need of finding a means of
transporting ourselves thither in thought. Like every human institution,
religion did not commence anywhere. Therefore, all speculations of this
sort are justly discredited; they can only consist in subjective and
arbitrary constructions which are subject to no sort of control. But the
problem which we raise is quite another one. What we want to do is to
find a means of discerning the ever-present causes upon which the most
essential forms of religious thought and practice depend. Now for the
reasons which were just set forth, these causes are proportionately more
easily observable as the societies where they are observed are less
complicated. That is why we try to get as near as possible to the
origins.[3] It is not that we ascribe particular virtues to the lower
religions. On the contrary, they are rudimentary and gross; we cannot
make of them a sort of model which later religions only have to
reproduce. But even their grossness makes them instructive, for they
thus become convenient for experiments, as in them, the facts and their
relations are easily seen. In order to discover the laws of the
phenomena which he studies, the physicist tries to simplify these latter
and rid them of their secondary characteristics. For that which concerns
institutions, nature spontaneously makes the same sort of
simplifications at the beginning of history. We merely wish to put these
to profit. Undoubtedly we can only touch very elementary facts by this
method. When we shall have accounted for them as far as possible, the
novelties of every sort which have been produced in the course of
evolution will not yet be explained. But while we do not dream of
denying the importance of the problems thus raised, we think that they
will profit by being treated in their turn, and that it is important to
take them up only after those of which we are going to undertake the
study at present.


But our study is not of interest merely for the science of religion. In
fact, every religion has one side by which it overlaps the circle of
properly religious ideas, and there, the study of religious phenomena
gives a means of renewing the problems which, up to the present, have
only been discussed among philosophers.

For a long time it has been known that the first systems of
representations with which men have pictured to themselves the world and
themselves were of religious origin. There is no religion that is not a
cosmology at the same time that it is a speculation upon divine things.
If philosophy and the sciences were born of religion, it is because
religion began by taking the place of the sciences and philosophy. But
it has been less frequently noticed that religion has not confined
itself to enriching the human intellect, formed beforehand, with a
certain number of ideas; it has contributed to forming the intellect
itself. Men owe to it not only a good part of the substance of their
knowledge, but also the form in which this knowledge has been

At the roots of all our judgments there are a certain number of
essential ideas which dominate all our intellectual life; they are what
philosophers since Aristotle have called the categories of the
understanding: ideas of time, space,[4] class, number, cause, substance,
personality, etc. They correspond to the most universal properties of
things. They are like the solid frame which encloses all thought; this
does not seem to be able to liberate itself from them without destroying
itself, for it seems that we cannot think of objects that are not in
time and space, which have no number, etc. Other ideas are contingent
and unsteady; we can conceive of their being unknown to a man, a society
or an epoch; but these others appear to be nearly inseparable from the
normal working of the intellect. They are like the framework of the
intelligence. Now when primitive religious beliefs are systematically
analysed, the principal categories are naturally found. They are born in
religion and of religion; they are a product of religious thought. This
is a statement that we are going to have occasion to make many times in
the course of this work.

This remark has some interest of itself already; but here is what gives
it its real importance.

The general conclusion of the book which the reader has before him is
that religion is something eminently social. Religious representations
are collective representations which express collective realities; the
rites are a manner of acting which take rise in the midst of the
assembled groups and which are destined to excite, maintain or recreate
certain mental states in these groups. So if the categories are of
religious origin, they ought to participate in this nature common to all
religious facts; they too should be social affairs and the product of
collective thought. At least--for in the actual condition of our
knowledge of these matters, one should be careful to avoid all radical
and exclusive statements--it is allowable to suppose that they are rich
in social elements.

Even at present, these can be imperfectly seen in some of them. For
example, try to represent what the notion of time would be without the
processes by which we divide it, measure it or express it with objective
signs, a time which is not a succession of years, months, weeks, days
and hours! This is something nearly unthinkable. We cannot conceive of
time, except on condition of distinguishing its different moments. Now
what is the origin of this differentiation? Undoubtedly, the states of
consciousness which we have already experienced can be reproduced in us
in the same order in which they passed in the first place; thus portions
of our past become present again, though being clearly distinguished
from the present. But howsoever important this distinction may be for
our private experience, it is far from being enough to constitute the
notion or category of time. This does not consist merely in a
commemoration, either partial or integral, of our past life. It is an
abstract and impersonal frame which surrounds, not only our individual
existence, but that of all humanity. It is like an endless chart, where
all duration is spread out before the mind, and upon which all possible
events can be located in relation to fixed and determined guide lines.
It is not _my time_ that is thus arranged; it is time in general, such
as it is objectively thought of by everybody in a single civilization.
That alone is enough to give us a hint that such an arrangement ought to
be collective. And in reality, observation proves that these
indispensable guide lines, in relation to which all things are
temporally located, are taken from social life. The divisions into days,
weeks, months, years, etc., correspond to the periodical recurrence of
rites, feasts, and public ceremonies.[5] A calendar expresses the
rhythm of the collective activities, while at the same time its function
is to assure their regularity.[6]

It is the same thing with space. As Hamelin has shown,[7] space is not
the vague and indetermined medium which Kant imagined; if purely and
absolutely homogeneous, it would be of no use, and could not be grasped
by the mind. Spatial representation consists essentially in a primary
co-ordination of the data of sensuous experience. But this co-ordination
would be impossible if the parts of space were qualitatively equivalent
and if they were really interchangeable. To dispose things spatially
there must be a possibility of placing them differently, of putting some
at the right, others at the left, these above, those below, at the north
of or at the south of, east or west of, etc., etc., just as to dispose
states of consciousness temporally there must be a possibility of
localizing them at determined dates. That is to say that space could not
be what it is if it were not, like time, divided and differentiated. But
whence come these divisions which are so essential? By themselves, there
are neither right nor left, up nor down, north nor south, etc. All these
distinctions evidently come from the fact that different sympathetic
values have been attributed to various regions. Since all the men of a
single civilization represent space in the same way, it is clearly
necessary that these sympathetic values, and the distinctions which
depend upon them, should be equally universal, and that almost
necessarily implies that they be of social origin.[8]

Besides that, there are cases where this social character is made
manifest. There are societies in Australia and North America where space
is conceived in the form of an immense circle, because the camp has a
circular form;[9] and this spatial circle is divided up exactly like the
tribal circle, and is in its image. There are as many regions
distinguished as there are clans in the tribe, and it is the place
occupied by the clans inside the encampment which has determined the
orientation of these regions. Each region is defined by the totem of the
clan to which it is assigned. Among the Zuñi, for example, the pueblo
contains seven quarters; each of these is a group of clans which has had
a unity: in all probability it was originally a single clan which was
later subdivided. Now their space also contains seven quarters, and each
of these seven quarters of the world is in intimate connection with a
quarter of the pueblo, that is to say with a group of clans.[10] "Thus,"
says Cushing, "one division is thought to be in relation with the north,
another represents the west, another the south," etc.[11] Each quarter
of the pueblo has its characteristic colour, which symbolizes it; each
region has its colour, which is exactly the same as that of the
corresponding quarter. In the course of history the number of
fundamental clans has varied; the number of the fundamental regions of
space has varied with them. Thus the social organization has been the
model for the spatial organization and a reproduction of it. It is thus
even up to the distinction between right and left which, far from being
inherent in the nature of man in general, is very probably the product
of representations which are religious and therefore collective.[12]

Analogous proofs will be found presently in regard to the ideas of
class, force, personality and efficacy. It is even possible to ask if
the idea of contradiction does not also depend upon social conditions.
What makes one tend to believe this is that the empire which the idea
has exercised over human thought has varied with times and societies.
To-day the principle of identity dominates scientific thought; but there
are vast systems of representations which have played a considerable
rôle in the history of ideas where it has frequently been set aside:
these are the mythologies, from the grossest up to the most
reasonable.[13] There, we are continually coming upon beings which have
the most contradictory attributes simultaneously, who are at the same
time one and many, material and spiritual, who can divide themselves up
indefinitely without losing anything of their constitution; in mythology
it is an axiom that the part is worth the whole. These variations
through which the rules which seem to govern our present logic have
passed prove that, far from being engraven through all eternity upon the
mental constitution of men, they depend, at least in part, upon factors
that are historical and consequently social. We do not know exactly what
they are, but we may presume that they exist.[14]

This hypothesis once admitted, the problem of knowledge is posed in new

Up to the present there have been only two doctrines in the field. For
some, the categories cannot be derived from experience: they are
logically prior to it and condition it. They are represented as so many
simple and irreducible data, imminent in the human mind by virtue of its
inborn constitution. For this reason they are said to be _a priori_.
Others, however, hold that they are constructed and made up of pieces
and bits, and that the individual is the artisan of this

But each solution raises grave difficulties.

Is the empirical thesis the one adopted? Then it is necessary to deprive
the categories of all their characteristic properties. As a matter of
fact they are distinguished from all other knowledge by their
universality and necessity. They are the most general concepts which
exist, because they are applicable to all that is real, and since they
are not attached to any particular object they are independent of every
particular subject; they constitute the common field where all minds
meet. Further, they must meet there, for reason, which is nothing more
than all the fundamental categories taken together, is invested with an
authority which we could not set aside if we would. When we attempt to
revolt against it, and to free ourselves from some of these essential
ideas, we meet with great resistances. They do not merely depend upon
us, but they impose themselves upon us. Now empirical data present
characteristics which are diametrically opposed to these. A sensation or
an image always relies upon a determined object, or upon a collection of
objects of the same sort, and expresses the momentary condition of a
particular consciousness; it is essentially individual and subjective.
We therefore have considerable liberty in dealing with the
representations of such an origin. It is true that when our sensations
are actual, they impose themselves upon us _in fact_. But _by right_ we
are free to conceive them otherwise than they really are, or to
represent them to ourselves as occurring in a different order from that
where they are really produced. In regard to them nothing is forced upon
us except as considerations of another sort intervene. Thus we find that
we have here two sorts of knowledge, which are like the two opposite
poles of the intelligence. Under these conditions forcing reason back
upon experience causes it to disappear, for it is equivalent to reducing
the universality and necessity which characterize it to pure appearance,
to an illusion which may be useful practically, but which corresponds to
nothing in reality; consequently it is denying all objective reality to
the logical life, whose regulation and organization is the function of
the categories. Classical empiricism results in irrationalism; perhaps
it would even be fitting to designate it by this latter name.

In spite of the sense ordinarily attached to the name, the apriorists
have more respect for the facts. Since they do not admit it as a truth
established by evidence that the categories are made up of the same
elements as our sensual representations, they are not obliged to
impoverish them systematically, to draw from them all their real
content, and to reduce them to nothing more than verbal artifices. On
the contrary, they leave them all their specific characteristics. The
apriorists are the rationalists; they believe that the world has a
logical aspect which the reason expresses excellently. But for all that,
it is necessary for them to give the mind a certain power of
transcending experience and of adding to that which is given to it
directly; and of this singular power they give neither explanation nor
justification. For it is no explanation to say that it is inherent in
the nature of the human intellect. It is necessary to show whence we
hold this surprising prerogative and how it comes that we can see
certain relations in things which the examination of these things cannot
reveal to us. Saying that only on this condition is experience itself
possible changes the problem perhaps, but does not answer it. For the
real question is to know how it comes that experience is not sufficient
unto itself, but presupposes certain conditions which are exterior and
prior to it, and how it happens that these conditions are realized at
the moment and in the manner that is desirable. To answer these
questions it has sometimes been assumed that above the reason of
individuals there is a superior and perfect reason from which the others
emanate and from which they get this marvellous power of theirs, by a
sort of mystic participation: this is the divine reason. But this
hypothesis has at least the one grave disadvantage of being deprived of
all experimental control; thus it does not satisfy the conditions
demanded of a scientific hypothesis. More than that, the categories of
human thought are never fixed in any one definite form; they are made,
unmade and remade incessantly; they change with places and times. On the
other hand, the divine reason is immutable. How can this immutability
give rise to this incessant variability?

Such are the two conceptions that have been pitted against each other
for centuries; and if this debate seems to be eternal, it is because the
arguments given are really about equivalent. If reason is only a form of
individual experience, it no longer exists. On the other hand, if the
powers which it has are recognized but not accounted for, it seems to be
set outside the confines of nature and science. In the face of these two
opposed objections the mind remains uncertain. But if the social origin
of the categories is admitted, a new attitude becomes possible, which we
believe will enable us to escape both of the opposed difficulties.

The fundamental proposition of the apriorist theory is that knowledge is
made up of two sorts of elements, which cannot be reduced into one
another, and which are like two distinct layers superimposed one upon
the other.[16] Our hypothesis keeps this principle intact. In fact, that
knowledge which is called empirical, the only knowledge of which the
theorists of empiricism have made use in constructing the reason, is
that which is brought into our minds by the direct action of objects. It
is composed of individual states which are completely explained[17] by
the psychical nature of the individual. If, on the other hand, the
categories are, as we believe they are, essentially collective
representations, before all else, they should show the mental states of
the group; they should depend upon the way in which this is founded and
organized, upon its morphology, upon its religious, moral and economic
institutions, etc. So between these two sorts of representations there
is all the difference which exists between the individual and the
social, and one can no more derive the second from the first than he can
deduce society from the individual, the whole from the part, the complex
from the simple.[18] Society is a reality _sui generis_; it has its own
peculiar characteristics, which are not found elsewhere and which are
not met with again in the same form in all the rest of the universe. The
representations which express it have a wholly different contents from
purely individual ones and we may rest assured in advance that the first
add something to the second.

Even the manner in which the two are formed results in differentiating
them. Collective representations are the result of an immense
co-operation, which stretches out not only into space but into time as
well; to make them, a multitude of minds have associated, united and
combined their ideas and sentiments; for them, long generations have
accumulated their experience and their knowledge. A special intellectual
activity is therefore concentrated in them which is infinitely richer
and complexer than that of the individual. From that one can understand
how the reason has been able to go beyond the limits of empirical
knowledge. It does not owe this to any vague mysterious virtue but
simply to the fact that according to the well-known formula, man is
double. There are two beings in him: an individual being which has its
foundation in the organism and the circle of whose activities is
therefore strictly limited, and a social being which represents the
highest reality in the intellectual and moral order that we can know by
observation--I mean society. This duality of our nature has as its
consequence in the practical order, the irreducibility of a moral ideal
to a utilitarian motive, and in the order of thought, the irreducibility
of reason to individual experience. In so far as he belongs to society,
the individual transcends himself, both when he thinks and when he

This same social character leads to an understanding of the origin of
the necessity of the categories. It is said that an idea is necessary
when it imposes itself upon the mind by some sort of virtue of its own,
without being accompanied by any proof. It contains within it something
which constrains the intelligence and which leads to its acceptance
without preliminary examination. The apriorist postulates this singular
quality, but does not account for it; for saying that the categories are
necessary because they are indispensable to the functioning of the
intellect is simply repeating that they are necessary. But if they
really have the origin which we attribute to them, their ascendancy no
longer has anything surprising in it. They represent the most general
relations which exist between things; surpassing all our other ideas in
extension, they dominate all the details of our intellectual life. If
men did not agree upon these essential ideas at every moment, if they
did not have the same conception of time, space, cause, number, etc.,
all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all
life together. Thus society could not abandon the categories to the free
choice of the individual without abandoning itself. If it is to live
there is not merely need of a satisfactory moral conformity, but also
there is a minimum of logical conformity beyond which it cannot safely
go. For this reason it uses all its authority upon its members to
forestall such dissidences. Does a mind ostensibly free itself from
these forms of thought? It is no longer considered a human mind in the
full sense of the word, and is treated accordingly. That is why we feel
that we are no longer completely free and that something resists, both
within and outside ourselves, when we attempt to rid ourselves of these
fundamental notions, even in our own conscience. Outside of us there is
public opinion which judges us; but more than that, since society is
also represented inside of us, it sets itself against these
revolutionary fancies, even inside of ourselves; we have the feeling
that we cannot abandon them if our whole thought is not to cease being
really human. This seems to be the origin of the exceptional authority
which is inherent in the reason and which makes us accept its
suggestions with confidence. It is the very authority of society,[19]
transferring itself to a certain manner of thought which is the
indispensable condition of all common action. The necessity with which
the categories are imposed upon us is not the effect of simple habits
whose yoke we could easily throw off with a little effort; nor is it a
physical or metaphysical necessity, since the categories change in
different places and times; it is a special sort of moral necessity
which is to the intellectual life what moral obligation is to the

But if the categories originally only translate social states, does it
not follow that they can be applied to the rest of nature only as
metaphors? If they were made merely to express social conditions, it
seems as though they could not be extended to other realms except in
this sense. Thus in so far as they aid us in thinking of the physical or
biological world, they have only the value of artificial symbols, useful
practically perhaps, but having no connection with reality. Thus we come
back, by a different road, to nominalism and empiricism.

But when we interpret a sociological theory of knowledge in this way, we
forget that even if society is a specific reality it is not an empire
within an empire; it is a part of nature, and indeed its highest
representation. The social realm is a natural realm which differs from
the others only by a greater complexity. Now it is impossible that
nature should differ radically from itself in the one case and the other
in regard to that which is most essential. The fundamental relations
that exist between things--just that which it is the function of the
categories to express--cannot be essentially dissimilar in the different
realms. If, for reasons which we shall discuss later,[21] they are more
clearly disengaged in the social world, it is nevertheless impossible
that they should not be found elsewhere, though in less pronounced
forms. Society makes them more manifest but it does not have a monopoly
upon them. That is why ideas which have been elaborated on the model of
social things can aid us in thinking of another department of nature. It
is at least true that if these ideas play the rôle of symbols when they
are thus turned aside from their original signification, they are
well-founded symbols. If a sort of artificiality enters into them from
the mere fact that they are constructed concepts, it is an
artificiality which follows nature very closely and which is constantly
approaching it still more closely.[22] From the fact that the ideas of
time, space, class, cause or personality are constructed out of social
elements, it is not necessary to conclude that they are devoid of all
objective value. On the contrary, their social origin rather leads to
the belief that they are not without foundation in the nature of

Thus renovated, the theory of knowledge seems destined to unite the
opposing advantages of the two rival theories, without incurring their
inconveniences. It keeps all the essential principles of the apriorists;
but at the same time it is inspired by that positive spirit which the
empiricists have striven to satisfy. It leaves the reason its specific
power, but it accounts for it and does so without leaving the world of
observable phenomena. It affirms the duality of our intellectual life,
but it explains it, and with natural causes. The categories are no
longer considered as primary and unanalysable facts, yet they keep a
complexity which falsifies any analysis as ready as that with which the
empiricists content themselves. They no longer appear as very simple
notions which the first comer can very easily arrange from his own
personal observations and which the popular imagination has unluckily
complicated, but rather they appear as priceless instruments of thought
which the human groups have laboriously forged through the centuries and
where they have accumulated the best of their intellectual capital.[24]
A complete section of the history of humanity is resumed therein. This
is equivalent to saying that to succeed in understanding them and
judging them, it is necessary to resort to other means than those which
have been in use up to the present. To know what these conceptions which
we have not made ourselves are really made of, it does not suffice to
interrogate our own consciousnesses; we must look outside of ourselves,
it is history that we must observe, there is a whole science which must
be formed, a complex science which can advance but slowly and by
collective labour, and to which the present work brings some fragmentary
contributions in the nature of an attempt. Without making these
questions the direct object of our study, we shall profit by all the
occasions which present themselves to us of catching at their very birth
some at least of these ideas which, while being of religious origin,
still remain at the foundation of the human intelligence.





If we are going to look for the most primitive and simple religion which
we can observe, it is necessary to begin by defining what is meant by a
religion; for without this, we would run the risk of giving the name to
a system of ideas and practices which has nothing at all religious about
it, or else of leaving to one side many religious facts, without
perceiving their true nature. That this is not an imaginary danger, and
that nothing is thus sacrificed to a vain formalism of method, is well
shown by the fact that owing to his not having taken this precaution, a
certain scholar to whom the science of comparative religions owes a
great deal, Professor Frazer, has not been able to recognize the
profoundly religious character of the beliefs and rites which will be
studied below, where, according to our view, the initial germ of the
religious life of humanity is to be found. So this is a prejudicial
question, which must be treated before all others. It is not that we
dream of arriving at once at the profound characteristics which really
explain religion: these can be determined only at the end of our study.
But that which is necessary and possible, is to indicate a certain
number of external and easily recognizable signs, which will enable us
to recognize religious phenomena wherever they are met with, and which
will deter us from confounding them with others. We shall proceed to
this preliminary operation at once.

But to attain the desired results, it is necessary to begin by freeing
the mind of every preconceived idea. Men have been obliged to make for
themselves a notion of what religion is, long before the science of
religions started its methodical comparisons. The necessities of
existence force all of us, believers and non-believers, to represent in
some way these things in the midst of which we live, upon which we must
pass judgment constantly, and which we must take into account in all our
conduct. However, since these preconceived ideas are formed without any
method, according to the circumstances and chances of life, they have no
right to any credit whatsoever, and must be rigorously set aside in the
examination which is to follow. It is not from our prejudices, passions
or habits that we should demand the elements of the definition which we
must have; it is from the reality itself which we are going to define.

Let us set ourselves before this reality. Leaving aside all conceptions
of religion in general, let us consider the various religions in their
concrete reality, and attempt to disengage that which they have in
common; for religion cannot be defined except by the characteristics
which are found wherever religion itself is found. In this comparison,
then, we shall make use of all the religious systems which we can know,
those of the present and those of the past, the most primitive and
simple as well as the most recent and refined; for we have neither the
right nor the logical means of excluding some and retaining others. For
those who regard religion as only a natural manifestation of human
activity, all religions, without any exception whatsoever, are
instructive; for all, after their manner, express man, and thus can aid
us in better understanding this aspect of our nature. Also, we have seen
how far it is from being the best way of studying religion to consider
by preference the forms which it presents among the most civilized

But to aid the mind in freeing itself from these usual conceptions
which, owing to their prestige, might prevent it from seeing things as
they really are, it is fitting to examine some of the most current of
the definitions in which these prejudices are commonly expressed, before
taking up the question on our own account.


One idea which generally passes as characteristic of all that is
religious, is that of the supernatural. By this is understood all sorts
of things which surpass the limits of our knowledge; the supernatural
is the world of the mysterious, of the unknowable, of the
un-understandable. Thus religion would be a sort of speculation upon all
that which evades science or distinct thought in general. "Religions
diametrically opposed in their overt dogmas," said Spencer, "are
perfectly at one in the tacit conviction that the existence of the
world, with all it contains and all which surrounds it, is a mystery
calling for an explanation"; he thus makes them consist essentially in
"the belief in the omnipresence of something which is inscrutable."[27]
In the same manner, Max Müller sees in religion "a struggle to conceive
the inconceivable, to utter the unutterable, a longing after the

It is certain that the sentiment of mystery has not been without a
considerable importance in certain religions, notably in Christianity.
It must also be said that the importance of this sentiment has varied
remarkably at different moments in the history of Christianity. There
are periods when this notion passes to an inferior place, and is even
effaced. For example, for the Christians of the seventeenth century,
dogma had nothing disturbing for the reason; faith reconciled itself
easily with science and philosophy, and the thinkers, such as Pascal,
who really felt that there is something profoundly obscure in things,
were so little in harmony with their age that they remained
misunderstood by their contemporaries.[29] It would appear somewhat
hasty, therefore, to make an idea subject to parallel eclipses, the
essential element of even the Christian religion.

In all events, it is certain that this idea does not appear until late
in the history of religions; it is completely foreign, not only to those
peoples who are called primitive, but also to all others who have not
attained a considerable degree of intellectual culture. When we see them
attribute extraordinary virtues to insignificant objects, and people the
universe with singular principles, made up of the most diverse elements
and endowed with a sort of ubiquity which is hardly representable, we
are undoubtedly prone to find an air of mystery in these conceptions. It
seems to us that these men would have been willing to resign themselves
to these ideas, so disturbing for our modern reason, only because of
their inability to find others which were more rational. But, as a
matter of fact, these explanations which surprise us so much, appear to
the primitive man as the simplest in the world. He does not regard them
as a sort of _ultima ratio_ to which the intellect resigns itself only
in despair of others, but rather as the most obvious manner of
representing and understanding what he sees about him. For him there is
nothing strange in the fact that by a mere word or gesture one is able
to command the elements, retard or precipitate the motion of the stars,
bring rain or cause it to cease, etc. The rites which he employs to
assure the fertility of the soil or the fecundity of the animal species
on which he is nourished do not appear more irrational to his eyes than
the technical processes of which our agriculturists make use, for the
same object, do to ours. The powers which he puts into play by these
diverse means do not seem to him to have anything especially mysterious
about them. Undoubtedly these forces are different from those which the
modern scientist thinks of, and whose use he teaches us; they have a
different way of acting, and do not allow themselves to be directed in
the same manner; but for those who believe in them, they are no more
unintelligible than are gravitation and electricity for the physicist of
to-day. Moreover, we shall see, in the course of this work, that the
idea of physical forces is very probably derived from that of religious
forces; then there cannot exist between the two the abyss which
separates the rational from the irrational. Even the fact that religious
forces are frequently conceived under the form of spiritual beings or
conscious wills, is no proof of their irrationality. The reason has no
repugnance _a priori_ to admitting that the so-called inanimate bodies
should be directed by intelligences, just as the human body is, though
contemporary science accommodates itself with difficulty to this
hypothesis. When Leibniz proposed to conceive the external world as an
immense society of minds, between which there were, and could be, only
spiritual relations, he thought he was working as a rationalist, and saw
nothing in this universal animism which could be offensive to the

Moreover, the idea of the supernatural, as we understand it, dates only
from to-day; in fact, it presupposes the contrary idea, of which it is
the negation; but this idea is not at all primitive. In order to say
that certain things are supernatural, it is necessary to have the
sentiment that a _natural order of things_ exists, that is to say, that
the phenomena of the universe are bound together by necessary relations,
called laws. When this principle has once been admitted, all that is
contrary to these laws must necessarily appear to be outside of nature,
and consequently, of reason; for what is natural in this sense of the
word, is also rational, these necessary relations only expressing the
manner in which things are logically related. But this idea of universal
determinism is of recent origin; even the greatest thinkers of classical
antiquity never succeeded in becoming fully conscious of it. It is a
conquest of the positive sciences; it is the postulate upon which they
repose and which they have proved by their progress. Now as long as this
was lacking or insufficiently established, the most marvellous events
contained nothing which did not appear perfectly conceivable. So long as
men did not know the immutability and the inflexibility of the order of
things, and so long as they saw there the work of contingent wills, they
found it natural that either these wills or others could modify them
arbitrarily. That is why the miraculous interventions which the ancients
attributed to their gods were not to their eyes miracles in the modern
acceptation of the term. For them, they were beautiful, rare or terrible
spectacles, or causes of surprise and marvel ([Greek: thaúmata],
_mirabilia_, _miracula_); but they never saw in them glimpses of a
mysterious world into which the reason cannot penetrate.

We can understand this mentality the better since it has not yet
completely disappeared from our midst. If the principle of determinism
is solidly established to-day in the physical and natural sciences, it
is only a century ago that it was first introduced into the social
sciences, and its authority there is still contested. There are only a
small number of minds which are strongly penetrated with this idea that
societies are subject to natural laws and form a kingdom of nature. It
follows that veritable miracles are believed to be possible there. It is
admitted, for example, that a legislator can create an institution out
of nothing by a mere injunction of its will, or transform one social
system into another, just as the believers in so many religions have
held that the divine will created the world out of nothing, or can
arbitrarily transmute one thing into another. As far as social facts are
concerned, we still have the mentality of primitives. However, if so
many of our contemporaries still retain this antiquated conception for
sociological affairs, it is not because the life of societies appears
obscure and mysterious to them; on the contrary, if they are so easily
contented with these explanations, and if they are so obstinate in their
illusions which experience constantly belies, it is because social
events seem to them the clearest thing in the world; it is because they
have not yet realized their real obscurity; it is because they have not
yet recognized the necessity of resorting to the laborious methods of
the natural sciences to gradually scatter the darkness. The same state
of mind is found at the root of many religious beliefs which surprise us
by their pseudo-simplicity. It is science and not religion which has
taught men that things are complex and difficult to understand.

But the human mind, says Jevons,[30] has no need of a properly
scientific culture to notice that determined sequences, or a constant
order of succession, exist between facts, or to observe, on the other
hand, that this order is frequently upset. It sometimes happens that the
sun is suddenly eclipsed, that rain fails at the time when it is
expected, that the moon is slow to reappear after its periodical
disappearance, etc. Since these events are outside the ordinary course
of affairs, they are attributed to extraordinary exceptional causes,
that is to say, in fine, to extra-natural causes. It is under this form
that the idea of the supernatural is born at the very outset of history,
and from this moment, according to this author, religious thought finds
itself provided with its proper subject.

But in the first place, the supernatural cannot be reduced to the
unforeseen. The new is a part of nature just as well as its contrary. If
we state that in general, phenomena succeed one another in a determined
order, we observe equally well that this order is only approximative,
that it is not always precisely the same, and that it has all kinds of
exceptions. If we have ever so little experience, we are accustomed to
seeing our expectations fail, and these deceptions return too often to
appear extraordinary to us. A certain contingency is taught by
experience just as well as a certain uniformity; then we have no reason
for assigning the one to causes and forces entirely different from those
upon which the other depends. In order to arrive at the idea of the
supernatural, it is not enough, therefore, to be witnesses to unexpected
events; it is also necessary that these be conceived as impossible, that
is to say, irreconcilable with an order which, rightly or wrongly,
appears to us to be implied in the nature of things. Now this idea of a
necessary order has been constructed little by little by the positive
sciences, and consequently the contrary notion could not have existed
before them.

Also, in whatever manner men have represented the novelties and
contingencies revealed by experience, there is nothing in these
representations which could serve to characterize religion. For
religious conceptions have as their object, before everything else, to
express and explain, not that which is exceptional and abnormal in
things, but, on the contrary, that which is constant and regular. Very
frequently, the gods serve less to account for the monstrosities,
fantasies and anomalies than for the regular march of the universe, for
the movement of the stars, the rhythm of the seasons, the annual growth
of vegetation, the perpetuation of species, etc. It is far from being
true, then, that the notion of the religions coincides with that of the
extraordinary or the unforeseen. Jevons replies that this conception of
religious forces is not primitive. Men commenced by imagining them to
account for disorders and accidents, and it was only afterwards that
they began to utilize them in explaining the uniformities of
nature.[31] But it is not clear what could have led men to attribute
such manifestly contradictory functions to them. More than that, the
hypothesis according to which sacred beings were at first restricted to
the negative function of disturbers is quite arbitrary. In fact, we
shall see that, even with the most simple religions we know, their
essential task is to maintain, in a positive manner, the normal course
of life.[32]

So the idea of mystery is not of primitive origin. It was not given to
man; it is man who has forged it, with his own hands, along with the
contrary idea. This is why it has a place only in a very small number of
advanced religions. It is impossible to make it the characteristic mark
of religious phenomena without excluding from the definition the
majority of the facts to be defined.


Another idea by which the attempt to define religion is often made, is
that of divinity. "Religion," says M. Réville,[33] "is the determination
of human life by the sentiment of a bond uniting the human mind to that
mysterious mind whose domination of the world and itself it recognizes,
and to whom it delights in feeling itself united." It is certain that if
the word divinity is taken in a precise and narrow sense, this
definition leaves aside a multitude of obviously religious facts. The
souls of the dead and the spirits of all ranks and classes with which
the religious imagination of so many different peoples has populated
nature, are always the object of rites and sometimes even of a regular
cult; yet they are not gods in the proper sense of the term. But in
order that the definition may embrace them, it is enough to substitute
for the term "gods" the more comprehensive one of "spiritual beings."
This is what Tylor does. "The first requisite in a systematic study of
the religions of the lower races," he says, "is to lay down a
rudimentary definition of religion. By requiring in this definition the
belief in a supreme deity ..., no doubt many tribes may be excluded from
the category of religious. But such narrow definition has the fault of
identifying religion rather with particular developments.... It seems
best ... simply to claim as a minimum definition of Religion, the belief
in Spiritual Beings."[34] By spiritual beings must be understood
conscious subjects gifted with powers superior to those possessed by
common men; this qualification is found in the souls of the dead,
geniuses or demons as well as in divinities properly so-called. It is
important, therefore, to give our attention at once to the particular
conception of religion which is implied in this definition. The
relations which we can have with beings of this sort are determined by
the nature attributed to them. They are conscious beings; then we can
act upon them only in the same way that we act upon consciousnesses in
general, that is to say, by psychological processes, attempting to
convince them or move them, either with the aid of words (invocations,
prayers), or by offerings and sacrifices. And since the object of
religion is to regulate our relations with these special beings, there
can be no religion except where there are prayers, sacrifices,
propitiatory rites, etc. Thus we have a very simple criterium which
permits us to distinguish that which is religious from that which is
not. It is to this criterium that Frazer,[35] and with him numerous
ethnographers,[36] systematically makes reference.

But howsoever evident this definition may appear, thanks to the mental
habits which we owe to our religious education, there are many facts to
which it is not applicable, but which appertain to the field of religion

In the first place, there are great religions from which the idea of
gods and spirits is absent, or at least, where it plays only a secondary
and minor rôle. This is the case with Buddhism. Buddhism, says Burnouf,
"sets itself in opposition to Brahmanism as a moral system without god
and an atheism without Nature."[37] "As it recognizes not a god upon
whom man depends," says Barth, "its doctrine is absolutely
atheistic,"[38] while Oldenberg, in his turn, calls it "a faith without
a god."[39] In fact, all that is essential to Buddhism is found in the
four propositions which the faithful call the four noble truths.[40] The
first states the existence of suffering as the accompaniment to the
perpetual change of things; the second shows desire to be the cause of
suffering; the third makes the suppression of desire the only means of
suppressing sorrow; the fourth enumerates the three stages through which
one must pass to attain this suppression: they are uprightness,
meditation, and finally wisdom, the full possession of the doctrine.
These three stages once traversed, one arrives at the end of the road,
at the deliverance, at salvation by the Nirvâna.

Now in none of these principles is there question of a divinity. The
Buddhist is not interested in knowing whence came the world in which he
lives and suffers; he takes it as a given fact,[41] and his whole
concern is to escape it. On the other hand, in this work of salvation,
he can count only upon himself; "he has no god to thank, as he had
previously no god to invoke during his struggle."[42] Instead of
praying, in the ordinary sense of the term, instead of turning towards a
superior being and imploring his assistance, he relies upon himself and
meditates. This is not saying "that he absolutely denies the existence
of the beings called Indra, Agni and Varuna;[43] but he believes that he
owes them nothing and that he has nothing to do with them," for their
power can only extend over the goods of this world, which are without
value for him. Then he is an atheist, in the sense that he does not
concern himself with the question whether gods exist or not. Besides,
even if they should exist, and with whatever powers they might be armed,
the saint or the emancipated man regards himself superior to them; for
that which causes the dignity of beings is not the extent of the action
they exercise over things, but merely the degree of their advancement
upon the road of salvation.[44]

It is true that Buddha, at least in some divisions of the Buddhist
Church, has sometimes been considered as a sort of god. He has his
temples; he is the object of a cult, which, by the way, is a very simple
one, for it is reduced essentially to the offering of flowers and the
adoration of consecrated relics or images. It is scarcely more than a
commemorative cult. But more than that, this divinization of Buddha,
granting that the term is exact, is peculiar to the form known as
Northern Buddhism. "The Buddhist of the South," says Kern, "and the less
advanced of the Northern Buddhists can be said, according to data known
to-day, to speak of their founder as if he were a man."[45] Of course,
they attribute extraordinary powers to Buddha, which are superior to
those possessed by ordinary mortals; but it was a very ancient belief in
India, and one that is also very general in a host of different
religions, that a great saint is endowed with exceptional virtues;[46]
yet a saint is not a god, any more than a priest or magician is, in
spite of the superhuman faculties frequently attributed to them. On the
other hand, according to the most authorized scholars, all this theism
and the complicated mythology which generally accompanies it, are only
derived and deviated forms of Buddhism. At first, Buddha was only
regarded as "the wisest of men."[47] Burnouf says "the conception of a
Buddha who is something more than a man arrived at the highest stage of
holiness, is outside the circle of ideas which form the foundation of
the simple Sûtras";[48] and the same author adds elsewhere that "his
humanity is a fact so incontestably recognized by all that the
myth-makers, to whom miracles cost so little, have never even had the
idea of making a god out of him since his death."[49] So we may well ask
if he has ever really divested himself completely of all human
character, and if we have a right to make him into a god completely;[50]
in any case, it would have to be a god of a very particular character
and one whose rôle in no way resembles that of other divine
personalities. For a god is before all else a living being, with whom
man should reckon, and upon whom he may count; but Buddha is dead, he
has entered into the Nirvâna, and he can no longer influence the march
of human events.[51]

Finally, whatever one may think of the divinity of Buddha, it remains a
fact that this is a conception wholly outside the essential part of
Buddhism. Buddhism consists primarily in the idea of salvation, and
salvation supposes only that one know the good doctrine and practise it.
To be sure, this could never have been known if Buddha had not come to
reveal it; but when this revelation had once been made, the work of
Buddha was accomplished. From that moment he ceased to be a factor
necessary to the religious life. The practice of the four holy truths
would be possible, even if the memory of him who revealed them were
completely obliterated.[52] It is quite another matter with
Christianity, which is inconceivable without the ever-present idea of
Christ and his ever-practised cult; for it is by the ever-living Christ,
sacrificed each day, that the community of believers continues to
communicate with the supreme source of the spiritual life.[53]

All that precedes can be applied equally well to another great religion
of India, Jaïnism. The two doctrines have nearly the same conception of
the world and of life. "Like the Buddhists," says Barth, "the Jaïnas are
atheists. They admit of no creator; the world is eternal; they
explicitly deny the possibility of a perfect being from the beginning.
The Jina became perfect; he was not always so."

Just as the Buddhists in the north, the Jaïnists, or at least certain of
them, have come back to a sort of deism; in the inscriptions of Dekhan
there is mention of a _Jinapati_, a sort of supreme Jina, who is called
the primary creator; but such language, says the same author, is "in
contradiction to the most explicit declarations extracted from their
most authorized writings."[54]

Moreover, if this indifference for the divine is developed to such a
point in Buddhism and Jaïnism, it is because its germ existed already in
the Brahmanism from which the two were derived. In certain of its forms
at least, Brahmic speculation ended in "a frankly materialistic and
atheistic interpretation of the universe."[55] In time, the numerous
divinities which the people of India had originally learned to adore,
came to merge themselves into a sort of principal deity, impersonal and
abstract, the essence of all that exists. This supreme reality, which no
longer has anything of a divine personality about it, is contained
within man himself, or rather, man is but one with it, for nothing
exists apart from it. To find it, and unite himself to it, one does not
have to search some external support outside himself; it is enough to
concentrate upon himself and meditate. "If in Buddhism," says Oldenberg,
"the proud attempt be made to conceive a deliverance in which man
himself delivers himself, to create a faith without a god, it is
Brahmanical speculation which has prepared the way for this thought. It
thrusts back the idea of a god step by step; the forms of the old gods
have faded away, and besides the Brahma, which is enthroned in its
everlasting quietude, highly exalted above the destinies of the human
world, there is left remaining, as the sole really active person in the
great work of deliverance, man himself."[56] Here, then, we find a
considerable portion of religious evolution which has consisted in the
progressive recoil of the idea of a spiritual being from that of a
deity. Here are great religions where invocations, propitiations,
sacrifices and prayers properly so-called are far from holding a
preponderating place, and which consequently do not present that
distinctive sign by which some claim to recognize those manifestations
which are properly called religious.

But even within deistic religions there are many rites which are
completely independent of all idea of gods or spiritual beings. In the
first place, there are a multitude of interdictions. For example, the
Bible orders that a woman live isolated during a determined period each
month;[57] a similar isolation is obligatory during the lying-in at
child-birth;[58] it is forbidden to hitch an ass and a horse together,
or to wear a garment in which the hemp is mixed with flax;[59] but it is
impossible to see the part which belief in Jahveh can have played in
these interdictions, for he is wholly absent from all the relations thus
forbidden, and could not be interested in them. As much can be said for
the majority of the dietetic regulations. These prohibitions are not
peculiar to the Hebrews, but they are found under diverse forms, but
with substantially the same character, in innumerable religions.

It is true that these rites are purely negative, but they do not cease
being religious for that. Also there are others which demand active and
positive services of the faithful, but which are nevertheless of the
same nature. They work by themselves, and their efficacy depends upon no
divine power; they mechanically produce the effects which are the reason
for their existence. They do not consist either in prayers or offerings
addressed to a being upon whose goodwill the expected result depends;
this result is obtained by the automatic operation of the ritual. Such
is notably the case with the sacrifice of the Vedic religion. "The
sacrifice exercises a direct influence upon the celestial phenomena,"
says Bergaigne;[60] it is all-powerful of itself, and without any divine
influence. It is this, for example, which broke open the doors of the
cavern where the dawn was imprisoned and which made the light of day
burst forth.[61] In the same way there are special hymns which, by
their direct action, made the waters of heaven fall upon the earth, and
_even in spite of the gods_.[62] The practice of certain austerities has
the same power. More than that, "the sacrifice is so fully the origin of
things _par excellence_, that they have attributed to it not only the
origin of man, but even that of the gods.... Such a conception may well
appear strange. It is explained, however, as being one of the ultimate
consequences of the idea of the omnipotence of sacrifice."[63] Thus, in
the entire first part of his work, M. Bergaigne speaks only of
sacrifices, where divinities play no rôle whatsoever.

Nor is this fact peculiar to the Vedic religion, but is, on the
contrary, quite general. In every cult there are practices which act by
themselves, by a virtue which is their own, without the intervention of
any god between the individual who practises the rite and the end sought
after. When, in the so-called Feast of the Tabernacles, the Jew set the
air in motion by shaking willow branches in a certain rhythm, it was to
cause the wind to rise and the rain to fall; and it was believed that
the desired phenomenon would result automatically from the rite,
provided it were correctly performed.[64] This is the explanation of the
fundamental importance laid by nearly all cults upon the material
portion of the ceremonies. This religious formalism--very probably the
first form of legal formalism--comes from the fact that since the
formula to be pronounced and the movements to be made contain within
themselves the source of their efficacy, they would lose it if they did
not conform absolutely to the type consecrated by success.

Thus there are rites without gods, and even rites from which gods are
derived. All religious powers do not emanate from divine personalities,
and there are relations of cult which have other objects than uniting
man to a deity. Religion is more than the idea of gods or spirits, and
consequently cannot be defined exclusively in relation to these latter.


These definitions set aside, let us set ourselves before the problem.

First of all, let us remark that in all these formulæ it is the nature
of religion as a whole that they seek to express. They proceed as if it
were a sort of indivisible entity, while, as a matter of fact, it is
made up of parts; it is a more or less complex system of myths, dogmas,
rites and ceremonies. Now a whole cannot be defined except in relation
to its parts. It will be more methodical, then, to try to characterize
the various elementary phenomena of which all religions are made up,
before we attack the system produced by their union. This method is
imposed still more forcibly by the fact that there are religious
phenomena which belong to no determined religion. Such are those
phenomena which constitute the matter of folk-lore. In general, they are
the debris of passed religions, inorganized survivals; but there are
some which have been formed spontaneously under the influence of local
causes. In our European countries Christianity has forced itself to
absorb and assimilate them; it has given them a Christian colouring.
Nevertheless, there are many which have persisted up until a recent
date, or which still exist with a relative autonomy: celebrations of May
Day, the summer solstice or the carnival, beliefs relative to genii,
local demons, etc., are cases in point. If the religious character of
these facts is now diminishing, their religious importance is
nevertheless so great that they have enabled Mannhardt and his school to
revive the science of religions. A definition which did not take account
of them would not cover all that is religious.

Religious phenomena are naturally arranged in two fundamental
categories: beliefs and rites. The first are states of opinion, and
consist in representations; the second are determined modes of action.
Between these two classes of facts there is all the difference which
separates thought from action.

The rites can be defined and distinguished from other human practices,
moral practices, for example, only by the special nature of their
object. A moral rule prescribes certain manners of acting to us, just as
a rite does, but which are addressed to a different class of objects. So
it is the object of the rite which must be characterized, if we are to
characterize the rite itself. Now it is in the beliefs that the special
nature of this object is expressed. It is possible to define the rite
only after we have defined the belief.

All known religious beliefs, whether simple or complex, present one
common characteristic: they presuppose a classification of all the
things, real and ideal, of which men think, into two classes or opposed
groups, generally designated by two distinct terms which are translated
well enough by the words _profane_ and _sacred_ (_profane_, _sacré_).
This division of the world into two domains, the one containing all that
is sacred, the other all that is profane, is the distinctive trait of
religious thought; the beliefs, myths, dogmas and legends are either
representations or systems of representations which express the nature
of sacred things, the virtues and powers which are attributed to them,
or their relations with each other and with profane things. But by
sacred things one must not understand simply those personal beings which
are called gods or spirits; a rock, a tree, a spring, a pebble, a piece
of wood, a house, in a word, anything can be sacred. A rite can have
this character; in fact, the rite does not exist which does not have it
to a certain degree. There are words, expressions and formulæ which can
be pronounced only by the mouths of consecrated persons; there are
gestures and movements which everybody cannot perform. If the Vedic
sacrifice has had such an efficacy that, according to mythology, it was
the creator of the gods, and not merely a means of winning their favour,
it is because it possessed a virtue comparable to that of the most
sacred beings. The circle of sacred objects cannot be determined, then,
once for all. Its extent varies infinitely, according to the different
religions. That is how Buddhism is a religion: in default of gods, it
admits the existence of sacred things, namely, the four noble truths and
the practices derived from them.[65]

Up to the present we have confined ourselves to enumerating a certain
number of sacred things as examples: we must now show by what general
characteristics they are to be distinguished from profane things.

One might be tempted, first of all, to define them by the place they are
generally assigned in the hierarchy of things. They are naturally
considered superior in dignity and power to profane things, and
particularly to man, when he is only a man and has nothing sacred about
him. One thinks of himself as occupying an inferior and dependent
position in relation to them; and surely this conception is not without
some truth. Only there is nothing in it which is really characteristic
of the sacred. It is not enough that one thing be subordinated to
another for the second to be sacred in regard to the first. Slaves are
inferior to their masters, subjects to their king, soldiers to their
leaders, the miser to his gold, the man ambitious for power to the hands
which keep it from him; but if it is sometimes said of a man that he
makes a religion of those beings or things whose eminent value and
superiority to himself he thus recognizes, it is clear that in any case
the word is taken in a metaphorical sense, and that there is nothing in
these relations which is really religious.[66]

On the other hand, it must not be lost to view that there are sacred
things of every degree, and that there are some in relation to which a
man feels himself relatively at his ease. An amulet has a sacred
character, yet the respect which it inspires is nothing exceptional.
Even before his gods, a man is not always in such a marked state of
inferiority; for it very frequently happens that he exercises a
veritable physical constraint upon them to obtain what he desires. He
beats the fetich with which he is not contented, but only to reconcile
himself with it again, if in the end it shows itself more docile to the
wishes of its adorer.[67] To have rain, he throws stones into the spring
or sacred lake where the god of rain is thought to reside; he believes
that by this means he forces him to come out and show himself.[68]
Moreover, if it is true that man depends upon his gods, this dependence
is reciprocal. The gods also have need of man; without offerings and
sacrifices they would die. We shall even have occasion to show that this
dependence of the gods upon their worshippers is maintained even in the
most idealistic religions.

But if a purely hierarchic distinction is a criterium at once too
general and too imprecise, there is nothing left with which to
characterize the sacred in its relation to the profane except their
heterogeneity. However, this heterogeneity is sufficient to characterize
this classification of things and to distinguish it from all others,
because it is very particular: _it is absolute_. In all the history of
human thought there exists no other example of two categories of things
so profoundly differentiated or so radically opposed to one another. The
traditional opposition of good and bad is nothing beside this; for the
good and the bad are only two opposed species of the same class, namely
morals, just as sickness and health are two different aspects of the
same order of facts, life, while the sacred and the profane have always
and everywhere been conceived by the human mind as two distinct classes,
as two worlds between which there is nothing in common. The forces
which play in one are not simply those which are met with in the other,
but a little stronger; they are of a different sort. In different
religions, this opposition has been conceived in different ways. Here,
to separate these two sorts of things, it has seemed sufficient to
localize them in different parts of the physical universe; there, the
first have been put into an ideal and transcendental world, while the
material world is left in full possession of the others. But howsoever
much the forms of the contrast may vary,[69] the fact of the contrast is

This is not equivalent to saying that a being can never pass from one of
these worlds into the other: but the manner in which this passage is
effected, when it does take place, puts into relief the essential
duality of the two kingdoms. In fact, it implies a veritable
metamorphosis. This is notably demonstrated by the initiation rites,
such as they are practised by a multitude of peoples. This initiation is
a long series of ceremonies with the object of introducing the young man
into the religious life: for the first time, he leaves the purely
profane world where he passed his first infancy, and enters into the
world of sacred things. Now this change of state is thought of, not as a
simple and regular development of pre-existent germs, but as a
transformation _totius substantiae_--of the whole being. It is said that
at this moment the young man dies, that the person that he was ceases to
exist, and that another is instantly substituted for it. He is re-born
under a new form. Appropriate ceremonies are felt to bring about this
death and re-birth, which are not understood in a merely symbolic sense,
but are taken literally.[70] Does this not prove that between the
profane being which he was and the religious being which he becomes,
there is a break of continuity?

This heterogeneity is even so complete that it frequently degenerates
into a veritable antagonism. The two worlds are not only conceived of as
separate, but as even hostile and jealous rivals of each other. Since
men cannot fully belong to one except on condition of leaving the other
completely, they are exhorted to withdraw themselves completely from the
profane world, in order to lead an exclusively religious life. Hence
comes the monasticism which is artificially organized outside of and
apart from the natural environment in which the ordinary man leads the
life of this world, in a different one, closed to the first, and nearly
its contrary. Hence comes the mystic asceticism whose object is to root
out from man all the attachment for the profane world that remains in
him. From that come all the forms of religious suicide, the logical
working-out of this asceticism; for the only manner of fully escaping
the profane life is, after all, to forsake all life.

The opposition of these two classes manifests itself outwardly with a
visible sign by which we can easily recognize this very special
classification, wherever it exists. Since the idea of the sacred is
always and everywhere separated from the idea of the profane in the
thought of men, and since we picture a sort of logical chasm between the
two, the mind irresistibly refuses to allow the two corresponding things
to be confounded, or even to be merely put in contact with each other;
for such a promiscuity, or even too direct a contiguity, would
contradict too violently the dissociation of these ideas in the mind.
The sacred thing is _par excellence_ that which the profane should not
touch, and cannot touch with impunity. To be sure, this interdiction
cannot go so far as to make all communication between the two worlds
impossible; for if the profane could in no way enter into relations with
the sacred, this latter could be good for nothing. But, in addition to
the fact that this establishment of relations is always a delicate
operation in itself, demanding great precautions and a more or less
complicated initiation,[71] it is quite impossible, unless the profane
is to lose its specific characteristics and become sacred after a
fashion and to a certain degree itself. The two classes cannot even
approach each other and keep their own nature at the same time.

Thus we arrive at the first criterium of religious beliefs. Undoubtedly
there are secondary species within these two fundamental classes which,
in their turn, are more or less incompatible with each other.[72] But
the real characteristic of religious phenomena is that they always
suppose a bipartite division of the whole universe, known and knowable,
into two classes which embrace all that exists, but which radically
exclude each other. Sacred things are those which the interdictions
protect and isolate; profane things, those to which these interdictions
are applied and which must remain at a distance from the first.
Religious beliefs are the representations which express the nature of
sacred things and the relations which they sustain, either with each
other or with profane things. Finally, rites are the rules of conduct
which prescribe how a man should comport himself in the presence of
these sacred objects.

When a certain number of sacred things sustain relations of
co-ordination or subordination with each other in such a way as to form
a system having a certain unity, but which is not comprised within any
other system of the same sort, the totality of these beliefs and their
corresponding rites constitutes a religion. From this definition it is
seen that a religion is not necessarily contained within one sole and
single idea, and does not proceed from one unique principle which,
though varying according to the circumstances under which it is applied,
is nevertheless at bottom always the same: it is rather a whole made up
of distinct and relatively individualized parts. Each homogeneous group
of sacred things, or even each sacred thing of some importance,
constitutes a centre of organization about which gravitate a group of
beliefs and rites, or a particular cult; there is no religion, howsoever
unified it may be, which does not recognize a plurality of sacred
things. Even Christianity, at least in its Catholic form, admits, in
addition to the divine personality which, incidentally, is triple as
well as one, the Virgin, angels, saints, souls of the dead, etc. Thus a
religion cannot be reduced to one single cult generally, but father
consists in a system of cults, each endowed with a certain autonomy.
Also, this autonomy is variable. Sometimes they are arranged in a
hierarchy, and subordinated to some predominating cult, into which they
are finally absorbed; but sometimes, also, they are merely rearranged
and united. The religion which we are going to study will furnish us
with an example of just this latter sort of organization.

At the same time we find the explanation of how there can be groups of
religious phenomena which do not belong to any special religion; it is
because they have not been, or are no longer, a part of any religious
system. If, for some special reason, one of the cults of which we just
spoke happens to be maintained while the group of which it was a part
disappears, it survives only in a disintegrated condition. That is what
has happened to many agrarian cults which have survived themselves as
folk-lore. In certain cases, it is not even a cult, but a simple
ceremony or particular rite which persists in this way.[73]

Although this definition is only preliminary, it permits us to see in
what terms the problem which necessarily dominates the science of
religions should be stated. When we believed that sacred beings could be
distinguished from others merely by the greater intensity of the powers
attributed to them, the question of how men came to imagine them was
sufficiently simple: it was enough to demand which forces had, because
of their exceptional energy, been able to strike the human imagination
forcefully enough to inspire religious sentiments. But if, as we have
sought to establish, sacred things differ in nature from profane things,
if they have a wholly different essence, then the problem is more
complex. For we must first of all ask what has been able to lead men to
see in the world two heterogeneous and incompatible worlds, though
nothing sensible experience seems able to suggest the idea of so radical
a duality to them.


However, this definition is not yet complete, for it is equally
applicable to two sorts of facts which, while being related to each
other, must be distinguished nevertheless: these are magic and religion.

Magic, too, is made up of beliefs and rites. Like religion, it has its
myths and its dogmas; only they are more elementary, undoubtedly
because, seeking technical and utilitarian ends, it does not waste its
time in pure speculation. It has its ceremonies, sacrifices,
lustrations, prayers, chants and dances as well. The beings which the
magician invokes and the forces which he throws in play are not merely
of the same nature as the forces and beings to which religion addresses
itself; very frequently, they are identically the same. Thus, even with
the most inferior societies, the souls of the dead are essentially
sacred things, and the object of religious rites. But at the same time,
they play a considerable rôle in magic. In Australia[74] as well as in
Melanesia,[75] in Greece as well as among the Christian peoples,[76] the
souls of the dead, their bones and their hair, are among the
intermediaries used the most frequently by the magician. Demons are also
a common instrument for magic action. Now these demons are also beings
surrounded with interdictions; they too are separated and live in a
world apart, so that it is frequently difficult to distinguish them
from the gods properly so-called.[77] Moreover, in Christianity itself,
is not the devil a fallen god, or even leaving aside all question of his
origin, does he not have a religious character from the mere fact that
the hell of which he has charge is something indispensable to the
Christian religion? There are even some regular and official deities who
are invoked by the magician. Sometimes these are the gods of a foreign
people; for example, Greek magicians called upon Egyptian, Assyrian or
Jewish gods. Sometimes, they are even national gods: Hecate and Diana
were the object of a magic cult; the Virgin, Christ and the saints have
been utilized in the same way by Christian magicians.[78]

Then will it be necessary to say that magic is hardly distinguishable
from religion; that magic is full of religion just as religion is full
of magic, and consequently that it is impossible to separate them and to
define the one without the other? It is difficult to sustain this
thesis, because of the marked repugnance of religion for magic, and in
return, the hostility of the second towards the first. Magic takes a
sort of professional pleasure in profaning holy things;[79] in its
rites, it performs the contrary of the religious ceremony.[80] On its
side, religion, when it has not condemned and prohibited magic rites,
has always looked upon them with disfavour. As Hubert and Mauss have
remarked, there is something thoroughly anti-religious in the doings of
the magician.[81] Whatever relations there may be between these two
sorts of institutions, it is difficult to imagine their not being
opposed somewhere; and it is still more necessary for us to find where
they are differentiated, as we plan to limit our researches to religion,
and to stop at the point where magic commences.

Here is how a line of demarcation can be traced between these two

The really religious beliefs are always common to a determined group,
which makes profession of adhering to them and of practising the rites
connected with them. They are not merely received individually by all
the members of this group; they are something belonging to the group,
and they make its unity. The individuals which compose it feel
themselves united to each other by the simple fact that they have a
common faith. A society whose members are united by the fact that they
think in the same way in regard to the sacred world and its relations
with the profane world, and by the fact that they translate these common
ideas into common practices, is what is called a Church. In all history,
we do not find a single religion without a Church. Sometimes the Church
is strictly national, sometimes it passes the frontiers; sometimes it
embraces an entire people (Rome, Athens, the Hebrews), sometimes it
embraces only a part of them (the Christian societies since the advent
of Protestantism); sometimes it is directed by a corps of priests,
sometimes it is almost completely devoid of any official directing
body.[82] But wherever we observe the religious life, we find that it
has a definite group as its foundation. Even the so-called private
cults, such as the domestic cult or the cult of a corporation, satisfy
this condition; for they are always celebrated by a group, the family or
the corporation. Moreover, even these particular religions are
ordinarily only special forms of a more general religion which embraces
all;[83] these restricted Churches are in reality only chapels of a
vaster Church which, by reason of this very extent, merits this name
still more.[84]

It is quite another matter with magic. To be sure, the belief in magic
is always more or less general; it is very frequently diffused in large
masses of the population, and there are even peoples where it has as
many adherents as the real religion. But it does not result in binding
together those who adhere to it, nor in uniting them into a group
leading a common life. _There is no Church of magic._ Between the
magician and the individuals who consult him, as between these
individuals themselves, there are no lasting bonds which make them
members of the same moral community, comparable to that formed by the
believers in the same god or the observers of the same cult. The
magician has a clientele and not a Church, and it is very possible that
his clients have no other relations between each other, or even do not
know each other; even the relations which they have with him are
generally accidental and transient; they are just like those of a sick
man with his physician. The official and public character with which he
is sometimes invested changes nothing in this situation; the fact that
he works openly does not unite him more regularly or more durably to
those who have recourse to his services.

It is true that in certain cases, magicians form societies among
themselves: it happens that they assemble more or less periodically to
celebrate certain rites in common; it is well known what a place these
assemblies of witches hold in European folk-lore. But it is to be
remarked that these associations are in no way indispensable to the
working of the magic; they are even rare and rather exceptional. The
magician has no need of uniting himself to his fellows to practise his
art. More frequently, he is a recluse; in general, far from seeking
society, he flees it. "Even in regard to his colleagues, he always keeps
his personal independence."[85] Religion, on the other hand, is
inseparable from the idea of a Church. From this point of view, there is
an essential difference between magic and religion. But what is
especially important is that when these societies of magic are formed,
they do not include all the adherents to magic, but only the magicians;
the laymen, if they may be so called, that is to say, those for whose
profit the rites are celebrated, in fine, those who represent the
worshippers in the regular cults, are excluded. Now the magician is for
magic what the priest is for religion, but a college of priests is not a
Church, any more than a religious congregation which should devote
itself to some particular saint in the shadow of a cloister, would be a
particular cult. A Church is not a fraternity of priests; it is a moral
community formed by all the believers in a single faith, laymen as well
as priests. But magic lacks any such community.[86]

But if the idea of a Church is made to enter into the definition of
religion, does that not exclude the private religions which the
individual establishes for himself and celebrates by himself? There is
scarcely a society where these are not found. Every Ojibway, as we shall
see below, has his own personal _manitou_, which he chooses himself and
to which he renders special religious services; the Melanesian of the
Banks Islands has his _tamaniu_;[87] the Roman, his _genius_;[88] the
Christian, his patron saint and guardian angel, etc. By definition all
these cults seem to be independent of all idea of the group. Not only
are these individual religions very frequent in history, but nowadays
many are asking if they are not destined to be the pre-eminent form of
the religious life, and if the day will not come when there will be no
other cult than that which each man will freely perform within

But if we leave these speculations in regard to the future aside for the
moment, and confine ourselves to religions such as they are at present
or have been in the past, it becomes clearly evident that these
individual cults are not distinct and autonomous religious systems, but
merely aspects of the common religion of the whole Church, of which the
individuals are members. The patron saint of the Christian is chosen
from the official list of saints recognized by the Catholic Church;
there are even canonical rules prescribing how each Catholic should
perform this private cult. In the same way, the idea that each man
necessarily has a protecting genius is found, under different forms, at
the basis of a great number of American religions, as well as of the
Roman religion (to cite only these two examples); for, as will be seen
later, it is very closely connected with the idea of the soul, and this
idea of the soul is not one of those which can be left entirely to
individual choice. In a word, it is the Church of which he is a member
which teaches the individual what these personal gods are, what their
function is, how he should enter into relations with them and how he
should honour them. When a methodical analysis is made of the doctrines
of any Church whatsoever, sooner or later we come upon those concerning
private cults. So these are not two religions of different types, and
turned in opposite directions; both are made up of the same ideas and
the same principles, here applied to circumstances which are of interest
to the group as a whole, there to the life of the individual. This
solidarity is even so close that among certain peoples,[90] the
ceremonies by which the faithful first enter into communication with
their protecting geniuses are mixed with rites whose public character is
incontestable, namely the rites of initiation.[91]

There still remain those contemporary aspirations towards a religion
which would consist entirely in internal and subjective states, and
which would be constructed freely by each of us. But howsoever real
these aspirations may be, they cannot affect our definition, for this is
to be applied only to facts already realized, and not to uncertain
possibilities. One can define religions such as they are, or such as
they have been, but not such as they more or less vaguely tend to
become. It is possible that this religious individualism is destined to
be realized in facts; but before we can say just how far this may be the
case, we must first know what religion is, of what elements it is made
up, from what causes it results, and what function it fulfils--all
questions whose solution cannot be foreseen before the threshold of our
study has been passed. It is only at the close of this study that we can
attempt to anticipate the future.

Thus we arrive at the following definition: _A religion is a unified
system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to
say, things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite
into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to
them._ The second element which thus finds a place in our definition is
no less essential than the first; for by showing that the idea of
religion is inseparable from that of the Church, it makes it clear that
religion should be an eminently collective thing.[92]




Armed with this definition, we are now able to set out in search of this
elementary religion which we propose to study.

Even the crudest religions with which history and ethnology make us
acquainted are already of a complexity which corresponds badly with the
idea sometimes held of primitive mentality. One finds there not only a
confused system of beliefs and rites, but also such a plurality of
different principles, and such a richness of essential notions, that it
seems impossible to see in them anything but the late product of a
rather long evolution. Hence it has been concluded that to discover the
truly original form of the religious life, it is necessary to descend by
analysis beyond these observable religions, to resolve them into their
common and fundamental elements, and then to seek among these latter
some one from which the others were derived.

To the problem thus stated, two contrary solutions have been given.

There is no religious system, ancient or recent, where one does not
meet, under different forms, two religions, as it were, side by side,
which, though being united closely and mutually penetrating each other,
do not cease, nevertheless, to be distinct. The one addresses itself to
the phenomena of nature, either the great cosmic forces, such as winds,
rivers, stars or the sky, etc., or else the objects of various sorts
which cover the surface of the earth, such as plants, animals, rocks,
etc.; for this reason it has been given the name of _naturism_. The
other has spiritual beings as its object, spirits, souls, geniuses,
demons, divinities properly so-called, animated and conscious agents
like man, but distinguished from him, nevertheless, by the nature of
their powers and especially by the peculiar characteristic that they do
not affect the senses in the same way: ordinarily they are not visible
to human eyes. This religion of spirits is called _animism_. Now, to
explain the universal co-existence of these two sorts of cults, two
contradictory theories have been proposed. For some, animism is the
primitive religion, of which naturism is only a secondary and derived
form. For the others, on the contrary, it is the nature cult which was
the point of departure for religious evolution; the cult of spirits is
only a peculiar case of that.

These two theories are, up to the present, the only ones by which the
attempt has been made to explain rationally[93] the origins of religious
thought. Thus the capital problem raised by the history of religions is
generally reduced to asking which of these two solutions should be
chosen, or whether it is not better to combine them, and in that case,
what place must be given to each of the two elements.[94] Even those
scholars who do not admit either of these hypotheses in their systematic
form, do not refuse to retain certain propositions upon which they
rest.[95] Thus we have a certain number of theories already made, which
must be submitted to criticism before we take up the study of the facts
for ourselves. It will be better understood how indispensable it is to
attempt a new one, when we have seen the insufficiency of these
traditional conceptions.


It is Tylor who formed the animist theory in its essential outlines.[96]
Spencer, who took it up after him, did not reproduce it without
introducing certain modifications.[97] But in general the questions are
posed by each in the same terms, and the solutions accepted are, with a
single exception, identically the same. Therefore we can unite these two
doctrines in the exposition which follows, if we mark, at the proper
moment, the place where the two diverge from one another.

In order to find the elementary form of the religious life in these
animistic beliefs and practices, three _desiderata_ must be satisfied:
first, since according to this hypothesis, the idea of the soul is the
cardinal idea of religion, it must be shown how this is formed without
taking any of its elements from an anterior religion; secondly, it must
be made clear how souls become the object of a cult and are transformed
into spirits; and thirdly and finally, since the cult of these spirits
is not all of any religion, it remains to be explained how the cult of
nature is derived from it.

According to this theory, the idea of the soul was first suggested to
men by the badly understood spectacle of the double life they ordinarily
lead, on the one hand, when awake, on the other, when asleep. In fact,
for the savage,[98] the mental representations which he has while awake
and those of his dreams are said to be of the same value: he objectifies
the second like the first, that is to say, that he sees in them the
images of external objects whose appearance they more or less accurately
reproduce. So when he dreams that he has visited a distant country, he
believes that he really was there. But he could not have gone there,
unless two beings exist within him: the one, his body, which has
remained lying on the ground and which he finds in the same position on
awakening; the other, during this time, has travelled through space.
Similarly, if he seems to talk with one of his companions who he knows
was really at a distance, he concludes that the other also is composed
of two beings: one which sleeps at a distance, and another which has
come to manifest himself by means of the dream. From these repeated
experiences, he little by little arrives at the idea that each of us has
a double, another self, which in determined conditions has the power of
leaving the organism where it resides and of going roaming at a

Of course, this double reproduces all the essential traits of the
perceptible being which serves it as external covering; but at the same
time it is distinguished from this by many characteristics. It is more
active, since it can cover vast distances in an instant. It is more
malleable and plastic; for, to leave the body, it must pass out by its
apertures, especially the mouth and nose. It is represented as made of
matter, undoubtedly, but of a matter much more subtile and etherial than
any which we know empirically. This double is the soul. In fact, it
cannot be doubted that in numerous societies the soul has been conceived
in the image of the body; it is believed that it reproduces even the
accidental deformities such as those resulting from wounds or
mutilations. Certain Australians, after having killed their enemy, cut
off his right thumb, so that his soul, deprived of its thumb also,
cannot throw a javelin and revenge itself. But while it resembles the
body, it has, at the same time, something half spiritual about it. They
say that "it is the finer or more aeriform part of the body," that "it
has no flesh nor bone nor sinew"; that when one wishes to take hold of
it, he feels nothing; that it is "like a purified body."[99]

Also, other facts of experience which affect the mind in the same way
naturally group themselves around this fundamental fact taught by the
dream: fainting, apoplexy, catalepsy, ecstasy, in a word, all cases of
temporary insensibility. In fact, they all are explained very well by
the hypothesis that the principle of life and feeling is able to leave
the body momentarily. Also, it is natural that this principle should be
confounded with the double, since the absence of the double during sleep
daily has the effect of suspending thought and life. Thus diverse
observations seem to agree mutually and to confirm the idea of the
constitutional duality of man.[100]

But the soul is not a spirit. It is attached to a body which it can
leave only by exception; in so far as it is nothing more than that, it
is not the object of any cult. The spirit, on the other hand, though
generally having some special thing as its residence, can go away at
will, and a man can enter into relations with it only by observing
ritual precautions. The soul can become a spirit, then, only by
transforming itself: the simple application of these preceding ideas to
the fact of death produced this metamorphosis quite naturally. For a
rudimentary intelligence, in fact, death is not distinguished from a
long fainting swoon or a prolonged sleep; it has all their aspects. Thus
it seems that it too consists in a separation of the soul and the body,
analogous to that produced every night; but as in such cases, the body
is not reanimated, the idea is formed of a separation without an
assignable limit of time. When the body is once destroyed--and funeral
rites have the object of hastening this destruction--the separation is
taken as final. Hence come spirits detached from any organism and left
free in space. As their number augments with time, a population of
souls forms around the living population. These souls of men have the
needs and passions of men; they seek to concern themselves with the life
of their companions of yesterday, either to aid them or to injure them,
according to the sentiments which they have kept towards them. According
to the circumstances, their nature makes them either very precious
auxiliaries or very redoubtable adversaries. Owing to their extreme
fluidity, they can even enter into the body, and cause all sorts of
disorders there, or else increase its vitality. Thus comes the habit of
attributing to them all those events of life which vary slightly from
the ordinary: there are very few of these for which they cannot account.
Thus they constitute a sort of ever-ready supply of causes which never
leaves one at a loss when in search of explanations. Does a man appear
inspired, does he speak with energy, is it as though he were lifted
outside himself and above the ordinary level of men? It is because a
good spirit is in him and animates him. Is he overtaken by an attack or
seized by madness? It is because an evil spirit has entered into him and
brought him all this trouble. There are no maladies which cannot be
assigned to some influence of this sort. Thus the power of souls is
increased by all that men attribute to them, and in the end men find
themselves the prisoners of this imaginary world of which they are,
however, the authors and the models. They fall into dependence upon
these spiritual forces which they have created with their own hands and
in their own image. For if souls are the givers of health and sickness,
of goods and evils to this extent, it is wise to conciliate their favour
or appease them when they are irritated; hence come the offerings,
prayers, sacrifices, in a word, all the apparatus of religious

Here is the soul transformed. From a simple vital principle animating
the body of a man, it has become a spirit, a good or evil genius, or
even a deity, according to the importance of the effects with which it
is charged. But since it is death which brought about this apotheosis,
it is to the dead, to the souls of ancestors, that the first cult known
to humanity was addressed. Thus the first rites were funeral rites; the
first sacrifices were food offerings destined to satisfy the needs of
the departed; the first altars were tombs.[102]

But since these spirits were of human origin, they interested themselves
only in the life of men and were thought to act only upon human events.
It is still to be explained how other spirits were imagined to account
for the other phenomena of the universe and how the cult of nature was
subsequently formed beside that of the ancestors.

For Tylor, this extension of animism was due to the particular mentality
of the primitive who, like an infant, cannot distinguish the animate and
the inanimate. Since the first beings of which the child commences to
have an idea are men, that is, himself and those around him, it is upon
this model of human nature that he tends to think of everything. The
toys with which he plays, or the objects of every sort which affect his
senses, he regards as living beings like himself. Now the primitive
thinks like a child. Consequently, he also is inclined to endow all
things, even inanimate ones, with a nature analogous to his own. Then
if, for the reasons exposed above, he once arrives at the idea that man
is a body animated by a spirit, he must necessarily attribute a duality
of this sort and souls like his own even to inert bodies themselves. Yet
the sphere of action of the two could not be the same. The souls of men
have a direct influence only upon the world of men: they have a marked
preference for the human organism, even when death has given them their
liberty. On the other hand, the souls of things reside especially in
these things, and are regarded as the productive causes of all that
passes there. The first account for health and sickness, skilfulness or
unskilfulness, etc.; by the second are explained especially the
phenomena of the physical world, the movement of water-courses or the
stars, the germination of plants, the reproduction of animals, etc. Thus
the first philosophy of man, which is at the basis of the ancestor-cult,
is completed by a philosophy of the world.

In regard to these cosmic spirits, man finds himself in a state of
dependence still more evident than that in regard to the wandering
doubles of his ancestors. For he could have only ideal and imaginary
relations with the latter, but he depends upon things in reality; to
live, he has need of their concurrence; he then believes that he has an
equal need of the spirits which appear to animate these things and to
determine their diverse manifestations. He implores their assistance, he
solicits them with offerings and prayers, and the religion of man is
thus completed in a religion of nature.

Herbert Spencer objects against this explanation that the hypothesis
upon which it rests is contradicted by the facts. It is held, he says,
that there is a time when men do not realize the differences which
separate the animate from the inanimate. Now, as one advances in the
animal scale, he sees the ability to make this distinction develop. The
superior animals do not confound an object which moves of itself and
whose movements are adapted to certain ends, with those which are
mechanically moved from without. "Amusing herself with a mouse she has
caught, the cat, if it remains long stationary, touches it with her paw
to make it run. Obviously the thought is that a living thing disturbed
will try to escape."[103] Even the primitive men could not have an
intelligence inferior to that of the animals which preceded them in
evolution; then it cannot be for lack of discernment that they passed
from the cult of ancestors to the cult of things.

According to Spencer, who upon this point, but upon this point only,
differs from Tylor, this passage was certainly due to a confusion, but
to one of a different sort. It was, in a large part at least, the result
of numerous errors due to language. In many inferior societies it is a
very common custom to give to each individual, either at his birth or
later, the name of some animal, plant, star or natural object. But as a
consequence of the extreme imprecision of his language, it is very
difficult for a primitive to distinguish a metaphor from the reality. He
soon lost sight of the fact that these names were only figures, and
taking them literally, he ended by believing that an ancestor named
"Tiger" or "Lion" was really a tiger or a lion. Then the cult of which
the ancestor was the object up to that time, was changed over to the
animal with which he was thereafter confounded; and as the same
substitution went on for the plants, the stars and all the natural
phenomena, the religion of nature took the place of the old religion of
the dead. Besides this fundamental confusion, Spencer signalizes others
which aided the action of the first from time to time. For example, the
animals which frequent the surroundings of the tombs or houses of men
have been taken for their reincarnated souls, and adored under this
title;[104] or again, the mountain which tradition made the cradle of
the race was finally taken for the ancestor of the race; it was thought
that men were descended from it because their ancestors appeared coming
from it, and it was consequently treated as an ancestor itself.[105] But
according to the statement of Spencer, these accessory causes had only a
secondary influence; that which principally determined the institution
of naturism was "the literal interpretation of metaphorical names."[106]

We had to mention this theory to have our exposition of animism
complete; but it is too inadequate for the facts, and too universally
abandoned to-day to demand that we stop any longer for it. In order to
explain a fact as general as the religion of nature by an illusion, it
would be necessary that the illusion invoked should have causes of an
equal generality. Now even if misunderstandings, such as those of which
Spencer gives some rare illustrations, could explain the transformation
of the cult of ancestors into that of nature, it is not clear why this
should be produced with a sort of universality. No psychical mechanism
necessitated it. It is true that because of its ambiguity, the word
might lead to an equivocation; but on the other hand, all the personal
souvenirs left by the ancestor in the memories of men should oppose this
confusion. Why should the tradition which represented the ancestor such
as he really was, that is to say, as a man who led the life of a man,
everywhere give way before the prestige of a word? Likewise, one should
have a little difficulty in admitting that men were born of a mountain
or a star, of an animal or a plant; the idea of a similar exception to
the ordinary conceptions of generation could not fail to raise active
resistance. Thus, it is far from true that the error found a road all
prepared before it, but rather, all sorts of reasons should have kept it
from being accepted. It is difficult to understand how, in spite of all
these obstacles, it could have triumphed so generally.


The theory of Tylor, whose authority is always great, still remains. His
hypotheses on the dream and the origin of the ideas of the soul and of
spirits are still classic; it is necessary, therefore, to test their

First of all, it should be recognized that the theorists of animism have
rendered an important service to the science of religions, and even to
the general history of ideas, by submitting the idea of the soul to
historical analysis. Instead of following so many philosophers and
making it a simple and immediate object of consciousness, they have much
more correctly viewed it as a complex whole, a product of history and
mythology. It cannot be doubted that it is something essentially
religious in its nature, origin and functions. It is from religion that
the philosophers received it; it is impossible to understand the form in
which it is represented by the thinkers of antiquity, if one does not
take into account the mythical elements which served in its formation.

But if Tylor has had the merit of raising this problem, the solution he
gives raises grave difficulties.

First of all, there are reservations to be made in regard to the very
principle which is at the basis of this theory. It is taken for granted
that the soul is entirely distinct from the body, that it is its double,
and that within it or outside of it, it normally lives its own
autonomous life. Now we shall see[107] that this conception is not that
of the primitive, or at least, that it only expresses one aspect of his
idea of the soul. For him, the soul, though being under certain
conditions independent of the organism which it animates, confounds
itself with this latter to such an extent that it cannot be radically
separated from it: there are organs which are not only its appointed
seat, but also its outward form and material manifestation. The notion
is therefore more complex than the doctrine supposes, and it is doubtful
consequently whether the experiences mentioned are sufficient to account
for it; for even if they did enable us to understand how men have come
to believe themselves double, they cannot explain how this duality does
not exclude, but rather, implies a deeper unity and an intimate
interpenetration of the two beings thus differentiated.

But let us admit that the idea of the soul can be reduced to the idea of
a double, and then see how this latter came to be formed. It could not
have been suggested to men except by the experience of dreams. That they
might understand how they could see places more or less distant during
sleep, while their bodies remained lying on the ground, it would seem
that they were led to conceive of themselves as two beings: on the one
hand, the body, and on the other, a second self, able to leave the
organism in which it lives and to roam about in space. But if this
hypothesis of a double is to be able to impose itself upon men with a
sort of necessity, it should be the only one possible, or at least, the
most economical one. Now as a matter of fact, there are more simple ones
which, it would seem, might have occurred to the mind just as naturally.
For example, why should the sleeper not imagine that while asleep he is
able to see things at a distance? To imagine such a power would demand
less expense to the imagination than the construction of this complex
notion of a double, made of some etherial, semi-invisible substance, and
of which direct experience offers no example. But even supposing that
certain dreams rather naturally suggest the animistic explanation, there
are certainly many others which are absolutely incompatible with it.
Often our dreams are concerned with passed events; we see again the
things which we saw or did yesterday or the day before or even during
our youth, etc.; dreams of this sort are frequent and hold a rather
considerable place in our nocturnal life. But the idea of a double
cannot account for them. Even if the double can go from one point to
another in space, it is not clear how it could possibly go back and
forth in time. Howsoever rudimentary his intelligence may be, how could
a man on awakening believe that he had really been assisting at or
taking part in events which he knows passed long before? How could he
imagine that during his sleep he lived a life which he knows has long
since gone by? It would be much more natural that he should regard these
renewed images as merely what they really are, that is, as souvenirs
like those which he has during the day, but ones of a special intensity.

Moreover, in the scenes of which we are the actors and witnesses while
we sleep, it constantly happens that one of our contemporaries has a
rôle as well as ourselves: we think we see and hear him in the same
place where we see ourselves. According to the animists, the primitive
would explain this by imagining that his double was visited by or met
with those of certain of his companions. But it would be enough that on
awakening he question them, to find that their experiences do not
coincide with his. During this same time, they too have had dreams, but
wholly different ones. They have not seen themselves participating in
the same scene; they believe that they have visited wholly different
places. Since such contradictions should be the rule in these cases, why
should they not lead men to believe that there had probably been an
error, that they had merely imagined it, that they had been duped by
illusions? This blind credulity which is attributed to the primitive is
really too simple. It is not true that he must objectify all his
sensations. He cannot live long without perceiving that even when awake
his senses sometimes deceive him. Then why should he believe them more
infallible at night than during the day? Thus we find that there are
many reasons opposing the theory that he takes his dreams for the
reality and interprets them by means of a double of himself.

But more than that, even if every dream were well explained by the
hypothesis of a double, and could not be explained otherwise, it would
remain a question why men have attempted to explain them. Dreams
undoubtedly constitute the matter of a possible problem. But we pass by
problems every day which we do not raise, and of which we have no
suspicion until some circumstance makes us feel the necessity of raising
them. Even when the taste for pure speculation is aroused, reflection is
far from raising all the problems to which it could eventually apply
itself; only those attract it which present a particular interest.
Especially, when it is a question of facts which always take place in
the same manner, habit easily numbs curiosity, and we do not even dream
of questioning them. To shake off this torpor, it is necessary that
practical exigencies, or at least a very pressing theoretical interest,
stimulate our attention and turn it in this direction. That is why, at
every moment of history, there have been so many things that we have not
tried to understand, without even being conscious of our renunciation.
Up until very recent times, it was believed that the sun was only a few
feet in diameter. There is something incomprehensible in the statement
that a luminous disc of such slight dimensions could illuminate the
world: yet for centuries men never thought of resolving this
contradiction. The fact of heredity has been known for a long time, but
it is very recently that the attempt has been made to formulate its
theory. Certain beliefs were even admitted which rendered it wholly
unintelligible: thus in many Australian societies of which we shall have
occasion to speak, the child is not physiologically the offspring of its
parents.[108] This intellectual laziness is necessarily at its maximum
among the primitive peoples. These weak beings, who have so much trouble
in maintaining life against all the forces which assail it, have no
means for supporting any luxury in the way of speculation. They do not
reflect except when they are driven to it. Now it is difficult to see
what could have led them to make dreams the theme of their meditations.
What does the dream amount to in our lives? How little is the place it
holds, especially because of the very vague impressions it leaves in the
memory, and of the rapidity with which it is effaced from remembrance,
and consequently, how surprising it is that a man of so rudimentary an
intelligence should have expended such efforts to find its explanation!
Of the two existences which he successively leads, that of the day and
that of the night, it is the first which should interest him the most.
Is it not strange that the second should have so captivated his
attention that he made it the basis of a whole system of complicated
ideas destined to have so profound an influence upon his thought and

Thus all tends to show that, in spite of the credit it still enjoys, the
animistic theory of the soul must be revised. It is true that to-day the
primitive attributes his dreams, or at least certain of them, to
displacements of his double. But that does not say that the dream
actually furnished the materials out of which the idea of the double or
the soul was first constructed; it might have been applied afterwards to
the phenomena of dreams, ecstasy and possession, without having been
derived from them. It is very frequent that, after it has been formed,
an idea is employed to co-ordinate or illuminate--with a light
frequently more apparent than real--certain facts with which it had no
relation at first, and which would never have suggested it themselves.
God and the immortality of the soul are frequently proven to-day by
showing that these beliefs are implied in the fundamental principles of
morality; as a matter of fact, they have quite another origin. The
history of religious thought could furnish numerous examples of these
retrospective justifications, which can teach us nothing of the way in
which the ideas were formed, nor of the elements out of which they are

It is also probable that the primitive distinguishes between his dreams,
and does not interpret them all in the same way. In our European
societies the still numerous persons for whom sleep is a sort of
magico-religious state in which the mind, being partially relieved of
the body, has a sharpness of vision which it does not enjoy during
waking moments, do not go to the point of considering all their dreams
as so many mystic intuitions: on the contrary, along with everybody
else, they see in the majority of their dreams only profane conditions,
vain plays of images, or simple hallucinations. It might be supposed
that the primitive should make analogous distinctions. Codrington says
distinctly that the Melanesians do not attribute all their dreams
indiscriminately to the wanderings of their souls, but merely those
which strike their imagination forcibly:[109] undoubtedly by that should
be understood those in which the sleeper imagines himself in relations
with religious beings, good or evil geniuses, souls of the dead, etc.
Similarly, the Dieri in Australia sharply distinguish ordinary dreams
from those nocturnal visions in which some deceased friend or relative
shows himself to them. In the first, they see a simple fantasy of their
imagination; they attribute the second to the action of an evil
spirit.[110] All the facts which Howitt mentions as examples to show how
the Australian attributes to the soul the power of leaving the body,
have an equally mystic character. The sleeper believes himself
transported into the land of the dead or else he converses with a dead
companion.[111] These dreams are frequent among the primitives.[112] It
is probably upon these facts that the theory is based. To account for
them, it is admitted that the souls of the dead come back to the living
during their sleep. This theory was the more readily accepted because no
fact of experience could invalidate it. But these dreams were possible
only where the ideas of spirits, souls and a land of the dead were
already existent, that is to say, where religious evolution was
relatively advanced. Thus, far from having been able to furnish to
religion the fundamental notion upon which it rests, they suppose a
previous religious system, upon which they depended.[113]


We now arrive at that which constitutes the very heart of the doctrine.

Wherever this idea of a double may come from, it is not sufficient,
according to the avowal of the animists themselves, to explain the
formation of the cult of the ancestors which they would make the initial
type of all religions. If this double is to become the object of a cult,
it must cease to be a simple reproduction of the individual, and must
acquire the characteristics necessary to put it in the rank of sacred
beings. It is death, they say, which performs this transformation. But
whence comes the virtue which they attribute to this? Even were the
analogy of sleep and death sufficient to make one believe that the soul
survives the body (and there are reservations to be made on this point),
why does this soul, by the mere fact that it is now detached from the
organism, so completely change its nature? If it was only a profane
thing, a wandering vital principle, during life, how does it become a
sacred thing all at once, and the object of religious sentiments? Death
adds nothing essential to it, except a greater liberty of movement.
Being no longer attached to a special residence, from now on, it can do
at any time what it formerly did only by night; but the action of which
it is capable is always of the same sort. Then why have the living
considered this uprooted and vagabond double of their former companion
as anything more than an equal? It was a fellow-creature, whose approach
might be inconvenient; it was not a divinity.[114]

It seems as though death ought to have the effect of weakening vital
energies, instead of strengthening them. It is, in fact, a very common
belief in the inferior societies that the soul participates actively in
the life of the body. If the body is wounded, it is wounded itself and
in a corresponding place. Then it should grow old along with the body.
In fact, there are peoples who do not render funeral honours to men
arrived at senility; they are treated as if their souls also had become
senile.[115] It even happens that they regularly put to death, before
they arrive at old age, certain privileged persons, such as kings or
priests, who are supposed to be the possessors of powerful spirits whose
protection the community wishes to keep. They thus seek to keep the
spirit from being affected by the physical decadence of its momentary
keepers; with this end in view, they take it from the organism where it
resides before age can have weakened it, and they transport it, while it
has as yet lost nothing of its vigour, into a younger body where it will
be able to keep its vitality intact.[116] So when death results from
sickness or old age, it seems as though the soul could retain only a
diminished power; and if it is only its double, it is difficult to see
how it could survive at all, after the body is once definitely
dissolved. From this point of view, the idea of survival is intelligible
only with great difficulty. There is a logical and psychological gap
between the idea of a double at liberty and that of a spirit to which a
cult is addressed.

This interval appears still more considerable when we realize what an
abyss separates the sacred world from the profane; it becomes evident
that a simple change of degree could not be enough to make something
pass from one category into the other. Sacred beings are not
distinguished from profane ones merely by the strange or disconcerting
forms which they take or by the greater powers which they enjoy; between
the two there is no common measure. Now there is nothing in the notion
of a double which could account for so radical a heterogeneity. It is
said that when once freed from the body, the spirit can work all sorts
of good or evil for the living, according to the way in which it regards
them. But it is not enough that a being should disturb his neighbourhood
to seem to be of a wholly different nature from those whose tranquillity
it menaces. To be sure, in the sentiment which the believer feels for
the things he adores, there always enters in some element of reserve and
fear; but this is a fear _sui generis_, derived from respect more than
from fright, and where the dominating emotion is that which _la majesté_
inspires in men. The idea of majesty is essentially religious. Then we
have explained nothing of religion until we have found whence this idea
comes, to what it corresponds and what can have aroused it in the mind.
Simple souls of men cannot become invested with this character by the
simple fact of being no longer incarnate.

This is clearly shown by an example from Melanesia. The Melanesians
believe that men have souls which leave the body at death; it then
changes its name and becomes what they call a _tindalo_, a _natmat_,
etc. Also, they have a cult of the souls of the dead: they pray to them,
invoke them and make offerings and sacrifices to them. But every
_tindalo_ is not the object of these ritual practices; only those have
this honour which come from men to whom public opinion attributed,
during life, the very special virtue which the Melanesians call the
_mana_. Later on, we shall have occasion to fix precisely the meaning
which this word expresses; for the time being, it will suffice to say
that it is the distinctive character of every sacred being. As
Codrington says, "it is what works to effect anything which is beyond
the ordinary power of men, outside the common processes of nature."[117]
A priest, a sorcerer or a ritual formula have mana as well as a sacred
stone or spirit. Thus the only tindalo to which religious services are
rendered are those which were already sacred of themselves, when their
proprietor was still alive. In regard to the other souls, which come
from ordinary men, from the crowd of the profane, the same author says
that they are "nobodies alike before and after death."[118] By itself,
death has no deifying virtue. Since it brings about in a more or less
complete and final fashion the separation of the soul from profane
things, it can well reinforce the sacred character of the soul, if this
already exists, but it cannot create it.

Moreover, if, as the hypothesis of the animists supposes, the first
sacred beings were really the souls of the dead and the first cult that
of the ancestors, it should be found that the lower the societies
examined are, the more the place given to this cult in the religious
life. But it is rather the contrary which is true. The ancestral cult is
not greatly developed, or even presented under a characteristic form,
except in advanced societies like those of China, Egypt or the Greek and
Latin cities; on the other hand, it is completely lacking in the
Australian societies which, as we shall see, represent the lowest and
simplest form of social organization which we know. It is true that
funeral rites and rites of mourning are found there; but these practices
do not constitute a cult, though this name has sometimes wrongfully been
given them. In reality, a cult is not a simple group of ritual
precautions which a man is held to take in certain circumstances; it is
a system of diverse rites, festivals and ceremonies which _all have this
characteristic, that they reappear periodically_. They fulfil the need
which the believer feels of strengthening and reaffirming, at regular
intervals of time, the bond which unites him to the sacred beings upon
which he depends. That is why one speaks of marriage rites but not of a
marriage cult, of rites of birth but not of a cult of the new-born
child; it is because the events on the occasion of which these rites
take place imply no periodicity. In the same way, there is no cult of
the ancestors except when sacrifices are made on the tombs from time to
time, when libations are poured there on certain more or less specific
dates, or when festivals are regularly celebrated in honour of the dead.
But the Australian has no relations of this sort with his dead. It is
true that he must bury their remains according to a ritual, mourn for
them during a prescribed length of time and in a prescribed manner, and
revenge them if there is occasion to.[119] But when he has once
accomplished these pious tasks, when the bones are once dry and the
period of mourning is once accomplished, then all is said and done, and
the survivors have no more duties towards their relatives who exist no
longer. It is true that there is a way in which the dead continue to
hold a place in the lives of their kindred, even after the mourning is
finished. It is sometimes the case that their hair or certain of their
bones are kept, because of special virtues which are attached to
them.[120] But by that time they have ceased to exist as persons, and
have fallen to the rank of anonymous and impersonal charms. In this
condition they are the object of no cult; they serve only for magical

However, there are certain Australian tribes which periodically
celebrate rites in honour of fabulous ancestors whom tradition places at
the beginning of time. These ceremonies generally consist in a sort of
dramatic representation in which are rehearsed the deeds which the myths
ascribe to these legendary heroes.[121] But the personages thus
represented are not men who, after living the life of men, have been
transformed into a sort of god by the fact of their death. They are
considered to have exercised superhuman powers while alive. To them is
attributed all that is grand in the history of the tribe, or even of the
whole world. It is they who in a large measure made the earth such as it
is, and men such as they are. The haloes with which they are still
decorated do not come to them merely from the fact that they are
ancestors, that is to say, in fine, that they are dead, but rather from
the fact that a divine character is and always has been attributed to
them; to use the Melanesian expression, it is because they are
constitutionally endowed with mana. Consequently, there is nothing in
these rites which shows that death has the slightest power of
deification. It cannot even be correctly said of certain rites that they
form an ancestor-cult, since they are not addressed to ancestors as
such. In order to have a real cult of the dead, it is necessary that
after death real ancestors, the relations whom men really lose every
day, become the object of the cult; let us repeat it once more, there
are no traces of any such cult in Australia.

Thus the cult which, according to this hypothesis, ought to be the
predominating one in inferior societies, is really nonexistent there. In
reality, the Australian is not concerned with his dead, except at the
moment of their decease and during the time which immediately follows.
Yet these same peoples, as we shall see, have a very complex cult for
sacred beings of a wholly different nature, which is made up of numerous
ceremonies and frequently occupying weeks or even entire months. It
cannot be admitted that the few rites which the Australian performs when
he happens to lose one of his relatives were the origin of these
permanent cults which return regularly every year and which take up a
considerable part of his existence. The contrast between the two is so
great that we may even ask whether the first were not rather derived
from the second, and if the souls of men, far from having been the model
upon which the gods were originally imagined, have not rather been
conceived from the very first as emanations from the divinity.


From the moment that the cult of the dead is shown not to be primitive,
animism lacks a basis. It would then seem useless to discuss the third
thesis of the system, which concerns the transformation of the cult of
the dead into the cult of nature. But since the postulate upon which it
rests is also found in certain historians of religion who do not admit
the animism properly so-called, such as Brinton,[122] Lang,[123]
Réville,[124] and even Robertson Smith himself,[125] it is necessary to
make an examination of it.

This extension of the cult of the dead to all nature is said to come
from the fact that we instinctively tend to represent all things in our
own image, that is to say, as living and thinking beings. We have seen
that Spencer has already contested the reality of this so-called
instinct. Since animals clearly distinguish living bodies from dead
ones, it seemed to him impossible that man, the heir of the animals,
should not have had this same faculty of discernment from the very
first. But howsoever certain the facts cited by Spencer may be, they
have not the demonstrative value which he attributes to them. His
reasoning supposes that all the faculties, instincts and aptitudes of
the animal have passed integrally into man; now many errors have their
origin in this principle which is wrongfully taken as a proven truth.
For example, since sexual jealousy is generally very strong among the
higher animals, it has been concluded that it ought to be found among
men with the same intensity from the very beginnings of history.[126]
But it is well known to-day that men can practise a sexual communism
which would be impossible if this jealousy were not capable of
attenuating itself and even of disappearing when necessary.[127] The
fact is that man is not merely an animal with certain additional
qualities: he is something else. Human nature is the result of a sort of
recasting of the animal nature, and in the course of the various complex
operations which have brought about this recasting, there have been
losses as well as gains. How many instincts have we not lost? The reason
for this is that men are not only in relations with the physical
environment, but also with a social environment infinitely more
extended, more stable and more active than the one whose influence
animals undergo. To live, they must adapt themselves to this. Now in
order to maintain itself, society frequently finds it necessary that we
should see things from a certain angle and feel them in a certain way;
consequently it modifies the ideas which we would ordinarily make of
them for ourselves and the sentiments to which we would be inclined if
we listened only to our animal nature; it alters them, even going so far
as to put the contrary sentiments in their place. Does it not even go so
far as to make us regard our own individual lives as something of little
value, while for the animal this is the greatest of things?[128] Then it
is a vain enterprise to seek to infer the mental constitution of the
primitive man from that of the higher animals.

But if the objection of Spencer does not have the decisive value which
its author gives it, it is equally true that the animist theory can draw
no authority from the confusions which children seem to make. When we
hear a child angrily apostrophize an object which he has hit against, we
conclude that he thinks of it as a conscious being like himself; but
that is interpreting his words and acts very badly. In reality, he is
quite a stranger to the very complicated reasoning attributed to him. If
he lays the blame on the table which has hurt him, it is not because he
supposes it animated and intelligent, but because it has hurt him. His
anger, once aroused by the pain, must overflow; so it looks for
something upon which to discharge itself, and naturally turns toward the
thing which has provoked it, even though this has no effect. The action
of an adult in similar circumstances is often as slightly reasonable.
When we are violently irritated, we feel the need of inveighing, of
destroying, though we attribute no conscious ill-will to the objects
upon which we vent our anger. There is even so little confusion that
when the emotion of a child is calmed, he can very well distinguish a
chair from a person: he does not act in at all the same way towards the
two. It is a similar reason which explains his tendency to treat his
playthings as if they were living beings. It is his extremely intense
need of playing which thus finds a means of expressing itself, just as
in the other case the violent sentiments caused by pain created an
object out of nothing. In order that he may consciously play with his
jumping-jack, he imagines it a living person. This illusion is the
easier for him because imagination is his sovereign mistress; he thinks
almost entirely with images, and we know how pliant images are, bending
themselves with docility before every exigency of the will. But he is so
little deceived by his own fiction that he would be the first to be
surprised if it suddenly became a reality, and his toy bit him![129]

Let us therefore leave these doubtful analogies to one side. To find out
if men were primitively inclined to the confusions imputed to them, we
should not study animals or children of to-day, but the primitive
beliefs themselves. If the spirits and gods of nature were really formed
in the image of the human soul, they should bear traces of their origin
and bring to mind the essential traits of their model. The most
important characteristic of the soul is that it is conceived as the
internal principle which animates the organism: it is that which moves
it and makes it live, to such an extent that when it withdraws itself,
life ceases or is suspended. It has its natural residence in the body,
at least while this exists. But it is not thus with the spirits assigned
to the different things in nature. The god of the sun is not necessarily
in the sun, nor is the spirit of a certain rock in the rock which is its
principal place of habitation. A spirit undoubtedly has close relations
with the body to which it is attached, but one employs a very inexact
expression when he says that it is its soul. As Codrington says,[130]
"there does not appear to be anywhere in Melanesia a belief in a spirit
which animates any natural object, a tree, waterfall, storm or rock, so
as to be to it what the soul is believed to be to the body of man.
Europeans, it is true, speak of the spirits of the sea or of the storm
or of the forest; but the native idea which they represent is that
ghosts haunt the sea and the forest, having power to raise storms and
strike a traveller with disease." While the soul is essentially within
the body, the spirit passes the major portion of its time outside the
object which serves as its base. This is one difference which does not
seem to show that the second idea was derived from the first.

From another point of view, it must be added that if men were really
forced to project their own image into things, then the first sacred
beings ought to have been conceived in their likeness. Now
anthropomorphism, far from being primitive, is rather the mark of a
relatively advanced civilization. In the beginning, sacred beings are
conceived in the form of an animal or vegetable, from which the human
form is only slowly disengaged. It will be seen below that in Australia,
it is animals and plants which are the first sacred beings. Even among
the Indians of North America, the great cosmic divinities, which
commence to be the object of a cult there, are very frequently
represented in animal forms.[131] "The difference between the animal,
man and the divine being," says Réville, not without surprise, "is not
felt in this state of mind, and generally it might be said that _it is
the animal form which is the fundamental one_."[132] To find a god made
up entirely of human elements, it is necessary to advance nearly to
Christianity. Here, God is a man, not only in the physical aspect in
which he is temporarily made manifest, but also in the ideas and
sentiments which he expresses. But even in Greece and Rome, though the
gods were generally represented with human traits, many mythical
personages still had traces of an animal origin: thus there is Dionysus,
who is often met with in the form of a bull, or at least with the horns
of a bull; there is Demeter, who is often represented with a horse's
mane, there are Pan and Silenus, there are the Fauns, etc.[133] It is
not at all true that man has had such an inclination to impose his own
form upon things. More than that, he even commenced by conceiving of
himself as participating closely in the animal nature. In fact, it is a
belief almost universal in Australia, and very widespread among the
Indians of North America, that the ancestors of men were beasts or
plants, or at least that the first men had, either in whole or in part,
the distinctive characters of certain animal or vegetable species. Thus,
far from seeing beings like themselves everywhere, men commenced by
believing themselves to be in the image of some beings from which they
differed radically.


Finally, the animistic theory implies a consequence which is perhaps its
best refutation.

If it were true, it would be necessary to admit that religious beliefs
are so many hallucinatory representations, without any objective
foundation whatsoever. It is supposed that they are all derived from the
idea of the soul because one sees only a magnified soul in the spirits
and gods. But according to Tylor and his disciples, the idea of the soul
is itself constructed entirely out of the vague and inconsistent images
which occupy our attention during sleep: for the soul is the double, and
the double is merely a man as he appears to himself while he sleeps.
From this point of view, then, sacred beings are only the imaginary
conceptions which men have produced during a sort of delirium which
regularly overtakes them every day, though it is quite impossible to see
to what useful ends these conceptions serve, nor what they answer to in
reality. If a man prays, if he makes sacrifices and offerings, if he
submits to the multiple privations which the ritual prescribes, it is
because a sort of constitutional eccentricity has made him take his
dreams for perceptions, death for a prolonged sleep, and dead bodies for
living and thinking beings. Thus not only is it true, as many have held,
that the forms under which religious powers have been represented to the
mind do not express them exactly, and that the symbols with the aid of
which they have been thought of partially hide their real nature, but
more than that, behind these images and figures there exists nothing but
the nightmares of primitive minds. In fine, religion is nothing but a
dream, systematized and lived, but without any foundation in
reality.[134] Thence it comes about that the theorists of animism, when
looking for the origins of religious thought, content themselves with a
small outlay of energy. When they think that they have explained how men
have been induced to imagine beings of a strange, vaporous form, such as
those they see in their dreams, they think the problem is resolved.

In reality, it is not even approached. It is inadmissible that systems
of ideas like religions, which have held so considerable a place in
history, and to which, in all times, men have come to receive the energy
which they must have to live, should be made up of a tissue of
illusions. To-day we are beginning to realize that law, morals and even
scientific thought itself were born of religion, were for a long time
confounded with it, and have remained penetrated with its spirit. How
could a vain fantasy have been able to fashion the human consciousness
so strongly and so durably? Surely it ought to be a principle of the
science of religions that religion expresses nothing which does not
exist in nature; for there are sciences only of natural phenomena. The
only question is to learn from what part of nature these realities come
and what has been able to make men represent them under this singular
form which is peculiar to religious thought. But if this question is to
be raised, it is necessary to commence by admitting that they are real
things which are thus represented. When the philosophers of the
eighteenth century made religion a vast error imagined by the priests,
they could at least explain its persistence by the interest which the
sacerdotal class had in deceiving the people. But if the people
themselves have been the artisans of these systems of erroneous ideas at
the same time that they were its dupes, how has this extraordinary
dupery been able to perpetuate itself all through the course of history?

One might even demand if under these conditions the words of science of
religions can be employed without impropriety. A science is a discipline
which, in whatever manner it is conceived, is always applied to some
real data. Physics and chemistry are sciences because physico-chemical
phenomena are real, and of a reality which does not depend upon the
truths which these sciences show. There is a psychological science
because there are really consciousnesses which do not hold their right
of existence from the psychologist. But on the contrary, religion could
not survive the animistic theory and the day when its truth was
recognized by men, for they could not fail to renounce the errors whose
nature and origin would thus be revealed to them. What sort of a science
is it whose principal discovery is that the subject of which it treats
does not exist?




The spirit of the naturistic school is quite different. In the first
place, it is recruited in a different environment. The animists are, for
the most part, ethnologists or anthropologists. The religions which they
have studied are the crudest which humanity has ever known. Hence comes
the extraordinary importance which they attribute to the souls of the
dead, to spirits and to demons, and, in fact, to all spiritual beings of
the second order: it is because these religions know hardly any of a
higher order.[135] On the contrary, the theories which we are now going
to describe are the work of scholars who have concerned themselves
especially with the great civilizations of Europe and Asia.

Ever since the work of the Grimm brothers, who pointed out the interest
that there is in comparing the different mythologies of the
Indo-European peoples, scholars have been struck by the remarkable
similarities which these present. Mythical personages were identified
who, though having different names, symbolized the same ideas and
fulfilled the same functions; even the names were frequently related,
and it has been thought possible to establish the fact that they are not
unconnected with one another. Such resemblances seemed to be explicable
only by a common origin. Thus they were led to suppose that these
conceptions, so varied in appearance, really came from one common
source, of which they were only diversified forms, and which it was not
impossible to discover. By the comparative method, they believed one
should be able to go back, beyond these great religions, to a much more
ancient system of ideas, and to the really primitive religion, from
which the others were derived.

The discovery of the Vedas aided greatly in stimulating these ambitions.
In the Vedas, scholars had a written text, whose antiquity was
undoubtedly exaggerated at the moment of its discovery, but which is
surely one of the most ancient which we have at our disposition in an
Indo-European language. Here they were enabled to study, by the ordinary
methods of philology, a literature as old as or older than Homer, and a
religion which was believed more primitive than that of the ancient
Germans. A document of such value was evidently destined to throw a new
light upon the religious beginnings of humanity, and the science of
religions could not fail to be revolutionized by it.

The conception which was thus born was so fully demanded by the state of
the science and by the general march of ideas, that it appeared almost
simultaneously in two different lands. In 1856, Max Müller exposed its
principles in his _Oxford Essays_.[136] Three years later appeared the
work of Adalbert Kuhn on _The Origin of Fire and the Drink of the
Gods_,[137] which was clearly inspired by the same spirit. When once set
forth, the idea spread very rapidly in scientific circles. To the name
of Kuhn is closely associated that of his brother-in-law Schwartz, whose
work on _The Origin of Mythology_,[138] followed closely upon the
preceding one. Steinthal and the whole German school of
_Völkerpsychologie_ attached themselves to the same movement. The theory
was introduced into France in 1863 by M. Michel Bréal.[139] It met so
little resistance that, according to an expression of Gruppe,[140] "a
time came when, aside from certain classical philologists, to whom Vedic
studies were unknown, all the mythologists had adopted the principles of
Max Müller or Kuhn as their point of departure."[141] It is therefore
important to see what they really are, and what they are worth.

Since no one has presented them in a more systematic form than Max
Müller, it is upon his work that we shall base the description which


We have seen that the postulate at the basis of animism is that
religion, at least in its origin, expresses no physical reality. But Max
Müller commences with the contrary principle. For him, it is an axiom
that religion reposes upon an experience, from which it draws all its
authority. "Religion," he says, "if it is to hold its place as a
legitimate element of our consciousness, must, like all other knowledge,
begin with sensuous experience."[143] Taking up the old empirical adage,
"_Nihil est in intellectu quod non ante fuerit in sensu_," he applies it
to religion and declares that there can be nothing in beliefs which was
not first perceived. So here is a doctrine which seems to escape the
grave objection which we raised against animism. From this point of
view, it seems that religion ought to appear, not as a sort of vague and
confused dreaming, but as a system of ideas and practices well founded
in reality.

But which are these sensations which give birth to religious thought?
That is the question which the study of the Vedas is supposed to aid in

The names of the gods are generally either common words, still employed,
or else words formerly common, whose original sense it is possible to
discover. Now both designate the principal phenomena of nature. Thus
_Agni_, the name of one of the principal divinities of India, originally
signified only the material fact of fire, such as it is ordinarily
perceived by the senses and without any mythological addition. Even in
the Vedas, it is still employed with this meaning; in any case, it is
well shown that this signification was primitive by the fact that it is
conserved in other Indo-European languages: the Latin _ignis_, the
Lithuanian _ugnis_, the old Slav _ogny_ are evidently closely related to
Agni. Similarly, the relationship of the Sanskrit _Dyaus_, the Greek
_Zeus_, the Latin _Jovis_ and the _Zio_ of High German is to-day
uncontested. This proves that these different words designate one single
and the same divinity, whom the different Indo-European peoples
recognized as such before their separation. Now Dyaus signifies the
bright sky. These and other similar facts tend to show that among these
peoples the forms and forces of nature were the first objects to which
the religious sentiment attached itself: they were the first things to
be deified. Going one step farther in his generalization, Max Müller
thought that he was prepared to conclude that the religious evolution of
humanity in general had the same point of departure.

It is almost entirely by considerations of a psychological sort that he
justifies these inferences. The varied spectacles which nature offers
man seemed to him to fulfil all the conditions necessary for arousing
religious ideas in the mind directly. In fact, he says, "at first sight,
nothing seemed less natural than nature. Nature was the greatest
surprise, a terror, a marvel, a standing miracle, and it was only on
account of their permanence, constancy, and regular recurrence that
certain features of that standing miracle were called natural, in the
sense of foreseen, common, intelligible.... It was that vast domain of
surprise, of terror, of marvel, of miracle, the unknown, as
distinguished from the known, or, as I like to express it, the infinite,
as distinct from the finite, which supplied from the earliest times the
impulse to religious thought and language."[144] In order to illustrate
his idea, he applies it to a natural force which holds a rather large
place in the Vedic religion, fire. He says, "if you can for a moment
transfer yourselves to that early stage of life to which we must refer
not only the origin, but likewise the early phases of Physical Religion,
you can easily understand what an impression the first appearance of
fire must have made on the human mind. Fire was not given as something
permanent or eternal, like the sky, or the earth, or the water. In
whatever way it first appeared, whether through lightning or through the
friction of the branches of trees, or through the sparks of flints, it
came and went, it had to be guarded, it brought destruction, but at the
same time, it made life possible in winter, it served as a protection
during the night, it became a weapon of defence and offence, and last,
not least, it changed man from a devourer of raw flesh into an eater of
cooked meat. At a later time it became the means of working metal, of
making tools and weapons, it became an indispensable factor in all
mechanical and artistic progress, and has remained so ever since. What
should we be without fire even now?"[145] The same author says in
another work that a man could not enter into relations with nature
without taking account of its immensity, of its infiniteness. It
surpasses him in every way. Beyond the distances which he perceives,
there are others which extend without limits; each moment of time is
preceded and followed by a time to which no limit can be assigned; the
flowing river manifests an infinite force, since nothing can exhaust
it.[146] There is no aspect of nature which is not fitted to awaken
within us this overwhelming sensation of an infinity which surrounds us
and dominates us.[147] It is from this sensation that religions are

However, they are there only in germ.[149] Religion really commences
only at the moment when these natural forces are no longer represented
in the mind in an abstract form. They must be transformed into personal
agents, living and thinking beings, spiritual powers or gods; for it is
to beings of this sort that the cult is generally addressed. We have
seen that animism itself has been obliged to raise this question, and
also how it has answered it: man seems to have a sort of native
incapacity for distinguishing the animate from the inanimate and an
irresistible tendency to conceive the second under the form of the
first. Max Müller rejects any such solution.[150] According to him it is
language which has brought about this metamorphosis, by the action which
it exercises upon thought.

It is easily explained how men, being perplexed by the marvellous forces
upon which they feel that they depend, have been led to reflect upon
them, and how they have asked themselves what these forces are and have
made an effort to substitute for the obscure sensation which they
primitively had of them, a clearer idea and a better defined concept.
But as our author very justly says,[151] this idea and concept are
impossible without the word. Language is not merely the external
covering of a thought; it also is its internal framework. It does not
confine itself to expressing this thought after it has once been formed;
it also aids in making it. However, its nature is of a different sort,
so its laws are not those of thought. Then since it contributes to the
elaboration of this latter, it cannot fail to do it violence to some
extent, and to deform it. It is a deformation of this sort which is said
to have created the special characteristic of religious thought.

Thinking consists in arranging our ideas, and consequently in
classifying them. To think of fire, for example, is to put it into a
certain category of things, in such a way as to be able to say that it
is this or that, or this and not that. But classifying is also naming,
for a general idea has no existence and reality except in and by the
word which expresses it and which alone makes its individuality. Thus
the language of a people always has an influence upon the manner in
which new things, recently learned, are classified in the mind and are
subsequently thought of; these new things are thus forced to adapt
themselves to pre-existing forms. For this reason, the language which
men spoke when they undertook to construct an elaborated representation
of the universe marked the system of ideas which was then born with an
indelible trace.

Nor are we without some knowledge of this language, at least in so far
as the Indo-European peoples are concerned. Howsoever distant it may be
from us, souvenirs of it remain in our actual languages which permit us
to imagine what it was: these are the roots. These stems, from which are
derived all the words which we employ and which are found at the basis
of all the Indo-European languages, are regarded by Max Müller as so
many echoes of the language which the corresponding peoples spoke before
their separation, that is to say, at the very moment when this religion
of nature, which is to be explained, was being formed. Now these roots
present two remarkable characteristics, which, it is true, have as yet
been observed only in this particular group of languages, but which our
author believes to be present equally in the other linguistic

In the first place, the roots are general; that is to say that they do
not express particular things and individuals, but types, and even types
of an extreme generality. They represent the most general themes of
thought; one finds there, as though fixed and crystallized, those
fundamental categories of the intellect which at every moment in history
dominate the entire mental life, the arrangement of which philosophers
have many times attempted to reconstruct.[153]

Secondly, the types to which they correspond are types of action, and
not of objects. They translate the most general manners of acting which
are to be observed among living beings and especially among men; they
are such actions as striking, pushing, rubbing, lying down, getting up,
pressing, mounting, descending, walking, etc. In other words, men
generalized and named their principal ways of acting before generalizing
and naming the phenomena of nature.[154]

Owing to their extreme generality, these words could easily be extended
to all sorts of objects which they did not originally include; it is
even this extreme suppleness which has permitted them to give birth to
the numerous words which are derived from them. Then when men, turning
towards things, undertook to name them, that they might be able to think
about them, they applied these words to them, though they were in no way
designed for them. But, owing to their origin, these were able to
designate the forces of nature only by means of their manifestations
which seemed the nearest to human actions: a thunderbolt was called
_something_ that tears up the soil or that spreads fire; the wind,
_something_ that sighs or whistles; the sun, _something_ that throws
golden arrows across space; a river, _something_ that flows, etc. But
since natural phenomena were thus compared to human acts, this
_something_ to which they were attached was necessarily conceived under
the form of personal agents, more or less like men. It was only a
metaphor, but it was taken literally; the error was inevitable, for
science, which alone could dispel the illusion, did not yet exist. In a
word, since language was made of human elements, translating human
states, it could not be applied to nature without transforming it.[155]
Even to-day, remarks M. Bréal, it forces us in a certain measure to
represent things from this angle. "We do not express an idea, even one
designating a simple quality, without giving it a gender, that is to
say, a sex; we cannot speak of an object, even though it be considered
in a most general fashion, without determining it by an article; every
subject of a sentence is presented as an active being, every idea as an
action, and every action, be it transitory or permanent, is limited in
its duration by the tense in which we put the verb."[156] Our scientific
training enables us to rectify the errors which language might thus
suggest to us; but the influence of the word ought to be all-powerful
when it has no check. Language thus superimposes upon the material
world, such as it is revealed to our senses, a new world, composed
wholly of spiritual beings which it has created out of nothing and which
have been considered as the causes determining physical phenomena ever

But its action does not stop there. When words were once forged to
represent these personalities which the popular imagination had placed
behind things, a reaction affected these words themselves: they raised
all sorts of questions, and it was to resolve these problems that myths
were invented. It happened that one object received a plurality of
names, corresponding to the plurality of aspects under which it was
presented in experience; thus there are more than twenty words in the
Vedas for the sky. Since these words were different, it was believed
that they corresponded to so many distinct personalities. But at the
same time, it was strongly felt that these same personalities had an air
of relationship. To account for that, it was imagined that they formed a
single family; genealogies, a civil condition and a history were
invented for them. In other cases, different things were designated by
the same term: to explain these homonyms, it was believed that the
corresponding things were transformations of each other, and new
fictions were invented to make these metamorphoses intelligible. Or
again, a word which had ceased to be understood, was the origin of
fables designed to give it a meaning. The creative work of language
continued then, making constructions ever more and more complex, and
then mythology came to endow each god with a biography, ever more and
more extended and complete, the result of all of which was that the
divine personalities, at first confounded with things, finally
distinguished and determined themselves.

This is how the notion of the divine is said to have been constructed.
As for the religion of ancestors, it was only a reflection of this
other.[157] The idea of the soul is said to have been first formed for
reasons somewhat analogous to those given by Tylor, except that
according to Max Müller, they were designed to account for death, rather
than for dreams.[158] Then, under the influence of diverse, partially
accidental, circumstances,[159] the souls of men, being once disengaged
from the body, were drawn little by little within the circle of divine
beings, and were thus finally deified themselves. But this new cult was
the product of only a secondary formation. This is proven by the fact
that deified men have generally been imperfect gods or demi-gods, whom
the people have always been able to distinguish from the genuine


This doctrine rests, in part, upon a certain number of linguistic
postulates which have been and still are very much questioned. Some have
contested the reality of many of the similarities which Max Müller
claimed to have found between the names of the gods in the various
European languages. The interpretation which he gave them has been
especially doubted: it has been asked if these names, far from being the
mark of a very primitive religion, are not the slow product, either of
direct borrowings or of natural intercourse with others.[161] Also, it
is no longer admitted that the roots once existed in an isolated state
as autonomous realities, nor that they allow us to reconstruct, even
hypothetically, the original language of the Indo-Europeans.[162]
Finally, recent researches would tend to show that the Vedic divinities
did not all have the exclusively naturistic character attributed to them
by Max Müller and his school.[163] But we shall leave aside those
questions, the discussion of which requires a special competence as a
philologist, and address ourselves directly to the general principles of
the system. It will be important here not to confound the naturistic
theory with these controverted postulates; for this is held by numbers
of scholars who do not make language play the predominating rôle
attributed to it by Max Müller.

That men have an interest in knowing the world which surrounds them, and
consequently that their reflection should have been applied to it at an
early date, is something that everyone will readily admit. Co-operation
with the things with which they were in immediate connection was so
necessary for them that they could not fail to seek a knowledge of their
nature. But if, as naturism pretends, it is of these reflections that
religious thought was born, it is impossible to explain how it was able
to survive the first attempts made, and the persistence with which it
has maintained itself becomes unintelligible. If we have need of knowing
the nature of things, it is in order to act upon them in an appropriate
manner. But the conception of the universe given us by religion,
especially in its early forms, is too greatly mutilated to lead to
temporarily useful practices. Things become nothing less than living and
thinking beings, minds or personalities like those which the religious
imagination has made into the agents of cosmic phenomena. It is not by
conceiving of them under this form or by treating them according to this
conception that men could make them work for their ends. It is not by
addressing prayers to them, by celebrating them in feasts and
sacrifices, or by imposing upon themselves fasts and privations, that
men can deter them from working harm or oblige them to serve their own
designs. Such processes could succeed only very exceptionally and, so to
speak, miraculously. If, then, religion's reason for existence was to
give us a conception of the world which would guide us in our relations
with it, it was in no condition to fulfil its function, and people would
not have been slow to perceive it: failures, being infinitely more
frequent than successes, would have quickly shown them that they were
following a false route, and religion, shaken at each instant by these
repeated contradictions, would not have been able to survive.

It is undeniably true that errors have been able to perpetuate
themselves in history; but, except under a union of very exceptional
circumstances, they can never perpetuate themselves thus unless they
were _true practically_, that is to say, unless, without giving us a
theoretically exact idea of the things with which they deal, they
express well enough the manner in which they affect us, either for good
or for bad. Under these circumstances, the actions which they determine
have every chance of being, at least in a general way, the very ones
which are proper, so it is easily explained how they have been able to
survive the proofs of experience.[164] But an error and especially a
system of errors which leads to, and can lead to nothing but mistaken
and useless practices, has no chance of living. Now what is there in
common between the rites with which the believer tries to act upon
nature and the processes by which science has taught us to make use of
it, and which we now know are the only efficacious ones? If that is what
men demanded of religion, it is impossible to see how it could have
maintained itself, unless clever tricks had prevented their seeing that
it did not give them what they expected from it. It would be necessary
to return again to the over simple explanations of the eighteenth

Thus it is only in appearance that naturism escapes the objection which
we recently raised against animism. It also makes religion a system of
hallucinations, since it reduces it to an immense metaphor with no
objective value. It is true that it gives religion a point of departure
in reality, to wit, in the sensations which the phenomena of nature
provoke in us; but by the bewitching action of language, this sensation
is soon transformed into extravagant conceptions. Religious thought does
not come in contact with reality, except to cover it at once with a
thick veil which conceals its real forms: this veil is the tissue of
fabulous beliefs which mythology brought forth. Thus the believer, like
the delirious man, lives in a world peopled with beings and things which
have only a verbal existence. Max Müller himself recognized this, for he
regarded myths as the product of a disease of the intellect. At first,
he attributed them to a disease of language, but since language and the
intellect are inseparable for him, what is true of the one is true of
the other. "When trying to explain the inmost nature of mythology," he
says, "I called it a disease of Language rather than of Thought....
After I had fully explained in my _Science of Thought_ that language and
thought are inseparable, and that a disease of language is therefore the
same thing as a disease of thought, no doubt ought to have remained as
to what I meant. To represent the supreme God as committing every kind
of crime, as being deceived by men, as being angry with his wife and
violent with his children, is surely a proof of a disease, of an unusual
condition of thought, or, to speak more clearly, of real madness."[166]
And this argument is not valid merely against Max Müller and his theory,
but against the very principle of naturism, in whatever way it may be
applied. Whatever we may do, if religion has as its principal object the
expression of the forces of nature, it is impossible to see in it
anything more than a system of lying fictions, whose survival is

Max Müller thought he escaped this objection, whose gravity he felt, by
distinguishing radically between mythology and religion, and by putting
the first outside the second. He claims the right of reserving the name
of religion for only those beliefs which conform to the prescriptions of
a sane moral system and a rational theology. The myths were parasitic
growths which, under the influence of language, attached themselves upon
these fundamental conceptions, and denatured them. Thus the belief in
Zeus was religious in so far as the Greeks considered him the supreme
God, father of humanity, protector of laws, avenger of crimes, etc.; but
all that which concerned the biography of Zeus, his marriages and his
adventures, was only mythology.[167]

But this distinction is arbitrary. It is true that mythology has an
æsthetic interest as well as one for the history of religions; but it is
one of the essential elements of the religious life, nevertheless. If
the myth were withdrawn from religion, it would be necessary to withdraw
the rite also; for the rites are generally addressed to definite
personalities who have a name, a character, determined attributes and a
history, and they vary according to the manner in which these
personalities are conceived. The cult rendered to a divinity depends
upon the character attributed to him; and it is the myth which
determines this character. Very frequently, the rite is nothing more
than the myth put in action; the Christian communion is inseparable from
the myth of the Last Supper, from which it derives all its meaning. Then
if all mythology is the result of a sort of verbal delirium, the
question which we raised remains intact: the existence, and especially
the persistence of the cult become inexplicable. It is hard to
understand how men have continued to do certain things for centuries
without any object. Moreover, it is not merely the peculiar traits of
the divine personalities which are determined by mythology; the very
idea that there are gods or spiritual beings set above the various
departments of nature, in no matter what manner they may be represented,
is essentially mythical.[168] Now if all that which appertains to the
notion of gods conceived as cosmic agents is blotted out of the
religions of the past, what remains? The idea of a divinity in itself,
of a transcendental power upon which man depends and upon which he
supports himself? But that is only an abstract and philosophic
conception which has been fully realized in no historical religion; it
is without interest for the science of religions.[169] We must therefore
avoid distinguishing between religious beliefs, keeping some because
they seem to us to be true and sane and rejecting others because they
shock and disconcert us. All myths, even those which we find the most
unreasonable, have been believed.[170] Men have believed in them no less
firmly than in their own sensations; they have based their conduct upon
them. In spite of appearances, it is therefore impossible that they
should be without objective foundation.

However, it will be said that in whatever manner religions may be
explained, it is certain that they are mistaken in regard to the real
nature of things: science has proved it. The modes of action which they
counsel or prescribe to men can therefore rarely have useful effects: it
is not by lustrations that the sick are cured nor by sacrifices and
chants that the crops are made to grow. Thus the objection which we have
made to naturism would seem to be applicable to all possible systems of

Nevertheless, there is one which escapes it. Let us suppose that
religion responds to quite another need than that of adapting ourselves
to sensible objects: then it will not risk being weakened by the fact
that it does not satisfy, or only badly satisfies, this need. If
religious faith was not born to put man in harmony with the material
world, the injuries which it has been able to do him in his struggle
with the world do not touch it at its source, because it is fed from

If it is not for these reasons that a man comes to believe, he should
continue to believe even when these reasons are contradicted by the
facts. It is even conceivable that faith should be strong enough, not
only to support these contradictions, but also even to deny them and to
keep the believer from seeing their importance; this is what succeeds in
rendering them inoffensive for religion. When the religious sentiment is
active, it will not admit that religion can be in the wrong, and it
readily suggests explanations which make it appear innocent; if the rite
does not produce the desired results, this failure is imputed either to
some fault of execution, or to the intervention of another, contrary
deity. But for that, it is necessary that these religious ideas have
their source in another sentiment than that betrayed by these deceptions
of experience, or else whence could come their force of resistance?


But more than that, even if men had really had reasons for remaining
obstinate, in spite of all their mistakes, in expressing cosmic
phenomena in religious terms, it is also necessary that these be of a
nature to suggest such an interpretation. Now when could they have
gotten such a property? Here again we find ourselves in the presence of
one of those postulates which pass as evident only because they have not
been criticized. It is stated as an axiom that in the natural play of
physical forces there is all that is needed to arouse within us the idea
of the sacred; but when we closely examine the proofs of this
proposition, which, by the way, are sufficiently brief, we find that
they reduce to a prejudice.

They talk about the marvel which men should feel as they discover the
world. But really, that which characterizes the life of nature is a
regularity which approaches monotony. Every morning the sun mounts in
the horizon, every evening it sets; every month the moon goes through
the same cycle; the river flows in an uninterrupted manner in its bed;
the same seasons periodically bring back the same sensations. To be
sure, here and there an unexpected event sometimes happens: the sun is
eclipsed, the moon is hidden behind clouds, the river overflows. But
these momentary variations could only give birth to equally momentary
impressions, the remembrance of which is gone after a little while; they
could not serve as a basis for these stable and permanent systems of
ideas and practices which constitute religions. Normally, the course of
nature is uniform, and uniformity could never produce strong emotions.
Representing the savage as filled with admiration before these marvels
transports much more recent sentiments to the beginnings of history. He
is much too accustomed to it to be greatly surprised by it. It requires
culture and reflection to shake off this yoke of habit and to discover
how marvellous this regularity itself is. Besides, as we have already
remarked,[171] admiring an object is not enough to make it appear sacred
to us, that is to say, to mark it with those characteristics which make
all direct contact with it appear a sacrilege and a profanation. We
misunderstand what the religious sentiment really is, if we confound it
with every impression of admiration and surprise.

But, they say, even if it is not admiration, there is a certain
impression which men cannot help feeling in the presence of nature. He
cannot come in contact with it, without realizing that it is greater
than he. It overwhelms him by its immensity. This sensation of an
infinite space which surrounds him, of an infinite time which has
preceded and will follow the present moment, and of forces infinitely
superior to those of which he is master, cannot fail, as it seems, to
awaken within him the idea that outside of him there exists an infinite
power upon which he depends. And this idea enters as an essential
element into our conception of the divine.

But let us bear in mind what the question is. We are trying to find out
how men came to think that there are in reality two categories of
things, radically heterogeneous and incomparable to each other. Now how
could the spectacle of nature give rise to the idea of this duality?
Nature is always and everywhere of the same sort. It matters little that
it extends to infinity: beyond the extreme limit to which my eyes can
reach, it is not different from what it is here. The space which I
imagine beyond the horizon is still space, identical with that which I
see. The time which flows without end is made up of moments identical
with those which I have passed through. Extension, like duration,
repeats itself indefinitely; if the portions which I touch have of
themselves no sacred character, where did the others get theirs? The
fact that I do not see them directly, is not enough to transform
them.[172] A world of profane things may well be unlimited; but it
remains a profane world. Do they say that the physical forces with which
we come in contact exceed our own? Sacred forces are not to be
distinguished from profane ones simply by their greater intensity, they
are different; they have special qualities which the others do not have.
Quite on the contrary, all the forces manifested in the universe are of
the same nature, those that are within us just as those that are outside
of us. And especially, there is no reason which could have allowed
giving a sort of pre-eminent dignity to some in relation to others. Then
if religion really was born because of the need of assigning causes to
physical phenomena, the forces thus imagined would have been no more
sacred than those conceived by the scientist to-day to account for the
same facts.[173] This is as much as to say that there would have been
no sacred beings and therefore no religion.

But even supposing that this sensation of being "overwhelmed" were
really able to suggest religious ideas, it could not have produced this
effect upon the primitive, for he does not have it. He is in no way
conscious that cosmic forces are so superior to his own. Since science
has not yet taught him modesty, he attributes to himself an empire over
things which he really does not have, but the illusion of which is
enough to prevent his feeling dominated by them. As we have already
pointed out, he thinks that he can command the elements, release the
winds, compel the rain to fall, or stop the sun, by a gesture, etc.[174]
Religion itself contributes to giving him this security, for he believes
that it arms him with extended powers over nature. His rites are, in
part, means destined to aid him in imposing his will upon the world.
Thus, far from being due to the sentiment which men should have of their
littleness before the universe, religions are rather inspired by the
contrary sentiment. Even the most elevated and idealistic have the
effect of reassuring men in their struggle with things: they teach that
faith is, of itself, able "to move mountains," that is to say, to
dominate the forces of nature. How could they give rise to this
confidence if they had had their origin in a sensation of feebleness and

Finally, if the objects of nature really became sacred because of their
imposing forms or the forces which they manifest, then the sun, the
moon, the sky, the mountains, the sea, the winds, in a word, the great
cosmic powers, should have been the first to be raised to this dignity;
for there are no others more fitted to appeal to the senses and the
imagination. But as a matter of fact, they were divinized but slowly.
The first beings to which the cult is addressed--the proof will be found
in the chapters which follow--are humble vegetables and animals, in
relation to which men could at least claim an equality: they are ducks,
rabbits, kangaroos, lizards, worms, frogs, etc. Their objective
qualities surely were not the origin of the religious sentiments which
they inspired.



_History of the Question.--Method of Treating it_

Howsoever opposed their conclusions may seem to be, the two systems
which we have just studied agree upon one essential point: they state
the problem in identical terms. Both undertake to construct the idea of
the divine out of the sensations aroused in us by certain natural
phenomena, either physical or biological. For the animists it is dreams,
for the naturists, certain cosmic phenomena, which served as the point
of departure for religious evolution. But for both, it is in the nature,
either of man or of the universe, that we must look for the germ of the
grand opposition which separates the profane from the sacred.

But such an enterprise is impossible: it supposes a veritable creation
_ex nihilo_. A fact of common experience cannot give us the idea of
something whose characteristic is to be outside the world of common
experience. A man, as he appears to himself in his dreams, is only a
man. Natural forces, as our senses perceive them, are only natural
forces, howsoever great their intensity may be. Hence comes the common
criticism which we address to both doctrines. In order to explain how
these pretended data of religious thought have been able to take a
sacred character which has no objective foundation, it would be
necessary to admit that a whole world of delusive representations has
superimposed itself upon the other, denatured it to the point of making
it unrecognizable, and substituted a pure hallucination for reality.
Here, it is the illusions of the dream which brought about this
transfiguration; there, it is the brilliant and vain company of images
evoked by the word. But in one case as in the other, it is necessary to
regard religion as the product of a delirious imagination.

Thus one positive conclusion is arrived at as the result of this
critical examination. Since neither man nor nature have of themselves a
sacred character, they must get it from another source. Aside from the
human individual and the physical world, there should be some other
reality, in relation to which this variety of delirium which all
religion is in a sense, has a significance and an objective value. In
other words, beyond those which we have called animistic and naturistic,
there should be another sort of cult, more fundamental and more
primitive, of which the first are only derived forms or particular

In fact, this cult does exist: it is the one to which ethnologists have
given the name of totemism.


It was only at the end of the eighteenth century that the word totem
appeared in ethnographical literature. It is found for the first time in
the book of an Indian interpreter, J. Long, which was published in
London in 1791.[175] For nearly a half a century, totemism was known
only as something exclusively American.[176] It was only in 1841 that
Grey, in a passage which has remained celebrated,[177] pointed out the
existence of wholly similar practices in Australia. From that time on,
scholars began to realize that they were in the presence of a system of
a certain generality.

But they saw there only an essentially archaic institution, an
ethnographical curiosity, having no great interest for the historian.
MacLennan was the first who undertook to attach totemism to the general
history of humanity. In a series of articles in the _Fortnightly
Review_,[178] he set himself to show that totemism was not only a
religion, but one from which were derived a multitude of beliefs and
practices which are found in much more advanced religious systems. He
even went so far as to make it the source of all the animal-worshipping
and plant-worshipping cults which are found among ancient peoples.
Certainly this extension of totemism was abusive. The cults of animals
and plants depend upon numerous causes which cannot be reduced to one,
without the error of too great simplicity. But this error, by its very
exaggerations, had at least the advantage, that it put into evidence the
historical importance of totemism.

Students of American totemism had already known for a long time that
this form of religion was most intimately united to a determined social
organization, that its basis is the division of the social group into
clans.[179] In 1877, in his _Ancient Society_,[180] Lewis H. Morgan
undertook to make a study of it, to determine its distinctive
characteristics, and at the same time to point out its generality among
the Indian tribes of North and Central America. At nearly the same
moment, and even following the direct suggestion of Morgan, Fison and
Howitt[181] established the existence of the same social system in
Australia, as well as its relations with totemism.

Under the influence of these directing ideas, observations could be made
with better method. The researches which the American Bureau of
Ethnology undertook, played an important part in the advance of these
studies.[182] By 1887, the documents were sufficiently numerous and
significant to make Frazer consider it time to unite them and present
them to us in a systematic form. Such is the object of his little book
_Totemism_,[183] where the system is studied both as a religion and as a
legal institution. But this study was purely descriptive; no effort was
made to explain totemism[184] or to understand its fundamental notions.

Robertson Smith is the first who undertook this work of elaboration. He
realized more clearly than any of his predecessors how rich this crude
and confused religion is in germs for the future. It is true that
MacLennan had already connected it with the great religions of
antiquity; but that was merely because he thought he had found here and
there the cult of animals or plants. Now if we reduce totemism to a sort
of animal or plant worship, we have seen only its most superficial
aspect: we have even misunderstood its real nature. Going beyond the
mere letter of the totemic beliefs, Smith set himself to find the
fundamental principles upon which they depend. In his book upon _Kinship
and Marriage in Early Arabia_,[185] he had already pointed out that
totemism supposes a likeness in nature, either natural or acquired, of
men and animals (or plants). In his _The Religion of the Semites_,[186]
he makes this same idea the first origin of the entire sacrificial
system: it is to totemism that humanity owes the principle of the
communion meal. It is true that the theory of Smith can now be shown
one-sided; it is no longer adequate for the facts actually known; but
for all that, it contains an ingenious theory and has exercised a most
fertile influence upon the science of religions. The _Golden Bough_[187]
of Frazer is inspired by these same ideas, for totemism, which MacLennan
had attached to the religions of classical antiquity, and Smith to the
religions of the Semitic peoples, is here connected to the European
folk-lore. The schools of MacLennan and Morgan are thus united to that
of Mannhardt.[188]

During this time, the American tradition continued to develop with an
independence which it has kept up until very recent times. Three groups
of societies were the special object of the researches which were
concerned with totemism. These are, first, certain tribes of the
North-west, the Tlinkit, the Haida, the Kwakiutl, the Salish and the
Tsimshian; then, the great nation of the Sioux; and finally, the Pueblo
Indians in the south-western part of the United States. The first were
studied principally by Dall, Krause, Boas, Swanton, Hill Tout; the
second by Dorsey; the last by Mindeleff, Mrs. Stevenson and
Cushing.[189] But however rich the harvest of facts thus gathered in all
parts of the country may have been, the documents at our disposal were
still fragmentary. Though the American religions contain numerous traces
of totemism, they have passed the stage of real totemism. On the other
hand, observations in Australia had brought little more than scattered
beliefs and isolated rites, initiation rituals and interdictions
relative to totemism. It was with facts taken from all these sources
that Frazer attempted to draw a picture of totemism in its entirety.
Whatever may be the incontestable merit of the reconstruction undertaken
in such circumstances, it could not help being incomplete and
hypothetical. A totemic religion in complete action had not yet been

It is only in very recent years that this serious deficiency has been
repaired. Two observers of remarkable ability, Baldwin Spencer and F. J.
Gillen, discovered[190] in the interior of the Australian continent a
considerable number of tribes whose basis and unity was founded in
totemic beliefs. The results of their observations have been published
in two works, which have given a new life to the study of totemism. The
first of these, _The Native Tribes of Central Australia_,[191] deals
with the more central of these tribes, the Arunta, the Luritcha, and a
little farther to the south, on the shores of Lake Eyre, the Urabunna.
The second, which is entitled _The Northern Tribes of Central
Australia_,[192] deals with the societies north of the Urabunna,
occupying the territory between MacDonnell's Range and Carpenter Gulf.
Among the principal of these we may mention the Unmatjera, the Kaitish,
the Warramunga, the Worgaia, the Tjingilli, the Binbinga, the Walpari,
the Gnanji and finally, on the very shores of the gulf, the Mara and the

More recently, a German missionary, Carl Strehlow, who has also passed
long years in these same Central Australian societies,[194] has
commenced to publish his own observations on two of these tribes, the
Aranda and the Loritja (the Arunta and Luritcha of Spencer and
Gillen).[195] Having well mastered the language spoken by these
peoples,[196] Strehlow has been able to bring us a large number of
totemic myths and religious songs, which are given us, for the most
part, in the original text. In spite of some differences of detail which
are easily explained and whose importance has been greatly
exaggerated,[197] we shall see that the observations of Strehlow, though
completing, making more precise and sometimes even rectifying those of
Spencer and Gillen, confirm them in all that is essential.

These discoveries have given rise to an abundant literature to which we
shall have occasion to return. The works of Spencer and Gillen
especially have exercised a considerable influence, not only because
they were the oldest, but also because the facts were there presented in
a systematic form, which was of a nature to give a direction to later
studies,[198] and to stimulate speculation. Their results were commented
upon, discussed and interpreted in all possible manners. At this same
time, Howitt, whose fragmentary studies were scattered in a number of
different publications,[199] undertook to do for the southern tribes
what Spencer and Gillen had done for those of the centre. In his _Native
Tribes of South-East Australia_,[200] he gives us a view of the social
organization of the peoples who occupy Southern Australia, New South
Wales, and a good part of Queensland. The progress thus realized
suggested to Frazer the idea of completing his Totemism by a sort of
compendium[201] where would be brought together all the important
documents which are concerned either with the totemic religion or the
family and matrimonial organization which, rightly or wrongly, is
believed to be connected with this religion. The purpose of this book is
not to give us a general and systematic view of totemism, but rather to
put the materials necessary for a construction of this sort at the
disposition of scholars.[202] The facts are here arranged in a strictly
ethnographical and geographical order: each continent, and within the
continent, each tribe or ethnic group is studied separately. Though so
extended a study, where so many diverse peoples are successively passed
in review, could hardly be equally thorough in all its parts, still it
is a useful hand-book to consult, and one which can aid greatly in
facilitating researches.


From this historical résumé it is clear that Australia is the most
favourable field for the study of totemism, and therefore we shall make
it the principal area of our observations.

In his _Totemism_, Frazer sought especially to collect all the traces of
totemism which could be found in history or ethnography. He was thus led
to include in his study societies the nature and degree of whose culture
differs most widely: ancient Egypt,[203] Arabia and Greece,[204] and the
southern Slavs[205] are found there, side by side with the tribes of
Australia and America. This manner of procedure is not at all surprising
for a disciple of the anthropological school. For this school does not
seek to locate religions in the social environments of which they are a
part,[206] and to differentiate them according to the different
environments to which they are thus connected. But rather, as is
indicated by the name which it has taken to itself, its purpose is to go
beyond the national and historical differences to the universal and
really human bases of the religious life. It is supposed that man has a
religious nature of himself, in virtue of his own constitution, and
independently of all social conditions, and they propose to study
this.[207] For researches of this sort, all peoples can be called upon
equally well. It is true that they prefer the more primitive peoples,
because this fundamental nature is more apt to be unaltered here; but
since it is found equally well among the most civilized peoples, it is
but natural that they too should be called as witnesses. Consequently,
all those who pass as being not too far removed from the origins, and
who are confusedly lumped together under the rather imprecise rubric of
_savages_, are put on the same plane and consulted indifferently. Since
from this point of view, facts have an interest only in proportion to
their generality, they consider themselves obliged to collect as large a
number as possible of them; the circle of comparisons could not become
too large.

Our method will not be such a one, for several reasons.

In the first place, for the sociologist as for the historian, social
facts vary with the social system of which they form a part; they cannot
be understood when detached from it. This is why two facts which come
from two different societies cannot be profitably compared merely
because they seem to resemble each other; it is necessary that these
societies themselves resemble each other, that is to say, that they be
only varieties of the same species. The comparative method would be
impossible, if social types did not exist, and it cannot be usefully
applied except within a single type. What errors have not been committed
for having neglected this precept! It is thus that facts have been
unduly connected with each other which, in spite of exterior
resemblances, really have neither the same sense nor the same
importance: the primitive democracy and that of to-day, the collectivism
of inferior societies and actual socialistic tendencies, the monogamy
which is frequent in Australian tribes and that sanctioned by our laws,
etc. Even in the work of Frazer such confusions are found. It frequently
happens that he assimilates simple rites of wild-animal-worship to
practices that are really totemic, though the distance, sometimes very
great, which separates the two social systems would exclude all idea of
assimilation. Then if we do not wish to fall into these same errors,
instead of scattering our researches over all the societies possible, we
must concentrate them upon one clearly determined type.

It is even necessary that this concentration be as close as possible.
One cannot usefully compare facts with which he is not perfectly well
acquainted. But when he undertakes to include all sorts of societies and
civilizations, one cannot know any of them with the necessary
thoroughness; when he assembles facts from every country in order to
compare them, he is obliged to take them hastily, without having either
the means or the time to carefully criticize them. Tumultuous and
summary comparisons result, which discredit the comparative method with
many intelligent persons. It can give serious results only when it is
applied to so limited a number of societies that each of them can be
studied with sufficient precision. The essential thing is to choose
those where investigations have the greatest chance to be fruitful.

Also, the value of the facts is much more important than their number.
In our eyes, the question whether totemism has been more or less
universal or not, is quite secondary.[208] If it interests us, it does
so before all because in studying it we hope to discover relations of a
nature to make us understand better what religion is. Now to establish
these relations it is neither necessary nor always useful to heap up
numerous experiences upon each other; it is much more important to have
a few that are well studied and really significant. One single fact may
make a law appear, where a multitude of imprecise and vague observations
would only produce confusion. In every science, the scholar would be
overwhelmed by the facts which present themselves to him, if he did not
make a choice among them. It is necessary that he distinguish those
which promise to be the most instructive, that he concentrate his
attention upon these, and that he temporarily leave the others to one

That is why, with one reservation which will be indicated below, we
propose to limit our research to Australian societies. They fulfil all
the conditions which were just enumerated. They are perfectly
homogeneous, for though it is possible to distinguish varieties among
them, they all belong to one common type. This homogeneity is even so
great that the forms of social organization are not only the same, but
that they are even designated by identical or equivalent names in a
multitude of tribes, sometimes very distant from each other.[209] Also,
Australian totemism is the variety for which our documents are the most
complete. Finally, that which we propose to study in this work is the
most primitive and simple religion which it is possible to find. It is
therefore natural that to discover it, we address ourselves to
societies as slightly evolved as possible, for it is evidently there
that we have the greatest chance of finding it and studying it well. Now
there are no societies which present this characteristic to a higher
degree than the Australian ones. Not only is their civilization most
rudimentary--the house and even the hut are still unknown--but also
their organization is the most primitive and simple which is actually
known; it is that which we have elsewhere called _organization on a
basis of clans_.[210] In the next chapter, we shall have occasion to
restate its essential traits.

However, though making Australia the principal field of our research, we
think it best not to leave completely aside the societies where totemism
was first discovered, that is to say, the Indian tribes of North

This extension of the field of comparison has nothing about it which is
not legitimate. Undoubtedly these people are more advanced than those of
Australia. Their civilization has become much more advanced: men there
live in houses or under tents, and there are even fortified villages.
The size of the society is much greater, and centralization, which is
completely lacking in Australia, is beginning to appear there; we find
vast confederations, such as that of the Iroquois, under one central
authority. Sometimes a complicated system of differentiated classes
arranged in a hierarchy is found. However, the essential lines of the
social structure remain the same as those in Australia; it is always the
organization on a basis of clans. Thus we are not in the presence of two
different types, but of two varieties of a single type, which are still
very close to each other. They represent two successive moments of a
single evolution, so their homogeneousness is still great enough to
permit comparisons.

Also, these comparisons may have their utility. Just because their
civilization is more advanced than that of the Australians, certain
phases of the social organization which is common to both can be studied
more easily among the first than among the second. As long as men are
still making their first steps in the art of expressing their thought,
it is not easy for the observer to perceive that which moves them; for
there is nothing to translate clearly that which passes in these obscure
minds which have only a confused and ephemeral knowledge of themselves.
For example, religious symbols then consist only in formless
combinations of lines and colours, whose sense it is not easy to divine,
as we shall see. There are many gestures and movements by which interior
states express themselves; but being essentially ephemeral, they
readily elude observation. That is why totemism was discovered earlier
in America than in Australia; it was much more visible there, though it
held relatively less place in the totality of the religious life. Also,
wherever beliefs and institutions do not take a somewhat definite
material form, they are more liable to change under the influence of the
slightest circumstances, or to become wholly effaced from the memory.
Thus the Australian clans frequently have something floating and Protean
about them, while the corresponding organization in America has a
greater stability and more clearly defined contours. Thus, though
American totemism is further removed from its origins than that of
Australia, still there are important characteristics of which it has
better kept the memory.

In the second place, in order to understand an institution, it is
frequently well to follow it into the advanced stages of its
evolution;[211] for sometimes it is only when it is fully developed that
its real signification appears with the greatest clearness. In this way
also, American totemism, since it has a long history behind it, could
serve to clarify certain aspects of Australian totemism.[212] At the
same time, it will put us in a better condition to see how totemism is
bound up with the forms which follow, and to mark its place in the
general historical development of religion.

So in the discussions which follow, we shall not forbid ourselves the
use of certain facts borrowed from the Indian societies of North
America. But we are not going to study American totemism here;[213] such
a study must be made directly and by itself, and cannot be mixed with
the one which we are undertaking; it raises other problems and implies a
wholly different set of special investigations. We shall have recourse
to American facts merely in a supplementary way, and only when they seem
to be able to make us understand Australian facts to advantage. It is
these latter which constitute the real and immediate object of our





_The Totem as Name and as Emblem_

Owing to its nature, our study will include two parts. Since every
religion is made up of intellectual conceptions and ritual practices, we
must deal successively with the beliefs and rites which compose the
totemic religion. These two elements of the religious life are too
closely connected with each other to allow of any radical separation. In
principle, the cult is derived from the beliefs, yet it reacts upon
them; the myth is frequently modelled after the rite in order to account
for it, especially when its sense is no longer apparent. On the other
hand, there are beliefs which are clearly manifested only through the
rites which express them. So these two parts of our analysis cannot fail
to overlap. However, these two orders of facts are so different that it
is indispensable to study them separately. And since it is impossible to
understand anything about a religion while unacquainted with the ideas
upon which it rests, we must seek to become acquainted with these latter
first of all.

But it is not our intention to retrace all the speculations into which
the religious thought, even of the Australians alone, has run. The
things we wish to reach are the elementary notions at the basis of the
religion, but there is no need of following them through all the
development, sometimes very confused, which the mythological imagination
of these peoples has given them. We shall make use of myths when they
enable us to understand these fundamental ideas better, but we shall not
make mythology itself the subject of our studies. In so far as this is a
work of art, it does not fall within the jurisdiction of the simple
science of religions. Also, the intellectual evolution from which it
results is of too great a complexity to be studied indirectly and from a
foreign point of view. It constitutes a very difficult problem which
must be treated by itself, for itself and with a method peculiar to

Among the beliefs upon which totemism rests, the most important are
naturally those concerning the totem; it is with these that we must


At the basis of nearly all the Australian tribes we find a group which
holds a preponderating place in the collective life: this is the clan.
Two essential traits characterize it.

In the first place, the individuals who compose it consider themselves
united by a bond of kinship, but one which is of a very special nature.
This relationship does not come from the fact that they have definite
blood connections with one another; they are relatives from the mere
fact that they have the same name. They are not fathers and mothers,
sons or daughters, uncles or nephews of one another in the sense which
we now give these words; yet they think of themselves as forming a
single family, which is large or small according to the dimensions of
the clan, merely because they are collectively designated by the same
word. When we say that they regard themselves as a single family, we do
so because they recognize duties towards each other which are identical
with those which have always been incumbent upon kindred: such duties as
aid, vengeance, mourning, the obligation not to marry among themselves,

By this first characteristic, the clan does not differ from the Roman
_gens_ or the Greek [Greek: genos]; for this relationship also came
merely from the fact that all the members of the _gens_ had the same
name,[215] the _nomen gentilicium_. And in one sense, the _gens_ is a
clan; but it is a variety which should not be confounded with the
Australian clan.[216] This latter is distinguished by the fact that its
name is also the name of a determined species of material things with
which it believes that it has very particular relations, the nature of
which we shall presently describe; they are especially relations of
kinship. The species of things which serves to designate the clan
collectively is called its _totem_. The totem of the clan is also that
of each of its members.

Each clan has its totem, which belongs to it alone; two different clans
of the same tribe cannot have the same. In fact, one is a member of a
clan merely because he has a certain name. All who bear this name are
members of it for that very reason; in whatever manner they may be
spread over the tribal territory, they all have the same relations of
kinship with one another.[217] Consequently, two groups having the same
totem can only be two sections of the same clan. Undoubtedly, it
frequently happens that all of a clan does not reside in the same
locality, but has representatives in several different places. However,
this lack of a geographical basis does not cause its unity to be the
less keenly felt.

In regard to the word totem, we may say that it is the one employed by
the Ojibway, an Algonquin tribe, to designate the sort of thing whose
name the clan bears.[218] Although this expression is not at all
Australian,[219] and is found only in one single society in America,
ethnographers have definitely adopted it, and use it to denote, in a
general way, the system which we are describing. Schoolcraft was the
first to extend the meaning of the word thus and to speak of a "totemic
system."[220] This extension, of which there are examples enough in
ethnography, is not without inconveniences. It is not normal for an
institution of this importance to bear a chance name, taken from a
strictly local dialect, and bringing to mind none of the distinctive
characteristics of the thing it designates. But to-day this way of
employing the word is so universally accepted that it would be an excess
of purism to rise against this usage.[221]

In a very large proportion of the cases, the objects which serve as
totems belong either to the animal or the vegetable kingdom, but
especially to the former. Inanimate things are much more rarely
employed. Out of more than 500 totemic names collected by Howitt among
the tribes of south-eastern Australia, there are scarcely forty which
are not the names of plants or animals; these are the clouds, rain,
hail, frost, the moon, the sun, the wind, the autumn, the summer, the
winter, certain stars, thunder, fire, smoke, water or the sea. It is
noticeable how small a place is given to celestial bodies and, more
generally, to the great cosmic phenomena, which were destined to so
great a fortune in later religious development. Among all the clans of
which Howitt speaks, there were only two which had the moon as
totem,[222] two the sun,[223] three a star,[224] three the thunder,[225]
two the lightning.[226] The rain is a single exception; it, on the
contrary, is very frequent.[227]

These are the totems which can be spoken of as normal. But totemism has
its abnormalities as well. It sometimes happens that the totem is not a
whole object, but the part of an object. This fact appears rather rarely
in Australia;[228] Howitt cites only one example.[229] However, it may
well be that this is found with a certain frequency in the tribes where
the totemic groups are excessively subdivided; it might be said that the
totems had to break themselves up in order to be able to furnish names
to these numerous divisions. This is what seems to have taken place
among the Arunta and the Loritja. Strehlow has collected 442 totems in
these two societies, of which many are not an animal species, but some
particular organ of the animal of the species, such as the tail or
stomach of an opossum, the fat of the kangaroo, etc.[230]

We have seen that normally the totem is not an individual, but a species
or a variety: it is not such and such a kangaroo or crow, but the
kangaroo or crow in general. Sometimes, however, it is a particular
object. First of all, this is necessarily the case when the thing
serving as totem is unique in its class, as the sun, the moon, such or
such a constellation, etc. It also happens that clans take their names
from certain geographical irregularities or depressions of the land,
from a certain ant-hill, etc. It is true that we have only a small
number of examples of this in Australia; but Strehlow does mention
some.[231] But the very causes which have given rise to these abnormal
totems show that they are of a relatively recent origin. In fact, what
has made certain geographical features of the land become totems is that
a mythical ancestor is supposed to have stopped there or to have
performed some act of his legendary life there.[232] But at the same
time, these ancestors are represented in the myths as themselves
belonging to clans which had perfectly regular totems, that is to say,
ones taken from the animal or vegetable kingdoms. Therefore, the totemic
names thus commemorating the acts and performances of these heroes
cannot be primitive; they belong to a form of totemism that is already
derived and deviated. It is even permissible to ask if the
meteorological totems have not a similar origin; for the sun, the moon
and the stars are frequently identified with the ancestors of the
mythological epoch.[233]

Sometimes, but no less exceptionally, it is an ancestor or a group of
ancestors which serves as totem directly. In this case, the clan takes
its name, not from a thing or a species of real things, but from a
purely mythical being. Spencer and Gillen had already mentioned two or
three totems of this sort. Among the Warramunga and among the Tjingilli
there are clans which bear the name of an ancestor named Thaballa who
seems to be gaiety incarnate.[234] Another Warramunga clan bears the
name of a huge fabulous serpent named Wollunqua, from which the clan
considers itself descended.[235] We owe other similar facts to
Strehlow.[236] In any case, it is easy enough to see what probably took
place. Under the influence of diverse causes and by the very development
of mythological thought, the collective and impersonal totem became
effaced before certain mythical personages who advanced to the first
rank and became totems themselves.

Howsoever interesting these different irregularities may be, they
contain nothing which forces us to modify our definition of a totem.
They are not, as has sometimes been believed,[237] different varieties
of totems which are more or less irreducible into each other or into the
normal totem, such as we have defined it. They are merely secondary and
sometimes even aberrant forms of a single notion which is much more
general, and there is every ground for believing it the more primitive.

The manner in which the name is acquired is more important for the
organization and recruiting of the clan than for religion; it belongs to
the sociology of the family rather than to religious sociology.[238] So
we shall confine ourselves to indicating summarily the most essential
principles which regulate the matter.

In the different tribes, three different systems are in use.

In a great number, or it might even be said, in the greater number of
the societies, the child takes the totem of its mother, by right of
birth: this is what happens among the Dieri and the Urabunna of the
centre of Southern Australia; the Wotjobaluk and the Gournditch-Mara of
Victoria; the Kamilaroi, the Wiradjuri, the Wonghibon and the Euahlayi
of New South Wales; and the Wakelbura, the Pitta-Pitta and the
Kurnandaburi of Queensland, to mention only the most important names. In
this case, owing to a law of exogamy, the mother is necessarily of a
different totem from her husband, and on the other hand, as she lives in
his community, the members of a single totem are necessarily dispersed
in different localities according to the chances of their marriages. As
a result, the totemic group lacks a territorial base.

Elsewhere the totem is transmitted in the paternal line. In this case,
if the child remains with his father, the local group is largely made up
of people belonging to a single totem; only the married women there
represent foreign totems. In other words, each locality has its
particular totem. Up until recent times, this scheme of organization was
found in Australia only among the tribes where totemism was in
decadence, such as the Narrinyeri, where the totem has almost no
religious character at all any more.[239] It was therefore possible to
believe that there was a close connection between the totemic system and
descent in the uterine line. But Spencer and Gillen have observed, in
the northern part of central Australia, a whole group of tribes where
the totemic religion is still practised but where the transmission of
the totem is in the paternal line: these are the Warramunga, the Quanji,
the Umbia, the Binbinga, the Mara and the Anula.[240]

Finally, a third combination is the one observed among the Arunta and
Loritja. Here the totem of the child is not necessarily either that of
the mother or that of the father; it is that of a mythical ancestor who
came, by processes which the observers recount in different ways,[241]
and mysteriously fecundated the mother at the moment of conception. A
special process makes it possible to learn which ancestor it was and to
which totemic group he belonged.[242] But since it was only chance which
determined that this ancestor happened to be near the mother, rather
than another, the totem of the child is thus found to depend finally
upon fortuitous circumstances.[243]

Outside of and above the totems of clans there are totems of phratries
which, though not differing from the former in nature, must none the
less be distinguished from them.

A phratry is a group of clans which are united to each other by
particular bonds of fraternity. Ordinarily the Australian tribe is
divided into two phratries between which the different clans are
distributed. Of course there are some tribes where this organization has
disappeared, but everything leads us to believe that it was once
general. In any case, there are no tribes in Australia where the number
of phratries is greater than two.

Now in nearly all the cases where the phratries have a name whose
meaning has been established, this name is that of an animal; it would
therefore seem that it is a totem. This has been well demonstrated in a
recent work by A. Lang.[244] Thus, among the Gournditch (Victoria), the
phratries are called Krokitch and Kaputch; the former of the words
designates the white cockatoo and the latter the black cockatoo.[245]
The same expressions are found again among the Buandik and the
Wotjobaluk.[246] Among the Wurunjerri, the names employed are Bunjil and
Waang, which designate the eagle-hawk and the crow.[247] The words
Mukwara and Kilpara are used for the same purpose in a large number of
tribes of New South Wales;[248] they designate the same birds.[249] It
is also the eagle-hawk and the crow which have given their names to the
two phratries of the Ngarigo and the Wolgal.[250] Among the Kuinmurbura,
it is the white cockatoo and the crow.[251] Many other examples might be
cited. Thus we are led to regard the phratry as an ancient clan which
has been dismembered; the actual clans are the product of this
dismemberment, and the solidarity which unites them is a souvenir of
their primitive unity.[252] It is true that in certain tribes, the
phratries no longer have special names, as it seems; in others where
these names exist, their meaning is no longer known, even to the
members. But there is nothing surprising in this. The phratries are
certainly a primitive institution, for they are everywhere in a state of
regression; their descendants the clans have passed to the first rank.
So it is but natural that the names which they bore should have been
effaced from memory little by little, when they were no longer
understood; for they must belong to a very archaic language no longer in
use. This is proved by the fact that in many cases where we know the
animal whose name the phratry bears, the word designating this animal in
the current language is very different from the one employed here.[253]

Between the totem of the phratry and the totems of the clans there
exists a sort of relation of subordination. In fact, in principle each
clan belongs to one and only one phratry; it is very exceptional that it
has representatives in the other phratry. This is not met with at all
except among certain central tribes, notably the Arunta;[254] also even
where, owing to disturbing influences, overlappings of this sort have
taken place, the great part of the clan is included entirely within one
or the other of the two groups of the tribe; only a small minority is to
be found in the other one.[255] As a rule then, the two phratries do not
overlap each other; consequently, the list of totems which an individual
may have is predetermined by the phratry to which he belongs. In other
words, the phratry is like a species of which the clans are varieties.
We shall presently see that this comparison is not purely metaphorical.

In addition to the phratries and clans, another secondary group is
frequently met with in Australian societies, which is not without a
certain individuality: these are the matrimonial classes.

By this name they designate certain subdivisions of the phratry, whose
number varies with the tribe: there are sometimes two and sometimes four
per phratry.[256] Their recruiting and operation are regulated by the
two following principles. In the first place, each generation in a
phratry belongs to different clans from the immediately preceding one.
Thus, when there are only two classes per phratry, they necessarily
alternate with each other every generation. The children make up the
class of which their parents are not members; but grandchildren are of
the same class as their grandparents. Thus, among the Kamilaroi, the
Kupathin phratry has two classes, Ippai and Kumbo; the Dilby phratry,
two others which are called Murri and Kubbi. As descent is in the
uterine line, the child is in the phratry of its mother; if she is a
Kupathin, the child will be one also. But if she is of the Ippai class,
he will be a Kumbo; if the child is a girl, her children will again be
in the Ippai class.

Likewise, the children of the women of the Murri class will be in the
Kubbi class, and the children of the Kubbi women will be Murri again.
When there are four classes per phratry, instead of two, the system is
naturally more complex, but the principle is the same. The four classes
form two couples of two classes each, and these two classes alternate
with each other every generation in the manner just indicated. Secondly,
the members of one class can in principle[257] marry into only one of
the classes of the other phratry. The Ippai must marry into the Kubbi
class and the Murri into the Kumbo class. It is because this
organization profoundly affects matrimonial relations that we give the
group the name of matrimonial class.

Now it may be asked whether these classes do not sometimes have totems
like the phratries and clans.

This question is raised by the fact that in certain tribes of
Queensland, each matrimonial class has dietetic restrictions that are
peculiar to it. The individuals who compose it must abstain from eating
the flesh of certain animals which the others may consume freely.[258]
Are these animals not totems?

But dietetic restrictions are not the characteristic marks of totemism.
The totem is a name first of all, and then, as we shall see, an emblem.
Now in the societies of which we just spoke, there are no matrimonial
classes which bear the name of an animal or plant, or which have an
emblem.[259] Of course it is possible that these restrictions are
indirectly derived from totemism. It might be supposed that the animals
which these interdictions protect were once the totems of clans which
have since disappeared, while the matrimonial classes remained. It is
certain that they have a force of endurance which the clans do not have.
Then these interdictions, deprived of their original field, may have
spread themselves out over the entire class, since there were no other
groups to which they could be attached. But it is clear that if this
regulation was born of totemism, it represents only an enfeebled and
denatured form of it.[260]

All that has been said of the totem in Australian societies is equally
applicable to the Indian tribes of North America. The only difference is
that among these latter, the totemic organization has a strictness of
outline and a stability which are not found in Australia. The Australian
clans are not only very numerous, but in a single tribe their number is
almost unlimited. Observers cite some of them as examples, but without
ever succeeding in giving us a complete list. This is because the list
is never definitely terminated. The same process of dismemberment which
broke up the original phratries and give birth to clans properly
so-called still continues within these latter; as a result of this
progressive crumbling, a clan frequently has only a very small effective
force.[261] In America, on the contrary, the totemic system has better
defined forms. Although the tribes there are considerably larger on the
average, the clans are less numerous. A single tribe rarely has more
than a dozen of them,[262] and frequently less; each of them is
therefore a much more important group. But above all, their number is
fixed; they know their exact number, and they it tell to us.[263]

This difference is due to the superiority of their social economy. From
the moment when these tribes were observed for the first time, the
social groups were strongly attached to the soil, and consequently
better able to resist the decentralizing forces which assailed them. At
the same time, the society had too keen a sentiment of its unity to
remain unconscious of itself and of the parts out of which it was
composed. The example of America thus enables us to explain even better
the organization at the base of the clans. We would take a mistaken
view, if we judged this only on the present conditions in Australia. In
fact, it is in a state of change and dissolution there, which is not at
all normal; it is much rather the product of a degeneration which we
see, due both to the natural decay of time and the disorganizing effect
of the whites. To be sure, it is hardly probable that the Australian
clans ever had the dimensions and solid structure of the American ones.
But there must have been a time when the distance between them was less
considerable than it is to-day, for the American societies would never
have succeeded in making so solid a structure if the clans had always
been of so fluid and inconsistent a nature.

This greater stability has even enabled the archaic system of phratries
to maintain itself in America with a clearness and a relief no longer to
be found in Australia. We have just seen that in the latter continent
the phratry is everywhere in a state of decadence; very frequently it is
nothing more than an anonymous group; when it has a name, this is either
no longer understood, or in any case, it cannot mean a great deal to the
native, since it is borrowed from a foreign language, or from one no
longer spoken. Thus we have been able to infer the existence of totems
for phratries only from a few survivals, which, for the most part, are
so slightly marked that they have escaped the attention of many
observers. In certain parts of America, on the contrary, this
institution has retained its primitive importance. The tribes of the
North-west coast, the Tlinkit and the Haida especially, have now
attained a relatively advanced civilization; yet they are divided into
two phratries which are subdivided into a certain number of clans: the
phratries of the Crow and the Wolf among the Tlinkit,[264] of the Eagle
and the Crow among the Haida.[265] And this division is not merely
nominal; it corresponds to an ever-existing state of tribal customs and
is deeply marked with the tribal life. The moral distance separating the
clans is very slight in comparison with that separating the
phratries.[266] The name of each is not a word whose sense is forgotten
or only vaguely known; it is a totem in the full sense of the term; they
have all its essential attributes, such as will be described below.[267]
Consequently, upon this point also, American tribes must not be
neglected, for we can study the totems of phratries directly there,
while Australia offers only obscure vestiges of them.


But the totem is not merely a name; it is an emblem, a veritable
coat-of-arms whose analogies with the arms of heraldry have often been
remarked. In speaking of the Australians, Grey says, "each family adopt
an animal or vegetable as their crest and sign,"[268] and what Grey
calls a family is incontestably a clan. Also Fison and Howitt say, "the
Australian divisions show that the totem is, in the first place, the
badge of a group."[269] Schoolcraft says the same thing about the totems
of the Indians of North America. "The totem is in fact a design which
corresponds to the heraldic emblems of civilized nations, and each
person is authorized to bear it as a proof of the identity of the family
to which it belongs. This is proved by the real etymology of the word,
which is derived from _dodaim_, which means village or the residence of
a family group."[270] Thus when the Indians entered into relations with
the Europeans and contracts were formed between them, it was with its
totem that each clan sealed the treaties thus concluded.[271]

The nobles of the feudal period carved, engraved and designed in every
way their coats-of-arms upon the walls of their castles, their arms, and
every sort of object that belonged to them; the blacks of Australia and
the Indians of North America do the same thing with their totems. The
Indians who accompanied Samuel Hearne painted their totems on their
shields before going into battle.[272] According to Charlevoix, in time
of war, certain tribes of Indians had veritable ensigns, made of bits of
bark fastened to the end of a pole, upon which the totems were
represented.[273] Among the Tlinkit, when a conflict breaks out between
two clans, the champions of the two hostile groups wear helmets over
their heads, upon which are painted their respective totems.[274] Among
the Iroquois, they put the skin of the animal which serves as totem upon
each wigwam, as a mark of the clan.[275] According to another observer,
the animal was stuffed and set up before the door.[276] Among the
Wyandot, each clan has its own ornaments and its distinctive
paintings.[277] Among the Omaha, and among the Sioux generally, the
totem is painted on the tent.[278]

Wherever the society has become sedentary, where the tent is replaced by
the house, and where the plastic arts are more fully developed, the
totem is engraved upon the woodwork and upon the walls. This is what
happens, for example, among the Haida, the Tsimshian, the Salish and the
Tlinkit. "A very particular ornament of the house, among the Tlinkit,"
says Krause, "is the totemic coat-of-arms." Animal forms, sometimes
combined with human forms, are engraved upon the posts at the sides of
the door of entry, which are as high as 15 yards; they are generally
painted with very bright colours.[279] However, these totemic
decorations are not very numerous in the Tlinkit village; they are found
almost solely before the houses of the chiefs and rich men. They are
much more frequent in the neighbouring tribe of the Haida; here there
are always several for each house.[280] With its many sculptured posts
arising on every hand, sometimes to a great height, a Haida village
gives the impression of a sacred city, all bristling with belfries or
little minarets.[281] Among the Salish, the totem is frequently
represented upon the interior walls of the house.[282] Elsewhere, it is
found upon the canoes, the utensils of every sort and the funeral

The preceding examples are taken exclusively from the Indians of North
America. This is because sculpture, engravings and permanent figurations
are not possible except where the technique of the plastic arts has
reached a degree of perfection to which the Australian tribes have not
yet attained. Consequently the totemic representations of the sort which
we just mentioned are rarer and less apparent in Australia than in
America. However, cases of them are cited. Among the Warramunga, at the
end of the burial ceremonies, the bones of the dead man are interred,
after they have been dried and reduced to powder; beside the place where
they are deposited, a figure representing the totem is traced upon the
ground.[284] Among the Mara and the Anula, the body is placed in a piece
of hollow wood decorated with designs characteristic of the totem.[285]
In New South Wales, Oxley found engravings upon the trees near the tomb
where a native was buried[286] to which Brough Smyth attributes a
totemic character. The natives of the Upper Darling carve totemic images
upon their shields.[287] According to Collins, nearly all the utensils
are covered with ornaments which probably have the same significance;
figures of the same sort are found upon the rocks.[288] These totemic
designs may even be more frequent than it seems, for, owing to reasons
which will be discussed below, it is not always easy to see what their
real meaning is.

These different facts give us an idea of the considerable place held by
the totem in the social life of the primitives. However, up to the
present, it has appeared to us as something relatively outside of the
man, for it is only upon external things that we have seen it
represented. But totemic images are not placed only upon the walls of
their houses, the sides of their canoes, their arms, their utensils and
their tombs; they are also found on the bodies of the men. They do not
put their coat-of-arms merely upon the things which they possess, but
they put it upon their persons; they imprint it upon their flesh, it
becomes a part of them, and this world of representations is even by
far the more important one.

In fact, it is a very general rule that the members of each clan seek to
give themselves the external aspect of their totem. At certain religious
festivals among the Tlinkit, the person who is to direct the ceremonies
wears a garment which represents, either wholly or in part, the body of
the animal whose name he bears.[289] These same usages are also found in
all the North-West of America.[290] They are found again among the
Minnitaree, when they go into combat,[291] and among the Indians of the
Pueblos.[292] Elsewhere, when the totem is a bird, men wear the feathers
of this bird on their heads.[293] Among the Iowa, each clan has a
special fashion of cutting the hair. In the Eagle clan, two large tufts
are arranged on the front of the head, while there is another one
behind; in the Buffalo clan, they are arranged in the form of
horns.[294] Among the Omaha, analogous arrangements are found: each clan
has its own head-dress. In the Turtle clan, for example, the hair is all
shaved off, except six bunches, two on each side of the head, one in
front, and one behind, in such a way as to imitate the legs, the head
and the tail of the animal.[295]

But it is more frequently upon the body itself that the totemic mark is
stamped: for this is a way of representation within the capacity of even
the least advanced societies. It has sometimes been asked whether the
common rite of knocking out a young man's two upper teeth at the age of
puberty does not have the object of reproducing the form of the totem.
The fact is not established, but it is worth mentioning that the natives
themselves sometimes explain the custom thus. For example, among the
Arunta, the extraction of teeth is practised only in the clans of the
rain and of water; now according to tradition, the object of this
operation is to make their faces look like certain black clouds with
light borders which are believed to announce the speedy arrival of rain,
and which are therefore considered things of the same family.[296] This
is a proof that the native himself is conscious that the object of these
deformations is to give him, at least conventionally, the aspect of his
totem. Among these same Arunta, in the course of the rites of
sub-incision, certain gashes are cut upon the sisters and the future
wife of the novice; scars result from these, whose form is also
represented upon a certain sacred object of which we shall speak
presently and which is called the _churinga_; as we shall see, the lines
thus drawn upon the _churinga_ are emblematic of the totem.[297] Among
the Kaitish, the euro is believed to be closely connected with the
rain;[298] the men of the rain clan wear little ear-rings made of euro
teeth.[299] Among the Yerkla, during the initiation the young man is
given a certain number of slashes which leave scars; the number and form
of these varies with the totems.[300] An informer of Fison mentions the
same fact in the tribes observed by him.[301] According to Howitt, a
relationship of the same sort exists among the Dieri between certain
arrangements of scars and the water totem.[302] Among the Indians of the
North-West, it is a very general custom for them to tattoo themselves
with the totem.[303]

But even if the tattooings which are made by mutilations or scars do not
always have a totemic significance,[304] it is different with simple
designs drawn upon the body: they are generally representations of the
totem. It is true that the native does not carry them every day. When he
is occupied with purely economic occupations, or when the small family
groups scatter to hunt or fish, he does not bother with all this
paraphernalia, which is quite complicated. But when the clans unite to
live a common life and to assist at the religious ceremonies together,
then he must adorn himself. As we shall see, each of the ceremonies
concerns a particular totem, and in theory the rites which are connected
with a totem can be performed only by the men of that totem. Now those
who perform,[305] who take the part of officiants, and sometimes even
those who assist as spectators, always have designs representing the
totem on their bodies.[306] One of the principal rites of initiation, by
which a young man enters into the religious life of the tribe, consists
in painting the totemic symbol on his body.[307] It is true that among
the Arunta the design thus traced does not always and necessarily
represent the totem of the initiated;[308] but these are exceptions,
due, undoubtedly, to the disturbed state of the totemic organization of
this tribe.[309] Also, even among the Arunta, at the most solemn moment
of the initiation, which is its crown and consecration, when the
neophyte is allowed to enter the sanctuary where all the sacred objects
belonging to the clan are preserved, an emblematic painting is placed
upon him; this time, it is the totem of the young man which is thus
represented.[310] The bonds which unite the individual to his totem are
even so strong that in the tribes on the North-west coast of North
America, the emblem of the clan is painted not only upon the living but
also upon the dead: before a corpse is interred, they put the totemic
mark upon it.[311]


These totemic decorations enable us to see that the totem is not merely
a name and an emblem. It is in the course of the religious ceremonies
that they are employed; they are a part of the liturgy; so while the
totem is a collective label, it also has a religious character. In fact,
it is in connection with it, that things are classified as sacred or
profane. It is the very type of sacred thing.

The tribes of Central Australia, especially the Arunta, the Loritja, the
Kaitish, the Unmatjera, and the Ilpirra,[312] make constant use of
certain instruments in their rites which are called the _churinga_ by
the Arunta, according to Spencer and Gillen, or the _tjurunga_,
according to Strehlow.[313] They are pieces of wood or bits of polished
stone, of a great variety of forms, but generally oval or oblong.[314]
Each totemic group has a more or less important collection of these.
_Upon each of these is engraved a design representing the totem of this
same group._[315] A certain number of the churinga have a hole at one
end, through which goes a thread made of human hair or that of an
opossum. Those which are made of wood and are pierced in this way serve
for exactly the same purposes as those instruments of the cult to which
English ethnographers have given the name of "bull-roarers." By means of
the thread by which they are suspended, they are whirled rapidly in the
air in such a way as to produce a sort of humming identical with that
made by the toys of this name still used by our children; this deafening
noise has a ritual significance and accompanies all ceremonies of any
importance. These sorts of churinga are real bull-roarers. But there are
others which are not made of wood and are not pierced; consequently they
cannot be employed in this way. Nevertheless, they inspire the same
religious sentiments.

In fact, every churinga, for whatever purpose it may be employed, is
counted among the eminently sacred things; there are none which surpass
it in religious dignity. This is indicated even by the word which is
used to designate them. It is not only a substantive but also an
adjective meaning sacred. Also, among the several names which each
Arunta has, there is one so sacred that it must not be revealed to a
stranger; it is pronounced but rarely, and then in a low voice and a
sort of mysterious murmur. Now this name is called the _aritna churinga_
(aritna means name).[316] In general, the word churinga is used to
designate all ritual acts; for example, _ilia churinga_ signifies the
cult of the emu.[317] Churinga, when used substantively, therefore
designates the thing whose essential characteristic is sacredness.
Profane persons, that is to say, women and young men not yet initiated
into the religious life, may not touch or even see the churinga; they
are only allowed to look at it from a distance, and even this is only on
rare occasions.[318]

The churinga are piously kept in a special place, which the Arunta call
the _ertnatulunga_.[319] This is a cave or a sort of cavern hidden in a
deserted place. The entrance is carefully closed by means of stones so
cleverly placed that a stranger going past it could not suspect that the
religious treasury of the clan was so near to him. The sacred character
of the churinga is so great that it communicates itself to the locality
where they are stored: the women and the uninitiated cannot approach it.
It is only after their initiation is completely finished that the young
men have access to it: there are some who are not esteemed worthy of
this favour except after years of trial.[320] The religious nature
radiates to a distance and communicates itself to all the surroundings:
everything near by participates in this same nature and is therefore
withdrawn from profane touch. Is one man pursued by another? If he
succeeds in reaching the ertnatulunga, he is saved; he cannot be seized
there.[321] Even a wounded animal which takes refuge there must be
respected.[322] Quarrels are forbidden there. It is a place of peace, as
is said in the Germanic societies; it is a sanctuary of the totemic
group, it is a veritable place of asylum.

But the virtues of the churinga are not manifested merely by the way in
which it keeps the profane at a distance. If it is thus isolated, it is
because it is something of a high religious value whose loss would
injure the group and the individuals severely. It has all sorts of
marvellous properties: by contact it heals wounds, especially those
resulting from circumcision;[323] it has the same power over
sickness;[324] it is useful for making the beard grow;[325] it confers
important powers over the totemic species, whose normal reproduction it
ensures;[326] it gives men force, courage and perseverance, while, on
the other hand, it depresses and weakens their enemies. This latter
belief is so firmly rooted that when two combatants stand pitted against
one another, if one sees that the other has brought churinga against
him, he loses confidence and his defeat is certain.[327] Thus there is
no ritual instrument which has a more important place in the religious
ceremonies.[328] By means of various sorts of anointings, their powers
are communicated either to the officiants or to the assistants; to bring
this about, they are rubbed over the members and stomach of the faithful
after being covered with grease;[329] or sometimes they are covered with
a down which flies away and scatters itself in every direction when they
are whirled; this a way of disseminating the virtues which are in

But they are not useful merely to individuals; the fate of the clan as a
whole is bound up with theirs. Their loss is a disaster; it is the
greatest misfortune which can happen to the group.[331] Sometimes they
leave the ertnatulunga, for example when they are loaned to other
groups.[332] Then follows a veritable public mourning. For two weeks,
the people of the totem weep and lament, covering their bodies with
white clay just as they do when they have lost a relative.[333] And the
churinga are not left at the free disposition of everybody; the
ertnatulunga where they are kept is placed under the control of the
chief of the group. It is true that each individual has special rights
to some of them;[334] yet, though he is their proprietor in a sense, he
cannot make use of them except with the consent and under the direction
of the chief. It is a collective treasury; it is the sacred ark of the
clan.[335] The devotion of which they are the object shows the high
price that is attached to them. The respect with which they are handled
is shown by the solemnity of the movements.[336] They are taken care of,
they are greased, rubbed, polished, and when they are moved from one
locality to another, it is in the midst of ceremonies which bear witness
to the fact that this displacement is regarded as an act of the highest

Now in themselves, the churinga are objects of wood and stone like all
others; they are distinguished from profane things of the same sort by
only one particularity: this is that the totemic mark is drawn or
engraved upon them. So it is this mark and this alone which gives them
their sacred character. It is true that according to Spencer and Gillen,
the churinga serve as the residence of an ancestor's soul and that it is
the presence of this soul which confers these properties.[338] While
declaring this interpretation inexact, Strehlow, in his turn, proposes
another which does not differ materially from the other: he claims that
the churinga are considered the image of the ancestor's body, or the
body itself.[339] So, in any case, it would be sentiments inspired by
the ancestor which fix themselves upon the material object, and
convert it into a sort of fetish. But in the first place, both
conceptions,--which, by the way, scarcely differ except in the letter of
the myth,--have obviously been made up afterwards, to account for the
sacred character of the churinga. In the constitution of these pieces of
wood and bits of stone, and in their external appearance, there is
nothing which predestines them to be considered the seat of an ancestral
soul, or the image of his body. So if men have imagined this myth, it
was in order to explain the religious respect which these things
inspired in them, and the respect was not determined by the myth. This
explanation, like so many mythological explanations, resolves the
question only by repeating it in slightly different terms; for saying
that the churinga is sacred and saying that it has such and such a
relation with a sacred being, is merely to proclaim the same fact in two
different ways; it is not accounting for them. Moreover, according to
the avowal of Spencer and Gillen, there are some churinga among the
Arunta which are made by the old men of the group, to the knowledge of
and before the eyes of all;[340] these obviously do not come from the
great ancestors. However, except for certain differences of degree, they
have the same power as the others and are preserved in the same manner.
Finally, there are whole tribes where the churinga is never associated
with a spirit.[341] Its religious nature comes to it, then, from some
other source, and whence could it come, if not from the totemic stamp
which it bears? It is to this image, therefore, that the demonstrations
of the rite are really addressed; it is this which sanctifies the object
upon which it is carved.

Among the Arunta and the neighbouring tribes, there are two other
liturgical instruments closely connected with the totem and the
churinga itself, which ordinarily enters into their composition: they
are the _nurtunja_ and the _waninga_.

The nurtunja,[342] which is found among the northern Arunta and their
immediate neighbours,[343] is made up principally of a vertical support
which is either a single lance, or several lances united into a bundle,
or of a simple pole.[344] Bunches of grass are fastened all around it by
means of belts or little cords made of hair. Above this, down is placed,
arranged either in circles or in parallel lines which run from the top
to the bottom of the support. The top is decorated with the plumes of an
eagle-hawk. This is only the most general and typical form; in
particular cases, it has all sorts of variations.[345]

The waninga, which is found only among the southern Arunta, the Urabunna
and the Loritja, has no one unique model either. Reduced to its most
essential elements, it too consists in a vertical support, formed by a
long stick or by a lance several yards high, with sometimes one and
sometimes two cross-pieces.[346] In the former case, it has the
appearance of a cross. Cords made either of human hair or opossum or
bandicoot fur diagonally cross the space included between the arms of
the cross and the extremities of the central axis; as they are quite
close to each other, they form a network in the form of a lozenge. When
there are two cross-bars, these cords go from one to the other and from
these to the top and bottom of the support. They are sometimes covered
with a layer of down, thick enough to conceal the foundation. Thus the
waninga has the appearance of a veritable flag.[347]

Now the nurtunja and the waninga, which figure in a multitude of
important rites, are the object of a religious respect quite like that
inspired by the churinga. The process of their manufacture and erection
is conducted with the greatest solemnity. Fixed in the earth, or carried
by an officiant, they mark the central point of the ceremony: it is
about them that the dances take place and the rites are performed. In
the course of the initiation, the novice is led to the foot of a
nurtunja erected for the occasion. Someone says to him, "There is the
nurtunja of your father; many young men have already been made by it."
After that, the initiate must kiss the nurtunja.[348] By this kiss, he
enters into relations with the religious principle which resides there;
it is a veritable communion which should give the young man the force
required to support the terrible operation of sub-incision.[349] The
nurtunja also plays a considerable rôle in the mythology of these
societies. The myths relate that in the fabulous times of the great
ancestors, the territory of the tribe was overrun in every direction by
companies composed exclusively of individuals of the same totem.[350]
Each of these troops had a nurtunja with it. When it stopped to camp,
before scattering to hunt, the members fixed their nurtunja in the
ground, from the top of which their churinga was suspended.[351] That is
equivalent to saying that they confided the most precious things they
had to it. It was at the same time a sort of standard which served as a
rallying-centre for the group. One cannot fail to be struck by the
analogies between the nurtunja and the sacred post of the Omaha.[352]

Now its sacred character can come from only one cause: that is that it
represents the totem materially. The vertical lines or rings of down
which cover it, and even the cords of different colours which fasten the
arms of the waninga to the central axis, are not arranged arbitrarily,
according to the taste of the makers; they must conform to a type
strictly determined by tradition which, in the minds of the natives,
represents the totem.[353] Here we cannot ask, as we did in the case of
the churinga, whether the veneration accorded to this instrument of the
cult is not merely the reflex of that inspired by the ancestors; for it
is a rule that each nurtunja and each waninga last only during the
ceremony where they are used. They are made all over again every time
that it is necessary, and when the rite is once accomplished, they are
stripped of their ornaments and the elements out of which they are made
are scattered.[354] They are nothing more than images--and temporary
images at that--of the totem, and consequently it is on this ground,
and on this ground alone, that they play a religious rôle.

So the churinga, the nurtunja and the waninga owe their religious nature
solely to the fact that they bear the totemic emblem. It is the emblem
that is sacred. It keeps this character, no matter where it may be
represented. Sometimes it is painted upon rocks; these paintings are
called _churinga ilkinia_, sacred drawings.[355] The decorations with
which the officiants and assistants at the religious ceremonies adorn
themselves have the same name: women and children may not see them.[356]
In the course of certain rites, the totem is drawn upon the ground. The
way in which this is done bears witness to the sentiments inspired by
this design, and the high value attributed to it; it is traced upon a
place that has been previously sprinkled, and saturated with human
blood,[357] and we shall presently see that the blood is in itself a
sacred liquid, serving for pious uses only. When the design has been
made, the faithful remain seated on the ground before it, in an attitude
of the purest devotion.[358] If we give the word a sense corresponding
to the mentality of the primitive, we may say that they adore it. This
enables us to understand how the totemic blazon has remained something
very precious for the Indians of North America: it is always surrounded
with a sort of religious halo.

But if we are seeking to understand how it comes that these totemic
representations are so sacred, it is not without interest to see what
they consist in.

Among the Indians of North America, they are painted, engraved or carved
images which attempt to reproduce as faithfully as possible the external
aspect of the totemic animal. The means employed are those which we use
to-day in similar circumstances, except that they are generally cruder.
But it is not the same in Australia, and it is in the Australian
societies that we must seek the origin of these representations.
Although the Australian may show himself sufficiently capable of
imitating the forms of things in a rudimentary way,[359] sacred
representations generally seem to show no ambitions in this line: they
consist essentially in geometrical designs drawn upon the churinga, the
nurtunga, rocks, the ground, or the human body. They are either straight
or curved lines, painted in different ways,[360] and the whole having
only a conventional meaning. The connection between the figure and the
thing represented is so remote and indirect that it cannot be seen,
except when it is pointed out. Only the members of the clan can say what
meaning is attached to such and such combinations of lines.[361] Men and
women are generally represented by semicircles, and animals by whole
circles or spirals,[362] the tracks of men or animals by lines of
points, etc. The meaning of the figures thus obtained is so arbitrary
that a single design may have two different meanings for the men of two
different totems, representing one animal here, and another animal or
plant there. This is perhaps still more apparent with the nurtunja and
waninga. Each of them represents a different totem. But the few and
simple elements which enter into their composition do not allow a great
variety of combinations. The result is that two nurtunja may have
exactly the same appearance, and yet express two things as different as
a gum tree and an emu.[363] When a nurtunja is made, it is given a
meaning which it keeps during the whole ceremony, but which, in the last
resort, is fixed by convention.

These facts prove that if the Australian is so strongly inclined to
represent his totem, it is in order not to have a portrait of it before
his eyes which would constantly renew the sensation of it; it is merely
because he feels the need of representing the idea which he forms of it
by means of material and external signs, no matter what these signs may
be. We are not yet ready to attempt to understand what has thus caused
the primitive to write his idea of his totem upon his person and upon
different objects, but it is important to state at once the nature of
the need which has given rise to these numerous representations.[364]


TOTEMIC BELIEFS--_continued_

_The Totemic Animal and Man_

But totemic images are not the only sacred things. There are real things
which are also the object of rites, because of the relations which they
have with the totem: before all others, are the beings of the totemic
species and the members of the clan.


First of all, since the designs which represent the totem arouse
religious sentiments, it is natural that the things whose aspect these
designs reproduce should have this same property, at least to a certain

For the most part, these are animals or plants. The profane function of
vegetables and even of animals is ordinarily to serve as food; then the
sacred character of the totemic animal or plant is shown by the fact
that it is forbidden to eat them. It is true that since they are sacred
things, they can enter into the composition of certain mystical repasts,
and we shall see, in fact, that they sometimes serve as veritable
sacraments; yet normally they cannot be used for everyday consumption.
Whoever oversteps this rule, exposes himself to grave dangers. It is not
that the group always intervenes to punish this infraction artificially;
it is believed that the sacrilege produces death automatically. A
redoubtable principle is held to reside in the totemic plant or animal,
which cannot enter into the profane organism without disorganizing it or
destroying it.[365] In certain tribes at least, only the old men are
free from this prohibition;[366] we shall see the reason for this later.

However, if this prohibition is formal in a large number of
tribes[367]--with certain exceptions which will be mentioned later--it
is incontestable that it tends to weaken as the old totemic organization
is disturbed. But the restrictions which remain even then prove that
these attenuations are not admitted without difficulty. For example,
when it is permitted to eat the plant or animal that serves as totem, it
is not possible to do so freely; only a little bit may be taken at a
time. To go beyond this amount is a ritual fault that has grave
consequences.[368] Elsewhere, the prohibition remains intact for the
parts that are regarded as the most precious, that is to say, as the
most sacred; for example, the eggs or the fat.[369] In still other
parts, consumption is not allowed except when the animal in question has
not yet reached full maturity.[370] In this case, they undoubtedly think
that its sacred character is not yet complete. So the barrier which
isolates and protects the totemic being yields but slowly and with
active resistance, which bears witness to what it must have been at

It is true that according to Spencer and Gillen these restrictions are
not the remnants of what was once a rigorous prohibition now losing
hold, but the beginnings of an interdiction which is only commencing to
establish itself. These writers hold[371] that at first there was a
complete liberty of consumption and that the limitations which were
presently brought are relatively recent. They think they find the proof
of their theory in the two following facts. In the first place, as we
just said, there are solemn occasions when the members of the clan or
their chief not only may, but must eat the totemic animal or plant.
Moreover, the myths relate that the great ancestors, the founders of the
clans, ate their totems regularly: now, it is said, these stories cannot
be understood except as an echo of a time when the present prohibitions
did not exist.

But the fact that in the course of certain solemn ceremonies a
consumption of the totem, and a moderate one at that, is ritually
required in no way implies that it was once an ordinary article of food.
Quite on the contrary, the food that one eats at a mystical repast is
essentially sacred, and consequently forbidden to the profane. As for
the myths, a somewhat summary critical method is employed, if they are
so readily given the value of historical documents. In general, their
object is to interpret existing rites rather than to commemorate past
events; they are an explanation of the present much more than a history.
In this case, the traditions according to which the ancestors of the
fabulous epoch ate their totem are in perfect accord with the beliefs
and rites which are always in force. The old men and those who have
attained a high religious dignity are freed from the restrictions under
which ordinary men are placed:[372] they can eat the sacred thing
because they are sacred themselves; this rule is in no way peculiar to
totemism, but it is found in all the most diverse religions. Now the
ancestral heroes were nearly gods. It is therefore still more natural
that they should eat the sacred food;[373] but that is no reason why the
same privilege should be awarded to the simple profane.[374]

However, it is neither certain nor even probable that the prohibition
was ever absolute. It seems to have always been suspended in case of
necessity, as, for example, when a man is famished and has nothing else
with which to nourish himself.[375] A stronger reason for this is found
when the totem is a form of nourishment which a man cannot do without.
Thus there are a great many tribes where water is a totem; a strict
prohibition is manifestly impossible in this case. However, even here,
the privilege granted is submitted to certain restrictions which greatly
limit its use and which show clearly that it goes against a recognized
principle. Among the Kaitish and the Warramunga, a man of this totem is
not allowed to drink water freely; he may not take it up himself; he may
receive it only from the hands of a third party who must belong to the
phratry of which he is not a member.[376] The complexity of this
procedure and the embarrassment which results from it are still another
proof that access to the sacred thing is not free. This same rule is
applied in certain central tribes every time that the totem is eaten,
whether from necessity or any other cause. It should also be added that
when this formality is not possible, that is, when a man is alone or
with members of his own phratry only, he may, on necessity, do without
an intermediary. It is clear that the prohibition is susceptible of
various moderations.

Nevertheless, it rests upon ideas so strongly ingrained in the mind that
it frequently survives its original cause for being. We have seen that
in all probability, the different clans of a phratry are only
subdivisions of one original clan which has been dismembered. So there
was a time when all the clans, being welded together, had the same
totem; consequently, wherever the souvenir of this common origin is not
completely effaced, each clan continues to feel itself united to the
others and to consider that their totems are not completely foreign to
it. For this reason an individual may not eat freely of the totems held
by the different clans of the phratry of which he is a member; he may
touch them only if the forbidden plant or animal is given him by a
member of the other phratry.[377]

Another survival of the same sort is the one concerning the maternal
totem. There are strong reasons for believing that at first, the totem
was transmitted in the uterine line. Therefore, wherever descent in the
paternal line has been introduced, this probably took place only after a
long period, during which the opposite principle was applied and the
child had the totem of his mother along with all the restrictions
attached to it. Now in certain tribes where the child inherits the
paternal totem to-day, some of the interdictions which originally
protected the totem of his mother still survive: he cannot eat it
freely.[378] In the present state of affairs, however, there is no
longer anything corresponding to this prohibition.

To this prohibition of eating is frequently added that of killing the
totem, or picking it, when it is a plant.[379] However, here also there
are exceptions and tolerations. These are especially in the case of
necessity, when the totem is a dangerous animal,[380] for example, or
when the man has nothing to eat. There are even tribes where men are
forbidden to hunt the animals whose names they bear, on their own
accounts, but where they may kill them for others.[381] But the way in
which this act is generally accomplished clearly indicates that it is
something illicit. One excuses himself as though for a fault, and bears
witness to the chagrin which he suffers and the repugnance which he
feels,[382] while precautions are taken that the animal may suffer as
little as possible.[383]

In addition to these fundamental interdictions, certain cases of a
prohibition of contact between a man and his totem are cited. Thus among
the Omaha, in the clan of the Elk, no one may touch any part of the body
of a male elk; in the sub-clan of the Buffalo, no one is allowed to
touch the head of this animal.[384] Among the Bechuana, no man dares to
clothe himself in the skin of his totem.[385] But these cases are rare;
and it is natural that they should be exceptional, for normally a man
must wear the image of his totem or something which brings it to mind.
The tattooings and the totemic costumes would not be possible if all
contact were forbidden. It has also been remarked that this prohibition
has not been found in Australia, but only in those societies where
totemism has advanced far from its original form; it is therefore
probably of late origin and due perhaps to the influence of ideas that
are really not totemic at all.[386]

If we now compare these various interdictions with those whose object is
the totemic emblem, contrarily to all that could be foreseen, it appears
that these latter are more numerous, stricter, and more severely
enforced than the former. The figures of all sorts which represent the
totem are surrounded with a respect sensibly superior to that inspired
by the very being whose form these figures reproduce. The churinga, the
nurtunja and the waninga can never be handled by the women or the
uninitiated, who are even allowed to catch glimpses of it only very
exceptionally, and from a respectful distance. On the other hand, the
plant or animal whose name the clan bears may be seen and touched by
everybody. The churinga are preserved in a sort of temple, upon whose
threshold all noises from the profane life must cease; it is the domain
of sacred things. On the contrary, the totemic animals and plants live
in the profane world and are mixed up with the common everyday life.
Since the number and importance of the interdictions which isolate a
sacred thing, and keep it apart, correspond to the degree of sacredness
with which it is invested, we arrive at the remarkable conclusion that
_the images of totemic beings are more sacred than the beings
themselves_. Also, in the ceremonies of the cult, it is the churinga and
the nurtunja which have the most important place; the animal appears
there only very exceptionally. In a certain rite, of which we shall have
occasion to speak,[387] it serves as the substance for a religious
repast, but it plays no active rôle. The Arunta dance around the
nurtunja, and assemble before the image of their totem to adore it, but
a similar demonstration is never made before the totemic being itself.
If this latter were the primarily sacred object, it would be with it,
the sacred animal or plant, that the young initiate would communicate
when he is introduced into the religious life; but we have seen that on
the contrary, the most solemn moment of the initiation is the one when
the novice enters into the sanctuary of the churinga. It is with them
and the nurtunja that he communicates. The representations of the totem
are therefore more actively powerful than the totem itself.


We must now determine the place of man in the scheme of religious

By the force of a whole group of acquired habits and of language itself,
we are inclined to consider the common man, the simple believer, as an
essentially profane being. It may well happen that this conception is
not literally true for any religion;[388] in any case, it is not
applicable to totemism. Every member of the clan is invested with a
sacred character which is not materially inferior to that which we just
observed in the animal. This personal sacredness is due to the fact that
the man believes that while he is a man in the usual sense of the word,
he is also an animal or plant of the totemic species.

In fact, he bears its name; this identity of name is therefore supposed
to imply an identity of nature. The first is not merely considered as an
outward sign of the second; it supposes it logically. This is because
the name, for a primitive, is not merely a word or a combination of
sounds; it is a part of the being, and even something essential to it. A
member of the Kangaroo clan calls himself a kangaroo; he is therefore,
in one sense, an animal of this species. "The totem of any man," say
Spencer and Gillen, "is regarded as the same thing as himself; a native
once said to us when we were discussing the matter with him, 'That one,'
pointing to his photograph which we had taken, 'is the same thing as me:
so is a kangaroo' (his totem)."[389] So each individual has a double
nature: two beings coexist within him, a man and an animal.

In order to give a semblance of intelligibility to this duality, so
strange for us, the primitive has invented myths which, it is true,
explain nothing and only shift the difficulty, but which, by shifting
it, seem at least to lessen the logical scandal. With slight variations
of detail, all are constructed on the same plan: their object is to
establish genealogical connections between the man and the totemic
animal, making the one a relative of the other. By this common origin,
which, by the way, is represented in various manners, they believe that
they account for their common nature. The Narrinyeri, for example, have
imagined that certain of the first men had the power of transforming
themselves into beasts.[390] Other Australian societies place at the
beginning of humanity either strange animals from which the men were
descended in some unknown way,[391] or mixed beings, half-way between
the two kingdoms,[392] or else unformed creatures, hardly representable,
deprived of all determined organs, and even of all definite members, and
the different parts of whose bodies were hardly outlined.[393] Mythical
powers, sometimes conceived under the form of animals, then intervened
and made men out of these ambiguous and innumerable beings which Spencer
and Gillen say represent "stages in the transformation of animals and
plants into human beings."[394] These transformations are represented to
us under the form of violent and, as it were, surgical operations. It is
under the blows of an axe or, if the operator is a bird, blows of the
beak, that the human individual was carved out of this shapeless mass,
his members separated from each other, his mouth opened and his nostrils
pierced.[395] Analogous legends are found in America, except that owing
to the more highly developed mentality of these peoples, the
representations which they employ do not contain confusions so
troublesome for the mind. Sometimes it is a legendary personage who, by
an act of his power, metamorphosed the animal who gives its name to the
clan into a man.[396] Sometimes the myth attempts to explain how, by a
series of nearly natural events and a sort of spontaneous evolution, the
animal transformed himself little by little, and finally took a human

It is true that there are societies (the Haida, Tlinkit, Tsimshian)
where it is no longer admitted that man was born of an animal or plant;
but the idea of an affinity between the animals of the totemic species
and the members of the clan has survived there nevertheless, and
expresses itself in myths which, though differing from the preceding,
still retain all that is essential in them. Here is one of the
fundamental themes. The ancestor who gives his name to the clan is here
represented as a human being, but who, in the course of various
wanderings, has been led to live for a while among the fabulous animals
of the very species which gave the clan its name. As the result of this
intimate and prolonged connection, he became so like his new companions
that when he returned to men, they no longer recognized him. He was
therefore given the name of the animal which he resembled. It is from
his stay in this mythical land that he brought back the totemic emblem,
together with the powers and virtues believed to be attached to it.[398]
Thus in this case, as in the others, men are believed to participate in
the nature of the animal, though this participation may be conceived in
slightly different forms.[399]

So man also has something sacred about him. Though diffused into the
whole organism, this characteristic is especially apparent in certain
privileged places. There are organs and tissues that are specially
marked out: these are particularly the blood and the hair.

In the first place, human blood is so holy a thing that in the tribes of
Central Australia, it frequently serves to consecrate the most respected
instruments of the cult. For example, in certain cases, the nurtunja is
regularly anointed from top to bottom with the blood of a man.[400] It
is upon ground all saturated with blood that the men of the Emu, among
the Arunta, trace their sacred images.[401] We shall presently see that
streams of blood are poured upon the rocks which represent the totemic
animals and plants.[402] There is no religious ceremony where blood does
not have some part to play.[403] During the initiation, the adults open
their veins and sprinkle the novice with their blood; and this blood is
so sacred a thing that women may not be present while it is flowing; the
sight of it is forbidden them, just as the sight of a churinga is.[404]
The blood lost by a young initiate during the very violent operations he
must undergo has very particular virtues: it is used in various
ceremonies.[405] That which flows during the sub-incision is piously
kept by the Arunta and buried in a place upon which they put a piece of
wood warning passers-by of the sacredness of the spot; no woman should
approach it.[406] The religious nature of blood also explains the equal
importance, religiously, of the red ochre, which is very frequently
employed in ceremonies; they rub the churinga with it and use it in
ritual decorations.[407] This is due to the fact that because of its
colour, it is regarded as something kindred to blood. Many deposits of
red ochre which are found in the Arunta territory are even supposed to
be the coagulated blood which certain heroines of the mythical period
shed on to the soil.[408]

Hair has similar properties. The natives of the centre wear belts made
of human hair, whose religious functions we have already pointed out:
they are also used to wrap up certain instruments of the cult.[409]
Does one man loan another one of his churinga? As a sign of
acknowledgment, the second makes a present of hair to the first; these
two sorts of things are therefore thought to be of the same order and of
equivalent value.[410] So the operation of cutting the hair is a ritual
act, accompanied by definite ceremonies: the individual operated upon
must squat on the ground, with his face turned in the direction of the
place where the fabulous ancestors from which the clan of his mother is
believed to be descended, are thought to have camped.[411] For the same
reason, as soon as a man is dead, they cut his hair off and put it away
in some distant place, for neither women nor the non-initiated have the
right of seeing it: it is here, far from profane eyes, that the belts
are made.[412]

Other organic tissues might be mentioned which have similar properties,
in varying degrees: such are the whiskers, the foreskin, the fat of the
liver, etc.[413] But it is useless to multiply examples. Those already
given are enough to prove that there is something in man which holds
profane things at a distance and which possesses a religious power; in
other words, the human organism conceals within its depths a sacred
principle, which visibly comes to the surface in certain determined
cases. This principle does not differ materially from that which causes
the religious character of the totem. In fact, we have just seen that
the different substances in which it incarnates itself especially enter
into the ritual composition of the objects of the cult (nurtunja,
totemic designs), or else are used in the anointings whose object is to
renew the virtues either of the churinga or of the sacred rocks; they
are things of the same species.

Sometimes the religious dignity which is inherent in each member of the
clan on this account is not equal for all. Men possess it to a higher
degree than women; in relation to them, women are like profane
beings.[414] Thus, every time that there is an assembly, either of the
totemic group or of the tribe, the men have a separate camp, distinct
from that of the women, and into which these latter may not enter: they
are separated off.[415] But there are also differences in the way in
which men are marked with a religious character. The young men not yet
initiated are wholly deprived of it, since they are not admitted to the
ceremonies. It is among the old men that it reaches its greatest
intensity. They are so very sacred that certain things forbidden to
ordinary people are permissible for them: they may eat the totemic
animal more freely and, as we have seen, there are even some tribes
where they are freed from all dietetic restrictions.

So we must be careful not to consider totemism a sort of animal worship.
The attitude of a man towards the animals or plants whose name he bears
is not at all that of a believer towards his god, for he belongs to the
sacred world himself. Their relations are rather those of two beings who
are on the same level and of equal value. The most that can be said is
that in certain cases, at least, the animal seems to occupy a slightly
more elevated place in the hierarchy of sacred things. It is because of
this that it is sometimes called the father or the grandfather of the
men of the clan, which seems to show that they feel themselves in a
state of moral dependence in regard to it.[416] But in other, and
perhaps even more frequent cases, it happens that the expressions used
denote rather a sentiment of equality. The totemic animal is called the
friend or the elder brother of its human fellows.[417] Finally, the
bonds which exist between them and it are much more like those which
unite the members of a single family; the animals and the men are made
of the same flesh, as the Buandik say.[418] On account of this kinship,
men regard the animals of the totemic species as kindly associates upon
whose aid they think they can rely. They call them to their aid[419] and
they come, to direct their blows in the hunt and to give warning of
whatever dangers there may be.[420] In return for this, men treat them
with regard and are never cruel to them;[421] but these attentions in no
way resemble a cult.

Men sometimes even appear to have a mysterious sort of property-right
over their totems. The prohibition against killing and eating them is
applied only to members of the clan, of course; it could not be extended
to other persons without making life practically impossible. If, in a
tribe like the Arunta, where there is such a host of different totems,
it were forbidden to eat, not only the animal or plant whose name one
bears, but also all the animals and all the plants which serve as totems
to other clans, the sources of food would be reduced to nothing. Yet
there are tribes where the consumption of the totemic plant or animal is
not allowed without restrictions, even to foreigners. Among the
Wakelbura, it must not take place in the presence of men of this
totem.[422] In other places, their permission must be given. For
example, among the Kaitish and the Unmatjera, whenever a man of the Emu
totem happens to be in a place occupied by a grass-seed clan, and
gathers some of these seed, before eating them he must go to the chief
and say to him, "I have gathered these seeds in your country." To this
the chief replies, "All right; you may eat them." But if the Emu man ate
them before demanding permission, it is believed that he would fall sick
and run the risk of dying.[423] There are even cases where the chief of
the group must take a little of the food and eat it himself: it is a
sort of payment which must be made.[424] For the same reason, the
churinga gives the hunter a certain power over the corresponding animal:
by rubbing his body with a Euro churinga, for example, a man acquires a
greater chance of catching euros.[425] This is the proof that the fact
of participating in the nature of a totemic being confers a sort of
eminent right over this latter. Finally, there is one tribe in northern
Queensland, the Karingbool, where the men of the totem are the only ones
who have a right to kill the animal or, if the totem is a tree, to peel
off its bark. Their aid is indispensable to all others who want to use
the flesh of this animal or the wood of this tree for their own personal
ends.[426] So they appear as proprietors, though it is quite evidently
over a special sort of property, of which we find it hard to form an


TOTEMIC BELIEFS--_continued_

_The Cosmological System of Totemism and the Idea of Class_

We are beginning to see that totemism is a much more complex religion
than it first appeared to be. We have already distinguished three
classes of things which it recognizes as sacred, in varying degrees: the
totemic emblem, the animal or plant whose appearance this emblem
reproduces, and the members of the clan. However, this list is not yet
complete. In fact, a religion is not merely a collection of fragmentary
beliefs in regard to special objects like those we have just been
discussing. To a greater or less extent, all known religions have been
systems of ideas which tend to embrace the universality of things, and
to give us a complete representation of the world. If totemism is to be
considered as a religion comparable to the others, it too should offer
us a conception of the universe. As a matter of fact, it does satisfy
this condition.


The fact that this aspect of totemism has generally been neglected is
due to the too narrow notion of the clan which has been prevalent.
Ordinarily it is regarded as a mere group of human beings. Being a
simple subdivision of the tribe, it seems that like this, it is made up
of nothing but men. But in reasoning thus, we substitute our European
ideas for those which the primitive has of man and of society. For the
Australian, things themselves, everything which is in the universe, are
a part of the tribe; they are constituent elements of it and, so to
speak, regular members of it; just like men, they have a determined
place in the general scheme of organization of the society. "The South
Australian savage," says Fison, "looks upon the universe as the Great
Tribe, to one of whose divisions he himself belongs; and all things,
animate and inanimate, which belong to his class are parts of the body
corporate whereof he himself is a part."[427] As a consequence of this
principle, whenever the tribe is divided into two phratries, all known
things are distributed between them. "All nature," says Palmer, in
speaking of the Bellinger River tribe, "is also divided into class
[phratry] names.... The sun and moon and stars are said ... to belong
to classes [phratries] just as the blacks themselves."[428] The Port
Mackay tribe in Queensland has two phratries with the names Yungaroo and
Wootaroo, as do the neighbouring tribes. Now as Bridgmann says, "all
things, animate and inanimate, are divided by these tribes into two
classes, named Yungaroo and Wootaroo."[429] Nor does the classification
stop here. The men of each phratry are distributed among a certain
number of clans; likewise, the things attributed to each phratry are in
their turn distributed among the clans of which the phratry is composed.
A certain tree, for example, will be assigned to the Kangaroo clan, and
to it alone; then, just like the human members of the clan, it will have
the Kangaroo as totem; another will belong to the Snake clan; clouds
will be placed under one totem, the sun under another, etc. All known
things will thus be arranged in a sort of tableau or systematic
classification embracing the whole of nature.

We have given a certain number of these classifications elsewhere;[430]
at present we shall confine ourselves to repeating a few of these as
examples. One of the best known of these is the one found in the Mount
Gambier tribe. This tribe includes two phratries, named respectively the
Kumite and the Kroki; each of these, in its turn, is subdivided into
five clans. Now "everything in nature belongs to one or another of these
ten clans";[431] Fison and Howitt say that they are all "included"
within it. In fact, they are classified under these ten totems just like
species in their respective classes. This is well shown by the following
table based on information gathered by Curr and by Fison and


           { Fish-hawk                   { Smoke, honeysuckle, certain
           {                             {   trees, etc.
           { Pelican                     { Blackwood-trees, dogs, fire,
           {                             {   frost, etc.
  KUMITE   { Crow                        { Rain, thunder, lightning,
           {                             {   clouds, hail, winter, etc.
           { Black cockatoo              { The stars, the moon, etc.
           { A non-poisonous snake       { Fish, seal, eel, the
                                         {   stringybark-tree, etc.

           { Tea-tree                    { Duck, crayfish, owls, etc.
           { An edible root              { Bustard, quail, a small
  KROKI    {                             {   kangaroo, etc.
           { A white crestless cockatoo  { Kangaroo, the summer, the
           {                             {   sun, wind, the autumn, etc.
           { Details are lacking for the fourth and fifth Kroki clans.

The list of things attached to each clan is quite incomplete; Curr
himself warns us that he has limited himself to enumerating some of
them. But through the work of Mathews and of Howitt[433] we have more
extended information to-day on the classification adopted by the
Wotjobaluk tribe, which enables us to understand better how a system of
this kind is able to include the whole universe, as known to the
natives. The Wotjobaluk also are divided into two phratries called
Gurogity and Gumaty (Krokitch and Gamutch according to Howitt[434]); not
to prolong this enumeration, we shall content ourselves with indicating,
after Mathews, the things classed in some of the clans of the Gurogity

In the clan of the Yam are classified the plain-turkey, the native cat,
the _mopoke_, the _dyim-dyim_ owl, the _mallee_ hen, the rosella parrot,
the peewee.

In the Mussel[435] clan are the grey emu, the porcupine, the curlew, the
white cockatoo, the wood-duck, the _mallee_ lizard, the stinking turtle,
the flying squirrel, the ring-tail opossum, the bronze-wing pigeon, the

In the Sun clan are the bandicoot, the moon, the kangaroo-rat, the black
and white magpies, the opossum, the _ng[)u]rt_ hawk, the gum-tree grub,
the wattle-tree grub, the planet Venus.

In the clan of the Warm Wind[436] are the grey-headed eagle-hawk, the
carpet snake, the smoker parrot, the shell parrot, the _murrakan_ hawk,
the _dikkomur_ snake, the ring-neck parrot, the _mirudai_ snake, the
shingle-back lizard.

If we remember that there are many other clans (Howitt names twelve and
Mathews fourteen and adds that his list is incomplete[437]), we will
understand how all the things in which the native takes an interest find
a natural place in these classifications.

Similar arrangements have been observed in the most diverse parts of
the Australian continent; in South Australia, in Victoria, and in New
South Wales (among the Euahlayi[438]); very clear traces of it are found
in the central tribes.[439] In Queensland, where the clans seem to have
disappeared and where the matrimonial classes are the only subdivisions
of the phratry, things are divided up among these classes. Thus, the
Wakelbura are divided into two phratries, Mallera and Wutaru; the
classes of the first are called Kurgilla and Banbe, those of the second,
Wungo and Obu. Now to the Banbe belong the opossum, the kangaroo, the
dog, honey of little bees, etc.; to the Wungo are attributed the emu,
the bandicoot, the black duck, the black snake, the brown snake; to the
Obu, the carpet snake, the honey of stinging bees, etc.; to the
Kurgilla, the porcupine, the turkey of the plains, water, rain, fire,
thunder, etc.[440]

This same organization is found among the Indians of North America. The
Zuñi have a system of classification which, in its essential lines, is
in all points comparable to the one we have just described. That of the
Omaha rests on the same principles as that of the Wotjobaluk.[441] An
echo of these same ideas survives even into the more advanced societies.
Among the Haida, all the gods and mythical beings who are placed in
charge of the different phenomena of nature are classified in one or the
other of the two phratries which make up the tribe just like men; some
are Eagles, the others, Crows.[442] Now the gods of things are only
another aspect of the things which they govern.[443] This mythological
classification is therefore merely another form of the preceding one. So
we may rest assured that this way of conceiving the world is independent
of all ethnic or geographic particularities; and at the same time it is
clearly seen to be closely united to the whole system of totemic


In the paper to which we have already made allusion several times, we
have shown what light these facts throw upon the way in which the idea
of kind or class was formed in humanity. In fact, these systematic
classifications are the first we meet with in history, and we have just
seen that they are modelled upon the social organization, or rather that
they have taken the forms of society as their framework. It is the
phratries which have served as classes, and the clans as species. It is
because men were organized that they have been able to organize things,
for in classifying these latter, they limited themselves to giving them
places in the groups they formed themselves. And if these different
classes of things are not merely put next to each other, but are
arranged according to a unified plan, it is because the social groups
with which they commingle themselves are unified and, through their
union, form an organic whole, the tribe. The unity of these first
logical systems merely reproduces the unity of the society. Thus we have
an occasion for verifying the proposition which we laid down at the
commencement of this work, and for assuring ourselves that the
fundamental notions of the intellect, the essential categories of
thought, may be the product of social factors. The above-mentioned facts
show clearly that this is the case with the very notion of category

However, it is not our intention to deny that the individual intellect
has of itself the power of perceiving resemblances between the different
objects of which it is conscious. Quite on the contrary, it is clear
that even the most primitive and simple classifications presuppose this
faculty. The Australian does not place things in the same clan or in
different clans at random. For him as for us, similar images attract one
another, while opposed ones repel one another, and it is on the basis of
these feelings of affinity or of repulsion that he classifies the
corresponding things in one place or another.

There are also cases where we are able to perceive the reasons which
inspired this. The two phratries were very probably the original and
fundamental bases for these classifications, which were consequently
bifurcate at first. Now, when a classification is reduced to two
classes, these are almost necessarily conceived as antitheses; they are
used primarily as a means of clearly separating things between which
there is a very marked contrast. Some are set at the right, the others
at the left. As a matter of fact this is the character of the Australian
classifications. If the white cockatoo is in one phratry, the black one
is in the other; if the sun is on one side, the moon and the stars of
night are on the opposite side.[444] Very frequently the beings which
serve as the totems of the two phratries have contrary colours.[445]
These oppositions are even met with outside of Australia. Where one of
the phratries is disposed to peace, the other is disposed to war;[446]
if one has water as its totem, the other has earth.[447] This is
undoubtedly the explanation of why the two phratries have frequently
been thought of as naturally antagonistic to one another. They say that
there is a sort of rivalry or even a constitutional hostility between
them.[448] This opposition of things has extended itself to persons; the
logical contrast has begotten a sort of social conflict.[449]

It is also to be observed that within each phratry, those things have
been placed in a single clan which seem to have the greatest affinity
with that serving as totem. For example, the moon has been placed with
the black cockatoo, but the sun, together with the atmosphere and the
wind, with the white cockatoo. Or again, to a totemic animal has been
united all that serves him as food,[450] as well as the animals with
which he has the closest connection.[451] Of course, we cannot always
understand the obscure psychology which has caused many of these
connections and distinctions, but the preceding examples are enough to
show that a certain intuition of the resemblances and differences
presented by things has played an important part in the genesis of
these classifications.

But the feeling of resemblances is one thing and the idea of class is
another. The class is the external framework of which objects perceived
to be similar form, in part, the contents. Now the contents cannot
furnish the frame into which they fit. They are made up of _vague and
fluctuating_ images, due to the super-imposition and partial fusion of a
_determined number of individual images_, which are found to have common
elements; the framework, on the contrary, is a _definite form_, with
fixed outlines, but which may be applied to an _undetermined number of
things_, perceived or not, actual or possible. In fact, every class has
possibilities of extension which go far beyond the circle of objects
which we know, either from direct experience or from resemblance. This
is why every school of thinkers has refused, and not with good reason,
to identify the idea of class with that of a generic image. The generic
image is only the indistinctly-bounded residual representation left in
us by similar representations, when they are present in consciousness
simultaneously; the class is a logical symbol by means of which we think
distinctly of these similarities and of other analogous ones. Moreover,
the best proof of the distance separating these two notions is that an
animal is able to form generic images though ignorant of the art of
thinking in classes and species.

The idea of class is an instrument of thought which has obviously been
constructed by men. But in constructing it, we have at least had need of
a model; for how could this idea ever have been born, if there had been
nothing either in us or around us which was capable of suggesting it to
us? To reply that it was given to us _a priori_ is not to reply at all;
this lazy man's solution is, as has been said, the death of analysis.
But it is hard to see where we could have found this indispensable model
except in the spectacle of the collective life. In fact, a class is not
an ideal, but a clearly defined group of things between which internal
relationships exist, similar to those of kindred. Now the only groups of
this sort known from experience are those formed by men in associating
themselves. Material things may be able to form collections of units, or
heaps, or mechanical assemblages with no internal unity, but not groups
in the sense we have given the word. A heap of sand or a pile of rock is
in no way comparable to that variety of definite and organized society
which forms a class. In all probability, we would never have thought of
uniting the beings of the universe into homogeneous groups, called
classes, if we had not had the example of human societies before our
eyes, if we had not even commenced by making things themselves members
of men's society, and also if human groups and logical groups had not
been confused at first.[452]

It is also to be borne in mind that a classification is a system whose
parts are arranged according to a hierarchy. There are dominating
members and others which are subordinate to the first; species and their
distinctive properties depend upon classes and the attributes which
characterize them; again, the different species of a single class are
conceived as all placed on the same level in regard to each other. Does
someone prefer to regard them from the point of view of the
understanding? Then he represents things to himself in an inverse order:
he puts at the top the species that are the most particularized and the
richest in reality, while the types that are most general and the
poorest in qualities are at the bottom. Nevertheless, all are
represented in a hierarchic form. And we must be careful not to believe
that the expression has only a metaphorical sense here: there are really
relations of subordination and co-ordination, the establishment of which
is the object of all classification, and men would never have thought of
arranging their knowledge in this way if they had not known beforehand
what a hierarchy was. But neither the spectacle of physical nature nor
the mechanism of mental associations could furnish them with this
knowledge. The hierarchy is exclusively a social affair. It is only in
society that there are superiors, inferiors and equals. Consequently,
even if the facts were not enough to prove it, the mere analysis of
these ideas would reveal their origin. We have taken them from society,
and projected them into our conceptions of the world. It is society that
has furnished the outlines which logical thought has filled in.


But these primitive classifications have a no less direct interest for
the origins of religious thought.

They imply that all the things thus classed in a single clan or a single
phratry are closely related both to each other and to the thing serving
as the totem of this clan or phratry. When an Australian of the Port
Mackay tribe says that the sun, snakes, etc., are of the Yungaroo
phratry, he does not mean merely to apply a common, but none the less a
purely conventional, nomenclature to these different things; the word
has an objective signification for him. He believes that "alligators
really _are_ Yungaroo and that kangaroos are Wootaroo. The sun _is_
Yungaroo, the moon Wootaroo, and so on for the constellations, trees,
plants, etc."[453] An internal bond attaches them to the group in which
they are placed; they are regular members of it. It is said that they
belong to the group,[454] just exactly as the individual men make a part
of it; consequently, the same sort of a relation unites them to these
latter. Men regard the things in their clan as their relatives or
associates; they call them their friends and think that they are made
out of the same flesh as themselves.[455] Therefore, between the two
there are elective affinities and quite special relations of agreement.
Things and people have a common name, and in a certain way they
naturally understand each other and harmonize with one another. For
example, when a Wakelbura of the Mallera phratry is buried, the scaffold
upon which the body is exposed "must be made of the wood of some tree
belonging to the Mallera phratry."[456] The same is true for the
branches that cover the corpse. If the deceased is of the Banbe class, a
Banbe tree must be used. In this same tribe, a magician can use in his
art only those things which belong to his own phratry;[457] since the
others are strangers to him, he does not know how to make them obey him.
Thus a bond of mystic sympathy unites each individual to those beings,
whether living or not, which are associated with him; the result of this
is a belief in the possibility of deducing what he will do or what he
has done from what they are doing. Among these same Wakelbura, when a
man dreams that he has killed an animal belonging to a certain social
division, he expects to meet a man of this same division the next
day.[458] Inversely, the things attributed to a clan or phratry cannot
be used against the members of this clan or phratry. Among the
Wotjobaluk, each phratry has its own special trees. Now in hunting an
animal of the Gurogity phratry, only arms whose wood is taken from trees
of the other phratry may be used, and _vice versa_; otherwise the hunter
is sure to miss his aim.[459] The native is convinced that the arrow
would turn of itself and refuse, so to speak, to hit a kindred and
friendly animal.

Thus the men of the clan and the things which are classified in it form
by their union a solid system, all of whose parts are united and vibrate
sympathetically. This organization, which at first may have appeared to
us as purely logical, is at the same time moral. A single principle
animates it and makes its unity: this is the totem. Just as a man who
belongs to the Crow clan has within him something of this animal, so the
rain, since it is of the same clan and belongs to the same totem, is
also necessarily considered as being "the same thing as a crow"; for the
same reason, the moon is a black cockatoo, the sun a white cockatoo,
every black-nut tree a pelican, etc. All the beings arranged in a single
clan, whether men, animals, plants or inanimate objects, are merely
forms of the totemic being. This is the meaning of the formula which we
have just cited and this is what makes the two really of the same
species: all are really of the same flesh in the sense that all partake
of the nature of the totemic animal. Also, the qualifiers given them are
those given to the totem.[460] The Wotjobaluk give the name _Mir_ both
to the totem and to the things classed with it.[461] It is true that
among the Arunta, where visible traces of classification still exist, as
we shall see, different words designate the totem and the other beings
placed with it; however, the name given to these latter bears witness to
the close relations which unite them to the totemic animal. It is said
that they are its _intimates_, its _associates_, its _friends_; it is
believed that they are inseparable from it.[462] So there is a feeling
that these are very closely related things.

But we also know that the totemic animal is a sacred being. All the
things that are classified in the clan of which it is the emblem have
this same character, because in one sense, they are animals of the same
species, just as the man is. They, too, are sacred, and the
classifications which locate them in relation to the other things of the
universe, by that very act give them a place in the religious world. For
this reason, the animals or plants among these may not be eaten freely
by the human members of the clan. Thus in the Mount Gambier tribe, the
men whose totem is a certain non-poisonous snake must not merely refrain
from eating the flesh of this snake; that of seals, eels, etc., is also
forbidden to them.[463] If, driven by necessity, they do eat some of it,
they must at least attenuate the sacrilege by expiatory rites, just as
if they had eaten the totem itself.[464] Among the Euahlayi, where it
is permitted to use the totem, but not to abuse it, the same rule is
applied to the other members of the clan.[465] Among the Arunta, the
interdictions protecting the totemic animal extend over the associated
animals;[466] and in any case, particular attention must be given to
these latter.[467] The sentiments inspired by the two are

But the fact that the things thus attached to the totem are not of a
different nature from it, and consequently have a religious character,
is best proved by the fact that on certain occasions they fulfil the
same functions. They are accessory or secondary totems, or, according to
an expression now consecrated by usage, they are sub-totems.[469] It is
constantly happening in the clans that under the influence of various
sympathies, particular affinities are forming, smaller groups and more
limited associations arise, which tend to lead a relatively autonomous
life and to form a new subdivision like a sub-clan within the larger
one. In order to distinguish and individualize itself, this sub-clan
needs a special totem or, consequently, a sub-totem.[470] Now the totems
of these secondary groups are chosen from among the things classified
under the principal totem. So they are always almost totems and the
slightest circumstance is enough to make them actually so. There is a
latent totemic nature in them, which shows itself as soon as conditions
permit it or demand it. It thus happens that a single individual has
two totems, a principal totem common to the whole clan and a sub-totem
which is special to the sub-clan of which he is a member. This is
something analogous to the _nomen_ and _cognomen_ of the Romans.[471]

Sometimes we see a sub-clan emancipate itself completely and become an
autonomous group and an independent clan; then, the sub-totem, on its
side, becomes a regular totem. One tribe where this process of
segmentation has been pushed to the limit, so to speak, is the Arunta.
The information contained in the first book of Spencer and Gillen showed
that there were some sixty totems among the Arunta;[472] but the recent
researches of Strehlow have shown the number to be much larger. He
counted no less than 442.[473] Spencer and Gillen did not exaggerate at
all when they said, "In fact, there is scarcely an object, animate or
inanimate, to be found in the country occupied by the natives which does
not give its name to some totemic group."[474] Now this multitude of
totems, whose number is prodigious when compared to the population, is
due to the fact that under special circumstances, the original clans
have divided and sub-divided infinitely; consequently nearly all the
sub-totems have passed to the stage of totems.

This has been definitely proved by the observations of Strehlow. Spencer
and Gillen cited only certain isolated cases of associated totems.[475]
Strehlow has shown that this is in reality an absolutely general
organization. He has been able to draw up a table where nearly all the
totems of the Arunta are classified according to this principle: all are
attached, either as associates or as auxiliaries, to some sixty
principal totems.[476] The first are believed to be in the service of
the second.[477] This state of dependence is very probably the echo of
a time when the "allies" of to-day were only sub-totems, and
consequently when the tribe contained only a small number of clans
subdivided into sub-clans. Numerous survivals confirm this hypothesis.
It frequently happens that two groups thus associated have the same
totemic emblem: now this unity of emblem is explicable only if the two
groups were at first only one.[478] The relation of the two clans is
also shown by the part and the interest that each one takes in the
rites of the other. The two cults are still only imperfectly separated;
this is very probably because they were at first completely
intermingled.[479] Tradition explains the bonds which unite them by
imagining that formerly the two clans occupied neighbouring places.[480]
In other cases, the myth says expressly that one of them was derived
from the other. It is related that at first the associated animal
belonged to the species still serving as principal totem; it
differentiated itself at a later period. Thus the chantunga birds, which
are associated with the witchetly grub to-day, were witchetly grubs in
fabulous times, who later transformed themselves into birds. Two species
which are now attached to the honey-ant were formerly honey-ants,
etc.[481] This transformation of a sub-totem into a totem goes on by
imperceptible degrees, so that in certain cases the situation is
undecided, and it is hard to say whether one is dealing with a principal
totem or a secondary one.[482] As Howitt says in regard to the
Wotjobaluk, there are sub-totems which are totems in formation.[483]
Thus the different things classified in a clan constitute, as it were,
so many nuclei around which new totemic cults are able to form. This is
the best proof of the religious sentiments which they inspire. If they
did not have a sacred character, they could not be promoted so easily to
the same dignity as the things which are sacred before all others, the
regular totems.

So the field of religious things extends well beyond the limits within
which it seemed to be confined at first. It embraces not only the
totemic animals and the human members of the clan; but since no known
thing exists that is not classified in a clan and under a totem, there
is likewise nothing which does not receive to some degree something of
a religious character. When, in the religions which later come into
being, the gods properly so-called appear, each of them will be set over
a special category of natural phenomena, this one over the sea, that one
over the air, another over the harvest or over fruits, etc., and each of
these provinces of nature will be believed to draw what life there is in
it from the god upon whom it depends. This division of nature among the
different divinities constitutes the conception which these religions
give us of the universe. Now so long as humanity has not passed the
phase of totemism, the different totems of the tribe fulfil exactly the
same functions that will later fall upon the divine personalities. In
the Mount Gambier tribe, which we have taken as our principal example,
there are ten clans; consequently the entire world is divided into ten
classes, or rather into ten families, each of which has a special totem
as its basis. It is from this basis that the things classed in the clan
get all their reality, for they are thought of as variant forms of the
totemic being; to return to our example, the rain, thunder, lightning,
clouds, hail and winter are regarded as different sorts of crows. When
brought together, these ten families of things make up a complete and
systematic representation of the world; and this representation is
religious, for religious notions furnish its basis. Far from being
limited to one or two categories of beings, the domain of totemic
religion extends to the final limits of the known universe. Just like
the Greek religion, it puts the divine everywhere; the celebrated
formula [Greek: panta plêrê theôn] (everything is full of the gods),
might equally well serve it as motto.

However, if totemism is to be represented thus, the notion of it which
has long been held must be modified on one essential point. Until the
discoveries of recent years, it was made to consist entirely in the cult
of one particular totem, and it was defined as the religion of the clan.
From this point of view, each tribe seemed to have as many totemic
religions, each independent of the others, as it had different clans.
This conception was also in harmony with the idea currently held of the
clan; in fact, this was regarded as an autonomous society,[484] more or
less closed to other similar societies, or having only external and
superficial relations with these latter. But the reality is more
complex. Undoubtedly, the cult of each totem has its home in the
corresponding clan; it is there, and only there, that it is celebrated;
it is members of the clan who have charge of it; it is through them
that it is transmitted from one generation to another, along with the
beliefs which are its basis. But it is also true that the different
totemic cults thus practised within a single tribe do not have a
parallel development, though remaining ignorant of each other, as if
each of them constituted a complete and self-sufficing religion. On the
contrary, they mutually imply each other; they are only the parts of a
single whole, the elements of a single religion. The men of one clan
never regard the beliefs of neighbouring clans with that indifference,
scepticism or hostility which one religion ordinarily inspires for
another which is foreign to it; they partake of these beliefs
themselves. The Crow people are also convinced that the Snake people
have a mythical serpent as ancestor, and that they owe special virtues
and marvellous powers to this origin. And have we not seen that at least
in certain conditions, a man may eat a totem that is not his own only
after he has observed certain ritual formalities? Especially, he must
demand the permission of the men of this totem, if any are present. So
for him also, this food is not entirely profane; he also admits that
there are intimate affinities between the members of a clan of which he
is not a member and the animal whose name they bear. Also, this
community of belief is sometimes shown in the cult. If in theory the
rites concerning a totem can be performed only by the men of this totem,
nevertheless representatives of different clans frequently assist at
them. It sometimes happens that their part is not simply that of
spectators; it is true that they do not officiate, but they decorate the
officiants and prepare the service. They themselves have an interest in
its being celebrated; therefore, in certain tribes, it is they who
invite the qualified clan to proceed with the ceremonies.[485] There is
even a whole cycle of rites which must take place in the presence of the
assembled tribe: these are the totemic ceremonies of initiation.[486]

Finally, the totemic organization, such as we have just described it,
must obviously be the result of some sort of an indistinct understanding
between all the members of the tribe. It is impossible that each clan
should have made its beliefs in an absolutely independent manner; it is
absolutely necessary that the cults of the different totems should be in
some way adjusted to each other, since they complete one another
exactly. In fact, we have seen that normally a single totem is not
repeated twice in the same tribe, and that the whole universe is divided
up among the totems thus constituted in such a way that the same object
is not found in two different clans. So methodical a division could
never have been made without an agreement, tacit or planned, in which
the whole tribe participated. So the group of beliefs which thus arise
are partially (but only partially) a tribal affair.[487]

To sum up, then, in order to form an adequate idea of totemism, we must
not confine ourselves within the limits of the clan, but must consider
the tribe as a whole. It is true that the particular cult of each clan
enjoys a very great autonomy; we can now see that it is within the clan
that the active ferment of the religious life takes place. But it is
also true that these cults fit into each other and the totemic religion
is a complex system formed by their union, just as Greek polytheism was
made by the union of all the particular cults addressed to the different
divinities. We have just shown that, thus understood, totemism also has
it cosmology.



_The Individual Totem and the Sexual Totem_

Up to the present, we have studied totemism only as a public
institution: the only totems of which we have spoken are common to a
clan, a phratry or, in a sense, to a tribe;[488] an individual has a
part in them only as a member of a group. But we know that there is no
religion which does not have an individual aspect. This general
observation is applicable to totemism. In addition to the impersonal and
collective totems which hold the first place, there are others which are
peculiar to each individual, which express his personality, and whose
cult he celebrates in private.


In certain Australian tribes, and in the majority of the Indian tribes
of North America,[489] each individual personally sustains relations
with some determined object, which are comparable to those which each
clan sustains with its totem. This is sometimes an inanimate being or an
artificial object; but it is generally an animal. In certain cases, a
special part of the organism, such as the head, the feet or the liver,
fulfils this office.[490]

The name of the thing also serves as the name of the individual. It is
his personal name, his forename, which is added to that of the
collective totem, as the _praenomen_ of the Romans was to the _nomen
gentilicium_. It is true that this fact is not reported except in a
certain number of societies,[491] but it is probably general. In fact,
we shall presently show that there is an identity of nature between the
individual and the thing; now an identity of nature implies one of name.
Being given in the course of especially important religious ceremonies,
this forename has a sacred character. It is not pronounced in the
ordinary circumstances of profane life. It even happens that the word
designating this object in the ordinary language must be modified to a
greater or less extent if it is to serve in this particular case.[492]
This is because the terms of the usual language are excluded from the
religious life.

In certain American tribes, at least, this name is reinforced by an
emblem belonging to each individual and representing, under various
forms, the thing designated by the name. For example, each Mandan wears
the skin of the animal of which he is the namesake.[493] If it is a
bird, he decorates himself with its feathers.[494] The Hurons and
Algonquins tattoo their bodies with its image.[495] It is represented on
their arms.[496] Among the north-western tribes, the individual emblem,
just like the collective emblem of the clan, is carved or engraved on
the utensils, houses,[497] etc.; it serves as a mark of ownership.[498]
Frequently the two coats-of-arms are combined together, which partially
explains the great diversity of aspects presented by the totemic
escutcheons among these peoples.[499]

Between the individual and his animal namesake there exist the very
closest bonds. The man participates in the nature of the animal; he has
its good qualities as well as its faults. For example, a man having the
eagle as his coat-of-arms is believed to possess the gift of seeing into
the future; if he is named after a bear, they say that he is apt to be
wounded in combat, for the bear is heavy and slow and easily
caught;[500] if the animal is despised, the man is the object of the
same sentiment.[501] The relationship of the two is even so close that
it is believed that in certain circumstances, especially in case of
danger, the man can take the form of the animal.[502] Inversely, the
animal is regarded as a double of the man, as his _alter ego_.[503] The
association of the two is so close that their destinies are frequently
thought to be bound up together: nothing can happen to one without the
other's feeling a reaction.[504] If the animal dies, the life of the man
is menaced. Thus it comes to be a very general rule that one should not
kill the animal, nor eat its flesh. This interdiction, which, when
concerning the totem of the clan, allows of all sorts of attenuations
and modifications, is now much more formal and absolute.[505]

On its side, the animal protects the man and serves him as a sort of
patron. It informs him of possible dangers and of the way of escaping
them;[506] they say that it is his friend.[507] Since it frequently
happens to possess marvellous powers, it communicates them to its human
associate, who believes in them, even under the proof of bullets,
arrows, and blows of every sort.[508] This confidence of an individual
in the efficacy of his protector is so great that he braves the greatest
dangers and accomplishes the most disconcerting feats with an intrepid
serenity: faith gives him the necessary courage and strength.[509]
However, the relations of a man with his patron are not purely and
simply those of dependence. He, on his side, is able to act upon the
animal. He gives it orders; he has influence over it. A Kurnai having
the shark as ally and friend believes that he can disperse the sharks
who menace a boat, by means of a charm.[510] In other cases, the
relations thus contracted are believed to confer upon the man a special
aptitude for hunting the animal with success.[511]

The very nature of these relations seems clearly to imply that the being
to which each individual is thus associated is only an individual
itself, and not a species. A man does not have a species as his _alter
ego_. In fact, there are cases where it is certainly a certain
determined tree, rock or stone that fulfils this function.[512] It must
be thus every time that it is an animal, and that the existences of the
animal and the man are believed to be connected. A man could not be
united so closely to a whole species, for there is not a day nor, so to
speak, an instant when the species does not lose some one of its
members. Yet the primitive has a certain incapacity for thinking of the
individual apart from the species; the bonds uniting him to the one
readily extend to the other; he confounds the two in the same sentiment.
Thus the entire species becomes sacred for him.[513]

This protector is naturally given different names in different
societies: _nagual_ among the Indians of Mexico,[514] _manitou_ among
the Algonquins and _okki_ among the Hurons,[515] _snam_ among certain
Salish,[516] _sulia_ among others,[517] _budjan_ among the Yuin,[518]
_yunbeai_ among the Euahlayi,[519] etc. Owing to the importance of these
beliefs and practices among the Indians of North America, some have
proposed creating a word _nagualism_ or _manitouism_ to designate
them.[520] But in giving them a special and distinctive name, we run the
risk of misunderstanding their relations with the rest of totemism. In
fact, the same principle is applied in the one case to the clan and in
the other to the individual. In both cases we find the same belief that
there are vital connections between the things and the men, and that
the former are endowed with special powers, of which their human allies
may also enjoy the advantage. We also find the same custom of giving the
man the name of the thing with which he is associated and of adding an
emblem to this name. The totem is the patron of the clan, just as the
patron of the individual is his personal totem. So it is important that
our terminology should make the relationship of the two systems
apparent; that is why we, with Frazer, shall give the name _individual
totemism_ to the cult rendered by each individual to his patron. A
further justification of this expression is found in the fact that in
certain cases the primitive himself uses the same word to designate the
totem of the clan and the animal protector of the individual.[521] If
Tylor and Powell have rejected this term and demanded different ones for
these two sorts of religious institutions, it is because the collective
totem is, in their opinion, only a name or label, having no religious
character.[522] But we, on the contrary, know that it is a sacred thing,
and even more so than the protecting animal. Moreover, the continuation
of our study will show how these two varieties of totemism are
inseparable from each other.[523]

Yet, howsoever close the kinship between these two institutions may be,
there are important differences between them. While the clan believes
that it is the offspring of the animal or plant serving it as totem, the
individual does not believe that he has any relationship of descent with
his personal totem. It is a friend, an associate, a protector; but it is
not a relative. He takes advantage of the virtues it is believed to
possess; but he is not of the same blood. In the second place, the
members of a clan allow neighbouring clans to eat of the animal whose
name they bear collectively, under the simple condition that the
necessary formalities shall be observed. But, on the contrary, the
individual respects the species to which his personal totem belongs and
also protects it against strangers, at least in those parts where the
destiny of the man is held to be bound up with that of the animal.

But the chief difference between these two sorts of totems is in the
manner in which they are acquired.

The collective totem is a part of the civil status of each individual:
it is generally hereditary; in any case, it is birth which designates
it, and the wish of men counts for nothing. Sometimes the child has the
totem of his mother (Kamilaroi, Dieri, Urabunna, etc.); sometimes that
of his father (Narrinyeri, Warramunga, etc.); sometimes the one
predominating in the locality where his mother conceived (Arunta,
Loritja). But, on the contrary, the individual totem is acquired by a
deliberate act:[524] a whole series of ritual operations are necessary
to determine it. The method generally employed by the Indians of North
America is as follows. About the time of puberty, as the time for
initiation approaches, the young man withdraws into a distant place, for
example, into a forest. There, during a period varying from a few days
to several years, he submits himself to all sorts of exhausting and
unnatural exercises. He fasts, mortifies himself and inflicts various
mutilations upon himself. Now he wanders about, uttering violent cries
and veritable howls; now he lies extended, motionless and lamenting,
upon the ground. Sometimes he dances, prays and invokes his ordinary
divinities. At last, he thus gets himself into an extreme state of
super-excitation, verging on delirium. When he has reached this
paroxysm, his representations readily take on the character of
hallucinations. "When," says Heckewelder, "a boy is on the eve of being
initiated, he is submitted to an alternating régime of fasts and medical
treatment; he abstains from all food and takes the most powerful and
repugnant drugs: at times, he drinks intoxicating concoctions until his
mind really wanders. Then he has, or thinks he has, visions and
extraordinary dreams to which he was of course predisposed by all this
training. He imagines himself flying through the air, advancing under
the ground, jumping from one mountain-top to another across the valleys,
and fighting and conquering giants and monsters."[525] If in these
circumstances he sees, or, as amounts to the same thing, he thinks he
sees, while dreaming or while awake, an animal appearing to him in an
attitude seeming to show friendly intentions, then he imagines that he
has discovered the patron he awaited.[526]

Yet this procedure is rarely employed in Australia.[527] On this
continent, the personal totem seems to be imposed by a third party,
either at birth[528] or at the moment of initiation.[529] Generally it
is a relative who takes this part, or else a personage invested with
special powers, such as an old man or a magician. Sometimes divination
is used for this purpose. For example, on Charlotte Bay, Cape Bedford or
the Proserpine River, the grandmother or some other old woman takes a
little piece of umbilical cord to which the placenta is still attached
and whirls it about quite violently. Meanwhile the other old women
propose different names. That one is adopted which happens to be
pronounced just at the moment when the cord breaks.[530] Among the
Yarrai-kanna of Cape York, after a tooth has been knocked out of the
young initiate, they give him a little water to rinse his mouth and ask
him to spit in a bucket full of water. The old men carefully examine the
clot formed by the blood and saliva thus spit out, and the natural
object whose shape it resembles becomes the personal totem of the young
man.[531] In other cases, the totem is transmitted from one individual
to another, for example from father to son, or uncle to nephew.[532]
This method is also used in America. In a case reported by Hill Tout,
the operator was a shaman,[533] who wished to transmit his totem to his
nephew. "The uncle took the symbol of his _snam_ (his personal totem),
which in this case was a dried bird's skin, and bade his nephew breathe
upon it. He then blew upon it also himself, uttered some mystic words
and the dried skin seemed to Paul (the nephew) to become a living bird,
which flew about them a moment or two and then finally disappeared.
Paul was then instructed by his uncle to procure that day a bird's skin
of the same kind as his uncle's and wear it on his person. This he did,
and that night he had a dream, in which the _snam_ appeared to him in
the shape of a human being, disclosed to him its mystic name by which it
might be summoned, and promised him protection."[534]

Not only is the individual totem acquired and not given, but ordinarily
the acquisition of one is not obligatory. In the first place, there are
a multitude of tribes in Australia where the custom seems to be
absolutely unknown.[535] Also, even where it does exist, it is
frequently optional. Thus among the Euahlayi, while all the magicians
have individual totems from which they get their powers, there are a
great number of laymen who have none at all. It is a favour given by the
magician, but which he reserves for his friends, his favourites and
those who aspire to becoming his colleagues.[536] Likewise, among
certain Salish, persons desiring to excel especially either in fighting
or in hunting, or aspirants to the position of shaman, are the only ones
who provide themselves with protectors of this sort.[537] So among
certain peoples, at least, the individual totem seems to be considered
an advantage and convenient thing rather than a necessity. It is a good
thing to have, but a man can do without one. Inversely, a man need not
limit himself to a single totem; if he wishes to be more fully
protected, nothing hinders his seeking and acquiring several,[538] and
if the one he has fulfils its part badly, he can change it.[539]

But while it is more optional and free, individual totemism contains
within it a force of resistance never attained by the totemism of the
clan. One of the chief informers of Hill Tout was a baptized Salish;
however, though he had sincerely abandoned the faith of his fathers, and
though he had become a model catechist, still his faith in the efficacy
of the personal totems remained unshaken.[540] Similarly, though no
visible traces of collective totemism remain in civilized countries, the
idea that there is a connection between each individual and some
animal, plant or other object, is at the bottom of many customs still
observable in many European countries.[541]


Between collective totemism and individual totemism there is an
intermediate form partaking of the characteristics of each: this is
sexual totemism. It is found only in Australia and in a small number of
tribes. It is mentioned especially in Victoria and New South Wales.[542]
Mathews, it is true, claims to have observed it in all the parts of
Australia that he has visited, but he gives no precise facts to support
this affirmation.[543]

Among these different peoples, all the men of the tribe on the one hand,
and all the women on the other, to whatever special clan they may
belong, form, as it were, two distinct and even antagonistic societies.
Now each of these two sexual corporations believes that it is united by
mystical bonds to a determined animal. Among the Kurnai, all the men
think they are brothers, as it were, of the emu-wren (Yeer[)u]ng), all
the women, that they are as sisters of the linnet (Djeetg[)u]n); all the
men are Yeer[)u]ng and all the women are Djeetg[)u]n. Among the
Wotjobaluk and the Wurunjerri, it is the bat and the _nightjar_ (a
species of screech-owl) respectively who take this rôle. In other
tribes, the woodpecker is substituted for the _nightjar_. Each sex
regards the animal to which it is thus related as a sort of protector
which must be treated with the greatest regard; it is also forbidden to
kill and eat it.[544]

Thus this protecting animal plays the same part in relation to the
sexual society that the totem of the clan plays to this latter group. So
the expression sexual totemism, which we borrow from Frazer,[545] is
justified. This new sort of totem resembles that of the clan
particularly in that it, too, is collective; it belongs to all the
people of one sex indiscriminately. It also resembles this form in that
it implies a relationship of descent and consanguinity between the
animal patron and the corresponding sex: among the Kurnai, all the men
are believed to be descended from Yeer[)u]ng and all the women from
Djeetg[)u]n.[546] The first observer to point out this curious
institution described it, in 1834, in the following terms: "Tilmun, a
little bird the size of a thrush (it is a sort of woodpecker), is
supposed by the women to be the first maker of women. These birds are
held in veneration by the women only."[547] So it was a great ancestor.
But in other ways, this same totem resembles the individual totem. In
fact, it is believed that each member of a sexual group is personally
united to a determined individual of the corresponding animal species.
The two lives are so closely associated that the death of the animal
brings about that of the man. "The life of a bat," say the Wotjobaluk,
"is the life of a man."[548] That is why each sex not only respects its
own totem, but forces the members of the other to do so as well. Every
violation of this interdiction gives rise to actual bloody battles
between the men and the women.[549]

Finally, the really original feature of these totems is that they are,
in a sense, a sort of tribal totems. In fact, they result from men's
representing the tribe as descended as a whole from one couple of
mythical beings. Such a belief seems to demonstrate clearly that the
tribal sentiment has acquired sufficient force to resist, at least to a
considerable extent, the particularism of the clans. In regard to the
distinct origins assigned to men and to women, it must be said that its
cause is to be sought in the separate conditions in which the men and
the women live.[550]

It would be interesting to know how the sexual totems are related to the
totems of the clans, according to the theory of the Australians, what
relations there were between the two ancestors thus placed at the
commencement of the tribe, and from which one each special clan is
believed to be descended. But the ethnographical data at our present
disposal do not allow us to resolve these questions. Moreover, however
natural and even necessary it may appear to us, it is very possible that
the natives never raised it. They do not feel the need of co-ordinating
and systematizing their beliefs as strongly as we do.[551]



_Critical Examination of Preceding Theories_

The beliefs which we have just summarized are manifestly of a religious
nature, since they imply a division of things into sacred and profane.
It is certain that there is no thought of spiritual beings, and in the
course of our exposition we have not even had occasion to pronounce the
words, spirits, genii or divine personalities. But if certain writers,
of whom we shall have something more to say presently, have, for this
reason, refused to regard totemism as a religion, it is because they
have an inexact notion of what religious phenomena are.

On the other hand, we are assured that this religion is the most
primitive one that is now observable and even, in all probability, that
has ever existed. In fact, it is inseparable from a social organization
on a clan basis. Not only is it impossible, as we have already pointed
out, to define it except in connection with the clan, but it even seems
as though the clan could not exist, in the form it has taken in a great
number of Australian societies, without the totem. For the members of a
single clan are not united to each other either by a common habitat or
by common blood, as they are not necessarily consanguineous and are
frequently scattered over different parts of the tribal territory. Their
unity comes solely from their having the same name and the same emblem,
their believing that they have the same relations with the same
categories of things, their practising the same rites, or, in a word,
from their participating in the same totemic cult. Thus totemism and the
clan mutually imply each other, in so far, at least, as the latter is
not confounded with the local group. Now the social organization on a
clan basis is the simplest which we know. In fact, it exists in all its
essential elements from the moment when the society includes two primary
clans; consequently, we may say that there are none more rudimentary, as
long as societies reduced to a single clan have not been discovered, and
we believe that up to the present no traces of such have been found. A
religion so closely connected to a social system surpassing all others
in simplicity may well be regarded as the most elementary religion we
can possibly know. If we succeed in discovering the origins of the
beliefs which we have just analysed, we shall very probably discover at
the same time the causes leading to the rise of the religious sentiment
in humanity.

But before treating this question for ourselves, we must examine the
most authorized solutions of it which have already been proposed.


In the first place, we find a group of scholars who believe that they
can account for totemism by deriving it from some previous religion.

For Tylor[552] and Wilken,[553] totemism is a special form of the cult
of the ancestors; it was the widespread doctrine of the transmigration
of souls that served as a bridge between these two religious systems. A
large number of peoples believe that after death, the soul does not
remain disincarnate for ever, but presently animates another living
body; on the other hand, "the lower psychology, drawing no definite line
of demarcation between the souls of men and of beasts, can at least
admit without difficulty the transmigration of human souls into the
bodies of the lower animals."[554] Tylor cites a certain number of
cases.[555] Under these circumstances, the religious respect inspired by
the ancestor is quite naturally attached to the animal or plant with
which he is presently confounded. The animal thus serving as a
receptacle for a venerated being becomes a holy thing, the object of a
cult, that is, a totem, for all the descendants of the ancestor, who
form the clan descended from him.

Facts pointed out by Wilken among the societies of the Malay Archipelago
would tend to prove that it really was in this manner that the totemic
beliefs originated. In Java and Sumatra, crocodiles are especially
honoured; they are regarded as benevolent protectors who must not be
killed; offerings are made to them. Now the cult thus rendered to them
is due to their being supposed to incarnate the souls of ancestors. The
Malays of the Philippines consider the crocodile their grandfather; the
tiger is treated in the same way for the same reasons. Similar beliefs
have been observed among the Bantous.[556] In Melanesia it sometimes
happens that an influential man, at the moment of death, announces his
desire to reincarnate himself in a certain animal or plant; it is easily
understood how the object thus chosen as his posthumous residence
becomes sacred for his whole family.[557] So, far from being a primitive
fact, totemism would seem to be the product of a more complex religion
which preceded it.[558]

But the societies from which these facts were taken had already arrived
at a rather advanced stage of culture; in any case, they had passed the
stage of pure totemism. They have families and not totemic clans.[559]
Even the majority of the animals to which religious honours are thus
rendered are venerated, not by special groups of families, but by the
tribes as a whole. So if these beliefs and practices do have some
connection with ancient totemic cults, they now represent only altered
forms of them[560] and are consequently not very well fitted for showing
us their origins. It is not by studying an institution at the moment
when it is in full decadence that we can learn how it was formed. If we
want to know how totemism originated, it is neither in Java nor Sumatra
nor Melanesia that we must study it, but in Australia. Here we find
neither a cult of the dead[561] nor the doctrine of transmigration. Of
course they believe that the mythical heroes, the founders of the clan,
reincarnate themselves periodically; _but this is in human bodies only_;
each birth, as we shall see, is the product of one of these
reincarnations. So if the animals of the totemic species are the object
of rites, it is not because the ancestral souls are believed to reside
in them. It is true that the first ancestors are frequently represented
under the form of an animal, and this very common representation is an
important fact for which we must account; but it was not the belief in
metempsychosis which gave it birth, for this belief is unknown among
Australian societies.

Moreover, far from being able to explain totemism, this belief takes for
granted one of the fundamental principles upon which this rests; that is
to say, it begs the question to be explained. It, just as much as
totemism, implies that man is considered a close relative of the
animal; for if these two kingdoms were clearly distinguished in the
mind, men would never believe that a human soul could pass so easily
from one into the other. It is even necessary that the body of the
animal be considered its true home, for it is believed to go there as
soon as it regains its liberty. Now while the doctrine of transmigration
postulates this singular affinity, it offers no explanation of it. The
only explanation offered by Tylor is that men sometimes resemble in
certain traits the anatomy and physiology of the animal. "The half-human
features and actions and characters of animals are watched with
wondering sympathy by the savage, as by the child. The beast is the very
incarnation of familiar qualities of man: and such names as lion, bear,
fox, owl, parrot, viper, worm, when we apply them as epithets to men,
condense into a word some leading features of a human life."[562] But
even if these resemblances are met with, they are uncertain and
exceptional; before all else, men resemble their relatives and
companions, and not plants and animals. Such rare and questionable
analogies could not overcome such unanimous proofs, nor could they lead
a man to think of himself and his forefathers in forms contradicted by
daily experience. So this question remains untouched, and as long as it
is not answered, we cannot say that totemism is explained.[563]

Finally, this whole theory rests upon a fundamental misunderstanding.
For Tylor as for Wundt, totemism is only a particular case of the cult
of animals.[564] But we, on the contrary, know that it is something
very different from a sort of animal-worship.[565] The animal is never
adored; the man is nearly its equal and sometimes even treats it as his
possession, so far is he from being subordinate to it like a believer
before his god. If the animals of the totemic species are really
believed to incarnate the ancestors, the members of foreign clans would
not be allowed to eat their flesh freely. In reality, it is not to the
animal as such that the cult is addressed, but to the emblem and the
image of the totem. Now between this religion of the emblem and the
ancestor-cult, there is no connection whatsoever.

While Tylor derives totemism from the ancestor-cult, Jevons derives it
from the nature-cult,[566] and here is how he does so.

When, under the impulse of the surprise occasioned by the irregularities
observed in the course of phenomena, men had once peopled the world with
supernatural beings,[567] they felt the need of making agreements with
these redoubtable forces with which they had surrounded themselves. They
understood that the best way to escape being overwhelmed by them was to
ally themselves to some of them, and thus make sure of their aid. But at
this period of history men knew no other form of alliance and
association than the one resulting from kinship. All the members of a
single clan aid each other mutually because they are kindred or, as
amounts to the same thing, because they think they are; on the other
hand, different clans treat each other as enemies because they are of
different blood. So the only way of assuring themselves of the support
of these supernatural beings was to adopt them as kindred and to be
adopted by them in the same quality: the well-known processes of the
blood-covenant permitted them to attain this result quite easily. But
since at this period, the individual did not yet have a real
personality, and was regarded only as a part of his group, or clan, it
was the clan as a whole, and not the individual, which collectively
contracted this relationship. For the same reason, it was contracted,
not with a particular object, but with the natural group or species of
which this object was a part; for men think of the world as they think
of themselves, and just as they could not conceive themselves apart from
their clans, so they were unable to conceive of anything else as
distinct from the species to which it belonged. Now a species of things
united to a clan by a bond of kinship is, says Jevons, a totem.

In fact, it is certain that totemism implies the close association of a
clan to a determined category of objects. But that this association was
contracted with a deliberate design and in the full consciousness of an
end sought after, as Jevons would have us believe, is a statement having
but little harmony with what history teaches. Religions are too complex,
and answer to needs that are too many and too obscure, to have their
origin in a premeditated act of the will. And while it sins through
over-simplicity, this hypothesis is also highly improbable. It says that
men sought to assure themselves of the aid of the supernatural beings
upon which things depend. Then they should preferably have addressed
themselves to the most powerful of these, and to those whose protection
promised to be the most beneficial.[568] But quite on the contrary, the
beings with whom they have formed this mystic kinship are often among
the most humble which exist. Also, if it were only a question of making
allies and defenders, they would have tried to make as many as possible;
for one cannot be defended too well. Yet as a matter of fact, each clan
systematically contents itself with a single totem, that is to say, with
one single protector, leaving the other clans to enjoy their own in
perfect liberty. Each group confines itself within its own religious
domain, never seeking to trespass upon that of its neighbours. This
reserve and moderation are inexplicable according to the hypothesis
under consideration.


Moreover, all these theories are wrong in omitting one question which
dominates the whole subject. We have seen that there are two sorts of
totemism: that of the individual and that of the clan. There is too
evident a kinship between the two for them not to have some connection
with each other. So we may well ask if one is not derived from the
other, and, in the case of an affirmative answer, which is the more
primitive; according to the solution accepted, the problem of the
origins of totemism will be posed in different terms. This question
becomes all the more necessary because of its general interest.
Individual totemism is an individual aspect of the totemic cult. Then if
it was the primitive fact, we must say that religion is born in the
consciousness of the individual, that before all else, it answers to
individual aspirations, and that its collective form is merely

The desire for an undue simplicity, with which ethnologists and
sociologists are too frequently inspired, has naturally led many
scholars to explain, here as elsewhere, the complex by the simple, the
totem of the group by that of the individual. Such, in fact, is the
theory sustained by Frazer in his _Golden Bough_,[569] by Hill
Tout,[570] by Miss Fletcher,[571] by Boas[572] and by Swanton.[573] It
has the additional advantage of being in harmony with the conception of
religion which is currently held; this is quite generally regarded as
something intimate and personal. From this point of view, the totem of
the clan can only be an individual totem which has become generalized.
Some eminent man, having found from experience the value of a totem he
chose for himself by his own free will, transmitted it to his
descendants; these latter, multiplying as time went on, finally formed
the extended family known as a clan, and thus the totem became

Hill Tout believes that he has found a proof supporting this theory in
the way totemism has spread among certain societies of North-western
America, especially among the Salish and certain Indians on the Thompson
River. Individual totemism and the clan totemism are both found among
these peoples; but they either do not co-exist in the same tribe, or
else, when they do co-exist, they are not equally developed. They vary
in an inverse proportion to each other; where the clan totem tends to
become the general rule, the individual totem tends to disappear, and
_vice versa_. Is that not as much as to say that the first is a more
recent form of the second, which excludes it by replacing it?[574]
Mythology seems to confirm this interpretation. In these same societies,
in fact, the ancestor of the clan is not a totemic animal; the founder
of the group is generally represented in the form of a human being who,
at a certain time, had entered into familiar relations with a fabulous
animal from whom he received his totemic emblem. This emblem, together
with the special powers which are attached to it, was then passed on to
the descendants of this mythical hero by right of heritage. So these
people themselves seem to consider the collective totem as an individual
one, perpetuated in the same family.[575] Moreover, it still happens
to-day that a father transmits his own totem to his children. So if we
imagine that the collective totem had, in a general way, this same
origin, we are assuming that the same thing took place in the past which
is still observable to-day.[576]

It is still to be explained whence the individual totem comes. The reply
given to this question varies with different authors.

Hill Tout considers it a particular case of fetishism. Feeling himself
surrounded on all sides by dreaded spirits, the individual experienced
that sentiment which we have just seen Jevons attribute to the clan: in
order that he might continue to exist, he sought some powerful protector
in this mysterious world. Thus the use of a personal totem became
established.[577] For Frazer, this same institution was rather a
subterfuge or trick of war, invented by men that they might escape from
certain dangers. It is known that according to a belief which is very
widespread in a large number of inferior societies, the human soul is
able, without great inconvenience, to quit the body it inhabits for a
while; howsoever far away it may be, it continues to animate this body
by a sort of detached control. Then, in certain critical moments, when
life is supposed to be particularly menaced, it may be desirable to
withdraw the soul from the body and lead it to some place or into some
object where it will be in greater security. In fact, there are a
certain number of practices whose object is to withdraw the soul in
order to protect it from some danger, either real or imaginary. For
example, at the moment when men are going to enter a newly-built house,
a magician removes their souls and puts them in a sack, to be saved and
returned to their proprietors after the door-sill has been crossed. This
is because the moment when one enters a new house is exceptionally
critical; one may have disturbed, and consequently offended, the spirits
who reside in the ground and especially under the sill, and if
precautions are not taken, these could make a man pay dearly for his
audacity. But when this danger is once passed, and one has been able to
anticipate their anger and even to make sure of their favour through the
accomplishment of certain rites, the souls may safely retake their
accustomed place.[578] It is this same belief which gave birth to the
personal totem. To protect themselves from sorcery, men thought it wise
to hide their souls in the anonymous crowd of some species of animal or
vegetable. But after these relations had once been established, each
individual found himself closely united to the animal or plant where his
own vital principle was believed to reside. Two beings so closely united
were finally thought to be practically indistinguishable: men believed
that each participated in the nature of the other. When this belief had
once been accepted, it facilitated and hastened the transformation of
the personal totem into an hereditary, and consequently a collective,
totem; for it seemed quite evident that this kinship of nature should be
transmitted hereditarily from father to child.

We shall not stop to discuss these two explanations of the individual
totem at length: they are ingenious fabrications of the mind, but they
completely lack all positive proof. If we are going to reduce totemism
to fetishism, we must first establish that the latter is prior to the
former; now, not merely is no fact brought forward to support this
hypothesis, but it is even contradicted by everything that we know. The
ill-determined group of rites going under the name of fetishism seem to
appear only among peoples who have already attained to a certain degree
of civilization; but it is a species of cult unknown in Australia. It is
true that some have described the churinga as a fetish;[579] but even
supposing that this qualification were justified, it would not prove the
priority which is postulated. Quite on the contrary, the churinga
presupposes totemism, since it is essentially an instrument of the
totemic cult and owes the virtues attributed to it to totemic beliefs

As for the theory of Frazer, it presupposes a thoroughgoing idiocy on
the part of the primitive which known facts do not allow us to attribute
to him. He does have a logic, however strange this may at times appear;
now unless he were completely deprived of it, he could never be guilty
of the reasoning imputed to him. Nothing could be more natural than that
he should believe it possible to assure the survival of his soul by
hiding it in a secret and inaccessible place, as so many heroes of myths
and legends are said to have done. But why should he think it safer in
the body of an animal than in his own? Of course, if it were thus lost
in space, it might have a chance to escape the spells of a magician more
readily, but at the same time it would be prepared for the blows of
hunters. It is a strange way of sheltering it to place it in a material
form exposing it to risks at every instant.[580] But above all, it is
inconceivable that a whole people should allow themselves to be carried
into such an aberration.[581] Finally, in a very large number of cases,
the function of the individual totem is very different from that
assigned it by Frazer; before all else, it is a means of conferring
extraordinary powers upon magicians, hunters or warriors.[582] As to the
kinship of the man and the thing, with all the inconveniences it
implies, it is accepted as a consequence of the rite; but it is not
desired in its and for itself.

There is still less occasion for delaying over this controversy since it
concerns no real problem. What we must know before everything else is
whether or not the individual totem is really a primitive fact, from
which the collective totem was derived; for, according to the reply
given to this question, we must seek the home of the religious life in
one or the other of two opposite directions.

Against the hypothesis of Hill Tout, Miss Fletcher, Boas and Frazer
there is such an array of decisive facts that one is surprised that it
has been so readily and so generally accepted.

In the first place, we know that a man frequently has the greatest
interest not only in respecting, but also in making his companions
respect the species serving him as personal totem; his own life is
connected with it. Then if collective totemism were only a generalized
form of individual totemism, it too should repose upon this same
principle. Not only should the men of a clan abstain from killing and
eating their totem-animal themselves, but they should also do all in
their power to force this same abstention upon others. But as a matter
of fact, far from imposing such a renunciation upon the whole tribe,
each clan, by rites which we shall describe below, takes care that the
plant or animal whose name it bears shall increase and prosper, so as
to assure an abundant supply of food for the other clans. So we must at
least admit that in becoming collective, individual totemism was
transformed profoundly, and we must therefore account for this

In the second place, how is it possible to explain, from this point of
view, the fact that except where totemism is in full decay, two clans of
a single tribe always have different totems? It seems that nothing
prevents two or several members of a single tribe, even when there is no
kinship between them, from choosing their personal totem in the same
animal species and passing it on to their descendants. Does it not
happen to-day that two distinct families have the same name? The
carefully regulated way in which the totems and sub-totems are divided
up, first between the two phratries and then among the various clans of
the phratry, obviously presupposes a social agreement and a collective
organization. This is as much as to say that totemism is something more
than an individual practice spontaneously generalized.

Moreover, collective totemism cannot be deduced from individual totemism
except by a misunderstanding of the differences separating the two. The
one is acquired by the child at birth; it is a part of his civil status.
The other is acquired during the course of his life; it presupposes the
accomplishment of a determined rite and a change of condition. Some seek
to diminish this distance by inserting between the two, as a sort of
middle term, the right of each possessor of a totem to transmit it to
whomsoever he pleases. But wherever these transfers do take place, they
are rare and relatively exceptional acts; they cannot be performed
except by magicians or other personages invested with special
powers;[583] in any case, they are possible only through ritual
ceremonies which bring about the change. So it is necessary to explain
how this prerogative of a few became the right of all; how that which at
first implied a profound change in the religious and moral constitution
of the individual, was able to become an element of this constitution;
and finally, how a transmission which at first was the consequence of a
rite was later believed to operate automatically from the nature of
things and without the intervention of any human will.

In support of his interpretation, Hill Tout claims that certain myths
give the totem of the clan an individual origin: they tell how the
totemic emblem was acquired by some special individual, who then
transmitted it to his descendants. But in the first place, it is to be
remarked that these myths are all taken from the Indian tribes of North
America, which are societies arrived at a rather high degree of culture.
How could a mythology so far removed from the origins of things aid in
reconstituting the primitive form of an institution with any degree of
certainty? There are many chances for intermediate causes to have
gravely disfigured the recollection which these people have been able to
retain. Moreover, it is very easy to answer these myths with others,
which seem much more primitive and whose signification is quite
different. The totem is there represented as the very being from whom
the clan is descended. So it must be that it constitutes the substance
of the clan; men have it within them from their birth; it is a part of
their very flesh and blood, so far are they from having received it from
without.[584] More than that, the very myths upon which Hill Tout relies
contain an echo of this ancient conception. The founder who gave his
name to the clan certainly had a human form; but he was a man who, after
living among animals of a certain species, finally came to resemble
them. This is undoubtedly because a time came when the mind was too
cultivated to admit any longer, as it had formerly done, that men might
have been born of animals; so the animal ancestor, now become
inconceivable, is replaced by a human being; but the idea persists that
this man had acquired certain characteristics of the animal either by
imitation or by some other process. Thus even this late mythology bears
the mark of a more remote epoch when the totem of the clan was never
regarded as a sort of individual creation.

But this hypothesis does not merely raise grave logical difficulties; it
is contradicted directly by the following facts.

If individual totemism were the initial fact, it should be more
developed and apparent, the more primitive the societies are, and
inversely, it should lose ground and disappear before the other among
the more advanced peoples. Now it is the contrary which is true. The
Australian tribes are far behind those of North America; yet Australia
is the classic land of collective totemism. _In the great majority of
the tribes, it alone is found, while we do not know a single one where
individual totemism alone is practised._[585] This latter is found in a
characteristic form only in an infinitesimal number of tribes.[586] Even
where it is met with it is generally in a rudimentary form. It is made
up of individual and optional practices having no generality. Only
magicians are acquainted with the art of creating mysterious
relationships with species of animals to which they are not related by
nature. Ordinary people do not enjoy this privilege.[587] In America, on
the contrary, the collective totem is in full decadence; in the
societies of the North-west especially, its religious character is
almost gone. Inversely, the individual totem plays a considerable rôle
among these same peoples. A very great efficacy is attributed to it; it
has become a real public institution. This is because it is the sign of
a higher civilization. This is undoubtedly the explanation of the
inversion of these two forms of totemism, which Hill Tout believes he
has observed among the Salish. If in those parts where collective
totemism is the most fully developed the other form is almost lacking,
it is not because the second has disappeared before the first, but
rather, because the conditions necessary for its existence have not yet
been fully realized.

But a fact which is still more conclusive is that individual totemism,
far from having given birth to the totemism of the clan, presupposes
this latter. It is within the frame of collective totemism that it is
born and lives: it is an integral part of it. In fact, in those very
societies where it is preponderating, the novices do not have the right
of taking any animal as their individual totem; to each clan a certain
definite number of species are assigned, outside of which it may not
choose. In return, those belonging to it thus are its exclusive
property; members of other clans may not usurp them.[588] They are
thought to have relations of close dependence upon the one serving as
totem to the clan as a whole. There are even cases where it is quite
possible to observe these relations: the individual aspect represents a
part or a particular aspect of the collective totem.[589] Among the
Wotjobaluk, each member of the clan considers the personal totems of
his companions as being his own after a fashion;[590] so they are
probably sub-totems. Now the sub-totem supposes the totem, as the
species supposes the class. Thus the first form of individual religion
met with in history appears, not as the active principle of all public
religion, but, on the contrary, as a simple aspect of this latter. The
cult which the individual organizes for himself in his own inner
conscience, far from being the germ of the collective cult, is only this
latter adapted to the personal needs of the individual.


In a more recent study,[591] which the works of Spencer and Gillen
suggested to him, Frazer has attempted to substitute a new explanation
of totemism for the one he first proposed, and which we have just been
discussing. It rests on the postulate that the totemism of the Arunta is
the most primitive which we know; Frazer even goes so far as to say that
it scarcely differs from the really and absolutely original type.[592]

The singular thing about it is that the totems are attached neither to
persons nor to determined groups of persons, but to localities. In fact,
each totem has its centre at some definite spot. It is there that the
souls of the first ancestors, who founded the totemic group at the
beginning of time, are believed to have their preferred residence. It is
there that the sanctuary is located where the churinga are kept; there
the cult is celebrated. It is also this geographical distribution of
totems which determines the manner in which the clans are recruited. The
child has neither the totem of his father nor that of his mother, but
the one whose centre is at the spot where the mother believes that she
felt the first symptoms of approaching maternity. For it is said that
the Arunta is ignorant of the exact relation existing between generation
and the sexual act;[593] he thinks that every conception is due to a
sort of mystic fecundation. According to him, it is due to the entrance
of the soul of an ancestor into the body of a woman and its becoming the
principle of a new life there. So at the moment when a woman feels the
first tremblings of the child, she imagines that one of the souls whose
principal residence is at the place where she happens to be, has just
entered into her. As the child who is presently born is merely the
reincarnation of this ancestor, he necessarily has the same totem; thus
his totem is determined by the locality where he is believed to have
been mysteriously conceived.

Now, it is this local totemism which represents the original form of
totemism; at most, it is separated from this by a very short step. This
is how Frazer explains its genesis.

At the exact moment when the woman realizes that she is pregnant, she
must think that the spirit by which she feels herself possessed has come
to her from the objects about her, and especially from one of those
which attract her attention at the moment. So if she is engaged in
plucking a plant, or watching an animal, she believes that the soul of
this plant or animal has passed into her. Among the things to which she
will be particularly inclined to attribute her condition are, in the
first place, the things she has just eaten. If she has recently eaten
emu or yam, she will not doubt that an emu or yam has been born in her
and is developing. Under these conditions, it is evident how the child,
in his turn, will be considered a sort of yam or emu, how he regards
himself as a relative of the plant or animal of the same species, how he
has sympathy and regard for them, how he refuses to eat them, etc.[594]
From this moment, totemism exists in its essential traits: it is the
native's theory of conception that gave rise to it, so Frazer calls this
primitive totemism _conceptional_.

It is from this original type that all the other forms of totemism are
derived. "When several women had, one after the other, felt the first
premonitions of maternity at the same spot and under the same
circumstances, the place would come to be regarded as haunted by spirits
of a peculiar sort; and so the whole country might in time be dotted
over with totem centres and distributed into totem districts."[595] This
is how the local totemism of the Arunta originated. In order that the
totems may subsequently be detached from their territorial base, it is
sufficient to think that the ancestral souls, instead of remaining
immutably fixed to a determined spot, are able to move freely over the
surface of the territory and that in their voyages they follow the men
and women of the same totem as themselves. In this way, a woman may be
impregnated by her own totem or that of her husband, though residing in
a different totemic district. According to whether it is believed that
it is the ancestor of the husband or of the wife who thus follow the
family about, seeking occasions to reincarnate themselves, the totem of
the child will be that of his father or mother. In fact, it is in just
this way that the Guanji and Umbaia on the one hand, and the Urabunna on
the other, explain their systems of filiation.

But this theory, like that of Tylor, rests upon a begging of the
question. If he is to imagine that human souls are the souls of animals
or plants, one must believe beforehand that men take either from the
animal or vegetable world whatever is most essential in them. Now this
belief is one of those at the foundation of totemism. To state it as
something evident is therefore to take for granted that which is to be

Moreover, from this point of view, the religious character of the totem
is entirely inexplicable, for the vague belief in an obscure kinship
between the man and the animal is not enough to found a cult. This
confusion of distinct kingdoms could never result in dividing the world
into sacred and profane. It is true that, being consistent with himself,
Frazer refuses to admit that totemism is a religion, under the pretext
that he finds in it neither spiritual beings, nor prayers, nor
invocations, nor offerings, etc. According to him, it is only a system
of magic, by which he means a sort of crude and erroneous science, a
first effort to discover the laws of things.[596] But we know how
inexact this conception, both of magic and of religion, is. We have a
religion as soon as the sacred is distinguished from the profane, and we
have seen that totemism is a vast system of sacred things. If we are to
explain it, we must therefore show how it happened that these things
were stamped with this character.[597] But he does not even raise this

But this system is completely overthrown by the fact that the postulate
upon which it rests can no longer be sustained. The whole argument of
Frazer supposes that the local totemism of the Arunta is the most
primitive we know, and especially that it is clearly prior to
hereditary totemism, either in the paternal or the maternal line. Now as
soon as the facts contained in the first volume of Spencer and Gillen
were at our disposal, we were able to conjecture that there had been a
time in the history of the Arunta people when the totems, instead of
being attached to localities, were transmitted hereditarily from mother
to child.[598] This conjecture is definitely proved by the new facts
discovered by Strehlow,[599] which only confirm the previous
observations of Schulze.[600] In fact, both of these authors tell us
that even now, in addition to his local totem, each Arunta has another
which is completely independent of all geographical conditions, and
which belongs to him as a birthright: it is his mother's. This second
totem, just like the first, is considered a powerful friend and
protector by the natives, which looks after their food, warns them of
possible dangers, etc. They have the right of taking part in its cult.
When they are buried, the corpse is laid so that the face is turned
towards the region of the maternal totemic centre. So after a fashion
this centre is also that of the deceased. In fact it is given the name
_tmara altjira_, which is translated: camp of the totem which is
associated with me. So it is certain that among the Arunta, hereditary
totemism in the uterine line is not later than local totemism, but, on
the contrary, must have preceded it. For to-day, the maternal totem has
only an accessory and supplementary rôle; it is a second totem, which
explains how it was able to escape observation as attentive and careful
as that of Spencer and Gillen. But in order that it should be able to
retain this secondary place, being employed along with the local totem,
there must have been a time when it held the primary place in the
religious life. It is, in part, a fallen totem, but one recalling an
epoch when the totemic organization of the Arunta was very different
from what it is to-day. So the whole superstructure of Frazer's system
is undermined at its foundation.[601]


Although Andrew Lang has actively contested this theory of Frazer's, the
one he proposes himself in his later works,[602] resembles it on more
than one point. Like Frazer, he makes totemism consist in the belief in
a sort of consubstantiality of the man and the animal. But he explains
it differently.

He derives it entirely from the fact that the totem is a name. As soon
as human groups were founded,[603] each one felt the need of
distinguishing between the neighbouring groups with which it came into
contact and, with this end in view, it gave them different names. The
names were preferably chosen from the surrounding flora and fauna
because animals and plants can easily be designated by movements or
represented by drawings.[604] The more or less precise resemblances
which men may have with such and such objects determined the way in
which these collective denominations were distributed among the

Now, it is a well-known fact that "to the early mind names, and the
things known by names, are in a mystic and transcendental connection of
_rapport_."[606] For example, the name of an individual is not
considered as a simple word or conventional sign, but as an essential
part of the individual himself. So if it were the name of an animal, the
man would have to believe that he himself had the most characteristic
attributes of this same animal. This theory would become better and
better accredited as the historic origins of these denominations became
more remote and were effaced from the memory. Myths arose to make this
strange ambiguity of human nature more easily representable in the mind.
To explain this, they imagined that the animal was the ancestor of the
men, or else that the two were descended from a common ancestor. Thus
came the conception of bonds of kinship uniting each clan to the animal
species whose name it bore. With the origins of this fabulous kinship
once explained, it seems to our author that totemism no longer contains
a mystery.

But whence comes the religious character of the totemic beliefs and
practices? For the fact that a man considers himself an animal of a
certain species does not explain why he attributes marvellous powers to
this species, and especially why he renders a cult to the images
symbolizing it.--To this question Lang gives the same response as
Frazer: he denies that totemism is a religion. "I find in Australia," he
says, "no example of religious practices such as praying to, nourishing
or burying the totem."[607] It was only at a later epoch, when it was
already established, that totemism was drawn into and surrounded by a
system of conceptions properly called religious. According to a remark
of Howitt,[608] when the natives undertake the explanation of the
totemic institutions, they do not attribute them to the totems
themselves nor to a man, but to some supernatural being such as Bunjil
or Baiame. "Accepting this evidence," says Lang, "one source of the
'religious' character of totemism is at once revealed. The totemist
obeys the decree of Bunjil, or Baiame, as the Cretans obeyed the divine
decrees given by Zeus to Minos." Now according to Lang the idea of these
great divinities arose outside of the totemic system; so this is not a
religion in itself; it has merely been given a religious colouring by
contact with a genuine religion.

But these very myths contradict Lang's conception of totemism. If the
Australians had regarded totemism as something human and profane, it
would never have occurred to them to make a divine institution out of
it. If, on the other hand, they have felt the need of connecting it with
a divinity, it is because they have seen a sacred character in it. So
these mythological interpretations prove the religious nature of
totemism, but do not explain it.

Moreover, Lang himself recognizes that this solution is not sufficient.
He realizes that totemic things are treated with a religious
respect;[609] that especially the blood of an animal, as well as that of
a man, is the object of numerous interdictions, or, as he says, taboos
which this comparatively late mythology cannot explain.[610] Then where
do they come from? Here are the words with which Lang answers this
question: "As soon as the animal-named groups evolved the universally
diffused beliefs about the _wakan_ or _mana_, or mystically sacred
quality of the blood as the life, they would also develop the various
taboos."[611] The words _wakan_ and _mana_, as we shall see in the
following chapter, involve the very idea of _sacredness_ itself; the one
is taken from the language of the Sioux, the other from that of the
Melanesian peoples. To explain the sacred character of totemic things by
postulating this characteristic, is to answer the question by the
question. What we must find out is whence this idea of _wakan_ comes and
how it comes to be applied to the totem and all that is derived from it.
As long as these two questions remain unanswered, nothing is explained.


We have now passed in review all the principal explanations which have
been given for totemic beliefs,[612] leaving to each of them its own
individuality. But now that this examination is finished, we may state
one criticism which addresses itself to all these systems alike.

If we stick to the letter of the formulæ, it seems that these may be
arranged in two groups. Some (Frazer, Lang) deny the religious character
of totemism; in reality, that amounts to denying the facts. Others
recognize this, but think that they can explain it by deriving it from
an anterior religion out of which totemism developed. But as a matter of
fact, this distinction is only apparent: the first group is contained
within the second. Neither Frazer nor Lang have been able to maintain
their principle systematically and explain totemism as if it were not a
religion. By the very force of facts, they have been compelled to slip
ideas of a religious nature into their explanations. We have just seen
how Lang calls in the idea of sacredness, which is the cardinal idea of
all religion. Frazer, on his side, in each of the theories which he has
successively proposed, appeals openly to the idea of souls or spirits;
for according to him, totemism came from the fact that men thought they
could deposit their souls in safety in some external object, or else
that they attributed conception to a sort of spiritual fecundation of
which a spirit was the agent. Now a soul, and still more, a spirit, are
sacred things and the object of rites; so the ideas expressing them are
essentially religious and it is therefore in vain that Frazer makes
totemism a mere system of magic, for he succeeds in explaining it only
in the terms of another religion.

We have already pointed out the insufficiencies of animism and naturism;
so one may not have recourse to them, as Tylor and Jevons do, without
exposing himself to these same objections. Yet neither Frazer nor Lang
seems to dream of the possibility of another hypothesis.[613] On the
other hand, we know that totemism is tightly bound up with the most
primitive social system which we know, and in all probability, of which
we can conceive. To suppose that it has developed out of another
religion, differing from it only in degree, is to leave the data of
observation and enter into the domain of arbitrary and unverifiable
conjectures. If we wish to remain in harmony with the results we have
already obtained, it is necessary that while affirming the religious
nature of totemism, we abstain from deriving it from another different
religion. There can be no hope of assigning it non-religious ideas as
its cause. But among the representations entering into the conditions
from which it results, there may be some which directly suggest a
religious nature of themselves. These are the ones we must look for.



_The Notion of the Totemic Principle, or Mana, and the Idea of Force_

Since individual totemism is later than the totemism of the clan, and
even seems to be derived from it, it is to this latter form that we must
turn first of all. But as the analysis which we have just made of it has
resolved it into a multiplicity of beliefs which may appear quite
heterogeneous, before going farther, we must seek to learn what makes
its unity.


We have seen that totemism places the figured representations of the
totem in the first rank of the things it considers sacred; next come the
animals or vegetables whose name the clan bears, and finally the members
of the clan. Since all these things are sacred in the same way, though
to different degrees, their religious character can be due to none of
the special attributes distinguishing them from each other. If a certain
species of animal or vegetable is the object of a reverential fear, this
is not because of its special properties, for the human members of the
clan enjoy this same privilege, though to a slightly inferior degree,
while the mere image of this same plant or animal inspires an even more
pronounced respect. The similar sentiments inspired by these different
sorts of things in the mind of the believer, which give them their
sacred character, can evidently come only from some common principle
partaken of alike by the totemic emblems, the men of the clan and the
individuals of the species serving as totem. In reality, it is to this
common principle that the cult is addressed. In other words totemism is
the religion, not of such and such animals or men or images, but of an
anonymous and impersonal force, found in each of these beings but not to
be confounded with any of them. No one possesses it entirely and all
participate in it. It is so completely independent of the particular
subjects in whom it incarnates itself, that it precedes them and
survives them. Individuals die, generations pass and are replaced by
others; but this force always remains actual, living and the same. It
animates the generations of to-day as it animated those of yesterday and
as it will animate those of to-morrow. Taking the words in a large
sense, we may say that it is the god adored by each totemic cult. Yet it
is an impersonal god, without name or history, immanent in the world and
diffused in an innumerable multitude of things.

But even now we have only an imperfect idea of the real ubiquity of this
quasi-divine entity. It is not merely found in the whole totemic
species, the whole clan and all the objects symbolizing the totem: the
circle of its action extends beyond that. In fact, we have seen that in
addition to the eminently holy things, all those attributed to the clan
as dependencies of the principal totem have this same character to a
certain degree. They also have something religious about them, for some
are protected by interdictions, while others have determined functions
in the ceremonies of the cult. Their religiousness does not differ in
kind from that of the totem under which they are classified; it must
therefore be derived from the same source. So it is because the totemic
god--to use again the metaphorical expression which we have just
employed--is in them, just as it is in the species serving as totem and
in the men of the clan. We may see how much it differs from the beings
in which it resides from the fact that it is the soul of so many
different beings.

But the Australian does not represent this impersonal force in an
abstract form. Under the influence of causes which we must seek, he has
been led to conceive it under the form of an animal or vegetable
species, or, in a word, of a visible object This is what the totem
really consists in: it is only the material form under which the
imagination represents this immaterial substance, this energy diffused
through all sorts of heterogeneous things, which alone is the real
object of the cult. We are now in a better condition for understanding
what the native means when he says that the men of the Crow phratry, for
example, are crows. He does not exactly mean to say that they are crows
in the vulgar and empiric sense of the term, but that the same principle
is found in all of them, which is their most essential characteristic,
which they have in common with the animals of the same name and which is
thought of under the external form of a crow. Thus the universe, as
totemism conceives it, is filled and animated by a certain number of
forces which the imagination represents in forms taken, with only a few
exceptions, from the animal or vegetable kingdoms: there are as many of
them as there are clans in the tribe, and each of them is also found in
certain categories of things, of which it is the essence and vital

When we say that these principles are forces, we do not take the word in
a metaphorical sense; they act just like veritable forces. In one sense,
they are even material forces which mechanically engender physical
effects. Does an individual come in contact with them without having
taken proper precautions? He receives a shock which might be compared to
the effect of an electric discharge. Sometimes they seem to conceive of
these as a sort of fluid escaping by points.[614] If they are introduced
into an organism not made to receive them, they produce sickness and
death by a wholly automatic action.[615] Outside of men, they play the
rôle of vital principle; it is by acting on them, we shall see,[616]
that the reproduction of the species is assured. It is upon them that
the universal life reposes.

But in addition to this physical aspect, they also have a moral
character. When someone asks a native why he observes his rites, he
replies that his ancestors always have observed them, and he ought to
follow their example.[617] So if he acts in a certain way towards the
totemic beings, it is not only because the forces resident in them are
physically redoubtable, but because he feels himself morally obliged to
act thus; he has the feeling that he is obeying an imperative, that he
is fulfilling a duty. For these sacred beings, he has not merely fear,
but also respect. Moreover, the totem is the source of the moral life of
the clan. All the beings partaking of the same totemic principle
consider that owing to this very fact, they are morally bound to one
another; they have definite duties of assistance, vendetta, etc.,
towards each other; and it is these duties which constitute kinship. So
while the totemic principle is a totemic force, it is also a moral
power; so we shall see how it easily transforms itself into a divinity
properly so-called.

Moreover, there is nothing here which is special to totemism. Even in
the most advanced religions, there is scarcely a god who has not kept
something of this ambiguity and whose functions are not at once cosmic
and moral. At the same time that it is a spiritual discipline, every
religion is also a means enabling men to face the world with greater
confidence. Even for the Christian, is not God the Father the guardian
of the physical order as well as the legislator and the judge of human


Perhaps someone will ask whether, in interpreting totemism thus, we do
not endow the native with ideas surpassing the limits of his intellect.
Of course we are not prepared to affirm that he represents these forces
with the relative clarity which we have been able to give to them in our
analysis. We are able to show quite clearly that this notion is implied
by the whole system of beliefs which it dominates; but we are unable to
say how far it is conscious and how far, on the contrary, it is only
implicit and confusedly felt. There is no way of determining just what
degree of clarity an idea like this may have in obscure minds. But it is
well shown, in any case, that this in no way surpasses the capacities of
the primitive mind, and on the contrary, the results at which we have
just arrived are confirmed by the fact that either in the societies
closely related to these Australian tribes, or even in these tribes
themselves, we find, in an explicit form, conceptions which differ from
the preceding only by shades and degrees.

The native religions of Samoa have certainly passed the totemic phase.
Real gods are found there, who have their own names, and, to a certain
degree, their own personal physiognomy. Yet the traces of totemism are
hardly contestable. In fact, each god is attached to a group, either
local or domestic, just as the totem is to its clan.[618] Then, each of
these gods is thought of as immanent in a special species of animal. But
this does not mean that he resides in one subject in particular: he is
immanent in all at once; he is diffused in the species as a whole. When
an animal dies, the men of the group who venerate it weep for it and
render pious duties to it, because a god inhabits it; but the god is not
dead. He is eternal, like the species. He is not even confused with the
present generation; he has already been the soul of the preceding one,
as he will be the soul of the one which is to follow.[619] So he has all
the characteristics of the totemic principle. He is the totemic
principle, re-clothed in a slightly personal form by the imagination.
But still, we must not exaggerate a personality which is hardly
reconcilable with this diffusion and ubiquity. If its contours were
clearly defined, it could never spread out thus and enter into such a
multitude of things.

However, it is incontestable that in this case the idea of an impersonal
religious force is beginning to change; but there are other cases where
it is affirmed in all its abstract purity and even reaches a higher
degree of generality than in Australia. If the different totemic
principles to which the various clans of a single tribe address
themselves are distinct from each other, they are, none the less,
comparable to each other at bottom; for all play the same rôle in their
respective spheres. There are societies which have had the feeling of
this unity with nature and have consequently advanced to the idea of a
unique religious force of which all other sacred principles are only
expressions and which makes the unity of the universe. As these
societies are still thoroughly impregnated with totemism, and as they
remain entangled in a social organization identical with that of the
Australians, we may say that totemism contained this idea in

This can be observed in a large number of American tribes, especially
those belonging to the great Sioux family: the Omaha, Ponka, Kansas,
Osage, Assiniboin, Dakota, Iowa, Winnebago, Mandan, Hidatsa, etc. Many
of these are still organized in clans, as the Omaha[620] and the
Iowa;[621] others were so not long since, and, says Dorsey, it is still
possible to find among them "all the foundations of the totemic system,
just as in the other societies of the Sioux."[622] Now among these
peoples, above all the particular deities to whom men render a cult,
there is a pre-eminent power to which all the others have the relation
of derived forms, and which is called _wakan_.[623] Owing to the
preponderating place thus assigned to this principle in the Siouan
pantheon, it is sometimes regarded as a sort of sovereign god, or a
Jupiter or Jahveh, and travellers have frequently translated wakan by
"great spirit." This is misrepresenting its real nature gravely. The
wakan is in no way a personal being; the natives do not represent it in
a determined form. According to an observer cited by Dorsey, "they say
that they have never seen the wakanda, so they cannot pretend to
personify it."[624] It is not even possible to define it by determined
attributes and characteristics. "No word," says Riggs, "can explain the
meaning of this term among the Dakota. It embraces all mystery, all
secret power, all divinity."[625] All the beings which the Dakota
reveres, "the earth, the four winds, the sun, the moon and the stars,
are manifestations of this mysterious life and power" which enters into
all. Sometimes it is represented in the form of a wind, as a breath
having its seat in the four cardinal points and moving everything:[626]
sometimes it is a voice heard in the crashing of the thunder;[627] the
sun, moon and stars are wakan.[628] But no enumeration could exhaust
this infinitely complex idea. It is not a definite and definable power,
the power of doing this or that; it is Power in an absolute sense, with
no epithet or determination of any sort. The various divine powers are
only particular manifestations and personifications of it; each of them
is this power seen under one of its numerous aspects.[629] It is this
which made one observer say, "He is a protean god; he is supposed to
appear to different persons in different forms."[630] Nor are the gods
the only beings animated by it: it is the principle of all that lives or
acts or moves. "All life is wakan. So also is everything which exhibits
power, whether in action, as the winds and drifting clouds, or in
passive endurance, as the boulder by the wayside."[631]

Among the Iroquois, whose social organization has an even more
pronouncedly totemic character, this, same idea is found again; the word
_orenda_ which expresses it is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the
Sioux. "The savage man," says Hewitt, "conceived the diverse bodies
collectively constituting his environment to possess inherently mystic
potence ... (whether they be) the rocks, the waters, the tides, the
plants and the trees, the animals and man, the wind and the storms, the
clouds and the thunders and the lightnings,"[632] etc. "This potence is
held to be the property of all things ... and by the inchoate mentation
of man is regarded as the efficient cause of all phenomena, all the
activities of his environment."[633] A sorcerer or shaman has orenda,
but as much would be said of a man succeeding in his enterprises. At
bottom, there is nothing in the world which does not have its quota of
orenda; but the quantities vary. There are some beings, either men or
things, which are favoured; there are others which are relatively
disinherited, and the universal life consists in the struggles of these
orenda of unequal intensity. The more intense conquer the weaker. Is one
man more successful than his companions in the hunt or at war? It is
because he has more orenda. If an animal escapes from a hunter who is
pursuing it, it is because the orenda of the former was the more

This same idea is found among the Shoshone under the name of _pokunt_,
among the Algonquin under the name of _manitou_,[634] of _nauala_ among
the Kwakiutl,[635] of _yek_ among the Tlinkit[636] and of _sgâna_ among
the Haida.[637] But it is not peculiar to the Indians of North America;
it is in Melanesia that it was studied for the first time. It is true
that in certain of the islands of Melanesia, social organization is no
longer on a totemic basis; but in all, totemism is still visible,[638]
in spite of what Codrington has said about it. Now among these peoples,
we find, under the name of _mana_, an idea which is the exact equivalent
of the wakan of the Sioux and the orenda of the Iroquois. The definition
given by Codrington is as follows: "There is a belief in a force
altogether distinct from physical power, which acts in all ways for good
and evil; and which it is of the greatest advantage to possess or
control. This is Mana. I think I know what our people mean by it. ... It
is a power or influence, not physical and in a way supernatural; but it
shows itself in physical force, or in any kind of power or excellence
which a man possesses. This mana is not fixed in anything, and can be
conveyed in almost anything. ... All Melanesian religion consists, in
fact, in getting this mana for one's self, or getting it used for one's
benefit."[639] Is this not the same notion of an anonymous and diffused
force, the germs of which we recently found in the totemism of
Australia? Here is the same impersonality; for, as Codrington says, we
must be careful not to regard it as a sort of supreme being; any such
idea is "absolutely foreign" to Melanesian thought. Here is the same
ubiquity; the mana is located nowhere definitely and it is everywhere.
All forms of life and all the effects of the action, either of men or
of living beings or of simple minerals, are attributed to its

Therefore there is no undue temerity in attributing to the Australians
an idea such as the one we have discovered in our analysis of totemic
beliefs, for we find it again, but abstracted and generalized to a
higher degree, at the basis of other religions whose roots go back into
a system like the Australian one and which visibly bear the mark of
this. The two conceptions are obviously related; they differ only in
degree, while the mana is diffused into the whole universe, what we call
the god or, to speak more precisely, the totemic principle, is localized
in the more limited circle of the beings and things of certain species.
It is mana, but a little more specialized; yet as a matter of fact, this
specialization is quite relative.

Moreover, there is one case where this connection is made especially
apparent. Among the Omaha, there are totems of all sorts, both
individual and collective;[641] but both are only particular forms of
wakan. "The foundation of the Indian's faith in the efficacy of the
totem," says Miss Fletcher, "rested upon his belief concerning nature
and life. This conception was complex and involved two prominent ideas:
First, that all things, animate and inanimate, were permeated by a
common life; and second, that this life could not be broken, but was
continuous."[642] Now this common principle of life is the wakan. The
totem is the means by which an individual is put into relations with
this source of energy; if the totem has any powers, it is because it
incarnates the wakan. If a man who has violated the interdictions
protecting his totem is struck by sickness or death, it is because this
mysterious force against which he has thus set himself, that is, the
wakan, reacts against him with a force proportionate to the shock
received.[643] Also, just as the totem is wakan, so the wakan, in its
turn, sometimes shows its totemic origin by the way in which it is
conceived. In fact, Say says that among the Dakota the "wahconda" is
manifested sometimes in the form of a grey bear, sometimes of a bison, a
beaver or some other animal.[644] Undoubtedly, this formula cannot be
accepted without reserve. The wakan repels all personification and
consequently it is hardly probable that it has ever been thought of in
its abstract generality with the aid of such definite symbols. But Say's
remark is probably applicable to the particular forms which it takes in
specializing itself in the concrete reality of life. Now if there is a
possibility that there was a time when these specializations of the
wakan bore witness to such an affinity for an animal form, that would be
one more proof of the close bonds uniting this conception to the totemic

It is possible to explain why this idea has been unable to reach the
same degree of abstraction in Australia as in the more advanced
societies. This is not merely due to the insufficient aptitude of the
Australian for abstracting and generalizing: before all, it is the
nature of the social environment which has imposed this particularism.
In fact, as long as totemism remains at the basis of the cultural
organization, the clan keeps an autonomy in the religious society which,
though not absolute, is always very marked. Of course we can say that in
one sense each totemic group is only a chapel of the tribal Church; but
it is a chapel enjoying a large independence. The cult celebrated there,
though not a self-sufficing whole, has only external relations with the
others; they interchange without intermingling; the totem of the clan is
fully sacred only for this clan. Consequently the groups of things
attributed to each clan, which are a part of it in the same way the men
are, have the same individuality and autonomy. Each of them is
represented as irreducible into similar groups, as separated from them
by a break of continuity, and as constituting a distinct realm. Under
these circumstances, it would occur to no one that these heterogeneous
worlds were different manifestations of one and the same fundamental
force; on the contrary, one might suppose that each of them corresponded
to an organically different mana whose action could not extend beyond
the clan and the circle of things attributed to it. The idea of a single
and universal mana could be born only at the moment when the tribal
religion developed above that of the clans and absorbed them more or
less completely. It is along with the feeling of the tribal unity that
the feeling of the substantial unity of the world awakens. As we shall
presently show,[646] it is true that the Australian societies are
already acquainted with a cult that is common to the tribe as a whole.
But if this cult represents the highest form of the Australian
religions, it has not succeeded in touching and modifying the principles
upon which they repose: totemism is essentially a federative religion
which cannot go beyond a certain degree of centralization without
ceasing to be itself.

One characteristic fact clearly shows the fundamental reason which has
kept the idea of the mana so specialized in Australia. The real
religious forces, those thought of in the form of totems, are not the
only ones with which the Australian feels himself obliged to reckon.
There are also some over which magicians have particular control. While
the former are theoretically considered healthful and beneficent, the
second have it as their especial function to cause sickness and death.
And at the same time that they differ so greatly in the nature of their
effects, they are contrasted also by the relations which they sustain
with the social organization. A totem is always a matter of the clan;
but on the contrary, magic is a tribal and even an intertribal
institution. Magic forces do not belong to any special portion of the
tribe in particular. All that is needed to make use of them is the
possession of efficient recipes. Likewise, everybody is liable to feel
their effects and consequently should try to protect himself against
them. These are vague forces, specially attached to no determined social
division, and even able to spread their action beyond the tribe. Now it
is a remarkable fact that among the Arunta and Loritja, they are
conceived as simple aspects and particular forms of a unique force,
called in Arunta _Arungquiltha_ or _Arúnkulta_.[647] "This is a term,"
say Spencer and Gillen, "of somewhat vague import, but always associated
at bottom with the possession of _supernatural evil power_.... The name
is applied indiscriminately to the evil influence or to the object in
which it is, for the time being, or permanently, resident."[648] "By
arúnkulta," says Strehlow, "the native signifies a force which suddenly
stops life and brings death to all who come in contact with it."[649]
This name is given to the bones and pieces of wood from which
evil-working charms are derived, and also to poisonous animals and
vegetables. So it may accurately be called a harmful mana. Grey mentions
an absolutely identical notion among the tribes he observed.[650] Thus
among these different peoples, while the properly religious forces do
not succeed in avoiding a certain heterogeneity, magic forces are
thought of as being all of the same nature; the mind represents them in
their generic unity. This is because they rise above the social
organization and its divisions and subdivisions, and move in a
homogeneous and continuous space where they meet with nothing to
differentiate them. The others, on the contrary, being localized in
definite and distinct social forms, are diversified and particularized
in the image of the environment in which they are situated.

From this we can see how thoroughly the idea of an impersonal religious
force enters into the meaning and spirit of Australian totemism, for it
disengages itself with clarity as soon as no contrary cause opposes it.
It is true that the arungquiltha is purely a magic force. But between
religious forces and magic forces there is no difference of kind:[651]
sometimes they are even designated by the same name: in Melanesia, the
magicians and charms have mana just like the agents and rites of the
regular cult;[652] the word oranda is employed in the same way by the
Iroquois.[653] So we can legitimately infer the nature of the one from
that of the other.[654]


The results to which the above analysis has led us do not concern the
history of totemism only, but also the genesis of religious thought in

Under the pretext that in early times men were dominated by their senses
and the representations of their senses, it has frequently been held
that they commenced by representing the divine in the concrete form of
definite and personal beings. The facts do not confirm this presumption.
We have just described a systematically united scheme of religious
beliefs which we have good reason to regard as very primitive, yet we
have met with no personalities of this sort. The real totemic cult is
addressed neither to certain determined animals nor to certain
vegetables nor even to an animal or vegetable species, but to a vague
power spread through these things.[655] Even in the most advanced
religions which have developed out of totemism, such as those which we
find among the North American Indians, this idea, instead of being
effaced, becomes more conscious of itself; it is declared with a clarity
it did not have before, while at the same time, it attains a higher
generality. It is this which dominates the entire religious system.

This is the original matter out of which have been constructed those
beings of every sort which the religions of all times have consecrated
and adored. The spirits, demons, genii and gods of every sort are only
the concrete forms taken by this energy, or "potentiality," as Hewitt
calls it,[656] in individualizing itself, in fixing itself upon a
certain determined object or point in space, or in centring around an
ideal and legendary being, though one conceived as real by the popular
imagination. A Dakota questioned by Miss Fletcher expressed this
essential consubstantiability of all sacred things in language that is
full of relief. "Every thing as it moves, now and then, here and there,
makes stops. The bird as it flies stops in one place to make its nest,
and in another to rest in its flight. A man when he goes forth stops
when he wills. So the god has stopped. The sun, which is so bright and
beautiful, is one place where he has stopped. The trees, the animals,
are where he has stopped, and the Indian thinks of these places and
sends his prayers to reach the place where the god has stopped and to
win help and a blessing."[657] In other words, the wakan (for this is
what he was talking about) comes and goes through the world, and sacred
things are the points upon which it alights. Here we are, for once, just
as far from naturism as from animism. If the sun, the moon and the stars
have been adored, they have not owed this honour to their intrinsic
nature or their distinctive properties, but to the fact that they are
thought to participate in this force which alone is able to give things
a sacred character, and which is also found in a multitude of other
beings, even the smallest. If the souls of the dead have been the object
of rites, it is not because they are believed to be made out of some
fluid and impalpable substance, nor is it because they resemble the
shadow cast by a body or its reflection on a surface of water.
Lightness and fluidity are not enough to confer sanctity; they have been
invested with this dignity only in so far as they contained within them
something of this same force, the source of all religiosity.

We are now in a better condition to understand why it has been
impossible to define religion by the idea of mythical personalities,
gods or spirits; it is because this way of representing religious things
is in no way inherent in their nature. What we find at the origin and
basis of religious thought are not determined and distinct objects and
beings possessing a sacred character of themselves; they are indefinite
powers, anonymous forces, more or less numerous in different societies,
and sometimes even reduced to a unity, and whose impersonality is
strictly comparable to that of the physical forces whose manifestations
the sciences of nature study. As for particular sacred things, they are
only individualized forms of this essential principle. So it is not
surprising that even in the religions where there are avowed divinities,
there are rites having an efficient virtue in themselves, independently
of all divine intervention. It is because this force may be attached to
words that are pronounced or movements that are made just as well as to
corporal substances; the voice or the movements may serve as its
vehicle, and it may produce its effects through their intermediacy,
without the aid of any god or spirit. Even should it happen to
concentrate itself especially in a rite, this will become a creator of
divinities from that very fact.[658] This is why there is scarcely a
divine personality who does not retain some impersonality. Those who
represent it most clearly in a concrete and visible form, think of it,
at the same time, as an abstract power which cannot be defined except by
its own efficacy, or as a force spread out in space and which is
contained, at least in part, in each of its effects. It is the power of
producing rain or wind, crops or the light of day; Zeus is in each of
the raindrops which falls, just as Ceres is in each of the sheaves of
the harvest.[659] As a general rule, in fact, this efficacy is so
imperfectly determined that the believer is able to form only a very
vague notion of it. Moreover, it is this indecision which has made
possible these syncretisms and duplications in the course of which gods
are broken up, dismembered and confused in every way. Perhaps there is
not a single religion in which the original mana, whether unique or
multiform, has been resolved entirely into a clearly defined number of
beings who are distinct and separate from each other; each of them
always retains a touch of impersonality, as it were, which enables it to
enter into new combinations, not as the result of a simple survival but
because it is the nature of religious forces to be unable to
individualize themselves completely.

This conception, to which we have been led by the study of totemism
alone, has the additional recommendation that many scholars have
recently adopted it quite independently of one another, as a conclusion
from very different sorts of studies. There is a tendency towards a
spontaneous agreement on this point which should be remarked, for it is
a presumption of objectivity.

As early as 1899, we pointed out the impossibility of making the idea of
a mythical personality enter into the definition of religious
phenomena.[660] In 1900, Marrett showed the existence of a religious
phase which he called _preanimistic_, in which the rites are addressed
to impersonal forces like the Melanesian mana and the wakan of the Omaha
and Dakota.[661] However, Marrett did not go so far as to maintain that
always and in every case the idea of a spirit is logically and
chronologically posterior to that of mana and is derived from it; he
even seemed disposed to admit that it has sometimes appeared
independently and consequently, that religious thought flows from a
double source.[662] On the other hand, he conceived the mana as an
inherent property of things, as an element of their appearance; for,
according to him, this is simply the character which we attribute to
everything out of the ordinary, and which inspires a sentiment of fear
or admiration.[663] This practically amounts to a return to the naturist

A little later, MM. Hubert and Mauss, while attempting to formulate a
general theory of magic, established the fact that magic as a whole
reposes on the notion of mana.[665] The close kinship of the magic rite
and the religious rite being known, it was even possible to foresee that
the same theory should be applied to religion. This was sustained by
Preuss in a series of articles in the _Globus_[666] that same year.
Relying chiefly upon facts taken from American civilizations, Preuss set
out to prove that the ideas of the soul and spirit were not developed
until after those of power and impersonal force, that the former are
only a transformation of the latter, and that up to a relatively late
date they retain the marks of their original impersonality. In fact, he
shows that even in the advanced religions, they are represented in the
form of vague emanations disengaging themselves automatically from the
things in which they reside, and even tending to escape by all the ways
that are open to them: the mouth, the nose and all the other openings of
the body, the breath, the look, the word, etc. At the same time, Preuss
pointed out their Protean forms and their extreme plasticity which
permits them to give themselves successively and almost concurrently to
the most varied uses.[667] It is true that if we stick to the letter of
the terminology employed by this author, we may believe that for him the
forces have a magic, not a religious nature: he calls them charms
(_Zauber, Zauberkräfte_). But it is evident that in expressing himself
thus, he does not intend to put them outside of religion; for it is in
the essentially religious rites that he shows their action, for example,
in the great Mexican ceremonies.[668] If he uses these expressions, it
is undoubtedly because he knows no others which mark better the
impersonality of these forces and the sort of mechanism with which they

Thus this same idea tends to come to light on every side.[669] The
impression becomes more and more prevalent that even the most elementary
mythological constructions are secondary products[670] which cover over
a system of beliefs, at once simpler and more obscure, vaguer and more
essential, which form the solid foundations upon which the religious
systems are built. It is this primitive foundation which our analysis of
totemism has enabled us to reach. The various writers whose studies we
have just mentioned arrived at this conclusion only through facts taken
from very diverse religions, some of which even correspond to a
civilization that is already far advanced: such is the case, for
example, with the Mexican religions, of which Preuss makes great use. So
it might be asked if this theory is equally applicable to the most
simple religions. But since it is impossible to go lower than totemism,
we are not exposed to this risk of error, and at the same time, we have
an opportunity of finding the initial notion from which the ideas of
wakan and mana are derived: this is the notion of the totemic


But this notion is not only of primary importance because of the rôle it
has played in the development of religious ideas; it also has a lay
aspect in which it is of interest for the history of scientific thought.
It is the first form of the idea of force.

In fact, the wakan plays the same rôle in the world, as the Sioux
conceives it, as the one played by the forces with which science
explains the diverse phenomena of nature. This, however, does not mean
that it is thought of as an exclusively physical energy; on the
contrary, in the next chapter we shall see that the elements going to
make up this idea are taken from the most diverse realms. But this very
compositeness of its nature enables it to be utilized as a universal
principle of explanation. It is from it that all life comes;[672] "all
life is wakan"; and by this word life, we must understand everything
that acts and reacts, that moves and is moved, in both the mineral and
biological kingdoms. The wakan is the cause of all the movements which
take place in the universe. We have even seen that the orenda of the
Iroquois is "the efficient cause of all the phenomena and all the
activities which are manifested around men." It is a power "inherent in
all bodies and all things."[673] It is the orenda which makes the wind
blow, the sun lighten and heat the earth, or animals reproduce and which
makes men strong, clever and intelligent. When the Iroquois says that
the life of all nature is the product of the conflicts aroused between
the unequally intense orenda of the different beings, he only expresses,
in his own language, this modern idea that the world is a system of
forces limiting and containing each other and making an equilibrium.

The Melanesian attributes this same general efficacy to his mana. It is
owing to his mana that a man succeeds in hunting or fighting, that
gardens give a good return or that flocks prosper. If an arrow strikes
its mark, it is because it is charged with mana; it is the same cause
which makes a net catch fish well, or a canoe ride well on the sea,[674]
etc. It is true that if certain phrases of Codrington are taken
literally, mana should be the cause to which is attributed "everything
which is beyond the ordinary power of men, outside the common processes
of nature."[675] But from the very examples which he cites, it is quite
evident that the sphere of the mana is really much more extended. In
reality, it serves to explain usual and everyday phenomena; there is
nothing superhuman or supernatural in the fact that a ship sails or a
hunter catches game, etc. However, among these events of daily life,
there are some so insignificant and familiar that they pass unperceived:
they are not noticed and consequently no need is felt of explaining
them. The concept of mana is applied only to those that are important
enough to cause reflection, and to awaken a minimum of interest and
curiosity; but they are not marvellous for all that. And what is true of
the mana as well as the orenda and wakan, may be said equally well of
the totemic principle. It is through this that the life of the men of
the clan and the animals or plants of the totemic species, as well as
all the things which are classified under the totem and partake of its
nature, is manifested.

So the idea of force is of religious origin. It is from religion that it
has been borrowed, first by philosophy, then by the sciences. This has
already been foreseen by Comte and this is why he made metaphysics the
heir of "theology." But he concluded from this that the idea of force is
destined to disappear from science; for, owing to its mystic origins, he
refused it all objective value. But we are going to show that, on the
contrary, religious forces are real, howsoever imperfect the symbols may
be, by the aid of which they are thought of. From this it will follow
that the same is true of the concept of force in general.



_Origin of the Idea of the Totemic Principle or Mana_

The proposition established in the preceding chapter determines the
terms in which the problem of the origins of totemism should be posed.
Since totemism is everywhere dominated by the idea of a quasi-divine
principle, imminent in certain categories of men and things and thought
of under the form of an animal or vegetable, the explanation of this
religion is essentially the explanation of this belief; to arrive at
this, we must seek to learn how men have been led to construct this idea
and out of what materials they have constructed it.


It is obviously not out of the sensations which the things serving as
totems are able to arouse in the mind; we have shown that these things
are frequently insignificant. The lizard, the caterpillar, the rat, the
ant, the frog, the turkey, the bream-fish, the plum-tree, the cockatoo,
etc., to cite only those names which appear frequently in the lists of
Australian totems, are not of a nature to produce upon men these great
and strong impressions which in a way resemble religious emotions and
which impress a sacred character upon the objects they create. It is
true that this is not the case with the stars and the great atmospheric
phenomena, which have, on the contrary, all that is necessary to strike
the imagination forcibly; but as a matter of fact, these serve only very
exceptionally as totems. It is even probable that they were very slow in
taking this office.[676] So it is not the intrinsic nature of the thing
whose name the clan bears that marked it out to become the object of a
cult. Also, if the sentiments which it inspired were really the
determining cause of the totemic rites and beliefs, it would be the
pre-eminently sacred thing; the animals or plants employed as totems
would play an eminent part in the religious life. But we know that the
centre of the cult is actually elsewhere. It is the figurative
representations of this plant or animal and the totemic emblems and
symbols of every sort, which have the greatest sanctity; so it is in
them that is found the source of that religious nature, of which the
real objects represented by these emblems receive only a reflection.

Thus the totem is before all a symbol, a material expression of
something else.[677] But of what?

From the analysis to which we have been giving our attention, it is
evident that it expresses and symbolizes two different sorts of things.
In the first place, it is the outward and visible form of what we have
called the totemic principle or god. But it is also the symbol of the
determined society called the clan. It is its flag; it is the sign by
which each clan distinguishes itself from the others, the visible mark
of its personality, a mark borne by everything which is a part of the
clan under any title whatsoever, men, beasts or things. So if it is at
once the symbol of the god and of the society, is that not because the
god and the society are only one? How could the emblem of the group have
been able to become the figure of this quasi-divinity, if the group and
the divinity were two distinct realities? 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 as totem.

But how has this apotheosis been possible, and how did it happen to take
place in this fashion?


In a general way, it is unquestionable that a society has all that is
necessary to arouse the sensation of the divine in minds, merely by the
power that it has over them; for to its members it is what a god is to
his worshippers. In fact, a god is, first of all, a being whom men think
of as superior to themselves, and upon whom they feel that they depend.
Whether it be a conscious personality, such as Zeus or Jahveh, or merely
abstract forces such as those in play in totemism, the worshipper, in
the one case as in the other, believes himself held to certain manners
of acting which are imposed upon him by the nature of the sacred
principle with which he feels that he is in communion. Now society also
gives us the sensation of a perpetual dependence. Since it has a nature
which is peculiar to itself and different from our individual nature, it
pursues ends which are likewise special to it; but, as it cannot attain
them except through our intermediacy, it imperiously demands our aid. It
requires that, forgetful of our own interests, we make ourselves its
servitors, and it submits us to every sort of inconvenience, privation
and sacrifice, without which social life would be impossible. It is
because of this that at every instant we are obliged to submit ourselves
to rules of conduct and of thought which we have neither made nor
desired, and which are sometimes even contrary to our most fundamental
inclinations and instincts.

Even if society were unable to obtain these concessions and sacrifices
from us except by a material constraint, it might awaken in us only the
idea of a physical force to which we must give way of necessity, instead
of that of a moral power such as religions adore. But as a matter of
fact, the empire which it holds over consciences is due much less to the
physical supremacy of which it has the privilege than to the moral
authority with which it is invested. If we yield to its orders, it is
not merely because it is strong enough to triumph over our resistance;
it is primarily because it is the object of a venerable respect.

We say that an object, whether individual or collective, inspires
respect when the representation expressing it in the mind is gifted with
such a force that it automatically causes or inhibits actions, _without
regard for any consideration relative to their useful or injurious
effects_. When we obey somebody because of the moral authority which we
recognize in him, we follow out his opinions, not because they seem
wise, but because a certain sort of physical energy is imminent in the
idea that we form of this person, which conquers our will and inclines
it in the indicated direction. Respect is the emotion which we
experience when we feel this interior and wholly spiritual pressure
operating upon us. Then we are not determined by the advantages or
inconveniences of the attitude which is prescribed or recommended to us;
it is by the way in which we represent to ourselves the person
recommending or prescribing it. This is why commands generally take a
short, peremptory form leaving no place for hesitation; it is because,
in so far as it is a command and goes by its own force, it excludes all
idea of deliberation or calculation; it gets its efficacy from the
intensity of the mental state in which it is placed. It is this
intensity which creates what is called a moral ascendancy.

Now the ways of action to which society is strongly enough attached to
impose them upon its members, are, by that very fact, marked with a
distinctive sign provocative of respect. Since they are elaborated in
common, the vigour with which they have been thought of by each
particular mind is retained in all the other minds, and reciprocally.
The representations which express them within each of us have an
intensity which no purely private states of consciousness could ever
attain; for they have the strength of the innumerable individual
representations which have served to form each of them. It is society
who speaks through the mouths of those who affirm them in our presence;
it is society whom we hear in hearing them; and the voice of all has an
accent which that of one alone could never have.[678] The very violence
with which society reacts, by way of blame or material suppression,
against every attempted dissidence, contributes to strengthening its
empire by manifesting the common conviction through this burst of
ardour.[679] In a word, when something is the object of such a state of
opinion, the representation which each individual has of it gains a
power of action from its origins and the conditions in which it was
born, which even those feel who do not submit themselves to it. It tends
to repel the representations which contradict it, and it keeps them at a
distance; on the other hand, it commands those acts which will realize
it, and it does so, not by a material coercion or by the perspective of
something of this sort, but by the simple radiation of the mental energy
which it contains. It has an efficacy coming solely from its psychical
properties, and it is by just this sign that moral authority is
recognized. So opinion, primarily a social thing, is a source of
authority, and it might even be asked whether all authority is not the
daughter of opinion.[680] It may be objected that science is often the
antagonist of opinion, whose errors it combats and rectifies. But it
cannot succeed in this task if it does not have sufficient authority,
and it can obtain this authority only from opinion itself. If a people
did not have faith in science, all the scientific demonstrations in the
world would be without any influence whatsoever over their minds. Even
to-day, if science happened to resist a very strong current of public
opinion, it would risk losing its credit there.[681]

Since it is in spiritual ways that social pressure exercises itself, it
could not fail to give men the idea that outside themselves there exist
one or several powers, both moral and, at the same time, efficacious,
upon which they depend. They must think of these powers, at least in
part, as outside themselves, for these address them in a tone of command
and sometimes even order them to do violence to their most natural
inclinations. It is undoubtedly true that if they were able to see that
these influences which they feel emanate from society, then the
mythological system of interpretations would never be born. But social
action follows ways that are too circuitous and obscure, and employs
psychical mechanisms that are too complex to allow the ordinary observer
to see whence it comes. As long as scientific analysis does not come to
teach it to them, men know well that they are acted upon, but they do
not know by whom. So they must invent by themselves the idea of these
powers with which they feel themselves in connection, and from that, we
are able to catch a glimpse of the way by which they were led to
represent them under forms that are really foreign to their nature and
to transfigure them by thought.

But a god is not merely an authority upon whom we depend; it is a force
upon which our strength relies. The man who has obeyed his god and who,
for this reason, believes the god is with him, approaches the world with
confidence and with the feeling of an increased energy. Likewise, social
action does not confine itself to demanding sacrifices, privations and
efforts from us. For the collective force is not entirely outside of us;
it does not act upon us wholly from without; but rather, since society
cannot exist except in and through individual consciousnesses,[682] this
force must also penetrate us and organize itself within us; it thus
becomes an integral part of our being and by that very fact this is
elevated and magnified.

There are occasions when this strengthening and vivifying action of
society is especially apparent. In the midst of an assembly animated by
a common passion, we become susceptible of acts and sentiments of which
we are incapable when reduced to our own forces; and when the assembly
is dissolved and when, finding ourselves alone again, we fall back to
our ordinary level, we are then able to measure the height to which we
have been raised above ourselves. History abounds in examples of this
sort. It is enough to think of the night of the Fourth of August, 1789,
when an assembly was suddenly led to an act of sacrifice and abnegation
which each of its members had refused the day before, and at which they
were all surprised the day after.[683] This is why all parties,
political, economic or confessional, are careful to have periodical
reunions where their members may revivify their common faith by
manifesting it in common. To strengthen those sentiments which, if left
to themselves, would soon weaken, it is sufficient to bring those who
hold them together and to put them into closer and more active relations
with one another. This is the explanation of the particular attitude of
a man speaking to a crowd, at least if he has succeeded in entering into
communion with it. His language has a grandiloquence that would be
ridiculous in ordinary circumstances; his gestures show a certain
domination; his very thought is impatient of all rules, and easily falls
into all sorts of excesses. It is because he feels within him an
abnormal over-supply of force which overflows and tries to burst out
from him; sometimes he even has the feeling that he is dominated by a
moral force which is greater than he and of which he is only the
interpreter. It is by this trait that we are able to recognize what has
often been called the demon of oratorical inspiration. Now this
exceptional increase of force is something very real; it comes to him
from the very group which he addresses. The sentiments provoked by his
words come back to him, but enlarged and amplified, and to this degree
they strengthen his own sentiment. The passionate energies he arouses
re-echo within him and quicken his vital tone. It is no longer a simple
individual who speaks; it is a group incarnate and personified.

Beside these passing and intermittent states, there are other more
durable ones, where this strengthening influence of society makes itself
felt with greater consequences and frequently even with greater
brilliancy. There are periods in history when, under the influence of
some great collective shock, social interactions have become much more
frequent and active. Men look for each other and assemble together more
than ever. That general effervescence results which is characteristic of
revolutionary or creative epochs. Now this greater activity results in
a general stimulation of individual forces. Men see more and differently
now than in normal times. Changes are not merely of shades and degrees;
men become different. The passions moving them are of such an intensity
that they cannot be satisfied except by violent and unrestrained
actions, actions of superhuman heroism or of bloody barbarism. This is
what explains the Crusades,[684] for example, or many of the scenes,
either sublime or savage, of the French Revolution.[685] Under the
influence of the general exaltation, we see the most mediocre and
inoffensive bourgeois become either a hero or a butcher.[686] And so
clearly are all these mental processes the ones that are also at the
root of religion that the individuals themselves have often pictured the
pressure before which they thus gave way in a distinctly religious form.
The Crusaders believed that they felt God present in the midst of them,
enjoining them to go to the conquest of the Holy Land; Joan of Arc
believed that she obeyed celestial voices.[687]

But it is not only in exceptional circumstances that this stimulating
action of society makes itself felt; there is not, so to speak, a moment
in our lives when some current of energy does not come to us from
without. The man who has done his duty finds, in the manifestations of
every sort expressing the sympathy, esteem or affection which his
fellows have for him, a feeling of comfort, of which he does not
ordinarily take account, but which sustains him, none the less. The
sentiments which society has for him raise the sentiments which he has
for himself. Because he is in moral harmony with his comrades, he has
more confidence, courage and boldness in action, just like the believer
who thinks that he feels the regard of his god turned graciously towards
him. It thus produces, as it were, a perpetual sustenance for our moral
nature. Since this varies with a multitude of external circumstances, as
our relations with the groups about us are more or less active and as
these groups themselves vary, we cannot fail to feel that this moral
support depends upon an external cause; but we do not perceive where
this cause is nor what it is. So we ordinarily think of it under the
form of a moral power which, though immanent in us, represents within us
something not ourselves: this is the moral conscience, of which, by the
way, men have never made even a slightly distinct representation except
by the aid of religious symbols.

In addition to these free forces which are constantly coming to renew
our own, there are others which are fixed in the methods and traditions
which we employ. We speak a language that we did not make; we use
instruments that we did not invent; we invoke rights that we did not
found; a treasury of knowledge is transmitted to each generation that it
did not gather itself, etc. It is to society that we owe these varied
benefits of civilization, and if we do not ordinarily see the source
from which we get them, we at least know that they are not our own work.
Now it is these things that give man his own place among things; a man
is a man only because he is civilized. So he could not escape the
feeling that outside of him there are active causes from which he gets
the characteristic attributes of his nature and which, as benevolent
powers, assist him, protect him and assure him of a privileged fate. And
of course he must attribute to these powers a dignity corresponding to
the great value of the good things he attributes to them.[688]

Thus the environment in which we live seems to us to be peopled with
forces that are at once imperious and helpful, august and gracious, and
with which we have relations. Since they exercise over us a pressure of
which we are conscious, we are forced to localize them outside
ourselves, just as we do for the objective causes of our sensations. But
the sentiments which they inspire in us differ in nature from those
which we have for simple visible objects. As long as these latter are
reduced to their empirical characteristics as shown in ordinary
experience, and as long as the religious imagination has not
metamorphosed them, we entertain for them no feeling which resembles
respect, and they contain within them nothing that is able to raise us
outside ourselves. Therefore, the representations which express them
appear to us to be very different from those aroused in us by collective
influences. The two form two distinct and separate mental states in our
consciousness, just as do the two forms of life to which they
correspond. Consequently, we get the impression that we are in relations
with two distinct sorts of reality and that a sharply drawn line of
demarcation separates them from each other: on the one hand is the world
of profane things, on the other, that of sacred things.

Also, in the present day just as much as in the past, we see society
constantly creating sacred things out of ordinary ones. If it happens
to fall in love with a man and if it thinks it has found in him the
principal aspirations that move it, as well as the means of satisfying
them, this man will be raised above the others and, as it were, deified.
Opinion will invest him with a majesty exactly analogous to that
protecting the gods. This is what has happened to so many sovereigns in
whom their age had faith: if they were not made gods, they were at least
regarded as direct representatives of the deity. And the fact that it is
society alone which is the author of these varieties of apotheosis, is
evident since it frequently chances to consecrate men thus who have no
right to it from their own merit. The simple deference inspired by men
invested with high social functions is not different in nature from
religious respect. It is expressed by the same movements: a man keeps at
a distance from a high personage; he approaches him only with
precautions; in conversing with him, he uses other gestures and language
than those used with ordinary mortals. The sentiment felt on these
occasions is so closely related to the religious sentiment that many
peoples have confounded the two. In order to explain the consideration
accorded to princes, nobles and political chiefs, a sacred character has
been attributed to them. In Melanesia and Polynesia, for example, it is
said that an influential man has _mana_, and that his influence is due
to this _mana_.[689] However, it is evident that his situation is due
solely to the importance attributed to him by public opinion. Thus the
moral power conferred by opinion and that with which sacred beings are
invested are at bottom of a single origin and made up of the same
elements. That is why a single word is able to designate the two.

In addition to men, society also consecrates things, especially ideas.
If a belief is unanimously shared by a people, then, for the reason
which we pointed out above, it is forbidden to touch it, that is to say,
to deny it or to contest it. Now the prohibition of criticism is an
interdiction like the others and proves the presence of something
sacred. Even to-day, howsoever great may be the liberty which we accord
to others, a man who should totally deny progress or ridicule the human
ideal to which modern societies are attached, would produce the effect
of a sacrilege. There is at least one principle which those the most
devoted to the free examination of everything tend to place above
discussion and to regard as untouchable, that is to say, as sacred: this
is the very principle of free examination.

This aptitude of society for setting itself up as a god or for creating
gods was never more apparent than during the first years of the French
Revolution. At this time, in fact, under the influence of the general
enthusiasm, things purely laïcal by nature were transformed by public
opinion into sacred things: these were the Fatherland, Liberty,
Reason.[690] A religion tended to become established which had its
dogmas,[691] symbols,[692] altars[693] and feasts.[694] It was to these
spontaneous aspirations that the cult of Reason and the Supreme Being
attempted to give a sort of official satisfaction. It is true that this
religious renovation had only an ephemeral duration. But that was
because the patriotic enthusiasm which at first transported the masses
soon relaxed.[695] The cause being gone, the effect could not remain.
But this experiment, though short-lived, keeps all its sociological
interest. It remains true that in one determined case we have seen
society and its essential ideas become, directly and with no
transfiguration of any sort, the object of a veritable cult.

All these facts allow us to catch glimpses of how the clan was able to
awaken within its members the idea that outside of them there exist
forces which dominate them and at the same time sustain them, that is to
say in fine, religious forces: it is because there is no society with
which the primitive is more directly and closely connected. The bonds
uniting him to the tribe are much more lax and more feebly felt.
Although this is not at all strange or foreign to him, it is with the
people of his own clan that he has the greatest number of things in
common; it is the action of this group that he feels the most directly;
so it is this also which, in preference to all others, should express
itself in religious symbols.

But this first explanation has been too general, for it is applicable to
every sort of society indifferently, and consequently to every sort of
religion. Let us attempt to determine exactly what form this collective
action takes in the clan and how it arouses the sensation of sacredness
there. For there is no place where it is more easily observable or more
apparent in its results.


The life of the Australian societies passes alternately through two
distinct phases.[696] Sometimes the population is broken up into little
groups who wander about independently of one another, in their various
occupations; each family lives by itself, hunting and fishing, and in a
word, trying to procure its indispensable food by all the means in its
power. Sometimes, on the contrary, the population concentrates and
gathers at determined points for a length of time varying from several
days to several months. This concentration takes place when a clan or a
part of the tribe[697] is summoned to the gathering, and on this
occasion they celebrate a religious ceremony, or else hold what is
called a corrobbori[698] in the usual ethnological language.

These two phases are contrasted with each other in the sharpest way. In
the first, economic activity is the preponderating one, and it is
generally of a very mediocre intensity. Gathering the grains or herbs
that are necessary for food, or hunting and fishing are not occupations
to awaken very lively passions.[699] The dispersed condition in which
the society finds itself results in making its life uniform, languishing
and dull.[700] But when a corrobbori takes place, everything changes.
Since the emotional and passional faculties of the primitive are only
imperfectly placed under the control of his reason and will, he easily
loses control of himself. Any event of some importance puts him quite
outside himself. Does he receive good news? There are at once transports
of enthusiasm. In the contrary conditions, he is to be seen running here
and there like a madman, giving himself up to all sorts of immoderate
movements, crying, shrieking, rolling in the dust, throwing it in every
direction, biting himself, brandishing his arms in a furious manner,
etc.[701] The very fact of the concentration acts as an exceptionally
powerful stimulant. When they are once come together, a sort of
electricity is formed by their collecting which quickly transports them
to an extraordinary degree of exaltation. Every sentiment expressed
finds a place without resistance in all the minds, which are very open
to outside impressions; each re-echoes the others, and is re-echoed by
the others. The initial impulse thus proceeds, growing as it goes, as an
avalanche grows in its advance. And as such active passions so free from
all control could not fail to burst out, on every side one sees nothing
but violent gestures, cries, veritable howls, and deafening noises of
every sort, which aid in intensifying still more the state of mind which
they manifest. And since a collective sentiment cannot express itself
collectively except on the condition of observing a certain order
permitting co-operation and movements in unison, these gestures and
cries naturally tend to become rhythmic and regular; hence come songs
and dances. But in taking a more regular form, they lose nothing of
their natural violence; a regulated tumult remains tumult. The human
voice is not sufficient for the task; it is reinforced by means of
artificial processes: boomerangs are beaten against each other;
bull-roarers are whirled. It is probable that these instruments, the use
of which is so general in the Australian religious ceremonies, are used
primarily to express in a more adequate fashion the agitation felt. But
while they express it, they also strengthen it. This effervescence often
reaches such a point that it causes unheard-of actions. The passions
released are of such an impetuosity that they can be restrained by
nothing. They are so far removed from their ordinary conditions of life,
and they are so thoroughly conscious of it, that they feel that they
must set themselves outside of and above their ordinary morals. The
sexes unite contrarily to the rules governing sexual relations. Men
exchange wives with each other. Sometimes even incestuous unions, which
in normal times are thought abominable and are severely punished, are
now contracted openly and with impunity.[702] If we add to all this that
the ceremonies generally take place at night in a darkness pierced here
and there by the light of fires, we can easily imagine what effect such
scenes ought to produce on the minds of those who participate. They
produce such a violent super-excitation of the whole physical and mental
life that it cannot be supported very long: the actor taking the
principal part finally falls exhausted on the ground.[703]

To illustrate and make specific this necessarily schematic picture, let
us describe certain scenes taken from Spencer and Gillen.

One of the most important religious ceremonies among the Warramunga is
the one concerning the snake Wollunqua. It consists in a series of
ceremonies lasting through several days. On the fourth day comes the
following scene.

According to the ceremonial used among the Warramunga, representatives
of the two phratries take part, one as officiants, the other as
preparers and assistants. Only the members of the Uluuru phratry are
qualified to celebrate the rite, but the members of the Kingilli phratry
must decorate the actors, make ready the place and the instruments, and
play the part of an audience. In this capacity, they were charged with
making a sort of mound in advance out of wet sand, upon which a design
is marked with red down which represents the snake Wollunqua. The real
ceremony only commenced after nightfall. Towards ten or eleven o'clock,
the Uluuru and Kingilli men arrived on the ground, sat down on the mound
and commenced to sing. Everyone was evidently very excited. A little
later in the evening, the Uluuru brought up their wives and gave them
over to the Kingilli,[704] who had intercourse with them. Then the
recently initiated young men were brought in and the whole ceremony was
explained to them in detail, and until three o'clock in the morning
singing went on without a pause. Then followed a scene of the wildest
excitement. While fires were lighted on all sides, making the whiteness
of the gum-trees stand out sharply against the surrounding darkness, the
Uluuru knelt down one behind another beside the mound, then rising from
the ground they went around it, with a movement in unison, their two
hands resting upon their thighs, then a little farther on they knelt
down again, and so on. At the same time they swayed their bodies, now to
the right and now to the left, while uttering at each movement a
piercing cry, a veritable yell, "_Yrrsh! Yrrsh! Yrrsh!_" In the meantime
the Kingilli, in a state of great excitement, clanged their boomerangs
and their chief was even more agitated than his companions. When the
procession of the Uluuru had twice gone around the mound, quitting the
kneeling position, they sat down and commenced to sing again; at moments
the singing died away, then suddenly took up again. When day commenced
to dawn, all leaped to their feet; the fires that had gone out were
relighted and the Uluuru, urged on by the Kingilli, attacked the mound
furiously with boomerangs, lances and clubs; in a few minutes it was
torn to pieces. The fires died away and profound silence reigned

A still more violent scene at which these same observers assisted was in
connection with the fire ceremonies among the Warramunga.

Commencing at nightfall, all sorts of processions, dances and songs had
taken place by torchlight; the general effervescence was constantly
increasing. At a given moment, twelve assistants each took a great
lighted torch in their hands, and one of them holding his like a
bayonet, charged into a group of natives. Blows were warded off with
clubs and spears. A general mêlée followed. The men leaped and pranced
about, uttering savage yells all the time; the burning torches
continually came crashing down on the heads and bodies of the men,
scattering lighted sparks in every direction. "The smoke, the blazing
torches, the showers of sparks falling in all directions and the masses
of dancing, yelling men," say Spencer and Gillen, "formed altogether a
genuinely wild and savage scene of which it is impossible to convey any
adequate idea in words."[706]

One can readily conceive how, when arrived at this state of exaltation,
a man does not recognize himself any longer. Feeling himself dominated
and carried away by some sort of an external power which makes him think
and act differently than in normal times, he naturally has the
impression of being himself no longer. It seems to him that he has
become a new being: the decorations he puts on and the masks that cover
his face figure materially in this interior transformation, and to a
still greater extent, they aid in determining its nature. And as at the
same time all his companions feel themselves transformed in the same way
and express this sentiment by their cries, their gestures and their
general attitude, everything is just as though he really were
transported into a special world, entirely different from the one where
he ordinarily lives, and into an environment filled with exceptionally
intense forces that take hold of him and metamorphose him. How could
such experiences as these, especially when they are repeated every day.
for weeks, fail to leave in him the conviction that there really exist
two heterogeneous and mutually incomparable worlds? One is that where
his daily life drags wearily along; but he cannot penetrate into the
other without at once entering into relations with extraordinary powers
that excite him to the point of frenzy. The first is the profane world,
the second, that of sacred things.

So it is in the midst of these effervescent social environments and out
of this effervescence itself that the religious idea seems to be born.
The theory that this is really its origin is confirmed by the fact that
in Australia the really religious activity is almost entirely confined
to the moments when these assemblies are held. To be sure, there is no
people among whom the great solemnities of the cult are not more or less
periodic; but in the more advanced societies, there is not, so to speak,
a day when some prayer or offering is not addressed to the gods and some
ritual act is not performed. But in Australia, on the contrary, apart
from the celebrations of the clan and tribe, the time is nearly all
filled with lay and profane occupations. Of course there are
prohibitions that should be and are preserved even during these periods
of temporal activity; it is never permissible to kill or eat freely of
the totemic animal, at least in those parts where the interdiction has
retained its original vigour; but almost no positive rites are then
celebrated, and there are no ceremonies of any importance. These take
place only in the midst of assembled groups. The religious life of the
Australian passes through successive phases of complete lull and of
super-excitation, and social life oscillates in the same rhythm. This
puts clearly into evidence the bond uniting them to one another, but
among the peoples called civilized, the relative continuity of the two
blurs their relations. It might even be asked whether the violence of
this contrast was not necessary to disengage the feeling of sacredness
in its first form. By concentrating itself almost entirely in certain
determined moments, the collective life has been able to attain its
greatest intensity and efficacy, and consequently to give men a more
active sentiment of the double existence they lead and of the double
nature in which they participate.

But this explanation is still incomplete. We have shown how the clan, by
the manner in which it acts upon its members, awakens within them the
idea of external forces which dominate them and exalt them; but we must
still demand how it happens that these forces are thought of under the
form of totems, that is to say, in the shape of an animal or plant.

It is because this animal or plant has given its name to the clan and
serves it as emblem. In fact, it is a well-known law that the sentiments
aroused in us by something spontaneously attach themselves to the symbol
which represents them. For us, black is a sign of mourning; it also
suggests sad impressions and ideas. This transference of sentiments
comes simply from the fact that the idea of a thing and the idea of its
symbol are closely united in our minds; the result is that the emotions
provoked by the one extend contagiously to the other. But this
contagion, which takes place in every case to a certain degree, is much
more complete and more marked when the symbol is something simple,
definite and easily representable, while the thing itself, owing to its
dimensions, the number of its parts and the complexity of their
arrangement, is difficult to hold in the mind. For we are unable to
consider an abstract entity, which we can represent only laboriously and
confusedly, the source of the strong sentiments which we feel. We cannot
explain them to ourselves except by connecting them to some concrete
object of whose reality we are vividly aware. Then if the thing itself
does not fulfil this condition, it cannot serve as the accepted basis of
the sentiments felt, even though it may be what really aroused them.
Then some sign takes its place; it is to this that we connect the
emotions it excites. It is this which is loved, feared, respected; it is
to this that we are grateful; it is for this that we sacrifice
ourselves. The soldier who dies for his flag, dies for his country; but
as a matter of fact, in his own consciousness, it is the flag that has
the first place. It sometimes happens that this even directly determines
action. Whether one isolated standard remains in the hands of the enemy
or not does not determine the fate of the country, yet the soldier
allows himself to be killed to regain it. He loses sight of the fact
that the flag is only a sign, and that it has no value in itself, but
only brings to mind the reality that it represents; it is treated as if
it were this reality itself.

Now the totem is the flag of the clan. It is therefore natural that the
impressions aroused by the clan in individual minds--impressions of
dependence and of increased vitality--should fix themselves to the idea
of the totem rather than that of the clan: for the clan is too complex a
reality to be represented clearly in all its complex unity by such
rudimentary intelligences. More than that, the primitive does not even
see that these impressions come to him from the group. He does not know
that the coming together of a number of men associated in the same life
results in disengaging new energies, which transform each of them. All
that he knows is that he is raised above himself and that he sees a
different life from the one he ordinarily leads. However, he must
connect these sensations to some external object as their cause. Now
what does he see about him? On every side those things which appeal to
his senses and strike his imagination are the numerous images of the
totem. They are the waninga and the nurtunja, which are symbols of the
sacred being. They are churinga and bull-roarers, upon which are
generally carved combinations of lines having the same significance.
They are the decorations covering the different parts of his body,
which are totemic marks. How could this image, repeated everywhere and
in all sorts of forms, fail to stand out with exceptional relief in his
mind? Placed thus in the centre of the scene, it becomes representative.
The sentiments experienced fix themselves upon it, for it is the only
concrete object upon which they can fix themselves. It continues to
bring them to mind and to evoke them even after the assembly has
dissolved, for it survives the assembly, being carved upon the
instruments of the cult, upon the sides of rocks, upon bucklers, etc. By
it, the emotions experienced are perpetually sustained and revived.
Everything happens just as if they inspired them directly. It is still
more natural to attribute them to it for, since they are common to the
group, they can be associated only with something that is equally common
to all. Now the totemic emblem is the only thing satisfying this
condition. By definition, it is common to all. During the ceremony, it
is the centre of all regards. While generations change, it remains the
same; it is the permanent element of the social life. So it is from it
that those mysterious forces seem to emanate with which men feel that
they are related, and thus they have been led to represent these forces
under the form of the animate or inanimate being whose name the clan

When this point is once established, we are in a position to understand
all that is essential in the totemic beliefs.

Since religious force is nothing other than the collective and anonymous
force of the clan, and since this can be represented in the mind only in
the form of the totem, the totemic emblem is like the visible body of
the god. Therefore, it is from it that those kindly or dreadful actions
seem to emanate, which the cult seeks to provoke or prevent;
consequently, it is to it that the cult is addressed. This is the
explanation of why it holds the first place in the series of sacred

But the clan, like every other sort of society, can live only in and
through the individual consciousnesses that compose it. So if religious
force, in so far as it is conceived as incorporated in the totemic
emblem, appears to be outside of the individuals and to be endowed with
a sort of transcendence over them, it, like the clan of which it is the
symbol, can be realized only in and through them; in this sense, it is
imminent in them and they necessarily represent it as such. They feel it
present and active within them, for, it is this which raises them to a
superior life. This is why men have believed that they contain within
them a principle comparable to the one residing in the totem, and
consequently, why they have attributed a sacred character to themselves,
but one less marked than that of the emblem. It is because the emblem
is the pre-eminent source of the religious life; the man participates in
it only indirectly, as he is well aware; he takes into account the fact
that the force that transports him into the world of sacred things is
not inherent in him, but comes to him from the outside.

But for still another reason, the animals or vegetables of the totemic
species should have the same character, and even to a higher degree. If
the totemic principle is nothing else than the clan, it is the clan
thought of under the material form of the totemic emblem; now this form
is also that of the concrete beings whose name the clan bears. Owing to
this resemblance, they could not fail to evoke sentiments analogous to
those aroused by the emblem itself. Since the latter is the object of a
religious respect, they too should inspire respect of the same sort and
appear to be sacred. Having external forms so nearly identical, it would
be impossible for the native not to attribute to them forces of the same
nature. It is therefore forbidden to kill or eat the totemic animal,
since its flesh is believed to have the positive virtues resulting from
the rites; it is because it resembles the emblem of the clan, that is to
say, it is in its own image. And since the animal naturally resembles
the emblem more than the man does, it is placed on a superior rank in
the hierarchy of sacred things. Between these two beings there is
undoubtedly a close relationship, for they both partake of the same
essence: both incarnate something of the totemic principle. However,
since the principle itself is conceived under an animal form, the animal
seems to incarnate it more fully than the man. Therefore, if men
consider it and treat it as a brother, it is at least as an elder

But even if the totemic principle has its preferred seat in a determined
species of animal or vegetable, it cannot remain localized there. A
sacred character is to a high degree contagious;[708] it therefore
spreads out from the totemic being to everything that is closely or
remotely connected with it. The religious sentiments inspired by the
animal are communicated to the substances upon which it is nourished and
which serve to make or remake its flesh and blood, to the things that
resemble it, and to the different beings with which it has constant
relations. Thus, little by little, sub-totems are attached to the totems
and from the cosmological systems expressed by the primitive
classifications. At last, the whole world is divided up among the
totemic principles of each tribe.

We are now able to explain the origin of the ambiguity of religious
forces as they appear in history, and how they are physical as well as
human, moral as well as material. They are moral powers because they are
made up entirely of the impressions this moral being, the group, arouses
in those other moral beings, its individual members; they do not
translate the manner in which physical things affect our senses, but the
way in which the collective consciousness acts upon individual
consciousnesses. Their authority is only one form of the moral
ascendancy of society over its members. But, on the other hand, since
they are conceived of under material forms, they could not fail to be
regarded as closely related to material things.[709] Therefore they
dominate the two worlds. Their residence is in men, but at the same time
they are the vital principles of things. They animate minds and
discipline them, but it is also they who make plants grow and animals
reproduce. It is this double nature which has enabled religion to be
like the womb from which come all the leading germs of human
civilization. Since it has been made to embrace all of reality, the
physical world as well as the moral one, the forces that move bodies as
well as those that move minds have been conceived in a religious form.
That is how the most diverse methods and practices, both those that make
possible the continuation of the moral life (law, morals, beaux-arts)
and those serving the material life (the natural, technical and
practical sciences), are either directly or indirectly derived from


The first religious conceptions have often been attributed to feelings
of weakness and dependence, of fear and anguish which seized men when
they came into contact with the world. Being the victims of nightmares
of which they were themselves the creators, they believed themselves
surrounded by hostile and redoubtable powers which their rites sought to
appease. We have now shown that the first religions were of a wholly
different origin. The famous formula _Primus in orbe deos fecit timor_
is in no way justified by the facts. The primitive does not regard his
gods as foreigners, enemies or thoroughly and necessarily malevolent
beings whose favours he must acquire at any price; quite on the
contrary, they are rather friends, kindred or natural protectors for
him. Are these not the names he gives to the beings of the totemic
species? The power to which the cult is addressed is not represented as
soaring high above him and overwhelming him by its superiority; on the
contrary, it is very near to him and confers upon him very useful powers
which he could never acquire by himself. Perhaps the deity has never
been nearer to men than at this period of history, when it is present in
the things filling their immediate environment and is, in part, imminent
in himself. In fine, the sentiments at the root of totemism are those of
happy confidence rather than of terror and compression. If we set aside
the funeral rites--the sober side of every religion--we find the totemic
cult celebrated in the midst of songs, dances and dramatic
representations. As we shall see, cruel expiations are relatively rare;
even the painful and obligatory mutilations of the initiations are not
of this character. The terrible and jealous gods appear but slowly in
the religious evolution. This is because primitive societies are not
those huge Leviathans which overwhelm a man by the enormity of their
power and place him under a severe discipline;[711] he gives himself up
to them spontaneously and without resistance. As the social soul is then
made up of only a small number of ideas and sentiments, it easily
becomes wholly incarnate in each individual consciousness. The
individual carries it all inside of him; it is a part of him and
consequently, when he gives himself up to the impulses inspired by it,
he does not feel that he is giving way before compulsion, but that he is
going where his nature calls him.[712]

This way of understanding the origins of religious thought escapes the
objections raised against the most accredited classical theories.

We have seen how the naturists and animists pretend to construct the
idea of sacred beings out of the sensations evoked in us by different
phenomena of the physical or biological order, and we have shown how
this enterprise is impossible and even self-contradictory. Nothing is
worth nothing. The impressions produced in us by the physical world can,
by definition, contain nothing that surpasses this world. Out of the
visible, only the visible can be made; out of that which is heard, we
cannot make something not heard. Then to explain how the idea of
sacredness has been able to take form under these conditions, the
majority of the theorists have been obliged to admit that men have
superimposed upon reality, such as it is given by observation, an unreal
world, constructed entirely out of the fantastic images which agitate
his mind during a dream, or else out of the frequently monstrous
aberrations produced by the mythological imagination under the
bewitching but deceiving influence of language. But it remained
incomprehensible that humanity should have remained obstinate in these
errors through the ages, for experience should have very quickly proven
them false.

But from our point of view, these difficulties disappear. Religion
ceases to be an inexplicable hallucination and takes a foothold in
reality. In fact, we can say that the believer is not deceived when he
believes in the existence of a moral power upon which he depends and
from which he receives all that is best in himself: this power exists,
it is society. When the Australian is carried outside himself and feels
a new life flowing within him whose intensity surprises him, he is not
the dupe of an illusion; this exaltation is real and is really the
effect of forces outside of and superior to the individual. It is true
that he is wrong in thinking that this increase of vitality is the work
of a power in the form of some animal or plant. But this error is merely
in regard to the letter of the symbol by which this being is represented
to the mind and the external appearance which the imagination has given
it, and not in regard to the fact of its existence. Behind these figures
and metaphors, be they gross or refined, there is a concrete and living
reality. Thus religion acquires a meaning and a reasonableness that the
most intransigent rationalist cannot misunderstand. Its primary object
is not to give men a representation of the physical world; for if that
were its essential task, we could not understand how it has been able to
survive, for, on this side, it is scarcely more than a fabric of errors.
Before all, it is a system of ideas with which the individuals represent
to themselves the society of which they are members, and the obscure but
intimate relations which they have with it. This is its primary
function; and though metaphorical and symbolic, this representation is
not unfaithful. Quite on the contrary, it translates everything
essential in the relations which are to be explained: for it is an
eternal truth that outside of us there exists something greater than us,
with which we enter into communion.

That is why we can rest assured in advance that the practices of the
cult, whatever they may be, are something more than movements without
importance and gestures without efficacy. By the mere fact that their
apparent function is to strengthen the bonds attaching the believer to
his god, they at the same time really strengthen the bonds attaching the
individual to the society of which he is a member, since the god is only
a figurative expression of the society. We are even able to understand
how the fundamental truth thus contained in religion has been able to
compensate for the secondary errors which it almost necessarily implies,
and how believers have consequently been restrained from tearing
themselves off from it, in spite of the misunderstandings which must
result from these errors. It is undeniably true that the recipes which
it recommends that men use to act upon things are generally found to be
ineffective. But these checks can have no profound influence, for they
do not touch religion in its fundamentals.[713]

However, it may be objected that even according to this hypothesis,
religion remains the object of a certain delirium. What other name can
we give to that state when, after a collective effervescence, men
believe themselves transported into an entirely different world from the
one they have before their eyes?

It is certainly true that religious life cannot attain a certain degree
of intensity without implying a psychical exaltation not far removed
from delirium. That is why the prophets, the founders of religions, the
great saints, in a word, the men whose religious consciousness is
exceptionally sensitive, very frequently give signs of an excessive
nervousness that is even pathological: these physiological defects
predestined them to great religious rôles. The ritual use of
intoxicating liquors is to be explained in the same way.[714] Of course
this does not mean that an ardent religious faith is necessarily the
fruit of the drunkenness and mental derangement which accompany it; but
as experience soon informed people of the similarities between the
mentality of a delirious person and that of a seer, they sought to open
a way to the second by artificially exciting the first. But if, for this
reason, it may be said that religion is not without a certain delirium,
it must be added that this delirium, if it has the causes which we have
attributed to it, _is well-founded_. The images out of which it is made
are not pure illusions like those the naturists and animists put at the
basis of religion; they correspond to something in reality. Of course it
is only natural that the moral forces they express should be unable to
affect the human mind powerfully without pulling it outside itself and
without plunging it into a state that may be called _ecstatic_, provided
that the word be taken in its etymological sense ([Greek: ekstasis]);
but it does not follow that they are imaginary. Quite on the contrary,
the mental agitation they cause bears witness to their reality. It is
merely one more proof that a very intense social life always does a sort
of violence to the organism, as well as to the individual consciousness,
which interferes with its normal functioning. Therefore it can last only
a limited length of time.[715]

Moreover, if we give the name delirious to every state in which the mind
adds to the immediate data given by the senses and projects its own
sentiments and feelings into things, then nearly every collective
representation is in a sense delirious; religious beliefs are only one
particular case of a very general law. Our whole social environment
seems to us to be filled with forces which really exist only in our own
minds. We know what the flag is for the soldier; in itself, it is only a
piece of cloth. Human blood is only an organic liquid, but even to-day
we cannot see it flowing without feeling a violent emotion which its
physico-chemical properties cannot explain. From the physical point of
view, a man is nothing more than a system of cells, or from the mental
point of view, than a system of representations; in either case, he
differs only in degree from animals. Yet society conceives him, and
obliges us to conceive him, as invested with a character _sui generis_
that isolates him, holds at a distance all rash encroachments and, in a
word, imposes respect. This dignity which puts him into a class by
himself appears to us as one of his distinctive attributes, although we
can find nothing in the empirical nature of man which justifies it. A
cancelled postage stamp may be worth a fortune; but surely this value is
in no way implied in its natural properties. In a sense, our
representation of the external world is undoubtedly a mere fabric of
hallucinations, for the odours, tastes and colours that we put into
bodies are not really there, or at least, they are not such as we
perceive them. However, our olfactory, gustatory and visual sensations
continue to correspond to certain objective states of the things
represented; they express in their way the properties, either of
material particles or of ether waves, which certainly have their origin
in the bodies which we perceive as fragrant, sapid or coloured. But
collective representations very frequently attribute to the things to
which they are attached qualities which do not exist under any form or
to any degree. Out of the commonest object, they can make a most
powerful sacred being.

Yet the powers which are thus conferred, though purely ideal, act as
though they were real; they determine the conduct of men with the same
degree of necessity as physical forces. The Arunta who has been rubbed
with his churinga feels himself stronger; he is stronger. If he has
eaten the flesh of an animal which, though perfectly healthy, is
forbidden to him, he will feel himself sick, and may die of it. Surely
the soldier who falls while defending his flag does not believe that he
sacrifices himself for a bit of cloth. This is all because social
thought, owing to the imperative authority that is in it, has an
efficacy that individual thought could never have; by the power which it
has over our minds, it can make us see things in whatever light it
pleases; it adds to reality or deducts from it according to the
circumstances. Thus there is one division of nature where the formula of
idealism is applicable almost to the letter: this is the social kingdom.
Here more than anywhere else, the idea is the reality. Even in this
case, of course, idealism is not true without modification. We can never
escape the duality of our nature and free ourselves completely from
physical necessities: in order to express our own ideas to ourselves, it
is necessary, as has been shown above, that we fix them upon material
things which symbolize them. But here the part of matter is reduced to a
minimum. The object serving as support for the idea is not much in
comparison with the ideal superstructure, beneath which it disappears,
and also, it counts for nothing in the superstructure. This is what that
pseudo-delirium consists in, which we find at the bottom of so many
collective representations: it is only a form of this essential
idealism.[716] So it is not properly called a delirium, for the ideas
thus objectified are well founded, not in the nature of the material
things upon which they settle themselves, but in the nature of society.

We are now able to understand how the totemic principle, and in
general, every religious force, comes to be outside of the object in
which it resides.[717] It is because the idea of it is in no way made up
of the impressions directly produced by this thing upon our senses or
minds. Religious force is only the sentiment inspired by the group in
its members, but projected outside of the consciousnesses that
experience them, and objectified. To be objectified, they are fixed upon
some object which thus becomes sacred; but any object might fulfil this
function. In principle, there are none whose nature predestines them to
it to the exclusion of all others; but also there are none that are
necessarily impossible.[718] Everything depends upon the circumstances
which lead the sentiment creating religious ideas to establish itself
here or there, upon this point or upon that one. Therefore, the sacred
character assumed by an object is not implied in the intrinsic
properties of this latter: _it is added to them_. The world of religious
things is not one particular aspect of empirical nature; _it is
superimposed upon it_.

This conception of the religious, finally, allows us to explain an
important principle found at the bottom of a multitude of myths and
rites, and which may be stated thus: when a sacred thing is subdivided,
each of its parts remains equal to the thing itself. In other words, as
far as religious thought is concerned, the part is equal to the whole;
it has the same powers, the same efficacy. The debris of a relic has the
same virtue as a relic in good condition. The smallest drop of blood
contains the same active principle as the whole thing. The soul, as we
shall see, may be broken up into nearly as many pieces as there are
organs or tissues in the organism; each of these partial souls is worth
a whole soul. This conception would be inexplicable if the sacredness of
something were due to the constituent properties of the thing itself;
for in that case, it should vary with this thing, increasing and
decreasing with it. But if the virtues it is believed to possess are not
intrinsic in it, and if they come from certain sentiments which it
brings to mind and symbolizes, though these originate outside of it,
then, since it has no need of determined dimensions to play this rôle of
reminder, it will have the same value whether it is entire or not. Since
the part makes us think of the whole, it evokes the same sentiments as
the whole. A mere fragment of the flag represents the fatherland just as
well as the flag itself: so it is sacred in the same way and to the same


But if this theory of totemism has enabled us to explain the most
characteristic beliefs of this religion, it rests upon a fact not yet
explained. When the idea of the totem, the emblem of the clan, is given,
all the rest follows; but we must still investigate how this idea has
been formed. This is a double question and may be subdivided as follows:
What has led the clan to choose an emblem? and why have these emblems
been borrowed from the animal and vegetable worlds, and particularly
from the former?

That an emblem is useful as a rallying-centre for any sort of a group it
is superfluous to point out. By expressing the social unity in a
material form, it makes this more obvious to all, and for that very
reason the use of emblematic symbols must have spread quickly when once
thought of. But more than that, this idea should spontaneously arise out
of the conditions of common life; for the emblem is not merely a
convenient process for clarifying the sentiment society has of itself:
it also serves to create this sentiment; it is one of its constituent

In fact, if left to themselves, individual consciousnesses are closed to
each other; they can communicate only by means of signs which express
their internal states. If the communication established between them is
to become a real communion, that is to say, a fusion of all particular
sentiments into one common sentiment, the signs expressing them must
themselves be fused into one single and unique resultant. It is the
appearance of this that informs individuals that they are in harmony and
makes them conscious of their moral unity. It is by uttering the same
cry, pronouncing the same word, or performing the same gesture in regard
to some object that they become and feel themselves to be in unison. It
is true that individual representations also cause reactions in the
organism that are not without importance; however, they can be thought
of apart from these physical reactions which accompany them or follow
them, but which do not constitute them. But it is quite another matter
with collective representations. They presuppose that minds act and
react upon one another; they are the product of these actions and
reactions which are themselves possible only through material
intermediaries. These latter do not confine themselves to revealing the
mental state with which they are associated; they aid in creating it.
Individual minds cannot come in contact and communicate with each other
except by coming out of themselves; but they cannot do this except by
movements. So it is the homogeneity of these movements that gives the
group consciousness of itself and consequently makes it exist. When
this homogeneity is once established and these movements have once taken
a stereotyped form, they serve to symbolize the corresponding
representations. But they symbolize them only because they have aided in
forming them.

Moreover, without symbols, social sentiments could have only a
precarious existence. Though very strong as long as men are together and
influence each other reciprocally, they exist only in the form of
recollections after the assembly has ended, and when left to themselves,
these become feebler and feebler; for since the group is now no longer
present and active, individual temperaments easily regain the upper
hand. The violent passions which may have been released in the heart of
a crowd fall away and are extinguished when this is dissolved, and men
ask themselves with astonishment how they could ever have been so
carried away from their normal character. But if the movements by which
these sentiments are expressed are connected with something that
endures, the sentiments themselves become more durable. These other
things are constantly bringing them to mind and arousing them; it is as
though the cause which excited them in the first place continued to act.
Thus these systems of emblems, which are necessary if society is to
become conscious of itself, are no less indispensable for assuring the
continuation of this consciousness.

So we must refrain from regarding these symbols as simple artifices, as
sorts of labels attached to representations already made, in order to
make them more manageable: they are an integral part of them. Even the
fact that collective sentiments are thus attached to things completely
foreign to them is not purely conventional: it illustrates under a
conventional form a real characteristic of social facts, that is, their
transcendence over individual minds. In fact, it is known that social
phenomena are born, not in individuals, but in the group. Whatever part
we may take in their origin, each of us receives them from without.[720]
So when we represent them to ourselves as emanating from a material
object, we do not completely misunderstand their nature. Of course they
do not come from the specific thing to which we connect them, but
nevertheless, it is true that their origin is outside of us. If the
moral force sustaining the believer does not come from the idol he
adores or the emblem he venerates, still it is from outside of him, as
he is well aware. The objectivity of its symbol only translates its

Thus social life, in all its aspects and in every period of its history,
is made possible only by a vast symbolism. The material emblems and
figurative representations with which we are more especially concerned
in our present study, are one form of this; but there are many others.
Collective sentiments can just as well become incarnate in persons or
formulæ: some formulæ are flags, while there are persons, either real or
mythical, who are symbols. But there is one sort of emblem which should
make an early appearance without reflection or calculation: this is
tattooing. Indeed, well-known facts demonstrate that it is produced
almost automatically in certain conditions. When men of an inferior
culture are associated in a common life, they are frequently led, by an
instinctive tendency, as it were, to paint or cut upon the body, images
that bear witness to their common existence. According to a text of
Procopius, the early Christians printed on their skin the name of Christ
or the sign of the cross;[721] for a long time, the groups of pilgrims
going to Palestine were also tattooed on the arm or wrist with designs
representing the cross or the monogram of Christ.[722] This same usage
is also reported among the pilgrims going to certain holy places in
Italy.[723] A curious case of spontaneous tattooing is given by
Lombroso: twenty young men in an Italian college, when on the point of
separating, decorated themselves with tattoos recording, in various
ways, the years they had spent together.[724] The same fact has
frequently been observed among the soldiers in the same barracks, the
sailors in the same boat, or the prisoners in the same jail.[725] It
will be understood that especially where methods are still rudimentary,
tattooing should be the most direct and expressive means by which the
communion of minds can be affirmed. The best way of proving to one's
self and to others that one is a member of a certain group is to place a
distinctive mark on the body. The proof that this is the reason for the
existence of the totemic image is the fact, which we have already
mentioned, that it does not seek to reproduce the aspect of the thing it
is supposed to represent. It is made up of lines and points to which a
wholly conventional significance is attributed.[726] Its object is not
to represent or bring to mind a determined object, but to bear witness
to the fact that a certain number of individuals participate in the same
moral life.

Moreover, the clan is a society which is less able than any other to do
without an emblem or symbol, for there is almost no other so lacking in
consistency. The clan cannot be defined by its chief, for if central
authority is not lacking, it is at least uncertain and unstable.[727]
Nor can it be defined by the territory it occupies, for the population,
being nomad,[728] is not closely attached to any special locality. Also,
owing to the exogamic law, husband and wife must be of different totems;
so wherever the totem is transmitted in the maternal line--and this
system of filiation is still the most general one[729]--the children are
of a different clan from their father, though living near to him.
Therefore we find representatives of a number of different clans in each
family, and still more in each locality. The unity of the group is
visible, therefore, only in the collective name borne by all the
members, and in the equally collective emblem reproducing the object
designated by this name. A clan is essentially a reunion of individuals
who bear the same name and rally around the same sign. Take away the
name and the sign which materializes it, and the clan is no longer
representable. Since the group is possible only on this condition, both
the institution of the emblem and the part it takes in the life of the
group are thus explained.

It remains to ask why these names and emblems were taken almost
exclusively from the animal and vegetable kingdoms, but especially from
the former.

It seems probable to us that the emblem has played a more important part
than the name. In any case, the written sign still holds a more central
place in the life of the clan to-day than does the spoken sign. Now the
basis of an emblematic image can be found only in something susceptible
of being represented by a design. On the other hand, these things had to
be those with which the men of the clan were the most immediately and
habitually coming in contact. Animals fulfilled this condition to a
pre-eminent degree. For these nations of hunters and fishers, the animal
constituted an essential element of the economic environment. In this
connection plants had only a secondary place for they can hold only a
secondary place as food as long as they are not cultivated. Moreover,
the animal is more closely associated with the life of men than the
plant is, if only because of the natural kinship uniting these two to
each other. On the other hand, the sun, moon and stars are too far away,
they give the effect of belonging to another world.[730] Also, as long
as the constellations were not distinguished and classified, the starry
vault did not offer a sufficient diversity of clearly differentiated
things to be able to mark all the clans and sub-clans of a tribe; but,
on the contrary, the variety of the flora, and especially of the fauna,
was almost inexhaustible. Therefore celestial bodies, in spite of their
brilliancy and the sharp impression they make upon the senses, were
unfitted for the rôle of totems, while animals and plants seemed
predestined to it.

Ah observation of Strehlow even allows us to state precisely the way in
which these emblems were probably chosen. He says that he has noticed
that the totemic centres are generally situated near a mountain, spring
or gorge where the animals serving as totems to the group gather in
abundance, and he cites a certain number of examples of this fact.[731]
Now these totemic centres are surely the consecrated places where the
meetings of the clan are held. So it seems as though each group had
taken as its insignia the animal or plant that was the commonest in the
vicinity of the place where it had the habit of meeting.[732]


This conception of totemism will give us the explanation of a very
curious trait of human mentality which, even though more marked formerly
than to-day, has not yet disappeared and which, in any case, has been of
considerable importance in the history of human thought. It will furnish
still another occasion for showing how logical evolution is closely
connected with religious evolution and how it, like this latter, depends
upon social conditions.[733]

If there is one truth which appears to be absolutely certain to-day, it
is that beings differing not only in their outward appearance but also
in their most essential properties, such as minerals, plants, animals
and men, cannot be considered equivalent and interchangeable. Long
usage, which scientific culture has still more firmly embedded in our
minds, has taught us to establish barriers between the kingdoms, whose
existence transformism itself does not deny; for though this admits that
life may have arisen from non-living matter and men from animals, still,
it does not fail to recognize the fact that living beings, once formed,
are different from minerals, and men different from animals. Within each
kingdom the same barriers separate the different classes: we cannot
conceive of one mineral having the same distinctive characteristics as
another, or of one animal species having those of another species. But
these distinctions, which seem so natural to us, are in no way
primitive. In the beginning, all the kingdoms are confounded with each
other. Rocks have a sex; they have the power of begetting; the sun, moon
and stars are men or women who feel and express human sentiments, while
men, on the contrary, are thought of as animals or plants. This state of
confusion is found at the basis of all mythologies. Hence comes the
ambiguous character of the beings portrayed in the mythologies; they can
be classified in no definite group, for they participate at the same
time in the most opposed groups. It is also readily admitted that they
can go from one into another; and for a long time men believed that they
were able to explain the origin of things by these transmutations.

That the anthropomorphic instinct, with which the animists have endowed
primitive men, cannot explain their mental condition is shown by the
nature of the confusions of which they are guilty. In fact, these do not
come from the fact that men have immoderately extended the human kingdom
to the point of making all the others enter into it, but from the fact
that they confound the most disparate kingdoms. They have not conceived
the world in their own image any more than they have conceived
themselves in the world's image: they have done both at the same time.
Into the idea they have formed of things, they have undoubtedly made
human elements enter; but into the idea they have formed of themselves,
they have made enter elements coming from things.

Yet there is nothing in experience which could suggest these connections
and confusions. As far as the observation of the senses is able to go,
everything is different and disconnected. Nowhere do we really see
beings mixing their natures and metamorphosing themselves into each
other. It is therefore necessary that some exceptionally powerful cause
should have intervened to transfigure reality in such a way as to make
it appear under an aspect that is not really its own.

It is religion that was the agent of this transfiguration; it is
religious beliefs that have substituted for the world, as it is
perceived by the senses, another different one. This is well shown by
the case of totemism. The fundamental thing in this religion is that the
men of the clan and the different beings whose form the totemic emblems
reproduce pass as being made of the same essence. Now when this belief
was once admitted, the bridge between the different kingdoms was already
built. The man was represented as a sort of animal or plant; the plants
and animals were thought of as the relatives of men, or rather, all
these beings, so different for the senses, were thought of as
participating in a single nature. So this remarkable aptitude for
confusing things that seem to be obviously distinct comes from the fact
that the first forces with which the human intellect has peopled the
world were elaborated by religion. Since these were made up of elements
taken from the different kingdoms, men conceived a principle common to
the most heterogeneous things, which thus became endowed with a sole and
single essence.

But we also know that these religious conceptions are the result of
determined social causes. Since the clan cannot exist without a name and
an emblem, and since this emblem is always before the eyes of men, it is
upon this, and the objects whose image it is, that the sentiments which
society arouses in its members are fixed. Men were thus compelled to
represent the collective force, whose action they felt, in the form of
the thing serving as flag to the group. Therefore, in the idea of this
force were mixed up the most different kingdoms; in one sense, it was
essentially human, since it was made up of human ideas and sentiments;
but at the same time, it could not fail to appear as closely related to
the animate or inanimate beings who gave it its outward form. Moreover,
the cause whose action we observe here is not peculiar to totemism;
there is no society where it is not active. In a general way, a
collective sentiment can become conscious of itself only by being fixed
upon some material object;[734] but by this very fact, it participates
in the nature of this object, and reciprocally, the object participates
in its nature. So it was social necessity which brought about the fusion
of notions appearing distinct at first, and social life has facilitated
this fusion by the great mental effervescences it determines.[735] This
is one more proof that logical understanding is a function of society,
for it takes the forms and attitudes that this latter presses upon it.

It is true that this logic is disconcerting for us. Yet we must be
careful not to depreciate it: howsoever crude it may appear to us, it
has been an aid of the greatest importance in the intellectual evolution
of humanity. In fact, it is through it that the first explanation of the
world has been made possible. Of course the mental habits it implies
prevented men from seeing reality as their senses show it to them; but
as they show it, it has the grave inconvenience of allowing of no
explanation. For to explain is to attach things to each other and to
establish relations between them which make them appear to us as
functions of each other and as vibrating sympathetically according to an
internal law founded in their nature. But sensations, which see nothing
except from the outside, could never make them disclose these relations
and internal bonds; the intellect alone can create the notion of them.
When I learn that A regularly precedes B, my knowledge is increased by a
new fact; but my intelligence is not at all satisfied with a statement
which does not show its reason. I commence to _understand_ only if it is
possible for me to conceive B in a way that makes it appear to me as
something that is not foreign to A, and as united to A by some relation
of kinship. The great service that religions have rendered to thought is
that they have constructed a first representation of what these
relations of kinship between things may be. In the circumstances under
which it was attempted, the enterprise could obviously attain only
precarious results. But then, does it ever attain any that are definite,
and is it not always necessary to reconsider them? And also, it is less
important to succeed than to try. The essential thing was not to leave
the mind enslaved to visible appearances, but to teach it to dominate
them and to connect what the senses separated; for from the moment when
men have an idea that there are internal connections between things,
science and philosophy become possible. Religion opened up the way for
them. But if it has been able to play this part, it is only because it
is a social affair. In order to make a law for the impressions of the
senses and to substitute a new way of representing reality for them,
thought of a new sort had to be founded: this is collective thought. If
this alone has had this efficacy, it is because of the fact that to
create a world of ideals through which the world of experienced
realities would appear transfigured, a super-excitation of the
intellectual forces was necessary, which is possible only in and through

So it is far from true that this mentality has no connection with ours.
Our logic was born of this logic. The explanations of contemporary
science are surer of being objective because they are more methodical
and because they rest on more carefully controlled observations, but
they do not differ in nature from those which satisfy primitive thought.
To-day, as formerly, to explain is to show how one thing participates in
one or several others. It has been said that the participations of this
sort implied by the mythologies violate the principle of contradiction
and that they are by that opposed to those implied by scientific
explanations.[736] Is not the statement that a man is a kangaroo or the
sun a bird, equal to identifying the two with each other? But our manner
of thought is not different when we say of heat that it is a movement,
or of light that it is a vibration of the ether, etc. Every time that we
unite heterogeneous terms by an internal bond, we forcibly identify
contraries. Of course the terms we unite are not those which the
Australian brings together; we choose them according to different
criteria and for different reasons; but the processes by which the mind
puts them in connection do not differ essentially.

It is true that if primitive thought had that sort of general and
systematic indifference to contradictions which has been attributed to
it,[737] it would be in open contradiction on this point with modern
thought, which is always careful to remain consistent with itself. But
we do not believe that it is possible to characterize the mentality of
inferior societies by a single and exclusive inclination for
indistinction. If the primitive confounds things which we distinguish,
he also distinguishes things which we connect together, and he even
conceives these distinctions in the form of sharp and clear-cut
oppositions. Between two things which are classified in two different
phratries, there is not only separation, but even antagonism.[738] For
this reason, the same Australian who confounds the sun and the white
cockatoo, opposes this latter to the black cockatoo as to its contrary.
The two seem to him to belong to two separate classes between which
there is nothing in common. A still more marked opposition is that
existing between sacred things and profane things. They repel and
contradict each other with so much force that the mind refuses to think
of them at the same time. They mutually expel each other from the

Thus between the logic of religious thought and that of scientific
thought there is no abyss. The two are made up of the same elements,
though inequally and differently developed. The special characteristic
of the former seems to be its natural taste for immoderate confusions as
well as sharp contrasts. It is voluntarily excessive in each direction.
When it connects, it confounds; when it distinguishes, it opposes. It
knows no shades and measures, it seeks extremes; it consequently employs
logical mechanisms with a certain awkwardness, but it ignores none of



In the preceding chapters we have been studying the fundamental
principles of the totemic religion. We have seen that no idea of soul or
spirit or mythical personality is to be found among these. Yet, even if
the idea of spiritual beings is not at the foundation of totemism or,
consequently, of religious thought in general, still, there is no
religion where this notion is not met with. So it is important to see
how it is formed. To make sure that it is the product of a secondary
formation, we must discover the way in which it is derived from the more
essential conceptions which we have just described and explained.

Among the various spiritual beings, there is one which should receive
our attention first of all because it is the prototype after which the
others have been constructed: this is the soul.


Just as there is no known society without a religion, so there exist
none, howsoever crudely organized they may be, where we do not find a
whole system of collective representations concerning the soul, its
origin and its destiny. So far as we are able to judge from the data of
ethnology, the idea of the soul seems to have been contemporaneous with
humanity itself, and it seems to have had all of its essential
characteristics so well formulated at the very outset that the work of
the more advanced religions and philosophy has been practically confined
to refining it, while adding nothing that is really fundamental. In
fact, all the Australian societies admit that every human body shelters
an interior being, the principle of the life which animates it: this is
the soul. It sometimes happens, it is true, that women form an exception
to this general rule: there are tribes where they are believed to have
no souls.[739] If Dawson is to be believed, it is the same with young
children in the tribes that he has observed.[740] But these are
exceptional and probably late cases;[741] the last one even seems to be
suspect and may well be due to an erroneous interpretation of the

It is not easy to determine the idea which the Australian makes of the
soul, because it is so obscure and floating; but we should not be
surprised at this. If someone asked our own contemporaries, or even
those of them who believe most firmly in the existence of the soul, how
they represented it, the replies that he would receive would not have
much more coherence and precision. This is because we are dealing with a
very complex notion, into which a multitude of badly analysed
impressions enter, whose elaboration has been carried on for centuries,
though men have had no clear consciousness of it. Yet from this come the
most essential, though frequently contradictory, characteristics by
which it is defined.

In some cases they tell us that it has the external appearance of the
body.[743] But sometimes it is also represented as having the size of a
grain of sand; its dimensions are so reduced that it can pass through
the smallest crevices or the finest tissues.[744] We shall also see that
it is represented in the appearance of animals. This shows that its form
is essentially inconsistent and undetermined;[745] it varies from one
moment to another with the demands of circumstances or according to the
exigencies of the myth and the rite. The substance out of which it is
made is no less indefinable. It is not without matter, for it has a
form, howsoever vague this may be. And in fact, even during this life,
it has physical needs: it eats, and inversely, it may be eaten.
Sometimes it leaves the body, and in the course of its travels it
occasionally nourishes itself on foreign souls.[746] After it has once
been completely freed from the organism, it is thought to lead a life
absolutely analogous to the one it led in this world; it eats, drinks,
hunts, etc.[747] When it flutters among the branches of trees, it causes
rustlings and crackings which even profane ears hear.[748] But at the
same time, it is believed to be invisible to the vulgar.[749] It is true
that magicians or old men have the faculty of seeing souls; but it is in
virtue of special powers which they owe either to age or to a special
training that they perceive things which escape our senses. According to
Dawson, ordinary individuals enjoy the same privilege at only one moment
of their existence: when they are on the eve of a premature death.
Therefore this quasi-miraculous vision is considered a sinister omen.
Now, invisibility is generally considered one of the signs of
spirituality. So the soul is conceived as being immaterial to a certain
degree, for it does not affect the senses in the way bodies do: it has
no bones, as the tribes of the Tully River say.[750] In order to
conciliate all these opposed characteristics, they represent it as made
of some infinitely rare and subtle matter, like something ethereal,[751]
and comparable to a shadow or breath.[752]

It is distinct and independent of the body, for during this life it can
leave it at any moment. It does leave it during sleep, fainting spells,
etc.[753] It may even remain absent for some time without entailing
death; however, during these absences life is weakened and even stops if
the soul does not return home.[754] But it is especially at death that
this distinction and independence manifest themselves with the greatest
clarity. While the body no longer exists and no visible traces of it
remain, the soul continues to live: it leads an autonomous existence in
another world.

But howsoever real this duality may be, it is in no way absolute. It
would show a grave misunderstanding to represent the body as a sort of
habitat in which the soul resides, but with which it has only external
relations. Quite on the contrary, it is united to it by the closest
bonds; it is separable from it only imperfectly and with difficulty. We
have already seen that it has, or at least is able to have, its external
aspect. Consequently, everything that hurts the one hurts the other;
every wound of the body spreads to the soul.[755] It is so intimately
associated with the life of the organism that it grows with it and
decays with it. This is why a man who has attained a certain age enjoys
privileges refused to young men; it is because the religious principle
within him has acquired greater force and efficacy as he has advanced in
life. But when senility sets in, and the old man is no longer able to
take a useful part in the great religious ceremonies in which the vital
interests of the tribe are concerned, this respect is no longer accorded
to him. It is thought that weakness of the body is communicated to the
soul. Having the same powers no longer, he no longer has a right to the
same prestige.[756]

There is not only a close union of soul and body, but there is also a
partial confusion of the two. Just as there is something of the body in
the soul, since it sometimes reproduces its form, so there is something
of the soul in the body. Certain regions and certain products of the
organism are believed to have a special affinity with it: such is the
case with the heart, the breath, the placenta,[757] the blood,[758] the
shadow,[759] the liver, the fat of the liver, the kidneys,[760] etc.
These various material substrata are not mere habitations of the soul;
they are the soul itself seen from without. When blood flows, the soul
escapes with it. The soul is not in the breath; it is the breath. It and
the part of the body where it resides are only one. Hence comes the
conception according to which a man has a number of souls. Being
dispersed in various parts of the organism, the soul is differentiated
and broken up into fragments. Each organ has individualized, as it were,
the portion of the soul which it contains, and which has thus become a
distinct entity. The soul of the heart could not be that of the breath
or the shadow or the placenta. While they are all related, still they
are to be distinguished, and even have different names.[761]

Moreover, even if the soul is localized especially in certain parts of
the organism, it is not absent from the others. In varying degrees, it
is diffused through the whole body, as is well shown by the funeral
rites. After the last breath has been expired and the soul is believed
to be gone, it seems as though it should profit by the liberty thus
regained, to move about at will and to return as quickly as possible to
its real home, which is elsewhere. Nevertheless, it remains near to the
corpse; the bond uniting them has been loosened, but not broken. A whole
series of special rites are necessary to induce it to depart definitely.
It is invited to go by gestures and significant movements.[762] The way
is laid open for it, and outlets are arranged so that it can go more
easily.[763] This is because it has not left the body entirely; it was
too closely united to it to break away all at once. Hence comes the very
frequent rite of funeral anthropophagy; the flesh of the dead is eaten
because it is thought to contain a sacred principle, which is really
nothing more than the soul.[764] In order to drive it out definitely,
the flesh is melted, either by submitting it to the heat of the
sun,[765] or to that of an artificial fire.[766] The soul departs with
the liquids which result. But even the dry bones still retain some part
of it. Therefore they can be used as sacred objects or instruments of
magic;[767] or if someone wishes to give complete liberty to the
principle which they contain, he breaks these.[768]

But a moment does arrive when the final separation is accomplished; the
liberated soul takes flight. But by nature it is so intimately
associated with the body that this removal cannot take place without a
profound change in its condition. So it takes a new name also.[769]
Although keeping all the distinctive traits of the individual whom it
animated, his humours and his good and bad qualities,[770] still it has
become a new being. From that moment a new existence commences for it.

It goes to the land of souls. This land is conceived differently by
different tribes; sometimes different conceptions are found existing
side by side in the same society. For some, it is situated under the
earth, where each totemic group has its part. This is at the spot where
the first ancestors, the founders of the clan, entered the ground at a
certain time, and where they live since their death. In the subterranean
world there is a geographical disposition of the dead corresponding to
that of the living. There, the sun always shines and rivers flow which
never run dry. Such is the conception which Spencer and Gillen attribute
to the central tribes, Arunta,[771] Warramunga,[772] etc. It is found
again among the Wotjobaluk.[773] In other places, all the dead, no
matter what their totems may have been, are believed to live together in
the same place, which is more or less vaguely localized as beyond the
sea, in an island,[774] or on the shores of a lake.[775] Sometimes,
finally, it is into the sky, beyond the clouds, that the souls are
thought to go. "There," says Dawson, "there is a delectable land,
abounding in kangaroos and game of every sort, where men lead a happy
life. Souls meet again there and recognize one another."[776] It is
probable that certain of the features of this picture have been taken
from the paradise of the Christian missionaries;[777] but the idea that
souls, or at least some souls, enter the skies after death appears to be
quite indigenous; for it is found again in other parts of the

In general, all the souls meet the same fate and lead the same life.
However, a different treatment is sometimes accorded them based on the
way they have conducted themselves upon earth, and we can see the first
outlines of these two distinct and even opposed compartments into which
the world to come will later be divided. The souls of those who have
excelled, during life, as hunters, warriors, dancers, etc., are not
confounded with the common horde of the others; a special place is
granted to them.[779] Sometimes, this is the sky.[780] Strehlow even
says that according to one myth, the souls of the wicked are devoured by
dreadful spirits, and destroyed.[781] Nevertheless, these conceptions
always remain very vague in Australia;[782] they begin to have a clarity
and determination only in the more advanced societies, such as those of


Such are the beliefs relative to the soul and its destiny, in their most
primitive form, and reduced to their most essential traits. We must now
attempt to explain them. What is it that has been able to lead men into
thinking that there are two beings in them, one of which possesses these
very special characteristics which we have just enumerated? To find the
reply to this question, let us begin by seeking the origin attributed to
this spiritual principle by the primitive himself: if it is well
analysed, his own conception will put us on the way towards the

Following out the method which we have set before ourselves, we shall
study these ideas in a determined group of societies where they have
been observed with an especial precision; these are the tribes of
Central Australia. Though not narrow, the area of our observations will
be limited. But there is good reason for believing that these same ideas
are quite generally held, in various forms, even outside of Australia.
It is also to be noted that the idea of the soul, as it is found among
these central tribes, does not differ specifically from the one found in
other tribes; it has the same essential characteristics everywhere. As
one effect always has the same cause, we may well think that this idea,
which is everywhere the same, does not result from one cause here and
another there. So the origin which we shall be led to attribute to it as
a result of our study of these particular tribes with which we are going
to deal, ought to be equally true for the others. These tribes will give
us a chance to make an experiment, as it were, whose results, like those
of every well-made experiment, are susceptible of generalization. The
homogeneity of the Australian civilization would of itself be enough to
justify this generalization; but we shall be careful to verify it
afterwards with facts taken from other peoples, both in Australia and

As the conceptions which are going to furnish us with the basis of our
demonstration have been reported in different terms by Spencer and
Gillen on the one hand and Strehlow on the other, we must give these two
versions one after the other. We shall see that when they are well
understood, they differ in form more than in matter, and that they both
have the same sociological significance.

According to Spencer and Gillen, the souls which, in each generation,
come to animate the bodies of newly-born children, are not special and
original creations; all these tribes hold that there is a definite stock
of souls, whose number cannot be augmented at all,[784] and which
reincarnate themselves periodically. When an individual dies, his soul
quits the body in which it dwelt, and after the mourning is
accomplished, it goes to the land of the souls; but after a certain
length of time, it returns to incarnate itself again, and these
reincarnations are the cause of conception and birth. At the beginning
of things, it was these fundamental souls which animated the first
ancestors, the founders of the clan. At an epoch, beyond which the
imagination does not go and which is considered the very beginning of
time, there were certain beings who were not derived from any others.
For this reason, the Arunta call them the _Altjirangamitjina_,[785] the
uncreated ones, those who exist from all eternity, and, according to
Spencer and Gillen, they give the name _Alcheringa_[786] to the period
when these fabulous beings are thought to have lived. Being organized in
totemic clans just as the men of to-day are, they passed their time in
travels, in the course of which they accomplished all sorts of
prodigious actions, the memory of which is preserved in the myths. But a
moment arrived when this terrestrial life came to a close; singly or in
groups, they entered into the earth. But their souls live for ever; they
are immortal. They even continue to frequent the places where the
existence of their former hosts came to an end. Moreover, owing to the
memories attached to them, these places have a sacred character; it is
here that the oknanikilla are located, the sorts of sanctuaries where
the churinga of the clan is kept, and the centres of the different
totemic cults. When one of the souls which wander about these
sanctuaries enters into the body of a woman, the result is a conception
and later a birth.[787] So each individual is considered as a new
appearance of a determined ancestor: it is this ancestor himself, come
back in a new body and with new features. Now, what were these

In the first place, they were endowed with powers infinitely superior to
those possessed by men to-day, even the most respected old men and the
most celebrated magicians. They are attributed virtues which we may
speak of as miraculous: "They could travel on, or above, or beneath the
ground; by opening a vein in the arm, each of them could flood whole
tracts of country or cause level plains to arise; in rocky ranges they
could make pools of water spring into existence, or could make deep
gorges and gaps through which to traverse the ranges, and where they
planted their sacred poles (nurtunja), there rocks or trees arose to
mark the spot."[788] It is they who gave the earth the form it has at
present. They created all sorts of beings, both men and animals. They
are nearly gods. So their souls also have a divine character. And since
the souls of men are these ancestral souls reincarnated in the human
body, these are sacred beings too.

In the second place, these ancestors were not men in the proper sense of
the word, but animals or vegetables, or perhaps mixed beings in which
the animal or vegetable element predominated: "In the Alcheringa," say
Spencer and Gillen, "lived ancestors who, in the native mind, are so
intimately associated with the animals or plants the name of which they
bear that an Alcheringa man of, say, the kangaroo totem may sometimes be
spoken of either as a man-kangaroo or a kangaroo-man. The identity of
the human individual is often sunk in that of the animal or plant from
which he is supposed to have originated."[789] Their immortal souls
necessarily have the same nature; in them, also, the human element is
wedded to the animal element, with a certain tendency for the latter to
predominate over the former. So they are made of the same substance as
the totemic principle, for we know that the special characteristic of
this is to present this double nature, and to synthesize and confound
the two realms in itself.

Since no other souls than these exist, we reach the conclusion that, in
a general way, the soul is nothing other than the totemic principle
incarnate in each individual. And there is nothing to surprise us in
this derivation. We already know that this principle is immanent in each
of the members of the clan. But in penetrating into these individuals,
it must inevitably individualize itself. Because the consciousnesses, of
which it becomes thus an integral part, differ from each other, it
differentiates itself according to their image; since each has its own
physiognomy, it takes a distinct physiognomy in each. Of course it
remains something outside of and foreign to the man, but the portion of
it which each is believed to possess cannot fail to contract close
affinities with the particular subject in which it resides; it becomes
his to a certain extent. Thus it has two contradictory characteristics,
but whose coexistence is one of the distinctive features of the notion
of the soul. To-day, as formerly, the soul is what is best and most
profound in ourselves, and the pre-eminent part of our being; yet it is
also a passing guest which comes from the outside, which leads in us an
existence distinct from that of the body, and which should one day
regain its entire independence. In a word, just as society exists only
in and through individuals, the totemic principle exists only in and
through the individual consciousnesses whose association forms the clan.
If they did not feel it in them it would not exist; it is they who put
it into things. So it must of necessity be divided and distributed among
them. Each of these fragments is a soul.

A myth which is found in a rather large number of the societies of the
centre, and which, moreover, is only a particular form of the preceding
ones, shows even better that this is really the matter out of which the
idea of the soul is made. In these tribes, tradition puts the origin of
each clan, not in a number of ancestors, but in only two,[790] or even
in one.[791] This unique being, as long as he remained single, contained
the totemic principle within him integrally, for at this moment there
was nothing to which this principle could be communicated. Now,
according to this same tradition, all the human souls which exist, both
those which now animate the bodies of men and those which are at present
unemployed, being held in reserve for the future, have issued from this
unique personage; they are made of his substance. While travelling over
the surface of the ground, or moving about, or shaking himself, he made
them leave his body and planted them in the various places he is
believed to have passed over. Is this not merely a symbolic way of
saying that they are parts of the totemic divinity?

But this conclusion presupposes that the tribes of which we have just
been speaking admit the doctrine of reincarnation. Now according to
Strehlow, this doctrine is unknown to the Arunta, the society which
Spencer and Gillen have studied the longest and the best. If, in this
particular case, these two observers have misunderstood things to such
an extent, their whole testimony would become suspect. So it is
important to determine the actual extent of this divergence.

According to Strehlow, after the soul has once been definitely freed
from the body by the rites of mourning, it never reincarnates itself
again. It goes off to the isles of the dead, where it passes its days in
sleeping and its nights in dancing, until it returns again to earth.
Then it comes back into the midst of the living and plays the rôle of
protecting genius to the young sons, or if such are lacking, to the
grandsons whom the dead man left behind him; it enters their body and
aids their growth. It remains thus in the midst of its former family for
a year or two, after which it goes back to the land of the souls. But
after a certain length of time it goes away once more to make another
sojourn upon earth, which is to be the last. A time will come when it
must take up again, and with no hope of return this time, the route to
the isles of the dead; then, after various incidents, the details of
which it is useless to relate, a storm will overtake it, in the course
of which it will be struck by a flash of lightning. Thus its career is
definitely terminated.[792]

So it cannot reincarnate itself; nor can conceptions and births be due
to the reincarnation of souls which periodically commence new existences
in new bodies. It is true that Strehlow, as Spencer and Gillen, declares
that for the Arunta commerce of the sexes is in no way the determining
condition of generation,[793] which is considered the result of mystic
operations, but different from the ones which the other observers told
us about. It takes place in one or the other of the two following ways:

Wherever an ancestor of the Alcheringa[794] times is believed to have
entered into the ground, there is either a stone or a tree representing
his body. The tree or rock which has this mystic relation with the
departed hero is called _nanja_ according to Spencer and Gillen,[795]
or _ngarra_ according to Strehlow.[796] Sometimes it is a water-hole
which is believed to have been formed in this way. Now, on each of these
trees or rocks and in each of these water-holes, there live embryo
children, called _ratapa_,[797] which belong to exactly the same totem
as the corresponding ancestor. For example, on a gum-tree representing
an ancestor of the kangaroo totem there are ratapa, all of which have
the kangaroo as their totem. If a woman happens to pass it, and she is
of the matrimonial class to which the mothers of these ratapa should
belong,[798] one of them may enter her through the hip. The woman learns
of this act by the characteristic pains which are the first symptoms of
pregnancy. The child thus conceived will of course belong to the same
totem as the ancestor upon whose mystical body he resided before
becoming incarnate.[799]

In other cases, the process employed is slightly different: the ancestor
himself acts in person. At a given moment he leaves his subterranean
retreat and throws on to the passing woman a little churinga of a
special form, called _namatuna_.[800] The churinga enters the body of
the woman and takes a human form there, while the ancestor disappears
again into the earth.[801]

These two ways of conception are believed to be equally frequent. The
features of the child will reveal the manner in which he was conceived;
according to whether his face is broad or long, they say that he is the
incarnation of a ratapa or a namatuna. Beside these two means of
fecundation, Strehlow places a third, which, however, is much more rare.
After his namatuna has penetrated into the body of the woman, the
ancestor himself enters her and voluntarily submits to a new birth. So
in this case, the conception is due to a real reincarnation of the
ancestor. But this is very exceptional, and when a man who has been
conceived thus dies, the ancestral soul which animated him goes away,
just like ordinary souls, to the isles of the dead where, after the
usual delays, it is definitely annihilated. So it cannot undergo any
further reincarnations.[802]

Such is the version of Strehlow.[803] In the opinion of this author it
is radically opposed to that of Spencer and Gillen. But in reality it
differs only in the letter of the formulæ and symbols, while in both
cases we find the same mythical theme in slightly different forms.

In the first place, all the observers agree that every conception is the
result of an incarnation. Only according to Strehlow, that which is
incarnated is not a soul but a ratapa or a namatuna. But what is a
ratapa? Strehlow says that it is a complete embryo, made up of a soul
and a body. But the soul is always represented in material forms; it
sleeps, dances, hunts, eats, etc. So it, too, has a corporal element.
Inversely, the ratapa is invisible to ordinary men; no one sees it as it
enters the body of the woman;[804] this is equivalent to saying that it
is made of a matter quite similar to that of the soul. So it hardly
seems possible to differentiate the two clearly in this regard. In
reality, these are mythical beings which are obviously conceived after
the same model. Schulze calls them the souls of children.[805] Moreover,
the ratapa, just like the soul, sustains the closest relations with the
ancestor of which the sacred tree or rock is the materialized form. It
is of the same totem as this ancestor, of the same phratry and of the
same matrimonial class.[806] Its place in the social organization of the
tribe is the very one that its ancestor is believed to have held before
it. It bears the same name,[807] which is a proof that these two
personalities are at least very closely related to one another.

But there is more than this; this relationship even goes as far as a
complete identification. In fact, it is on the mystic body of the
ancestor that the ratapa is formed; it comes from this; it is like a
detached portion of it. So it really is a part of the ancestor which
penetrates into the womb of the mother and which becomes the child. Thus
we get back to the conception of Spencer and Gillen: birth is due to the
reincarnation of an ancestral personage. Of course it is not the entire
person that is reincarnated, it is only an emanation from him. But this
difference has only a secondary interest, for when a sacred being
divides and duplicates itself, all of its essential characteristics are
to be found again in each of the fragments into which it is broken up.
So really the Alcheringa ancestor is entire in each part of himself
which becomes a ratapa.[808]

The second mode of conception distinguished by Strehlow has the same
significance. In fact, the churinga, and more especially the particular
churinga that is called the namatuna, is considered a transformation of
the ancestor; according to Strehlow,[809] it is his body, just as the
nanja tree is. In other words, the personality of the ancestor, his
churinga and his nanja tree, are sacred things, inspiring the same
sentiments and to which the same religious value is attributed. So they
transmute themselves into one another: in the spot where an ancestor
lost his churinga, a sacred tree or rock has come out of the soil, just
the same as in those places where he entered the ground himself.[810] So
there is a mythological equivalence of a person of the Alcheringa and
his churinga; consequently, when the former throws a namatuna into the
body of a woman, it is as if he entered into it himself. In fact, we
have seen that sometimes he does enter in person after the namatuna;
according to other stories he precedes it; it might be said that he
opens up the way for it.[811] The fact that these two themes exist side
by side in the same myth completes the proof that one is only a doublet
of the other.

Moreover, in whatever way the conception may have taken place, there can
be no doubt that each individual is united to some determined ancestor
of the Alcheringa by especially close bonds. In the first place, each
man has his appointed ancestor; two persons cannot have the same one
simultaneously. In other words, a being of the Alcheringa never has more
than one representative among the living.[812] More than that, the one
is only an aspect of the other. In fact, as we already know, the
churinga left by the ancestor expresses his personality; if we adopt the
interpretation of Strehlow, which, perhaps, is the more satisfactory, we
shall say that it is his body. But this same churinga is related in the
same way to the individual who is believed to have been conceived under
the influence of this ancestor, and who is the fruit of his mystic
works. When the young initiate is introduced into the sanctuary of the
clan, he is shown the churinga of his ancestor, and someone says to him,
"You are this body; you are the same thing as this."[813] So, in
Strehlow's own expression, the churinga is "the body common to the
individual and his ancestor."[814] Now if they are to have the same body
it is necessary that on one side at least their two personalities be
confounded. Strehlow recognizes this explicitly, moreover, when he says,
"By the tjurunga (churinga) the individual is united to his personal

So for Strehlow as well as for Spencer and Gillen, there is a mystic,
religious principle in each new-born child, which emanates from an
ancestor of the Alcheringa. It is this principle which forms the essence
of each individual, therefore it is his soul, or in any case the soul is
made of the same matter and the same substance. Now it is only upon this
one fundamental fact that we have relied in determining the nature and
origin of the idea of the soul. The different metaphors by means of
which it may have been expressed have only a secondary interest for

Far from contradicting the data upon which our theory rests, the recent
observations of Strehlow bring new proofs confirming it. Our reasoning
consisted in inferring the totemic nature of the human soul from the
totemic nature of the ancestral soul, of which the former is an
emanation and a sort of replica. Now, some of the new facts which we owe
to Strehlow show this character of both even more categorically than
those we had at our disposal before do. In the first place, Strehlow,
like Spencer and Gillen, insists on "the intimate relations uniting each
ancestor to an animal, to a plant, or to some other natural object."
Some of these Altjirangamitjina (these are Spencer and Gillen's men of
the Alcheringa) "should," he says, "be manifested directly as animals;
others take the animal form in a way."[817] Even now they are constantly
transforming themselves into animals.[818] In any case, whatever
external aspect they may have, "the special and distinctive qualities of
the animal clearly appear in each of them." For example, the ancestors
of the Kangaroo clan eat grass just like real kangaroos, and flee before
the hunter; those of the Emu clan run and feed like emus,[819] etc. More
than that, those ancestors who had a vegetable as totem become this
vegetable itself on death.[820] Moreover, this close kinship of the
ancestor and the totemic being is so keenly felt by the natives that it
is shown even in their terminology. Among the Arunta, the child calls
the totem of his mother, which serves him as a secondary totem,[821]
_altjira_. As filiation was at first in the uterine line, there was once
a time when each individual had no other totem than that of his mother;
so it is very probable that the term _altjira_ then designated the real
totem. Now this clearly enters into the composition of the word which
means great ancestor, _altjirangamitjina_.[822]

The idea of the totem and that of the ancestor are even so closely
kindred that they sometimes seem to be confounded. Thus, after speaking
of the totem of the mother, or _altjira_, Strehlow goes on to say, "This
altjira appears to the natives in dreams and gives them warnings, just
as it takes information concerning them to their sleeping friends."[823]
This _altjira_, which speaks and which is attached to each individual
personally, is evidently an ancestor; yet it is also an incarnation of
the totem. A certain text in Roth, which speaks of invocations addressed
to the totem, should certainly be interpreted in this sense.[824] So it
appears that the totem is sometimes represented in the mind in the form
of a group of ideal beings or mythical personages who are more or less
indistinct from the ancestors. In a word, the ancestors are the
fragments of the totem.[825]

But if the ancestor is so readily confused with the totemic being, the
individual soul, which is so near the ancestral soul, cannot do
otherwise. Moreover, this is what actually results from the close union
of each man with his churinga. In fact, we know that the churinga
represents the personality of the individual who is believed to have
been born of it;[826] but it also expresses the totemic animal. When the
civilizing hero, Mangarkunjerkunja, presented each member of the
Kangaroo clan with his personal totem, he spoke as follows: "Here is the
body of a kangaroo."[827] Thus the churinga is at once the body of the
ancestor, of the individual himself and of the totemic animal; so,
according to a strong and very just expression of Strehlow, these three
beings form a "solid unity."[828] They are almost equivalent and
interchangeable terms. This is as much as to say that they are thought
of as different aspects of one and the same reality, which is also
defined by the distinctive attributes of the totem. Their common essence
is the totemic principle. The language itself expresses this identity.
The word ratapa, and the _aratapi_ of the Loritja language, designate
the mythical embryo which is detached from the ancestor and which
becomes the child; now these same words also designate the totem of this
same child, such as is determined by the spot where the mother believes
that she conceived.[829]


Up to the present we have studied the doctrine of reincarnation only in
the tribes of Central Australia; therefore the bases upon which our
inference rests may be deemed too narrow. But in the first place, for
the reasons which we have pointed out, the experiment holds good outside
of the societies which we have observed directly. Also, there are
abundant facts proving that the same or analogous conceptions are found
in the most diverse parts of Australia or, at least, have left very
evident traces there. They are found even in America.

Howitt mentions them among the Dieri of South Australia.[830] The word
_Mura-mura_, which Gason translates with Good Spirit and which he thinks
expresses a belief in a god creator,[831] is really a collective word
designating the group of ancestors placed by the myth at the beginning
of the tribe. They continue to exist to-day as formerly. "They are
believed to live in trees, which are sacred for this reason." Certain
irregularities of the ground, rocks and springs are identified with
these Mura-mura,[832] which consequently resemble the Altjirangamitjina
of the Arunta in a singular way. The Kurnai of Gippsland, though
retaining only vestiges of totemism, also believe in the existence of
ancestors called _Muk-Kurnai_, and which they think of as beings
intermediate between men and animals.[833] Among the Nimbaldi, Taplin
has observed a theory of conception similar to that which Strehlow
attributes to the Arunta.[834] We find this belief in reincarnation held
integrally by the Wotjobaluk in Victoria. "The spirits of the dead,"
says Mathews, "assemble in the _miyur_[835] of their respective clans;
they leave these to be born again in human form when a favourable
occasion presents itself."[836] Mathews even affirms that "the belief in
the reincarnation or transmigration of souls is strongly enrooted in all
the Australian tribes."[837]

If we pass to the northern regions we find the pure doctrine of the
Arunta among the Niol-Niol in the north-west; every birth is attributed
to the incarnation of a pre-existing soul, which introduces itself into
the body of a woman.[838] In northern Queensland myths, differing from
the preceding only in form, express exactly the same ideas. Among the
tribes on the Pennefather River it is believed that every man has two
souls: the one, called _ngai_, resides in the heart; the other, called
_choi_, remains in the placenta. Soon after birth the placenta is buried
in a consecrated place. A particular genius, named Anje-a, who has
charge of the phenomena of procreation, comes to get this _choi_ and
keeps it until the child, being grown up, is married. When the time
comes to give him a son, Anje-a takes a bit of the choi of this man,
places it in the embryo he is making, and inserts it into the womb of
the mother. So it is out of the soul of the father that that of the
child is made. It is true that the child does not receive the paternal
soul integrally at first, for the _ngai_ remains in the heart of the
father as long as he lives. But when he dies the _ngai_, being
liberated, also incarnates itself in the bodies of the children; if
there are several children it is divided equally among them. Thus there
is a perfect spiritual continuity between the generations; it is the
same soul which is transmitted from a father to his children and from
these to their children, and this unique soul, always remaining itself
in spite of its successive divisions and subdivisions, is the one which
animated the first ancestor at the beginning of all things.[839] Between
this theory and the one held by the central tribes there is only one
difference of any importance; this is that the reincarnation is not the
work of the ancestors themselves but that of a special genius who takes
charge of this function professionally. But it seems probable that this
genius is the product of a syncretism which has fused the numerous
figures of the first ancestors into one single being. This hypothesis is
at least made probable by the fact that the words Anje-a and Anjir are
evidently very closely related; now the second designates the first man,
the original ancestor from whom all men are descended.[840]

These same ideas are found again among the Indian tribes of America.
Krauss says that among the Tlinkit, the souls of the departed are
believed to come back to earth and introduce themselves into the bodies
of the pregnant women of their families. "So when a woman dreams, during
pregnancy, of some deceased relative, she believes that the soul of this
latter has penetrated into her. If the young child has some
characteristic mark which the dead man had before, they believe that it
is the dead man himself come back to earth, and his name is given to the
child."[841] This belief is also general among the Haida. It is the
shaman who reveals which relative it was who reincarnated himself in the
child and what name should consequently be given to him.[842] Among the
Kwakiutl it is believed that the latest member of a family who died
comes back to life in the person of the first child to be born in that
family.[843] It is the same with the Hurons, the Iroquois, the Tinneh,
and many other tribes of the United States.[844]

The universality of these conceptions extends, of course, to the
conclusion which we have deduced from them, that is, to the explanation
of the idea of the soul which we have proposed. Its general
acceptability is also proved by the following facts.

We know[845] that each individual contains within him something of that
anonymous force which is diffused in the sacred species; he is a member
of this species himself. But as an empirical and visible being, he is
not, for, in spite of the symbolic designs and marks with which he
decorates his body, there is nothing in him to suggest the form of an
animal or plant. So it must be that there is another being in him, in
whom he recognizes himself, but whom he represents in the form of an
animal or vegetable species. Now is it not evident that this double can
only be the soul, since the soul is, of itself, already a double of the
subject whom it animates? The justification of this identification is
completed by the fact that the organs where the fragment of the totemic
principle contained in each individual incarnates itself the most
eminently are also those where the soul resides. This is the case with
the blood. The blood contains something of the nature of the totem, as
is proved by the part it takes in the totemic ceremonies.[846] But at
the same time, the blood is one of the seats of the soul; or rather, it
is the soul itself, seen from without. When blood flows, life runs out
and, in the same process, the soul escapes. So the soul is confused with
the sacred principle which is imminent in the blood.

Regarding matters from another point of view, if our explanation is
well-founded, the totemic principle, in penetrating into the individual
as we suppose, should retain a certain amount of autonomy there, since
it is quite distinct from the subject in whom it is incarnated. Now this
is just what Howitt claims to have observed among the Yuin: "That in
this tribe the totem is thought to be in some way part of a man is
clearly seen by the case of Umbara, before mentioned, who told me that,
many years ago, someone of the Lace-lizard totem sent it while he was
asleep, and that it went down his throat and almost ate his totem, which
was in his breast, so that he nearly died."[847] So it is quite true
that the totem is broken up in individualizing itself and that each of
the bits thus detached plays the part of a spirit or soul residing in
the body.[848]

But there are other more clearly demonstrative facts. If the soul is
only the totemic principle individualized, it should have, in certain
cases at least, rather close relations with the animal or vegetable
species whose form is reproduced by the totem. And, in fact, "the
Geawe-Gal (a tribe of New South Wales) had a superstition that everyone
had within himself an affinity to the spirit of some bird, beast or
reptile. Not that he sprung from the creature in any way, but that the
spirit which was in him was akin to that of the creature."[849]

There are even cases where the soul is believed to emanate directly from
the animal or vegetable serving as totem. Among the Arunta, according to
Strehlow, when a woman has eaten a great deal of fruit, it is believed
that she will give birth to a child who will have this fruit as totem.
If, at the moment when she felt the first tremblings of the child, she
was looking at a kangaroo, it is believed that the ratapa of the
kangaroo has entered her body and fertilized her.[850] H. Basedow
reported the same fact from the Wogait.[851] We know, also, that the
ratapa and the soul are almost indistinguishable things. Now, such an
origin could never have been attributed to the soul if men did not think
that it was made out of the same substances as the plants and animals of
the totemic species.

Thus the soul is frequently represented in an animal form. It is known
that in inferior societies, death is never considered a natural event,
due to the action of purely physical causes; it is generally attributed
to the evil workings of some sorcerer. In a large number of Australian
societies, in order to determine who is the responsible author of this
murder, they work on the principle that the soul of the murderer must
inevitably come to visit its victim. Therefore, the body is placed upon
a scaffolding; then, the ground under the corpse and all around it is
carefully smoothed off so that the slightest mark becomes easily
perceptible. They return the next day; if an animal has passed by there
during the interval, its tracks are readily recognizable. Their form
reveals the species to which it belongs, and from that, they infer the
social group of which the guilty man is a member. They say that it is a
man of such a class or such a clan,[852] according to whether the
animal is the totem of this or that class or clan. So the soul is
believed to have come in the form of the totemic animal.

In other societies where totemism has weakened or disappeared, the soul
still continues to be thought of in an animal form. The natives of Cape
Bedford (North Queensland) believe that the child, at the moment of
entering the body of its mother, is a curlew if it is a girl, or a snake
if it is a boy.[853] It is only later that it takes a human form. Many
of the Indians of North America, says the Prince of Wied, say that they
have an animal in their bodies.[854] The Bororo of Brazil represent the
soul in the form of a bird, and therefore believe that they are birds of
the same variety.[855] In other places, it is thought of as a snake, a
lizard, a fly, a bee, etc.[856]

But it is especially after death that this animal nature of the soul is
manifested. During life, this characteristic is partially veiled, as it
were, by the very form of the human body. But when death has once set it
free, it becomes itself again. Among the Omaha, in at least two of the
Buffalo clans, it is believed that the souls of the dead go to rejoin
the buffalo, their ancestors.[857] The Hopi are divided into a certain
number of clans, whose ancestors were animals or beings with animal
forms. Now Schoolcraft tells us that they say that at death, they take
their original form again; each becomes a bear or deer, according to the
clan to which he belongs.[858] Very frequently the soul is believed to
reincarnate itself in the body of an animal.[859] It is probably from
this that the widely-spread doctrine of metempsychosis was derived. We
have already seen how hard pressed Tylor is to account for it.[860] If
the soul is an essentially human principle, what could be more curious
than this marked predilection which it shows, in so large a number of
societies, for the animal form? On the other hand, everything is
explained if, by its very constitution, the soul is closely related to
the animal, for in that case, when it returns to the animal world at the
close of this life, it is only returning to its real nature. Thus the
generality of the belief in metempsychosis is a new proof that the
constituent elements of the idea of the soul have been taken largely
from the animal kingdom, as is presupposed by the theory which we have
just set forth.


Thus the notion of the soul is a particular application of the beliefs
relative to sacred beings. This is the explanation of the religious
character which this idea has had from the moment when it first appeared
in history, and which it still retains to-day. In fact, the soul has
always been considered a sacred thing; on this ground, it is opposed to
the body which is, in itself, profane. It is not merely distinguished
from its material envelope as the inside from the outside; it is not
merely represented as made out of a more subtle and fluid matter; but
more than this, it inspires those sentiments which are everywhere
reserved for that which is divine. If it is not made into a god, it is
at least regarded as a spark of the divinity. This essential
characteristic would be inexplicable if the idea of the soul were only a
pre-scientific solution given to the problem of dreams; for there is
nothing in the dream to awaken religious emotions, so the cause by which
these are explained could not have such a character. But if the soul is
a part of the divine substance, it represents something not ourselves
that is within us; if it is made of the same mental matter as the sacred
beings, it is natural that it should become the object of the same

And the sacred character which men thus attribute to themselves is not
the product of a pure illusion either; like the notions of religious
force and of divinity, the notion of the soul is not without a
foundation in reality. It is perfectly true that we are made up of two
distinct parts, which are opposed to one another as the sacred to the
profane, and we may say that, in a certain sense, there is divinity in
us. For society, this unique source of all that is sacred, does not
limit itself to moving us from without and affecting us for the moment;
it establishes itself within us in a durable manner. It arouses within
us a whole world of ideas and sentiments which express it but which, at
the same time, form an integral and permanent part of ourselves. When
the Australian goes away from a religious ceremony, the representations
which this communal life has aroused or re-aroused within him are not
obliterated in a second. The figures of the great ancestors, the heroic
exploits whose memory these rites perpetuate, the great deeds of every
sort in which he, too, has participated through the cult, in a word, all
these numerous ideals which he has elaborated with the co-operation of
his fellows, continue to live in his consciousness and, through the
emotions which are attached to them and the ascendancy which they hold
over his entire being, they are sharply distinguished from the vulgar
impressions arising from his daily relations with external things. Moral
ideas have the same character. It is society which forces them upon us,
and as the respect inspired by it is naturally extended to all that
comes from it, its imperative rules of conduct are invested, by reason
of their origin, with an authority and a dignity which is shared by none
of our internal states: therefore, we assign them a place apart in our
psychical life. Although our moral conscience is a part of our
consciousness, we do not feel ourselves on an equality with it. In this
voice which makes itself heard only to give us orders and establish
prohibitions, we cannot recognize our own voices; the very tone in which
it speaks to us warns us that it expresses something within us that is
not of ourselves. This is the objective foundation of the idea of the
soul: those representations whose flow constitutes our interior life are
of two different species which are irreducible one into another. Some
concern themselves with the external and material world; others, with an
ideal world to which we attribute a moral superiority over the first. So
we are really made up of two beings facing in different and almost
contrary directions, one of whom exercises a real pre-eminence over the
other. Such is the profound meaning of the antithesis which all men have
more or less clearly conceived between the body and the soul, the
material and the spiritual beings who coexist within us. Moralists and
preachers have often maintained that no one can deny the reality of duty
and its sacred character without falling into materialism. And it is
true that if we have no idea of moral and religious imperatives, our
psychical life will all be reduced to one level,[861] all our states of
consciousness will be on the same plane, and all feeling of duality
will perish. To make this duality intelligible, it is, of course, in no
way necessary to imagine a mysterious and unrepresentable substance,
under the name of the soul, which is opposed to the body. But here, as
in regard to the idea of sacredness, the error concerns the letter of
the symbol employed, not the reality of the fact symbolized. It remains
true that our nature is double; there really is a particle of divinity
in us because there is within us us a particle of these great ideas
which are the soul of the group.

So the individual soul is only a portion of the collective soul of the
group; it is the anonymous force at the basis of the cult, but
incarnated in an individual whose personality it espouses; it is _mana_
individualized. Perhaps dreams aided in determining certain secondary
characteristics of the idea. The inconsistency and instability of the
images which fill our minds during sleep, and their remarkable aptitude
for transforming themselves into one another, may have furnished the
model for this subtile, transparent and Protean matter out of which the
soul is believed to be made. Also, the facts of swooning, catalepsy,
etc., may have suggested the idea that the soul was mobile, and quitted
the body temporarily during this life; this, in its turn, has served to
explain certain dreams. But all these experiences and observations could
have had only a secondary and complimentary influence, whose very
existence it is difficult to establish. All that is really essential in
the idea comes from elsewhere.

But does not this genesis of the idea of the soul misunderstand its
essential characteristic? If the soul is a particular form of the
impersonal principle which is diffused in the group, the totemic species
and all the things of every sort which are attached to these, at bottom
it is impersonal itself. So, with differences only of degree, it should
have the same properties as the force of which it is a special form, and
particularly, the same diffusion, the same aptitude for spreading itself
contagiously and the same ubiquity. But quite on the contrary, the soul
is voluntarily represented as a concrete, definite being, wholly
contained within itself and not communicable to others; it is made the
basis of our personality.

But this way of conceiving the soul is the product of a late and
philosophic elaboration. The popular representation, as it is
spontaneously formed from common experience, is very different,
especially at first. For the Australian, the soul is a very vague
thing, undecided and wavering in form, and spread over the whole
organism. Though it manifests itself especially at certain points, there
are probably none from which it is totally absent. So it has a
diffusion, a contagiousness and an omnipresence comparable to those of
the _mana_. Like the mana, it is able to divide and duplicate itself
infinitely, though remaining entire in each of its parts; it is from
these divisions and duplications that the plurality of souls is derived.
On the other hand, the doctrine of reincarnation, whose generality we
have established, shows how many impersonal elements enter into the idea
of the soul and how essential those are. For if the same soul is going
to clothe a new personality in each generation, the individual forms in
which it successively develops itself must all be equally external to
it, and have nothing to do with its true nature. It is a sort of generic
substance which individualizes itself only secondarily and
superficially. Moreover, this conception of the soul is by no means
completely gone. The cult of relics shows that for a host of believers
even to-day, the soul of a saint, with all its essential powers,
continues to adhere to his different bones; and this implies that he is
believed to be able to diffuse himself, subdivide himself and
incorporate himself in all sorts of different things simultaneously.

Just as the characteristic attributes of the mana are found in the soul,
so secondary and superficial changes are enough to enable the mana to
individualize itself in the form of a soul. We pass from the first idea
to the second with no break of continuity. Every religious force which
is attached in a special way to a determined being participates in the
characteristics of this being, takes on its appearance and becomes its
spiritual double. Tregear, in his Maori-Polynesian dictionary, has
thought it possible to connect the word _mana_ with another group of
words, such as _manawa_, _manamana_, etc., which seem to belong to the
same family, and which signify heart, life, consciousness.[862] Is this
not equivalent to saying that some sort of kinship ought to exist
between the corresponding ideas as well, that is to say, between the
idea of impersonal force and those of internal life, mental force and,
in a word, of the soul? This is why the question whether the churinga is
sacred because it serves as the residence of a soul, as Spencer and
Gillen believe, or because it has impersonal virtues, as Strehlow
thinks, seems to us to have little interest and to be without
sociological importance. Whether the efficacy of a sacred object is
represented in an abstract form in the mind or is attributed to some
personal agent does not really matter. The psychological roots of both
beliefs are identical: an object is sacred because it inspires, in one
way or another, a collective sentiment of respect which removes it from
profane touches. In order to explain this sentiment, men sometimes fall
back on to a vague and imprecise cause, and sometimes on to a determined
spiritual being endowed with a name and a history; but these different
interpretations are superadded to one fundamental phenomenon which is
the same in both cases.

This, moreover, is what explains the singular confusions, examples of
which we have met with as we have progressed. The individual, the soul
of the ancestor which he reincarnates or from which his own is an
emanation, his churinga and the animals of the totemic species are, as
we have said, partially equivalent and interchangeable things. This is
because in certain connections, they all affect the collective
consciousness in the same way. If the churinga is sacred, it is because
of the collective sentiments of respect inspired by the totemic emblem
carved upon its surface; now the same sentiment attaches itself to the
animals or plants whose outward form is reproduced by the totem, to the
soul of the individual, for it is thought of in the form of the totemic
being, and finally to the ancestral soul, of which the preceding one is
only a particular aspect. So all these various objects, whether real or
ideal, have one common element by which they arouse a single affective
state in the mind, and through this, they become confused. In so far as
they are expressed by one and the same representation, they are
indistinct. This is how the Arunta has come to regard the churinga as
the body common to the individual, the ancestor and even the totemic
being. It is his way of expressing the identity of the sentiments of
which these different things are the object.

However, it does not follow from the fact the idea of the soul is
derived from the idea of mana that the first has a relatively later
origin, or that there was a period in history when men were acquainted
with religious forces only in their impersonal forms. When some wish to
designate by the word preanimist an historical period during which
animism was completely unknown, they build up an arbitrary
hypothesis;[863] for there is no people among whom the ideas of the soul
and of mana do not coexist side by side. So there is no ground for
imagining that they were formed at two distinct times; everything, on
the contrary, goes to show that the two are coeval. Just as there is no
society without individuals, so those impersonal forces which are
disengaged from the group cannot establish themselves without
incarnating themselves in the individual consciousnesses where they
individualize themselves. In reality, we do not have two different
developments, but two different aspects of one and the same development.
It is true that they do not have an equal importance; one is more
essential than the other. The idea of mana does not presuppose the idea
of the soul; for if the mana is going to individualize itself and break
itself up into the particular souls, it must first of all exist, and
what it is in itself does not depend upon the forms it takes when
individualized. But on the contrary, the idea of the soul cannot be
understood except when taken in connection with the idea of mana. So on
this ground, it is possible to say that it is the result of a secondary
formation; but we are speaking of a secondary formation in the logical,
not the chronological, sense of the word.


But how does it come that men have believed that the soul survives the
body and is even able to do so for an indefinite length of time?

From the analysis which we have made, it is evident that the belief in
immortality has not been established under the influence of moral ideas.
Men have not imagined the prolongation of their existence beyond the
tomb in order that a just retribution for moral acts may be assured in
another life, if it fails in this one; for we have seen that all
considerations of this sort are foreign to the primitive conception of
the beyond.

Nor is the other hypothesis any better, according to which the other
life was imagined as a means of escaping the agonizing prospect of
annihilation. In the first place, it is not true that the need of
personal survival was actively felt at the beginning. The primitive
generally accepts the idea of death with a sort of indifference. Being
trained to count his own individuality for little, and being accustomed
to exposing his life constantly, he gives it up easily enough.[864] More
than that, the immortality promised by the religions he practices is not
personal. In a large number of cases, the soul does not continue the
personality of the dead man, or does not continue it long, for,
forgetful of its previous existence, it goes away, after a while, to
animate another body and thus becomes the vivifying principle of a new
personality. Even among the most advanced peoples, it was only a pale
and sad existence that shades led in Sheol or Erebus, and could hardly
attenuate the regrets occasioned by the memories of the life lost.

A more satisfactory explanation is the one attaching the conception of a
posthumous life to the experiences of dreams. Our dead friends and
relatives reappear to us in dreams: we see them act, we hear them speak;
it is natural to conclude that they continue to exist. But if these
observations were able to confirm the idea after it had once been born,
they hardly seem capable of creating it out of nothing. Dreams in which
we see departed persons living again are too rare and too short and
leave only too vague recollections of themselves, to have been able to
suggest so important a system of beliefs to men all by themselves. There
is a remarkable lack of proportion between the effect and the cause to
which it is attributed.

What makes this question embarrassing is the fact that in itself, the
idea of the soul does not imply that of its survival, but rather seems
to exclude it. In fact, we have seen that the soul, though being
distinguished from the body, is believed, nevertheless, to be closely
united to it: it ages along with the body, it feels a reaction from all
the maladies that fall upon the body; so it would seem natural that it
should die with the body. At least, men ought to have believed that it
ceased to exist from the moment when it definitely lost its original
form, and when it was no longer what it had been. Yet it is at just this
moment that a new life opens out before it.

The myths which we have already described give the only possible
explanation of this belief. We have seen that the souls of new-born
children are either emanations of the ancestral souls, or these souls
themselves reincarnated. But in order that they may either reincarnate
themselves, or periodically give off new emanations, they must have
survived their first holders. So it seems as though they admitted the
survival of the dead in order to explain the birth of the living. The
primitive does not have the idea of an all-powerful god who creates
souls out of nothing. It seems to him that souls cannot be made except
out of souls. So those who are born can only be new forms of those who
have been; consequently, it is necessary that these latter continue to
exist in order that others may be born. In fine, the belief in the
immortality of the soul is the only way in which men were able to
explain a fact which could not fail to attract their attention; this
fact is the perpetuity of the life of the group. Individuals die, but
the clan survives. So the forces which give it life must have the same
perpetuity. Now these forces are the souls which animate individual
bodies; for it is in them and through them that the group is realized.
For this reason, it is necessary that they endure. It is even necessary
that in enduring, they remain always the same; for, as the clan always
keeps its characteristic appearance, the spiritual substance out of
which it is made must be thought of as qualitatively invariable. Since
it is always the same clan with the same totemic principle, it is
necessary that the souls be the same, for souls are only the totemic
principle broken up and particularized. Thus there is something like a
germinative plasm, of a mystic order, which is transmitted from
generation to generation and which makes, or at least is believed to
make, the spiritual unity of the clan through all time. And this belief,
in spite of its symbolic character, is not without a certain objective
truth. For though the group may not be immortal in the absolute sense of
the word, still it is true that it endures longer than the individuals
and that it is born and incarnated afresh in each new generation.

A fact confirms this interpretation. We have seen that according to the
testimony of Strehlow, the Arunta distinguish two sorts of souls: on the
one hand are those of the ancestors of the Alcheringa, on the other,
those of the individuals who actually compose the active body of the
tribe at each moment in history. The second sort only survive the body
for a relatively short time; they are soon totally annihilated. Only the
former are immortal; as they are uncreated, so they do not perish. It is
also to be noticed that they are the only ones whose immortality is
necessary to explain the permanence of the group; for it is upon them,
and upon them alone, that it is incumbent to assure the perpetuity of
the clan, for every conception is their work. In this connection, the
others have no part to play. So souls are not said to be immortal except
in so far as this immortality is useful in rendering intelligible the
continuity of the collective life.

Thus the causes leading to the first beliefs in a future life had no
connections with the functions to be filled at a later period by the
institutions beyond the tomb. But when that had once appeared, they were
soon utilized for other purposes besides those which had been their
original reasons for existence. Even in the Australian societies, we see
them beginning to organize themselves for this other purpose. Moreover,
there was no need of any fundamental transformation for this. How true
it is that the same social institution can successively fulfil different
functions without changing its nature!


The idea of the soul was for a long time, and still is in part, the
popular form of the idea of personality.[865] So the genesis of the
former of these ideas should aid us in understanding how the second one
was formed.

From what has already been said, it is clear that the notion of person
is the product of two sorts of factors. One of these is essentially
impersonal: it is the spiritual principle serving as the soul of the
group. In fact, it is this which constitutes the very substance of
individual souls. Now this is not the possession of any one in
particular: it is a part of the collective patrimony; in it and through
it, all consciousnesses communicate. But on the other hand, in order to
have separate personalities, it is necessary that another factor
intervene to break up and differentiate this principle: in other words,
an individualizing factor is necessary. It is the body that fulfils this
function. As bodies are distinct from each other, and as they occupy
different points of space and time, each of them forms a special centre
about which the collective representations reflect and colour themselves
differently. The result is that even if all the consciousnesses in these
bodies are directed towards the same world, to wit, the world of the
ideas and sentiments which brings about the moral unity of the group,
they do not all see it from the same angle; each one expresses it in its
own fashion.

Of these two equally indispensable factors, the former is certainly not
the less important, for this is the one which furnishes the original
matter for the idea of the soul. Perhaps some will be surprised to see
so considerable a rôle attributed to the impersonal element in the
genesis of the idea of personality. But the philosophical analysis of
the idea of person, which has gone far ahead of the sociological
analysis, has reached analogous results on this point. Among all the
philosophers, Leibniz is one of those who have felt most vividly what a
personality is; for before all, the nomad is a personal and autonomous
being. Yet, for Leibniz, the contents of all the monads is identical. In
fact, all are consciousnesses which express one and the same object, the
world; and as the world itself is only a system of representations, each
particular consciousness is really only the reflection of the universal
consciousness. However, each one expresses it from its own point of
view, and in its own manner. We know how this difference of perspectives
comes from the fact that the monads are situated differently in
relation to each other and to the whole system which they constitute.

Kant expresses the same sentiment, though in a different form. For him,
the corner-stone of the personality is the will. Now the will is the
faculty of acting in conformity with reason, and the reason is that
which is most impersonal within us. For reason is not my reason; it is
human reason in general. It is the power which the mind has of rising
above the particular, the contingent and the individual, to think in
universal forms. So from this point of view, we may say that what makes
a man a personality is that by which he is confounded with other men,
that which makes him a man, not a certain man. The senses, the body and,
in a word, all that individualizes, is, on the contrary, considered as
the antagonist of the personality by Kant.

This is because individuation is not the essential characteristic of the
personality. A person is not merely a single subject distinguished from
all the others. It is especially a being to which is attributed a
relative autonomy in relation to the environment with which it is most
immediately in contact. It is represented as capable of moving itself,
to a certain degree: this is what Leibniz expressed in an exaggerated
way when he said that the monad was completely closed to the outside.
Now our analysis permits us to see how this conception was formed and to
what it corresponds.

In fact, the soul, a symbolic representation of the personality, has the
same characteristic. Although closely bound to the body, it is believed
to be profoundly distinct from it and to enjoy, in relation to it, a
large degree of independence. During life, it may leave it temporarily,
and it definitely withdraws at death. Far from being dependent upon the
body, it dominates it from the higher dignity which is in it. It may
well take from the body the outward form in which it individualizes
itself, but it owes nothing essential to it. Nor is the autonomy which
all peoples have attributed to the soul a pure illusion; we know now
what its objective foundation is. It is quite true that the elements
which serve to form the idea of the soul and those which enter into the
representation of the body come from two different sources that are
independent of one another. One sort are made up of the images and
impressions coming from all parts of the organism; the others consist in
the ideas and sentiments which come from and express society. So the
former are not derived from the latter. There really is a part of
ourselves which is not placed in immediate dependence upon the organic
factor: this is all that which represents society in us. The general
ideas which religion or science fix in our minds, the mental operations
which these ideas suppose, the beliefs and sentiments which are at the
basis of our moral life, and all these superior forms of psychical
activity which society awakens in us, these do not follow in the trail
of our bodily states, as our sensations and our general bodily
consciousness do. As we have already shown, this is because the world of
representations in which social life passes is superimposed upon its
material substratum, far from arising from it; the determinism which
reigns there is much more supple than the one whose roots are in the
constitution of our tissues and it leaves with the actor a justified
impression of the greatest liberty. The medium in which we thus move is
less opaque and less resistant: we feel ourselves to be, and we are,
more at our ease there. In a word, the only way we have of freeing
ourselves from physical forces is to oppose them with collective forces.

But whatever we receive from society, we hold in common with our
companions. So it is not at all true that we are more personal as we are
more individualized. The two terms are in no way synonymous: in one
sense, they oppose more than they imply one another. Passion
individualizes, yet it also enslaves. Our sensations are essentially
individual; yet we are more personal the more we are freed from our
senses and able to think and act with concepts. So those who insist upon
all the social elements of the individual do not mean by that to deny or
debase the personality. They merely refuse to confuse it with the fact
of individuation.[866]



When we come to the idea of the soul, we have left the circle of purely
impersonal forces. But above the soul the Australian religions already
recognize mythical personalities of a superior order: spirits,
civilizing heroes and even gods who are properly so-called. While it
will be unnecessary to enter into the detail of the mythologies, we must
at least seek the form in which these three categories of spiritual
beings are presented in Australia, and the way in which they are
connected with the whole religious system.


A soul is not a spirit. In fact, it is shut up in a determined organism;
though it may leave it at certain moments, it is ordinarily a prisoner
there. It definitely escapes only at death, and we have already seen the
difficulties under which the separation is accomplished. A spirit, on
the contrary, though often tied by the closest bonds to some particular
object, such as a spring, a rock, a tree, a star, etc., and though
residing there by preference, may go away at will and lead an
independent existence in free space. So it has a more extended circle of
action. It can act upon the individuals who approach it or whom it
approaches. The soul, on the contrary, has almost no influence except
over the body it animates; it is very exceptional that it succeeds in
influencing outside objects during the course of its terrestrial life.

But if the soul does not have the distinctive characteristics of the
spirit, it acquires them, at least in part, at death. In fact, when it
has been disincarnated, so long as it does not descend into a body
again, it has the same liberty of movement as a spirit. Of course, after
the rites of mourning have been accomplished, it is thought to go to the
land of souls, but before this it remains about the tomb for a rather
long time. Also, even after it has definitely departed, it is believed
to prowl about in the brush near the camp.[867] It is generally
represented as a rather beneficent being, especially for the surviving
members of its family; we have seen that the soul of the father comes to
aid the growth of his children or his grandchildren. But it also happens
sometimes that it shows signs of a veritable cruelty; everything depends
upon its humour and the manner in which it is treated by the
living.[868] So it is recommended, especially to women and children, not
to venture outside of the camp during the night so as not to expose
oneself to dangerous encounters.[869]

However, a ghost is not a real spirit. In the first place, it generally
has only a limited power of action; also, it does not have a definite
province. It is a vagabond, upon whom no determined task is incumbent,
for the effect of death has been to put it outside of all regular forms;
as regards the living, it is a sort of a exile. A spirit, on the other
hand, always has a power of a certain sort and it is by this that it is
defined; it is set over a certain order of cosmic or social phenomena;
it has a more or less precise function to fulfil in the system of the

But there are some souls which satisfy this double condition and which
are consequently spirits, in the proper sense of the word. These are the
souls of the mythical personages whom popular imagination has placed at
the beginning of time, the Altjirangamitjina or the men of the
Alcheringa among the Arunta; the Mura-mura among the tribes of Lake
Eyre; the Muk-Kurnai among the Kurnai, etc. In one sense, they are still
souls, for they are believed to have formerly animated bodies from which
they separated themselves at a certain moment. But even when they led a
terrestrial life, they already had, as we have seen, exceptional powers;
they had a mana superior to that of ordinary men, and they have kept it.
Also, they are charged with definite functions.

In the first place, whether we accept the version of Spencer and Gillen
or that of Strehlow, it is to them that the care of assuring the
periodical recruiting of the clan falls. They have charge of the
phenomena of conception.

Even when the conception has been accomplished, the task of the ancestor
is not yet completed. It is his duty to guard over the new-born child.
Later, when the child has become a man, he accompanies him in the hunt,
brings game to him, warns him by dreams of the dangers he may run,
protects him against his enemies, etc. On this point, Strehlow is
entirely in accord with Spencer and Gillen.[870] It is true that someone
may ask how it is possible, according to the version of these latter,
for the ancestor to fulfil this function; for, since he reincarnates
himself at the moment of conception, it seems as though he should be
confounded with the soul of the child and should therefore be unable to
protect it from without. But the fact is that he does not reincarnate
himself entirely; he merely duplicates himself. One part of him enters
the body of the woman and fertilizes her; another part continues to
exist outside and, under the special name of Arumburinga, fulfils the
office of guardian genius.[871]

Thus we see how great a kinship there is between this ancestral spirit
and the _genius_ of the Latins or the [Greek: daimôn] of the
Greeks.[872] The identification of function is complete. In fact, at
first the genius is the one who begets, _qui gignit_; he expresses and
personifies the powers of generation.[873] But at the same time, he is
the protector and director of the particular individual to whose person
he is attached.[874] He is finally confused with the personality itself
of this individual; he represents the totality of the proclivities and
tendencies which characterize him and give him a distinctive appearance
among other men.[875] Hence come the well-known expressions _indulgere
genio_, _defraudere genium_ with the sense of _to follow one's natural
temperament_. At bottom, the _genius_ is another form or double of the
soul of the individual. This is proved by the partial synonomy of
_genius_ and _manes_.[876] The manes is the genius after death; but it
is also all that survives of the dead man, that is to say, his soul. In
the same way, the soul of the Arunta and the ancestral spirit which
serves as his genius are only two different aspects of one and the same

But it is not only in relation to persons that the ancestor has a
definite situation; he also has one in relation to things. Though he is
believed to have his real residence under the ground, they think that he
is always haunting the place where his nanja-tree or rock is, or the
water-hole which was spontaneously formed at the exact spot where he
disappeared into the ground, having terminated his first existence. As
this tree or rock is believed to represent the body of the hero, they
imagine that the soul itself is constantly coming back there, and lives
there more or less permanently; it is by the presence of this soul that
they explain the religious respect inspired by these localities. No one
can break the branch of a nanja-tree without a risk of falling
sick.[877] "Formerly the act of breaking it down or injuring it was
punished with death. An animal or bird taking refuge there could not be
killed. Even the surrounding bushes had to be respected: the grass could
not be burned, the rocks also had to be treated with respect. It was
forbidden to remove them or break them."[878] As this sacred character
is attributed to the ancestor, he appears as the spirit of this tree or
rock, of this water-hole or spring.[879] If the spring is thought of as
having some connection with rain,[880] he will become a spirit of rain.
Thus, the same souls which serve as protecting geniuses for men also
fulfil cosmic functions at the same time. It is undoubtedly in this
sense that we must understand the text of Roth where he says that in
northern Queensland, the spirits of nature are the souls of the dead who
have chosen to live in the forests or caves.[881]

So we have here some spiritual beings that are different from the
wandering souls with no definite powers. Strehlow calls them gods;[882]
but this expression is inexact, at least in the great majority of cases.
If it were true, then in a society like the Arunta where each one has
his protecting ancestor, there would be as many or more gods than there
are individuals. It would merely introduce confusion into our
terminology to give the name of god to a sacred being with only one
worshipper. It may be, of course, that the figure of the ancestor grows
to a point where it resembles a real divinity. Among the Warramunga, as
we have already pointed out,[883] the clan as a whole is thought to be
descended from one sole and unique ancestor. It is easily seen how this
collective ancestor might, under certain circumstances, become the
object of a collective devotion. To choose a notable example, this is
what has happened to the snake Wollunqua.[884] This mythical beast, from
whom the clan of the same name is held to be descended, continues to
live, they believe, in water-holes which are therefore surrounded with
a religious respect. Thus it becomes the object of a cult which the clan
celebrates collectively: through determined rites, they attempt to
please him and to win his favours, and they address to him all sorts of
prayers, etc. So we may say that he is like a god of the clan. But this
is a very exceptional case, or even, according to Spencer and Gillen, a
unique one. Normally, the word "spirits" is the only one suitable for
designating these ancestral personages.

As to the manner in which this conception has been formed, we may say
that it is evident from what has preceded.

As we have already shown, the existence of individual souls, when once
admitted, cannot be understood unless one imagines an original supply of
fundamental souls at the origin of things, from which all the others
were derived. Now these architype souls had to be conceived as
containing within them the source of all religious efficacy; for, since
the imagination does not go beyond them, it is from them and only from
them that all sacred things are believed to come, both the instruments
of the cult, the members of the clan and the animals of the totemic
species. They incarnate all the sacredness diffused in the whole tribe
and the whole world, and so they are attributed powers noticeably
superior to those enjoyed by the simple souls of men. Moreover, time by
itself increases and reinforces the sacred character of things. A very
ancient churinga inspires much more respect than a new one, and is
supposed to have more virtues.[885] The sentiments of veneration of
which it has been the object during the series of successive generations
who have handled it are, as it were, accumulated in it. For the same
reason, the personages who for centuries have been the subject of myths
respectfully passed on from mouth to mouth, and periodically put into
action by the rites, could not fail to take a very especial place in the
popular imagination.

But how does it happen that, instead of remaining outside of the
organized society, they have become regular members of it?

This is because each individual is the double of an ancestor. Now when
two beings are related as closely as this, they are naturally conceived
as incorporated together; since they participate in the same nature, it
seems as though that which affects one ought to affect the other as
well. Thus the group of mythical ancestors became attached to the
society of the living; the same interests and the same passions were
attributed to each; they were regarded as associates. However, as the
former had a higher dignity than the latter, this association takes, in
the public mind, the form of an agreement between superiors and
inferiors, between patrons and clients, benefactors and recipients. Thus
comes this curious idea of a protecting genius who is attached to each

The question of how this ancestor came to have relations not only with
men, but also with things, may appear more embarrassing; for, at the
first glance, we do not see what connection there can be between a
personage of this sort and a rock or tree. But a fact which we owe to
Strehlow furnishes us with a solution of this problem, which is at least

These trees and rocks are not situated at any point in the tribal
territory, but, for the most part, they are grouped around the
sanctuaries, called ertnatulunga by Spencer and Gillen and arknanaua by
Strehlow, where the churinga of the clan is kept.[886] We know the
respect with which these localities are enhaloed from the mere fact that
the most precious instruments of the cult are there. Each of these
spreads sanctity all about it. It is for this reason that the
neighbouring trees and rocks appear sacred, that it is forbidden to
destroy or harm them, and that all violence used against them is a
sacrilege. This sacred character is really due to a simple phenomenon of
psychic contagiousness; but in order to explain it, the native must
admit that these different objects have relations with the different
beings in whom he sees the source of all religious power, that is to
say, with the ancestors of the Alcheringa. Hence comes the system of
myths of which we have spoken. They imagined that each ertnatulunga
marked the spot where a group of ancestors entered into the ground. The
mounds or trees which covered the ground were believed to represent
their bodies. But as the soul retains, in a general way, a sort of
affinity for the body in which it dwelt, they were naturally led to
believe that these ancestral souls continued to frequent these places
where their material envelope remained. So they were located in the
rocks, the trees or the water-holes. Thus each of them, though remaining
attached to some determined individual, became transformed into a sort
of _genius loci_ and fulfilled its functions.[887]

The conceptions thus elucidated enable us to understand a form of
totemism which we have left unexplained up to the present: this is
individual totemism.

An individual totem is defined, in its essence, by the two following
characteristics: (1) it is a being in an animal or vegetable form whose
function is to protect an individual; (2) the fate of this individual
and that of his patron are closely united: all that touches the latter
is sympathetically communicated to the former. Now the ancestral spirits
of which we have just been speaking answer to this same definition. They
also belong, at least in part, to the animal or vegetable kingdoms.
They, too, are protecting geniuses. Finally, a sympathetic bond unites
each individual to his protecting ancestor. In fact, the nanja-tree,
representing the mystical body of this ancestor, cannot be destroyed
without the man's feeling himself menaced. It is true that this belief
is losing its force to-day, but Spencer and Gillen have observed it, and
in any case, they are of the opinion that formerly it was quite

The identity of these two conceptions is found even in their details.

The ancestral souls reside in trees or rocks which are considered
sacred. Likewise, among the Euahlayi, the spirit of the animal serving
as individual totem is believed to inhabit a tree or stone.[889] This
tree or stone is sacred; no one may touch it except the proprietor of
the totem; when it is a stone or rock, this interdiction is still
absolute.[890] The result is that they are veritable places of refuge.

Finally, we have seen that the individual soul is only another aspect of
the ancestral spirit, according to Strehlow, this serves after a
fashion, as a second self.[891] Likewise, following an expression of
Mrs. Parker, the individual totem of the Euahlayi, called Yunbeai, is
the _alter ego_ of the individual: "The soul of a man is in his Yunbeai
and the soul of his Yunbeai is in him."[892] So at bottom, it is one
soul in two bodies. The kinship of these two notions is so close that
they are sometimes expressed by one and the same word. This is the case
in Melanesia and in Polynesia: _atai_ in the island Mota, _tamaniu_ in
the island Aurora, and _talegia_ in Motlaw all designate both the soul
of the individual and his personal totem.[893] It is the same with
_aitu_ in Samoa.[894] This is because the individual totem is merely
the outward and visible form of the ego or the personality, of which the
soul is the inward and invisible form.[895]

Thus the individual totem has all the essential characteristics of the
protecting ancestor and fills the same rôle: this is because it has the
same origin and proceeds from the same idea.

Each of them, in fact, consists in a duplication of the soul. The totem,
as the ancestor, is the soul of the individual, but externalized and
invested with powers superior to those it is believed to possess while
within the organism. Now this duplication is the result of a
psychological necessity; for it only expresses the nature of the soul
which, as we have seen, is double. In one sense, it is ours: it
expresses our personality. But at the same time, it is outside of us,
for it is only the reaching into us of a religious force which is
outside of us. We cannot confound ourselves with it completely, for we
attribute to it an excellence and a dignity by which it rises far above
us and our empirical individuality. So there is a whole part of
ourselves which we tend to project into the outside. This way of
thinking of ourselves is so well established in our nature that we
cannot escape it, even when we attempt to regard ourselves without
having recourse to any religious symbols. Our moral consciousness is
like a nucleus about which the idea of the soul forms itself; yet when
it speaks to us, it gives the effect of an outside power, superior to
us, which gives us our law and judges us, but which also aids and
sustains us. When we have it on our side, we feel ourselves to be
stronger against the trials of life, and better assured of triumphing
over them, just as the Australian who, when trusting in his ancestor or
his personal totem, feels himself more valiant against his enemies.[896]
So there is something objective at the basis of these conceptions,
whether we have in mind the Roman _genius_, the individual totem, or the
Alcheringa ancestor; and this is why they have survived, in various
forms, up to the present day. Everything goes just as if we really had
two souls; one which is within us, or rather, which is us; the other
which is above us, and whose function it is to control and assist the
first one. Frazer thought that the individual totem was an external
soul; but he believed that this exteriority was the result of an
artifice and a magic ruse. In reality, it is implied in the very
constitution of the idea of the soul.[897]


The spirits of which we have just been speaking are essentially
benefactors. Of course they punish a man if he does not treat them in a
fitting manner;[898] but it is not their function to work evil.

However, a spirit is in itself just as capable of doing evil as good.
This is why we find a class of evil geniuses forming itself naturally,
in opposition to these auxiliary and protecting spirits, which enables
men to explain the permanent evils that they have to suffer, their
nightmares[899] and illnesses,[900] whirlwinds and tempests,[901] etc.
Of course this is not saying that all these human miseries have appeared
as things too abnormal to be explained in any way except by supernatural
forces; but it is saying that these forces are thought of under a
religious form. As it is a religious principle which is considered the
source of life, so, all the events which disturb or destroy life ought
logically to be traced to a principle of the same sort.

These harmful spirits seem to have been conceived on the same model as
the good spirits of which we have just been speaking. They are
represented in an animal form, or one that is half-animal,
half-man;[902] but men are naturally inclined to give them enormous
dimensions and a repulsive aspect.[903] Like the souls of the ancestors,
they are believed to inhabit trees, rocks, water-holes and subterranean
caverns.[904] Taking the Arunta as a particular example, Spencer and
Gillen say expressly that these evil geniuses, known under the name of
Oruncha, are beings of the Alcheringa.[905] Many are represented as the
souls of persons who had led a terrestrial life.[906] Among the
personages of the fabulous epoch, there were, in fact, many different
temperaments: some had cruel and evil instincts which they
retained;[907] others were naturally of a bad constitution; they were
thin and emaciated; so after they had entered into the ground, the nanja
rocks to which they gave birth were considered the homes of dangerous

Yet they are distinguished by special characteristics from their
confrères, the heroes of the Alcheringa. They do not reincarnate
themselves; among living men, there is no one who represents them; they
are without human posterity.[909] When, judging from certain signs, they
believe that a child is the result of their work, it is put to death as
soon as born.[910] Also, these belong to no determined totemic group;
they are outside the social organization.[911] By all these traits, they
are recognized as magic powers rather than religious ones. And in fact,
it is especially with the magician that they have relations; very
frequently it is from them that he gets his powers.[912] So we have now
arrived at the point where the world of religion stops and that of magic
commences; and as this latter is outside the field of our research, we
need not push our researches further.[913]


The appearance of the notion of spirits marks an important step in
advance in the individualization of religious forces.

However, the spiritual beings of whom we have been speaking up to the
present are as yet only secondary personages. They are either
evil-working geniuses who belong to magic rather than religion, or else,
being attached to determined individuals or places, they cannot make
their influence felt except within a circle of a very limited radius. So
they can only be the objects of private and local rites. But after the
idea has once been established, it naturally spreads to the higher
spheres of the religious life, and thus mythical personalities of a
superior order are born.

Though the ceremonies of the different clans differ from one another,
they all belong to the same religion, none the less; also, a certain
number of essential similarities exist between them. Since all the clans
are only parts of one and the same tribe, the unity of the tribe cannot
fail to make itself felt through this diversity of particular cults. In
fact, there is no totemic group that does not have churinga and
bull-roarers, and these are used everywhere in the same way. The
organization of the tribe into phratries, matrimonial classes and clans,
and the exogamic interdictions attached to them, are veritable tribal
institutions. The initiation celebrations all include certain
fundamental practices, the extraction of a tooth, circumcision,
subincision, etc., which do not vary with the totems within a single
tribe. The uniformity on this point is the more easily established as
the initiation always takes place in the presence of the tribe, or at
least, before an assembly to which the different clans have been
summoned. The reason for this is that the object of the initiation is to
introduce the neophyte into the religious life, not merely of the clan
into which he was born, but of the tribe as a whole; so it is necessary
that the various aspects of the tribal religion be represented before
him and take place, in a way, under his very eyes. It is on this
occasion that the moral and religious unity of the tribe is affirmed the

Thus, in each society there are a certain number of rites which are
distinguished from all the others by their homogeneity and their
generality. So noticeably a harmony seemed to be explicable only by a
unity of origin. So they imagined that each group of similar rites had
been founded by one and the same ancestor, who came to reveal them to
the tribe as a whole. Thus, among the Arunta, it was an ancestor of the
Wild Cat clan, named Putiaputia,[914] who is thought to have taught men
the way of making churinga and using it ritually; among the Warramunga,
it was Murtu-murtu;[915] among the Urabunna, Witurna;[916] it was Atnatu
among the Kaitish[917] and Tendun among the Kurnai.[918] Likewise, the
practice of circumcision is attributed by the eastern Dieri and many
other tribes[919] to two special Muramura, and by the Arunta to a hero
of the Alcheringa, of the Lizard totem, named Mangarkunjerkunja.[920] To
this same personage are ascribed the foundation of the matrimonial
institutions and the social organization they imply, the discovery of
fire, the invention of the spear, the buckler, the boomerang, etc. It
also happens very frequently that the inventor of the bull-roarer is
also considered the founder of the rites of initiation.[921]

These special ancestors cannot be put in the same rank as the others. On
the one hand, the sentiments of veneration which they inspire are not
limited to one clan, but are common to the whole tribe. On the other
hand, it is to them that men ascribe all that is most esteemed in the
tribal civilization. For this double reason, they became the object of a
special consideration. For example, they say of Atnatu that he was born
in heaven at an epoch even prior to the times of the Alcheringa, that he
made himself and that he gave himself the name he bears. The stars are
his wives and daughters. Beyond the heaven where he lives, there is
another one with another sun. His name is sacred, and should never be
pronounced before women or non-initiated persons.[922]

Yet, howsoever great the prestige enjoyed by these personages may be,
there was no occasion for founding special rites in their honour; for
they themselves are only rites personified. They have no other reason
for existence than to explain existing practices; they are only another
aspect of these. The churinga and the ancestor who invented it are only
one; sometimes, both have the same name.[923] When someone makes the
bull-roarer resound, they say that it is the voice of the ancestor
making himself heard.[924] But, for the very reason that each of these
heroes is confounded with the cult he is believed to have founded, they
believe that he is attentive to the way in which it is celebrated. He is
not satisfied unless the worshippers fulfil their duties exactly; he
punishes those who are negligent.[925] So he is thought of as the
guardian of the rite, as well as its founder, and for this reason, he
becomes invested with a veritable moral rôle.[926]


However, this mythological formation is not the highest which is to be
found among the Australians. There are at least a certain number of
tribes who have arrived at a conception of a god who, if not unique, is
at least supreme, and to whom is attributed a pre-eminent position among
all the other religious entities.

The existence of this belief was pointed out long ago by different
observers;[927] but it is Howitt who has contributed the most to
establishing its relative generality. In fact, he has verified it over a
very extended geographical area embracing the State of Victoria and New
South Wales and even extending up to Queensland.[928] In all this entire
region, a considerable number of tribes believe in the existence of a
veritable tribal divinity, who has different names, according to the
district. The ones most frequently employed are Bunjil or Punjil,[929]
Daramulun[930] and Baiame.[931] But we also find Nuralie or
Nurelle,[932] Kohin[933] and Mangan-ngaua.[934] The same conception is
found again farther west, among the Narrinyeri, where the great god is
called Nurunderi or Ngurrunderi.[935] Among the Dieri, it is probable
that there is one of the Mura-mura, or ordinary ancestors, who enjoys a
sort of supremacy over the others.[936] Finally, in opposition to the
affirmations of Spencer and Gillen, who declare that they have observed
no belief in a real divinity among the Arunta,[937] Strehlow assures us
that this people, as well as the Loritja, recognize, under the name
Altjira, a veritable "good god."[938]

The essential characteristics of this personage are the same everywhere.
It is an immortal, and even an eternal being, for it was not derived
from any other. After having lived on earth for a certain length of
time, he ascended to heaven, or else was taken up there,[939] and
continues to live there, surrounded by his family, for generally he is
said to have one or several wives, children and brothers,[940] who
sometimes assist him in his functions. Under the pretext of a visit he
is said to have made to them, he and his family are frequently
identified with certain stars.[941] Moreover, they attribute to him a
power over stars. It is he who regulates the journey of the sun and
moon;[942] he gives them orders.[943] It is he who makes the lightning
leap from the clouds and who throws the thunder-bolts.[944] Since he is
the thunder, he is also connected with the rain:[945] it is to him that
men address themselves when there is a scarcity of water, or when too
much falls.[946]

They speak of him as a sort of creator: he is called the father of men
and they say that he made them. According to a legend current around
Melbourne, Bunjil made the first man in the following manner. He made a
little statue out of white clay; then, after he had danced all around it
several times and had breathed into its nostrils, the statue became
animated and commenced to walk about.[947] According to another myth, he
lighted the sun; thus the earth became heated and men came out of
it.[948] At the same time that he made men,[949] this divine personage
made the animals and trees;[950] it is to him that men owe all the arts
of life, arms, language and tribal rites.[951] He is the benefactor of
humanity. Even yet, he plays the rôle of a sort of providence for them.
It is he who supplies his worshippers with all that is necessary for
their existence.[952] He is in communication with them, either directly
or through intermediaries.[953] But being at the same time guardian of
the morals of the tribe, he treats them severely when these are
violated.[954] If we are to believe certain observers, he will even
fulfil the office of judge, after this life; he will separate the good
from the bad, and will not reward the ones like the others.[955] In any
case, they are often represented as ruling the land of the dead,[956]
and as gathering the souls together when they arrive in the

As the initiation is the principal form of the tribal cult, it is to the
rites of initiation that he is attached especially; he is their centre.
He is very frequently represented by an image cut on a piece of bark or
soaked into the ground. They dance around it; they sing in its honour;
they even address real prayers to it.[958] They explain to the young men
who the personage is whom this image represents; they tell them his
secret name, which the women and the uninitiated cannot know; they
relate to them his history and the part attributed to him in the life of
the tribe. At other times they raise their hands towards the heaven
where he is thought to dwell, or else they point their arms or the
ritual instruments they have in hand in this direction;[959] this is a
way of entering into communication with him. They feel his presence
everywhere. He watches over the neophyte when he has withdrawn into the
forest.[960] He is attentive to the manner in which the ceremonies are
celebrated. The initiation is his cult. So he gives special attention to
seeing that these are carried out exactly: if there are any faults or
negligences, he punishes them in a terrible manner.[961]

Moreover, the authority of each of these supreme gods is not limited to
a single tribe; it is recognized equally by a number of neighbouring
tribes. Bunjil is adored in nearly all of Victoria, Baiame in a
considerable portion of New South Wales, etc.; this is why there are so
few gods for a relatively extended geographical area. So the cults of
which they are the object have an international character. It even
happens sometimes that mythologies intermingle, combine and make mutual
borrowings. Thus the majority of the tribes who believe in Baiame also
admit the existence of Daramulun; however, they accord him a slighter
dignity. They make him a son or brother of Baiame, and subordinate to
this latter.[962] Thus the faith in Daramulun has spread in diverse
forms, into all of New South Wales. So it is far from true that
religious internationalism is a peculiarity of the most recent and
advanced religions. From the dawn of history, religious beliefs have
manifested a tendency to overflow out of one strictly limited political
society; it is as though they had a natural aptitude for crossing
frontiers, and for diffusing and internationalizing themselves. Of
course there have been peoples and times when this spontaneous aptitude
has been held in check by opposed social necessities; but that does not
keep it from being real and, as we see, very primitive.

To Tylor this conception has appeared to be a part of so elevated a
theology that he refuses to see in it anything but the product of a
European importation: he would have it be a more or less denatured
Christian idea.[963] Andrew Lang, on the contrary, considers them
autochthonous;[964] but as he also admits that it is contrasted with all
the other Australian beliefs and rests on completely different
principles, he concludes that the religions of Australia are made up of
two heterogeneous systems, superimposed one upon the other, and
consequently derived from a double origin. On the one hand, there were
ideas relative to totems and spirits, which had been suggested to men by
the sight of certain natural phenomena. But at the same time, by a sort
of intuition as to the nature of which he refuses to make himself
clear,[965] the human intelligence succeeded at the first onset in
conceiving a unique god, creator of the world and legislator of the
moral order. Lang even estimates that this idea was purer of foreign
elements at the beginning, and especially in Australia, than in the
civilizations which immediately followed. With time, it was covered over
and obscured little by little by the ever-growing mass of animistic and
totemic superstitions. Thus it underwent a sort of progressive
degeneration up to the day when, as the effect of a privileged culture,
it succeeded in coming into its own and restated itself again with more
force and clarity than it had in the first place.[966]

But the facts allow neither the sceptical hypothesis of Tylor nor the
theological interpretation of Lang.

In the first place, it is certain to-day that the ideas relative to the
great tribal god are of indigenous origin. They were observed before
the influence of the missionaries had as yet had time to make itself
felt.[967] But it does not follow that it is necessary to attribute them
to a mysterious revelation. Far from being derived from a different
source than the regular totemic beliefs, they are, on the contrary, only
the logical working-out of these beliefs and their highest form.

We have already seen how the notion of mythical ancestors is implied in
the very principles upon which totemism rests, for each of them is a
totemic being. Now, though the great gods are certainly superior to
these, still, there are only differences of degree between them; we pass
from the first to the second with no break of continuity. In fact, a
great god is himself an ancestor of especial importance. They frequently
speak to us about him as though he were a man, endowed, to be sure, with
more than human powers, but one who lived a human life upon the
earth.[968] He is pictured as a great hunter,[969] a powerful
magician,[970] or the founder of the tribe.[971] He was the first
man.[972] One legend even represents him in the form of a worn-out old
man who could hardly move about.[973] If a supreme god named Mura-mura
has existed among the Dieri, the very word is significant, for it serves
to designate the class of the ancestors. Likewise, Nuralie, the name of
a great god among the tribes on the Murray River, is sometimes used as a
collective expression which is applied to the group of mythical beings
whom tradition places at the origin of things.[974] They are personages
wholly comparable to those of the Alcheringa.[975] In Queensland, we
have already met with a god Anjea or Anjir, who made men but who seems,
nevertheless, to be only the first man.[976]

A fact that has aided Australian thought to pass from the numerous
ancestral geniuses to the idea of the tribal god is that between the two
extremes a middle term has been inserted, which has served as a
transition: these are the civilizing heroes. The fabulous beings whom we
call by this name are really simple ancestors to whom mythology has
attributed an eminent place in the history of the tribe, and whom it
has, for this reason, set above the others. We have even seen that they
ordinarily form a part of the totemic organization: Mangarkunjerkunja
belongs to the Lizard totem and Putiaputia to the Wild Cat totem. But on
the other hand, the functions which they are believed to fulfil, or to
have fulfilled, are closely similar to those incumbent upon a great god.
He, too, is believed to have introduced the arts of civilization among
men, to have been the founder of the principal social institutions and
the revealer of the great religious ceremonies which still remain under
his control. If he is the father of men, it is because he manufactured
them rather than begat them: but Mangarkunjerkunja also made them.
Before his time, there were no men, but only unformed masses of flesh,
in which the different members and even the different individuals were
not yet separated from one another. It was he who cut up this original
matter and made real human beings out of it.[977] Between this mode of
fabrication and the one the myth we have spoken of attributes to Bunjil,
there are only shades of difference. Moreover, the bonds uniting these
two sorts of figures to each other are well shown by the fact that a
relationship of descent is sometimes established between them. Among the
Kurnai, the hero of the bull-roarer, Tundun, is the son of the great god
Mungan-ngaua.[978] Likewise, among the Euahlayi, Daramulun, the son or
brother of Baiame, is identical with Gayandi who is the equivalent of
the Tundun of the Kurnai.[979] Of course it is not necessary to conclude
from these facts that the great god is nothing more than a civilizing
hero. There are cases where these two personages are carefully
differentiated. But if they are not confounded, they are at least
relatives. So it sometimes happens that we find it hard to distinguish
them; there are some who could be classified equally well in one
category or the other. Thus, we have spoken of Atnatu as a civilizing
hero; but he comes very near to being a great god.

The notion of a supreme god even depends so closely upon the entire
system of the totemic beliefs that it still bears their mark. Tundun is
a divine hero, as we have just seen, who is very close to the tribal
divinity; now among the Kurnai, the same word means totem.[980]
Similarly, among the Arunta, Altjira is the name of a great god; it is
also the name of the maternal totem.[981] But there is more to be said
than this; many great gods have an obviously totemic aspect. Daramulun
is an eagle-hawk;[982] his mother, an emu.[983] It is also under the
features of an emu that Baiame is represented.[984] The Altjira of the
Arunta has the legs of an emu.[985] Before being the name of a great
god, Nuralie designated, as we just saw, the ancestor-founders of the
tribe; now some of these were crows, the others hawks.[986] According to
Howitt,[987] Bunjil is always represented in a human form; however, the
same word serves to designate the totem of a phratry, the eagle-hawk. At
least one of his sons is among the totems included in the phratry to
which he has given, or from which he has taken his name.[988] His
brother is Pallyan, the bat; now this latter serves as sexual totem for
the men in many tribes in Victoria.[989]

We can even go farther and state more definitely the connection which
these great gods have with the totemic system. We have just seen that
Bunjil is the totem of a phratry. Daramulun, like Bunjil, is an
eagle-hawk, and we know that this bird is the totem of phratries in a
large number of south-eastern tribes.[990] We have already pointed out
that Nuralie seems to have originally been a collective term designating
indistinctly either eagle-hawks or crows; now in the tribes where this
myth has been observed, the crow is the totem of one of the two
phratries, the eagle-hawk, that of the other.[991] Also, the legendary
history of the great gods resembles that of the totems of the phratries
very closely. The myths, and sometimes the rites, commemorate the
struggles which each of these divinities fought against a carnivorous
bird, over which it triumphed only with the greatest difficulty. Bunjil,
the first man, after making the second man, Karween, entered into a
conflict with him, and in the course of a sort of duel, he wounded him
severely and changed him into a crow.[992] The two species of Nurtalie
are represented as two hostile groups which were originally in a
constant state of war.[993] Baiame, on his side, had to fight against
Mullian, the cannibal eagle-hawk, who, by the way, is identical with
Daramulun.[994] Now, as we have seen, there is also a sort of
constitutional hostility between the totems of the phratries. This
parallelism completes the proof that the mythology of the great gods and
that of these totems are closely related. This relationship will appear
still more evident if we notice that the rival of the god is regularly
either a crow or an eagle-hawk, and that these are quite generally the
totems of the phratries.[995]

So Baiame, Daramulun, Nuralie and Bunjil seem to be phratry-totems who
have been deified; and we may imagine that this apotheosis took place as
follows. It is obviously in the assemblies which take place in regard to
the initiation that the conception was elaborated, for the great gods do
not play a rôle of any importance except in these rites, and are
strangers to the other religious ceremonies. Moreover, as the initiation
is the principal form of the tribal cult, it is only on this occasion
that a tribal mythology could arise. We have already seen how the
rituals of circumcision and subincision spontaneously tend to personify
themselves under the form of civilizing heroes. However, these heroes
exercised no supremacy; they were on the same footing as the other
legendary benefactors of society. But wherever the tribe acquired a
livelier sentiment of itself, this sentiment naturally incarnated itself
in some personage, who became its symbol. In order to account for the
bonds uniting them to one another, no matter what clan they belonged to,
men imagined that they were all descended from the same stock and that
they were all descended from a single father, to whom they owe their
existence, though he owed his to no one. The god of the initiation was
predestined to this rôle, for, according to an expression frequently
coming to the lips of the natives, the object of the initiation is to
make or manufacture men. So they attributed a creative power to this
god, and for all these reasons, he found himself invested with a
prestige setting him well above the other heroes of the mythology. These
others became his auxiliaries, subordinate to him; they were made his
sons or younger brothers, as was the case with Tundun, Gayandi,
Karween, Pallyan, etc. But other sacred beings already existed, who
occupied an equally eminent place in the religious system of the clan:
these were the totems of the phratries. Wherever these are maintained,
they are believed to keep the totems of the clans dependent upon them.
Thus they had all that was necessary for becoming tribal divinities
themselves. So it was only natural that a partial confusion should arise
between these two sorts of mythical beings; it is thus that one of the
two fundamental totems of the tribe gave his traits to the great god.
But as it was necessary to explain why only one of them was called to
this dignity and the other excluded, they supposed that this latter, in
the course of a fight against his rival, was vanquished and that his
exclusion was the consequence of his defeat. This theory was the more
readily admitted because it was in accord with the rest of the
mythology, where the totems of the phratries are generally considered
enemies of one another.

A myth observed by Mrs. Parker among the Euahlayi[996] may serve to
confirm this explanation, for it merely translates it into figurative
language. It is related that in this tribe, the totems were only the
names given to the different parts of Baiame's body at first. So the
clans were, in a sense, the fragments of the divine body. Now is this
not just another way of saying that the great god is the synthesis of
all the totems and consequently the personification of the tribal unity?

But at the same time, it takes an international character. In fact, the
members of the tribe to which the young initiates belong are not the
only ones who assist at the ceremonies of initiation; representatives
from the neighbouring tribes are specially summoned to these
celebrations, which thus become sorts of international fairs, at once
religious and laical.[997] Beliefs elaborated in social environments
thus constituted could not remain the exclusive patrimony of any special
nationality. The stranger to whom they are revealed carries them back to
his own tribe when he returns home; and as, sooner or later, he is
forced to invite his former hosts, there is a continual exchange of
ideas from tribe to tribe. It is thus that an international mythology
was established, of which the great god was quite naturally the
essential element, for it had its origin in the rites of initiation
which it is his function to personify. So his name passed from one
language to another, along with the representations which were attached
to it. The fact that the names of the phratries are generally the same
in very different tribes could not fail to facilitate this diffusion.
The internationalism of the totems opened the way for that of the great


We thus reach the highest conception to which totemism has arrived. This
is the point where it touches and prepares the religions which are to
follow, and aids us in understanding them. But at the same time, we are
able to see that this culminating idea is united without any
interruption to the crudest beliefs which we analysed to start with.

In fact, the great tribal god is only an ancestral spirit who finally
won a pre-eminent place. The ancestral spirits are only entities forged
in the image of the individual souls whose origin they are destined to
explain. The souls, in their turn, are only the form taken by the
impersonal forces which we found at the basis of totemism, as they
individualize themselves in the human body. The unity of the system is
as great as its complexity.

In this work of elaboration, the idea of the soul has undoubtedly played
an important part: it is through it that the idea of personality has
been introduced into the domain of religion. But it is not true that, as
the theorists of animism maintain, it contains the germ of the whole
religion. First of all, it presupposes the notion of _mana_ or the
totemic principle of which it is only a special form. Then, if the
spirits and gods could not be conceived before the soul, they are,
nevertheless, more than mere human souls, liberated by death; else
whence would come their supernatural powers? The idea of the soul has
merely served to direct the mythological imagination in a new way and to
suggest to it constructions of a new sort. But the matter for these
conceptions has been taken, not from the representation of the soul, but
from this reservoir of the anonymous and diffused forces which
constitute the original foundation of religions. The creation of
mythical personalities has only been another way of thinking of these
essential forces.

As for the notion of the great god, it is due entirely to the sentiment
whose action we have already observed in the genesis of the most
specifically totemic beliefs: this is the tribal sentiment. In fact, we
have seen that totemism was not the work of isolated clans, but that it
was always elaborated in the body of a tribe which was to some degree
conscious of its unity. It is for this reason that the different cults
peculiar to each clan mutually touch and complete each other in such a
way as to form a unified whole.[998] Now it is this same sentiment of a
tribal unity which is expressed in the conception of a supreme god,
common to the tribe as a whole. So they are quite the same causes which
are active at the bottom and at the top of this religious system.

However, up to the present, we have considered the religious
representations as if they were self-sufficient and could be explained
by themselves. But in reality, they are inseparable from the rites, not
only because they manifest themselves there, but also because they, in
their turn, feel the influence of these. Of course the cult depends upon
the beliefs, but it also reacts upon them. So in order to understand
them better, it is important to understand it better. The moment has
come for undertaking its study.





We do not have the intention of attempting a complete description of the
primitive cult in what is to follow. Being preoccupied especially with
reaching that which is most elementary and most fundamental in the
religious life, we shall not attempt to reconstruct in detail the
frequently confused multiplicity of all the ritual forms. But out of the
midst of this extreme diversity of practices we should like to touch
upon the most characteristic attitudes which the primitive observes in
the celebration of his cult, to classify the most general forms of his
rites, and to determine their origins and significance, in order that we
may control and, if there is occasion, make more definite the results to
which the analysis of the beliefs has led us.[999]

Every cult presents a double aspect, one negative, the other positive.
In reality, of course, the two sorts of rites which we denominate thus
are closely associated; we shall see that they suppose one another. But
still, they are different and, if it is only to understand their
connection, it is necessary to distinguish them.


By definition, sacred beings are separated beings. That which
characterizes them is that there is a break of continuity between them
and the profane beings. Normally, the first are outside the others. A
whole group of rites has the object of realizing this state of
separation which is essential. Since their function is to prevent undue
mixings and to keep one of these two domains from encroaching upon the
other, they are only able to impose abstentions or negative acts.
Therefore, we propose to give the name negative cult to the system
formed by these special rites. They do not prescribe certain acts to the
faithful, but confine themselves to forbidding certain ways of acting;
so they all take the form of interdictions, or as is commonly said by
ethnographers, of _taboos_. This latter word is the one used in the
Polynesian languages to designate the institution in virtue of which
certain things are withdrawn from common use[1000]; it is also an
adjective expressing the distinctive characteristic of these kinds of
things. We have already had occasion to show how hard it is to translate
a strictly local and dialectical expression like this into a generic
term. There is no religion where there are no interdictions and where
they do not play a considerable part; so it is regrettable that the
consecrated terminology should seem to make so universal an institution
into a peculiarity of Polynesia.[1001] The expression _interdicts_ or
_interdictions_ seems to us to be much more preferable. However, the
word taboo, like the word totem, is so customary that it would show an
excess of purism to prohibit it systematically; also, the inconveniences
it may have are attenuated when its real meaning and importance have
once been definitely stated.

But there are interdictions of different sorts which it is important to
distinguish; for we shall not have to treat all kinds of interdictions
in this chapter.

First of all, beside those coming from religion, there are others which
are due to magic. The two have this in common, that they declare certain
things incompatible, and prescribe the separation of the things whose
incompatibility is thus proclaimed. But there are also very grave
differences between them. In the first place, the sanctions are not the
same in the two cases. Of course the violation of the religious
interdicts is frequently believed, as we shall presently see, to bring
about material disorders mechanically, from which the guilty man will
suffer, and which are regarded as a judgment on his act. But even if
these really come about this spontaneous and automatic judgment is not
the only one; it is always completed by another one, supposing human
intervention. A real punishment is added to this, if it does not
anticipate it, and this one is deliberately inflicted by men; or at
least there is a blame and public reprobation. Even when the sacrilege
has been punished, as it were, by the sickness or natural death of its
author, it is also defamed; it offends opinion, which reacts against it;
it puts the man who did it in fault. On the contrary, the magic
interdiction is judged only by the material consequences which the
forbidden act is believed to produce, with a sort of physical
necessity. In disobeying, a man runs risks similar to those to which an
invalid exposes himself in not following the advice of his physician;
but in this case disobedience is not a fault; it creates no indignation.
There is no sin in magic. Moreover, this difference in sanction is due
to a profound difference in the nature of the interdictions. The
religious interdiction necessarily implies the notion of sacredness; it
comes from the respect inspired by the sacred object, and its purpose is
to keep this respect from failing. On the other hand, the interdictions
of magic suppose only a wholly lay notion of property. The things which
the magician recommends to be kept separate are those which, by reason
of their characteristic properties, cannot be brought together and
confused without danger. Even if he happens to ask his clients to keep
at a distance from certain sacred things, it is not through respect for
them and fear that they may be profaned, for, as we know, magic lives on
profanations;[1002] it is merely for reasons of temporal utility. In a
word, religious interdictions are categorical imperatives; others are
useful maxims, the first form of hygienic and medical interdictions. We
cannot study two orders of facts as different as these simultaneously,
or even under the same name, without confusion. We are only concerned
with the religious interdictions here.[1003]

But a new distinction is necessary between these latter.

There are religious interdictions whose object is to separate two sacred
things of different species from each other. For example, it will be
remembered that among the Wakelbura the scaffold upon which the corpse
is exposed must be made exclusively of materials belonging to the
phratry of the dead man; this is as much as to say that all contact
between the corpse, which is sacred, and the things of the other
phratry, which are also sacred, but differently, is forbidden.
Elsewhere, the arms which one uses to hunt an animal with cannot be made
out of a kind of wood that is classed in the same social group as the
animal itself.[1004] But the most important of these interdictions are
the ones which we shall study in the next chapter; they are intended to
prevent all communication between the purely sacred and the impurely
sacred, between the sacredly auspicious and the sacredly inauspicious.
All these interdictions have one common characteristic; they come, not
from the fact that some things are sacred while others are not, but from
the fact that there are inequalities and incompatibilities between
sacred things. So they do not touch what is essential in the idea of
sacredness. The observance of these prohibitions can give place only to
isolated rites which are particular and almost exceptional; but it could
not make a real cult, for before all, a cult is made by regular
relations between the profane and the sacred as such.

But there is another system of religious interdictions which is much
more extended and important; this is the one which separates, not
different species of sacred things, but all that is sacred from all that
is profane. So it is derived immediately from the notion of sacredness
itself, and it limits itself to expressing and realizing this. Thus it
furnishes the material for a veritable cult, and even of a cult which is
at the basis of all the others; for the attitude which it prescribes is
one from which the worshipper must never depart in all his relations
with the sacred. It is what we call the negative cult. We may say that
its interdicts are the religious interdicts _par excellence_.[1005] It
is only these that we shall discuss in the following pages.

But they take multiple forms. Here are the principal ones which we
observe in Australia.

Before all are the interdictions of contact; these are the original
taboos, of which the others are scarcely more than particular varieties.
They rest upon the principle that the profane should never touch the
sacred. We have seen already that the uninitiated may not touch the
churinga or the bull-roarers under any circumstances. If adults are
allowed the free use of them, it is because initiation has conferred a
sacred character upon them. Blood, and especially that which flows
during the initiation, has a religious virtue;[1006] it is under the
same interdict.[1007] It is the same with the hair.[1008] A dead man is
sacred because the soul which animated the body stays with the corpse;
for this reason it is sometimes forbidden to carry the bones of a dead
man about unless they are wrapped up in a piece of bark.[1009] Even the
place where the death took place should be avoided, for they believe
that the soul of the dead man continues to haunt the spot. That is why
they break camp and move some distance away;[1010] in certain cases they
destroy it along with everything it contains,[1011] and a certain time
must elapse before they can come back to the same place.[1012] Thus it
comes about that a dying man creates an empty space about him; they
abandon him after they have installed him as comfortably as

An exceptionally intimate contact is the one resulting from the
absorption of food. Hence comes the interdiction against eating the
sacred animals or vegetables, and especially those serving as
totems.[1014] Such an act appears so very sacrilegious that the
prohibition covers even adults, or at least, the majority of them; only
the old men attain a sufficient religious dignity to escape this
interdict sometimes. This prohibition has sometimes been explained by
the mythical kinship uniting the man to the animals whose name he bears;
they are protected by the sentiment of sympathy which they inspire by
their position as kin.[1015] But the fact that the consumption of the
forbidden flesh is believed to cause sickness or death automatically
shows that this interdiction does not have its origin in the simple
revolt of the feeling of domestic relationship. Forces of another sort
are in action which are analogous to those in all religions and which
are believed to react against sacrileges.

Moreover, if certain foods are forbidden to the profane because they are
sacred, certain others, on the contrary, are forbidden to persons of a
sacred character, because they are profane. Thus it frequently happens
that certain animals are specially designated as the food of women; for
this reason, they believe that they partake of a feminine nature and
that they are consequently profane. On the other hand, the young
initiate is submitted to a series of rites of particular severity; to
give him the virtues which will enable him to enter into the world of
sacred things, from which he had up till then been excluded, they centre
an exceptionally powerful group of religious forces upon him. Thus he
enters into a state of sanctity which keeps all that is profane at a
distance. Then he is not allowed to eat the game which is regarded as
the special food of women.[1016]

But contact may be established by other means than the touch. One comes
into relations with a thing by merely regarding it: a look is a means of
contact. This is why the sight of sacred things is forbidden to the
profane in certain cases. A woman should never see the instruments of
the cult; the most that is permitted her is to catch a glimpse of them
from afar.[1017] It is the same with the totemic paintings executed on
the bodies of the officiants in the exceptionally important
ceremonies.[1018] The exceptional solemnity of the rites of initiation
prevents the women in certain tribes from seeing the place where they
were celebrated[1019] or even the neophyte himself.[1020] The sacred
character which is imminent in the ceremony as a whole is naturally
found in the persons of those who directed it or took some part in
it; the result of this is that the novice may not raise his eyes
to them, and this interdiction continues even after the rite is
accomplished.[1021] A dead man is also removed from view sometimes: his
face is covered over in such a way that it cannot be seen.[1022]

The word is another way of entering into relations with persons or
things. The breath expired establishes a communication; this is a part
of us which spreads outwards. Thus it is forbidden to the profane to
address the sacred beings or simply to speak in their presence. Just as
the neophyte must not regard either the operators or the assistants, so
it is forbidden to him to converse with them except by signs; and this
interdiction keeps the place to which it has been raised, by means of a
special rite.[1023]

In a general way, there are, among the Arunta, moments in the course of
the great ceremonies when silence is obligatory.[1024] As soon as the
churinga are exposed, every one keeps still, or if someone talks, he
does so in a low voice or with his lips only.[1025]

Besides the sacred things, there are words and sounds which have the
same character; they should not pass the lips of the profane or enter
their ears. There are ritual songs which women must not hear under pain
of death.[1026] They may hear the noise of the bull-roarers, but only
from a distance. Every proper name is considered an essential element of
the person who bears it; being closely associated in the mind to the
idea of this person, it participates in the sentiments which this latter
inspires. So if the one is sacred, the other is. Therefore, it may not
be pronounced in the course of the profane life. Among the Warramunga
there is one totem which is particularly venerated, this is the snake
called Wollunqua; its name is taboo.[1027] It is the same with Baiame,
Daramulun and Bunjil; the esoteric form of their name must not be
revealed to the uninitiate.[1028] During mourning, the name of the dead
man must not be mentioned, at least by his parents, except when there is
an absolute necessity, and even in this case it must be whispered.[1029]
This interdiction is frequently perpetual for the widow and certain
relatives.[1030] Among certain peoples, this even extends beyond the
family; all the individuals whose name is the same as that of the dead
man must change theirs temporarily.[1031] But there is more than this:
the relatives and intimate friends sometimes abstain from certain words
in the usual language, undoubtedly because they were employed by the
dead man; these gaps are filled in by means of periphrases or words
taken from some foreign dialects.[1032] In addition to their public and
everyday names all men have another which is kept a secret: the women
and children do not know it; it is never used in the ordinary life. This
is because it has a religious character.[1033] There are even ceremonies
during which it is necessary to speak a special language which must not
be used for profane purposes. It is the beginning of a sacred

Not only are the sacred beings separated from the profane, but also
nothing which either directly or indirectly concerns the profane life
should be confused with the religious life. Complete nudity is
frequently demanded of the native as a prerequisite to being admitted to
participation in the rites;[1035] he is required to strip himself of all
his habitual ornaments, even those to which he is the most attached, and
from which he separates himself the least willingly because of the
protecting virtues he attributes to them.[1036] If he is obliged to
decorate himself to play his part in the ritual, this decoration has to
be made specially for the occasion; it is a ceremonial costume, a gala
dress.[1037] As these ornaments are sacred, owing to the use made of
them, he is forbidden to use them in profane affairs; when the ceremony
is finished, they are buried or burnt;[1038] the men must even wash
themselves in such a way as to carry away with them no trace of the
decorations with which they were adorned.[1039]

In general, all acts characteristic of the ordinary life are forbidden
while those of the religious life are taking place. The act of eating
is, of itself, profane; for it takes place every day, it satisfies
essentially utilitarian and material needs and it is a part of our
ordinary existence.[1040] This is why it is prohibited in religious
times. When one totemic group has loaned its churinga to a foreign clan,
it is an exceptionally solemn moment when they are brought back and put
into the ertnatulunga; all those who take part in the ceremony must fast
as long as it lasts, and it lasts a long time.[1041] The same rule is
observed during the rites,[1042] of which we shall speak in the next
chapter, as well as at certain moments of the initiation.[1043]

For this same reason, all temporal occupations are suspended while the
great religious solemnities are taking place. According to a remark of
Spencer and Gillen,[1044] which we have already had occasion to cite,
the life of the Australian is divided into two very distinct parts: the
one is devoted to hunting, fishing and warfare; the other is consecrated
to the cult, and these two forms of activity mutually exclude and repel
one another. It is on this principle that the universal institution of
religious days of rest reposes. The distinctive character of the
feast-days in all known religions is the cessation of work and the
suspension of public and private life, in so far as it does not have a
religious objective. This repose is not merely a sort of temporary
relaxation which men have given themselves in order to give themselves
up more freely to the sentiments of joy ordinarily awakened by the
feast-days; for they are sad feasts, consecrated to mourning and
repentance, and during which this cessation is no less obligatory. This
is because work is an eminent form of profane activity: it has no other
apparent end than to provide for the temporal necessities of life; it
puts us in relations with ordinary things only. On feast days, on the
contrary, the religious life attains an exceptional degree of intensity.
So the contrast between the two forms of existence is especially marked
at this moment; consequently, they cannot remain near to each other. A
man cannot approach his god intimately while he still bears on him marks
of his profane life; inversely, he cannot return to his usual
occupations when a rite has just sanctified him. So the ritual day of
rest is only one particular case of the general incompatibility
separating the sacred from the profane; it is the result of an

It would be impossible to enumerate here all the different interdictions
which have been observed, even in the Australian religions alone. Like
the notion of sacredness upon which it rests, the system of interdicts
extends into the most diverse relations; it is even used deliberately
for utilitarian ends.[1045] But howsoever complex it may be, it finally
rests upon two fundamental interdictions, which summarize it and
dominate it.

In the first place, the religious life and the profane life cannot
coexist in the same place. If the former is to develop, a special spot
must be placed at its disposition, from which the second is excluded.
Hence comes the founding of temples and sanctuaries: these are the spots
awarded to sacred beings and things and serve them as residences, for
they cannot establish themselves in any place except on the condition of
entirely appropriating to themselves all within a certain distance. Such
arrangements are so indispensable to all religious life that even the
most inferior religions cannot do without them. The ertnatulunga, the
spot where the churinga are deposited, is a veritable sanctuary. So the
uninitiated are not allowed to approach it. It is even forbidden to
carry on any profane occupation whatsoever there. As we shall presently
see, there are other holy places where important ceremonies are

Likewise, the religious life and the profane life cannot coexist in the
same unit of time. It is necessary to assign determined days or periods
to the first, from which all profane occupations are excluded. Thus
feast days are born. There is no religion, and, consequently, no society
which has not known and practised this division of time into two
distinct parts, alternating with one another according to a law varying
with the peoples and the civilizations; as we have already pointed out,
it was probably the necessity of this alternation which led men to
introduce into the continuity and homogeneity of duration, certain
distinctions and differentiations which it does not naturally
have.[1047] Of course, it is almost impossible that the religious life
should ever succeed in concentrating itself hermetically in the places
and times which are thus attributed to it; it is inevitable that a
little of it should filter out. There are always some sacred things
outside the sanctuaries; there are some rites that can be celebrated on
work-days. But these are sacred things of the second rank and rites of a
lesser importance. Concentration remains the dominating characteristic
of this organization. Generally this concentration is complete for all
that concerns the public cult, which cannot be celebrated except in
common. The individual, private cult is the only one which comes very
near to the temporal life. Thus the contrast between these two
successive phases of human life attains its maximum of intensity in the
inferior societies; for it is there that the individual cult is the most


Up to the present, the negative cult has been presented to us only as a
system of abstentions. So it seems to serve only to inhibit activity,
and not to stimulate it or to modify it. And yet, as an unexpected
reaction to this inhibitive effect, it is found to exercise a positive
action of the highest importance over the religious and moral nature of
the individual.

In fact, owing to the barrier which separates the sacred from the
profane, a man cannot enter into intimate relations with sacred things
except after ridding himself of all that is profane in him. He cannot
lead a religious life of even a slight intensity unless he commences by
withdrawing more or less completely from the temporal life. So the
negative cult is in one sense a means in view of an end: it is a
condition of access to the positive cult. It does not confine itself to
protecting sacred beings from vulgar contact; it acts upon the
worshipper himself and modifies his condition positively. The man who
has submitted himself to its prescribed interdictions is not the same
afterwards as he was before. Before, he was an ordinary being who, for
this reason, had to keep at a distance from the religious forces.
Afterwards, he is on a more equal footing with them; he has approached
the sacred by the very act of leaving the profane; he has purified and
sanctified himself by the very act of detaching himself from the base
and trivial matters that debased his nature. So the negative rites
confer efficient powers just as well as the positive ones; the first,
like the second, can serve to elevate the religious tone of the
individual. According to a very true remark which has been made, no one
can engage in a religious ceremony of any importance without first
submitting himself to a sort of preliminary initiation which introduces
him progressively into the sacred world.[1049] Unctions, lustrations,
benedictions or any essentially positive operation may be used for this
purpose; but the same result may be attained by means of fasts and
vigils or retreat and silence, that is to say, by ritual abstinences,
which are nothing more than certain interdictions put into practice.

When there are only particular and isolated negative rites, their
positive action is generally too slight to be easily perceptible. But
there are circumstances when a whole system of interdictions is
concentrated on one man; in these cases, their effects accumulate, and
thus become more manifest. This takes place in Australia at the time of
the initiation. The neophyte is submitted to a great variety of
negative rites. He must withdraw from the society in which his existence
has been passed up till then, and from almost all human society. Not
only is it forbidden for him to see women and uninitiated persons,[1050]
but he also goes to live in the brush, far from his fellows, under the
direction of some old men who serve him as godfathers.[1051] So very
true is it that the forest is considered his natural environment, that
in a certain number of tribes, the word with which the initiation is
designated signifies _that which is from the forest_.[1052] For this
same reason, he is frequently decorated with leaves during the
ceremonies at which he assists.[1053] In this way he passes long
months,[1054] interspersed from time to time with rites in which he must
take a part. This time is a period of all sorts of abstinences for him.
A multitude of foods are forbidden him; he is allowed only that quantity
of food which is absolutely indispensable for the maintenance of
life;[1055] he is even sometimes bound to a rigorous fast,[1056] or must
eat impure foods.[1057] When he eats, he must not touch the food with
his hands; his godfathers put it into his mouth for him.[1058] In some
cases, he must go to beg his food.[1059] Likewise, he sleeps only as
much as is indispensable.[1060] He must abstain from talking, to the
extent of not uttering a word; it is by signs that he makes known his
needs.[1061] He must not wash;[1062] sometimes he must not move. He
remains stretched out upon the earth, immobile[1063] and without
clothing of any sort.[1064] Now the result of the numerous interdictions
is to bring about a radical change of condition in the initiate. Before
the initiation, he lived with the women; he was excluded from the cult.
After it, he is admitted to the society of men; he takes part in the
rites, and has acquired a sacred character. The metamorphosis is so
complete that it is sometimes represented as a second birth. They
imagine that the profane person, who was the young man up till then, has
died, that he has been killed and carried away by the god of the
initiation, Bunjil, Baiame or Daramulun, and that quite another
individual has taken the place of the one that no longer is.[1065] So
here we find the very heart of the positive effects of which negative
rites are capable. Of course we do not mean to say that these latter
produced this great transformation all by themselves; but they certainly
contributed to it, and largely.

In the light of these facts, we are able to understand what asceticism
is, what place it occupies in the religious life and whence come the
virtues which have generally been attributed to it. In fact, there is no
interdict, the observance of which does not have an ascetic character to
a certain degree. Abstaining from something which may be useful or from
a form of activity which, since it is usual, should answer to some human
need, is, of necessity, imposing constraints and renunciations. So in
order to have real asceticism, it is sufficient for these practices to
develop in such a way as to become the basis of a veritable scheme of
life. Normally, the negative cult serves only as an introduction and
preparation for the positive cult. But it sometimes happens that it
frees itself from this subordination and passes to the first place, and
that the system of interdicts swells and exaggerates itself to the point
of usurping the entire existence. Thus a systematic asceticism is born
which is consequently nothing more than a hypertrophy of the negative
cult. The special virtues which it is believed to confer are only an
amplified form of those conferred, to a lesser degree, by the practice
of any interdiction. They have the same origin; for they both rest on
the principle that a man sanctifies himself only by efforts made to
separate himself from the profane. The pure ascetic is a man who raises
himself above men and acquires a special sanctity by fasts and vigils,
by retreat and silence, or in a word, by privations, rather than by acts
of positive piety (offerings, sacrifices, prayers, etc.). History shows
to what a high religious prestige one may attain by this method: the
Buddhist saint is essentially an ascetic, and he is equal or superior to
the gods.

It follows that asceticism is not a rare, exceptional and nearly
abnormal fruit of the religious life, as some have supposed it to be; on
the contrary, it is one of its essential elements. Every religion
contains it, at least in germ, for there are none in which a system of
interdicts is not found. Their only difference in this regard which
there may be between cults is that this germ is more or less developed
in different ones. It should also be added that there probably is not a
single one in which this development does not take, at least
temporarily, the characteristic traits of real asceticism. This is what
generally takes place at certain critical periods when, for a relatively
short time, it is necessary to bring about a grave change of condition
in a subject. Then, in order to introduce him more rapidly into the
circle of sacred things with which he must be put in contact, he is
separated violently from the profane world; but this does not come
without many abstinences and an exceptional recrudescence of the system
of interdicts. Now this is just what happens in Australia at the moment
of initiation. In order to transform youths into men, it is necessary to
make them live the life of a veritable ascetic. Mrs. Parker very justly
calls them the monks of Baiame.[1066]

But abstinences and privations do not come without suffering. We hold to
the profane world by all the fibres of our flesh; our senses attach us
to it; our life depends upon it. It is not merely the natural theatre of
our activity; it penetrates us from every side; it is a part of
ourselves. So we cannot detach ourselves from it without doing violence
to our nature and without painfully wounding our instincts. In other
words, the negative cult cannot develop without causing suffering. Pain
is one of its necessary conditions. Some have been led to think of it as
constituting a sort of rite in itself; they have seen in it a state of
grace which is to be sought and aroused, even artificially, because of
the powers and privileges which it confers in the same way as these
systems of interdicts, of which it is the natural accompaniment. So far
as we know, Preuss is the first who has realized the religious
rôle[1067] which is attributed to suffering in the inferior societies.
He cites the case of the Arapahs who inflict veritable torments upon
themselves in order to become immune from the dangers of battle; of the
Big Belly Indians who submit to actual tortures on the eve of military
expeditions; of the Hupa who swim in icy rivers and then remain
stretched out on the bank as long as possible, in order to assure
themselves of success in their enterprises; of the Karaya who from time
to time draw blood from their arms and legs by means of scratches made
out of the teeth of fish, in order to strengthen their muscles; of the
men of Dallmannhafen (Emperor William's Land in New Guinea) who combat
the sterility of their women by making bloody incisions in the upper
part of their thighs.[1068]

But similar facts may be found without leaving Australia, especially in
the course of the initiation ceremonies. Many of the rites practised on
this occasion consist in systematically inflicting certain pains on the
neophyte in order to modify his condition and to make him acquire the
qualities characteristic of a man. Thus, among the Larakia, while the
young men are in retreat in the forest, their godfathers and guardians
give them violent blows at any instant, without warning and without
cause.[1069] Among the Urabunna, at a certain time, the novice is
stretched out on the ground, his face against the earth. All the men
present beat him rudely; then they make four or eight gashes on his
back, arranged on each side of the dorsal spine and one on the meridial
line of the nape of his neck.[1070] Among the Arunta, the first rite of
the initiation consists in tossing the subject in a blanket; the men
throw him into the air and catch him when he comes down, to throw him up
again.[1071] In the same tribe, at the close of this long series of
ceremonies, the young man lies down on a bed of leaves under which they
have placed live coals; he remains there, immobile in the midst of the
heat and suffocating smoke.[1072] A similar rite is observed among the
Urabunna; but in addition, while the patient is in this painful
situation, they beat him on the back.[1073] In a general way, all the
exercises to which he is submitted have this same character to such an
extent that when he is allowed to re-enter the ordinary life, he has a
pitiful aspect and appears half stupefied.[1074] It is true that all
these practices are frequently represented as ordeals destined to prove
the value of the neophyte and to show whether he is worthy of being
admitted into the religious society or not.[1075] But in reality, the
probational function of the rite is only another aspect of its efficacy.
For the fact that it has been undergone is proved by its producing its
effect, that is to say, by its conferring the qualities which are the
original reason for its existence.

In other cases, these ritual cruelties are executed, not on the organism
as a whole, but on a particular organ or tissue, whose vitality it is
their object to stimulate. Thus, among the Arunta, the Warramunga and
many other tribes,[1076] at a certain moment in the initiation, certain
persons are charged with biting the novice severely in the scalp. This
operation is so painful that the patient can hardly support it without
uttering cries. Its object is to make the hair grow.[1077] The same
treatment is applied to make the beard grow. The rite of pulling out
hairs, which Howitt mentions in other tribes, seems to have the same
reason for existence.[1078] According to Eylmann, the men and women of
the Arunta and the Kaitish make small wounds on their arms with sticks
red with fire, in order to become skilful in making fire or to acquire
the strength necessary for carrying heavy loads of wood.[1079] According
to this same observer, the Warramunga girls amputate the second and
third joints of the index finger on one hand, thinking that the finger
thus becomes better fitted for finding yams.[1080]

It is not impossible that the extraction of teeth was sometimes destined
to produce effects of this sort. In any case, it is certain that the
cruel rites of circumcision and subincision have the object of
conferring particular powers on the genital organs. In fact, the young
man is not allowed to marry until after he has undergone them; so he
owes them special virtues. What makes this initiation _sui generis_
indispensable is that in all inferior societies, the union of the sexes
is marked with a religious character. It is believed to put redoubtable
forces into play which a man cannot approach without danger, until after
he has acquired the necessary immunity, by ritual processes:[1081] for
this, a whole series of positive and negative practices is used, of
which circumcision and subincision are the forerunners. By painfully
mutilating an organ, a sacred character is given to it, since by that
act, it is put into shape for resisting the equally sacred forces which
it could not meet otherwise.

At the beginning of this work, we said that all the essential elements
of religious thought and life ought to be found, at least in germ, in
the most primitive religions: the preceding facts confirm this
assertion. If there is any one belief which is believed to be peculiar
to the most recent and idealistic religions, it is the one attributing a
sanctifying power to sorrow. Now this same belief is at the basis of the
rites which have just been observed. Of course, it is understood
differently at the different moments of history when it is studied. For
the Christian, it acts especially upon the soul: it purges it, ennobles
it, spiritualizes it. For the Australian, it is the body over which it
is efficient: it increases its vital energies; it makes its beard and
hair grow; it toughens its members. But in both cases the principle is
the same. In both it is admitted that suffering creates exceptional
strength. And this belief is not without foundation. In fact, it is by
the way in which he braves suffering that the greatness of a man is best
manifested. He never rises above himself with more brilliancy than when
he subdues his own nature to the point of making it follow a way
contrary to the one it would spontaneously take. By this, he
distinguishes himself from all the other creatures who follow blindly
wherever pleasure calls them; by this, he makes a place apart for
himself in the world. Suffering is the sign that certain of the bonds
attaching him to his profane environment are broken; so it testifies
that he is partially freed from this environment, and, consequently, it
is justly considered the instrument of deliverance. So he who is thus
delivered is not the victim of a pure illusion when he believes himself
invested with a sort of mastery over things: he really has raised
himself above them, by the very act of renouncing them; he is stronger
than nature, because he makes it subside.

Moreover, it is by no means true that this virtue has only an æsthetic
value: the whole religious life supposes it. Sacrifices and privations
do not come without privations which cost the worshipper dear. Even if
the rites do not demand material gifts from him, they require his time
and his strength. In order to serve his gods, he must forget himself; to
make for them a fitting place in his own life, he must sacrifice his
profane interests. The positive cult is possible only when a man is
trained to renouncement, to abnegation, to detachment from self, and
consequently to suffering. It is necessary that he have no dread of
them: he cannot even fulfil his duties joyfully unless he loves them to
some extent. But for that, it is necessary that he train himself, and it
is to this that the ascetic practices tend. So the suffering which they
impose is not arbitrary and sterile cruelty; it is a necessary school,
where men form and temper themselves, and acquire the qualities of
disinterestedness and endurance without which there would be no
religion. If this result is to be obtained, it is even a good thing that
the ascetic ideal be incarnated eminently in certain persons, whose
speciality, so to speak, it is to represent, almost with excess, this
aspect of the ritual life; for they are like so many living models,
inciting to effort. Such is the historic rôle of the great ascetics.
When their deeds and acts are analysed in detail, one asks himself what
useful end they can have. He is struck by the fact that there is
something excessive in the disdain they profess for all that ordinarily
impassions men. But these exaggerations are necessary to sustain among
the believers a sufficient disgust for an easy life and common
pleasures. It is necessary that an elite put the end too high, if the
crowd is not to put it too low. It is necessary that some exaggerate, if
the average is to remain at a fitting level.

But asceticism does not serve religious ends only. Here, as elsewhere,
religious interests are only the symbolic form of social and moral
interests. The ideal beings to whom the cults are addressed are not the
only ones who demand of their followers a certain disdain for suffering:
society itself is possible only at this price. Though exalting the
strength of man, it is frequently rude to individuals; it necessarily
demands perpetual sacrifices from them; it is constantly doing violence
to our natural appetites, just because it raises us above ourselves. If
we are going to fulfil our duties towards it, then we must be prepared
to do violence to our instincts sometimes and to ascend the decline of
nature when it is necessary. So there is an asceticism which, being
inherent in all social life, is destined to survive all the mythologies
and all the dogmas; it is an integral part of all human culture. At
bottom, this is the asceticism which is the reason for the existence of
and the justification of that which has been taught by the religions of
all times.


Having determined what the system of interdicts consists in and what its
positive and negative functions are, we must now seek the causes which
have given it birth.

In one sense, it is logically implied in the very notion of sacredness.
All that is sacred is the object of respect, and every sentiment of
respect is translated, in him who feels it, by movements of inhibition.
In fact, a respected being is always expressed in the consciousness by a
representation which, owing to the emotion it inspires, is charged with
a high mental energy; consequently, it is armed in such a way as to
reject to a distance every other representation which denies it in whole
or in part. Now the sacred world and the profane world are antagonistic
to each other. They correspond to two forms of life which mutually
exclude one another, or which at least cannot be lived at the same time
with the same intensity. We cannot give ourselves up entirely to the
ideal beings to whom the cult is addressed and also to ourselves and our
own interests at the same time; we cannot devote ourselves entirely to
the group and entirely to our own egoism at once. Here there are two
systems of conscious states which are directed and which direct our
conduct towards opposite poles. So the one having the greater power of
action should tend to exclude the other from the consciousness. When we
think of holy things, the idea of a profane object cannot enter the mind
without encountering grave resistance; something within us opposes
itself to its installation. This is because the representation of a
sacred thing does not tolerate neighbours. But this psychic antagonism
and this mutual exclusion of ideas should naturally result in the
exclusion of the corresponding things. If the ideas are not to coexist,
the things must not touch each other or have any sort of relations. This
is the very principle of the interdict.

Moreover, the world of sacred things is, by definition, a world apart.
Since it is opposed to the profane world by all the characteristics we
have mentioned, it must be treated in its own peculiar way: it would be
a misunderstanding of its nature and a confusion of it with something
that it is not, to make use of the gestures, language and attitudes
which we employ in our relations with ordinary things, when we have to
do with the things that compose it. We may handle the former freely; we
speak freely to vulgar beings; so we do not touch the sacred beings, or
we touch them only with reserve; we do not speak in their presence, or
we do not speak the common language there. All that is used in our
commerce with the one must be excluded from our commerce with the other.

But if this explanation is not inexact, it is, nevertheless,
insufficient. In fact, there are many beings which are the objects of
respect without being protected by systems of rigorous interdictions
such as those we have just described. Of course there is a general
tendency of the mind to localize different things in different places,
especially when they are incompatible with each other. But the profane
environment and the sacred one are not merely distinct, but they are
also closed to one another; between them there is an abyss. So there
ought to be some particular reason in the nature of sacred things, which
causes this exceptional isolation and mutual exclusion. And, in fact, by
a sort of contradiction, the sacred world is inclined, as it were, to
spread itself into this same profane world which it excludes elsewhere:
at the same time that it repels it, it tends to flow into it as soon as
it approaches. This is why it is necessary to keep them at a distance
from one another and to create a sort of vacuum between them.

What makes these precautions necessary is the extraordinary
contagiousness of a sacred character. Far from being attached to the
things which are marked with it, it is endowed with a sort of
elusiveness. Even the most superficial or roundabout contact is
sufficient to enable it to spread from one object to another. Religious
forces are represented in the mind in such a way that they always seem
ready to escape from the points where they reside and to enter
everything passing within their range. The nanja tree where the spirit
of an ancestor lives is sacred for the individual who considers himself
the reincarnation of this ancestor. But every bird which alights upon
this tree participates in this same nature: it is also forbidden to
touch it.[1082] We have already had occasion to show how simple contact
with a churinga is enough to sanctify men and things;[1083] it is also
upon this principle of the contagiousness of sacredness that all the
rites of consecration repose. The sanctity of the churinga is so great
that its action is even felt at a distance. It will be remembered how
this extends not only to the cave where they are kept, but also to the
whole surrounding district, to the animals who take refuge there, whom
it is forbidden to kill, and to the plants which grow there, which must
not be touched.[1084] A snake totem has its centre at a place where
there is a water-hole. The sacred character of the totem is
communicated to this place, to the water-hole and even to the water
itself, which is forbidden to all the members of the totemic
group.[1085] The initiate lives in an atmosphere charged with
religiousness, and it is as though he were impregnated with it
himself.[1086] Consequently all that he possesses and all that he
touches is forbidden to the women, and withdrawn from their contact,
even down to the bird he has struck with his stick, the kangaroo he has
pierced with his lance or the fish which has bit on his hook.[1087] But,
on the other hand, the rites to which he is submitted and the things
which have a part in them have a sanctity superior to his own: this
sanctity is contagiously transmitted to everything which evokes the idea
of one or the other. The tooth which has been knocked out of him is
considered very holy.[1088] For this reason, he may not eat animals with
prominent teeth, because they make him think of his own lost tooth. The
ceremonies of the Kuringal terminate with a ritual washing;[1089]
acquatic birds are forbidden to the neophyte because they make him think
of this rite. Animals that climb to the tops of trees are equally sacred
for him, because they are too near to Daramulun, the god of the
initiation, who lives in heaven.[1090] The soul of a dead man is a
sacred thing: we have already seen how this same property passes to the
corpse in which the soul resided, to the spot where this is buried, to
the camp in which he lived when alive, and which is either destroyed or
quitted, to the name he bore, to his wife and to his relations.[1091]
They, too, are invested, as it were, with a sacred character;
consequently, men keep at a distance from them; they do not treat them
as mere profane beings. In the societies observed by Dawson, their
names, like that of the dead man, cannot be pronounced during the period
of mourning.[1092] Certain animals which he ate may also be

This contagiousness of sacredness is too well known a phenomenon[1094]
to require any proof of its existence from numerous examples; we only
wish to show that it is as true in totemism as in the more advanced
religions. When once established, it quickly explains the extreme rigour
of the interdicts separating the sacred from the profane. Since, in
virtue of this extraordinary power of expansion, the slightest contact,
the least proximity, either material or simply moral, suffices to draw
religious forces out of their domain, and since, on the other hand, they
cannot leave it without contradicting their nature, a whole system of
measures is indispensable for maintaining the two worlds at a respectful
distance from one another. This is why it is forbidden to the profane,
not only to touch, but even to see or hear that which is sacred, and why
these two sorts of life cannot be mixed in their consciousnesses.
Precautions are necessary to keep them apart because, though opposing
one another, they tend to confuse themselves into one another.

When we understand the multiplicity of these interdicts we also
understand the way in which they operate and the sanctions which are
attached to them. Owing to the contagiousness inherent in all that is
sacred, a profane being cannot violate an interdict without having the
religious force, to which he has unduly approached, extend itself over
him and establish its empire over him. But as there is an antagonism
between them, he becomes dependent upon a hostile power, whose hostility
cannot fail to manifest itself in the form of violent reactions which
tend to destroy him. This is why sickness or death are considered the
natural consequences of every transgression of this sort; and they are
consequences which are believed to come by themselves, with a sort of
physical necessity. The guilty man feels himself attacked by a force
which dominates him and against which he is powerless. Has he eaten the
totemic animal? Then he feels it penetrating him and gnawing at his
vitals; he lies down on the ground and awaits death.[1095] Every
profanation implies a consecration, but one which is dreadful, both for
the subject consecrated and for those who approach him. It is the
consequences of this consecration which sanction, in part, the

It should be noticed that this explanation of the interdicts does not
depend upon the variable symbols by the aid of which religious forces
are conceived. It matters little whether these are conceived as
anonymous and impersonal energies or figured as personalities endowed
with consciousness and feeling. In the former case, of course, they are
believed to react against profaning transgressions in an automatic and
unconscious manner, while in the latter case, they are thought to obey
passionate movements determined by the offence resented. But at bottom,
these two conceptions, which, moreover, have the same practical effect,
only express one and the same psychic mechanism in two different
languages. The basis of both is the antagonism of the sacred and the
profane, combined with the remarkable aptitude of the former for
spreading over to the latter; now this antagonism and this
contagiousness act in the same way, whether the sacred character is
attributed to blind forces or to conscious ones. Thus, so far is it from
being true that the real religious life commences only where there are
mythical personalities, that we see that in this case the rite remains
the same, whether the religious beings are personified or not. This is a
statement which we shall have occasion to repeat in each of the chapters
which follow.


But if this contagiousness of sacredness helps to explain the system of
interdicts, how is it to be explained itself?

Some have tried to explain it with the well-known laws of the
association of ideas. The sentiments inspired in us by a person or a
thing spread contagiously from the idea of this thing or person to the
representations associated with it, and thence to the objects which
these representations express. So the respect which we have for a sacred
being is communicated to everything touching this being, or resembling
it, or recalling it. Of course a cultivated man is not deceived by these
associations; he knows that these derived emotions are due to mere plays
of the images and to entirely mental combinations, so he does not give
way to the superstitions which these illusions tend to bring about. But
they say that the primitive naïvely objectifies his impressions, without
criticising them. Does something inspire a reverential fear in him? He
concludes that an august and redoubtable force really resides in it; so
he keeps at a distance from this thing and treats it as though it were
sacred, even though it has no right to this title.[1097]

But whoever says this forgets that the most primitive religions are not
the only ones which have attributed this power of propagation to the
sacred character. Even in the most recent cults, there is a group of
rites which repose upon this principle. Does not every consecration by
means of anointing or washing consist in transferring into a profane
object the sanctifying virtues of a sacred one? Yet it is difficult to
regard an enlightened Catholic of to-day as a sort of retarded savage
who continues to be deceived by his associations of ideas, while nothing
in the nature of things explains or justifies these ways of thinking.
Moreover, it is quite arbitrarily that they attribute to the primitive
this tendency to objectify blindly all his emotions. In his ordinary
life, and in the details of his lay occupations, he does not impute the
properties of one thing to its neighbours, or _vice versa_. If he is
less careful than we are about clarity and distinction, still it is far
from true that he has some vague, deplorable aptitude for jumbling and
confusing everything. Religious thought alone has a marked leaning
towards these sorts of confusions. So it is in something special to the
nature of religious things, and not in the general laws of the human
intelligence, that the origin of these predispositions is to be sought.

When a force or property seems to be an integral part or constituent
element of the subject in which it resides, we cannot easily imagine its
detaching itself and going elsewhere. A body is defined by its mass and
its atomic composition; so we do not think that it could communicate any
of these distinctive characteristics by means of contact. But, on the
other hand, if we are dealing with a force which has penetrated the body
from without, since nothing attaches it there and since it is foreign to
the body, there is nothing inconceivable in its escaping again. Thus the
heat or electricity which a body has received from some external source
may be transmitted to the surrounding medium, and the mind readily
accepts the possibility of this transmission. So the extreme facility
with which religious forces spread out and diffuse themselves has
nothing surprising about it, if they are generally thought of as outside
of the beings in which they reside. Now this is just what the theory we
have proposed implies.

In fact, they are only collective forces hypostatized, that is to say,
moral forces; they are made up of the ideas and sentiments awakened in
us by the spectacle of society, and not of sensations coming from the
physical world. So they are not homogeneous with the visible things
among which we place them. They may well take from these things the
outward and material forms in which they are represented, but they owe
none of their efficacy to them. They are not united by external bonds
to the different supports upon which they alight; they have no roots
there; according to an expression we have already used[1098] and which
serves best for characterizing them, _they are added to them_. So there
are no objects which are predestined to receive them, to the exclusion
of all others; even the most insignificant and vulgar may do so;
accidental circumstances decide which are the chosen ones. The terms in
which Codrington speaks of the mana should be borne in mind: it is a
force, he says, which "_is not fixed in anything and can be conveyed in
almost anything_."[1099] Likewise, the Dakota of Miss Fletcher
represented the wakan as a sort of surrounding force which is always
coming and going through the world, alighting here and there, but
definitely fixing itself nowhere.[1100] Even the religious character
inherent in men does not have a different character. There is certainly
no other being in the world of experience which is closer to the very
source of all religious life; none participates in it more directly, for
it is in human consciousnesses that it is elaborated. Yet we know that
the religious principle animating men, to wit, the soul, is partially

But if religious forces have a place of their own nowhere, their
mobility is easily explained. Since nothing attaches them to the things
in which we localize them, it is natural that they should escape on the
slightest contact, in spite of themselves, so to speak, and that they
should spread afar. Their intensity incites them to this spreading,
which everything favours. This is why the soul itself, though holding to
the body by very personal bonds, is constantly threatening to leave it:
all the apertures and pores of the body are just so many ways by which
it tends to spread and diffuse itself into the outside.[1101]

But we shall account for this phenomenon which we are trying to
understand, still better if, instead of considering the notion of
religious forces as it is when completely formulated, we go back to the
mental process from which it results.

We have seen, in fact, that the sacred character of a being does not
rest in any of its intrinsic attributes. It is not because the totemic
animal has a certain aspect or property that it inspires religious
sentiments; these result from causes wholly foreign to the nature of the
object upon which they fix themselves. What constitutes them are the
impressions of comfort and dependence which the action of the society
provokes in the mind. Of themselves, these emotions are not attached to
the idea of any particular object; but as these emotions exist and are
especially intense, they are also eminently contagious. So they make a
stain of oil; they extend to all the other mental states which occupy
the mind; they penetrate and contaminate those representations
especially in which are expressed the various objects which the man had
in his hands or before his eyes at the moment: the totemic designs
covering his body, the bull-roarers which he was making roar, the rocks
surrounding him, the ground under his feet, etc. It is thus that the
objects themselves get a religious value which is really not inherent in
them but is conferred from without. So the contagion is not a sort of
secondary process by which sacredness is propagated, after it has once
been acquired; it is the very process by which it is acquired. It is by
contagion that it establishes itself: we should not be surprised,
therefore, if it transmits itself contagiously. What makes its reality
is a special emotion; if it attaches itself to some object, it is
because this emotion has found this object in its way. So it is natural
that from this one it should spread to all those which it finds in its
neighbourhood, that is to say, to all those which any reason whatsoever,
either material contiguity or mere similarity, has mentally connected
with the first.

Thus, the contagiousness of sacredness finds its explanation in the
theory which we have proposed of religious forces, and by this very
fact, it serves to confirm our theory.[1102] And, at the same time, it
aids us in understanding a trait of primitive mentality to which we have
already called the attention.

We have seen[1103] the facility with which the primitive confuses
kingdoms and identifies the most heterogeneous things, men, animals,
plants, stars, etc. Now we see one of the causes which has contributed
the most to facilitating these confusions. Since religious forces are
eminently contagious, it is constantly happening that the same principle
animates very different objects equally; it passes from some into others
as the result of either a simple material proximity or of even a
superficial similarity. It is thus that men, animals, plants and rocks
come to have the same totem: the men because they bear the name of the
animal: the animals because they bring the totemic emblem to mind; the
plants because they nourish these animals; the rocks because they mark
the place where the ceremonies are celebrated. Now religious forces are
therefore considered the source of all efficacy; so beings having one
single religious principle ought to pass as having the same essence, and
as differing from one another only in secondary characteristics. This is
why it seemed quite natural to arrange them in a single category and to
regard them as mere varieties of the same class, transmutable into one

When this relation has been established, it makes the phenomena of
contagion appear under a new aspect. Taken by themselves, they seem to
be quite foreign to the logical life. Is their effect not to mix and
confuse beings, in spite of their natural differences? But we have seen
that these confusions and participation have played a rôle of the
highest utility in logic; they have served to bind together things which
sensation leaves apart from one another. So it is far from true that
contagion, the source of these connections and confusions, is marked
with that fundamental irrationality that one is inclined to attribute it
at first. It has opened the way for the scientific explanations of the



I.--_The Elements of the Sacrifice_

Whatever the importance of the negative cult may be, and though it may
indirectly have positive effects, it does not contain its reason for
existence in itself; it introduces one to the religious life, but it
supposes this more than it constitutes it. If it orders the worshipper
to flee from the profane world, it is to bring him nearer to the sacred
world. Men have never thought that their duties towards religious forces
might be reduced to a simple abstinence from all commerce; they have
always believed that they upheld positive and bilateral relations with
them, whose regulation and organization is the function of a group of
ritual practices. To this special system of rites we give the name of
_positive cult_.

For some time we almost completely ignored the positive cult of the
totemic religion and what it consists in. We knew almost nothing more
than the initiation rites, and we do not know those sufficiently well
even now. But the observations of Spencer and Gillen, prepared for by
those of Schulze and confirmed by those of Strehlow, on the tribes of
central Australia, have partially filled this gap in our information.
There is one ceremony especially which these explorers have taken
particular pains to describe to us and which, moreover, seems to
dominate the whole totemic cult: this is the one that the Arunta,
according to Spencer and Gillen, call the _Intichiuma_. It is true that
Strehlow contests the meaning of this word. According to him, intichiuma
(or, as he writes it, _intijiuma_) means "to instruct" and designates
the ceremonies performed before the young man to teach him the
traditions of the tribe. The feast which we are going to describe bears,
he says, the name _mbatjalkatiuma_, which means "to fecundate" or "to
put into a good condition."[1104] But we shall not try to settle this
question of vocabulary, which touches the real problem but slightly, as
the rites in question are all celebrated in the course of the
initiation. On the other hand, as the word Intichiuma now belongs to the
current language of ethnography, and has almost become a common noun, it
seems useless to replace it with another.[1105]

The date on which the Intichiuma takes place depends largely upon the
season. There are two sharply separated seasons in Australia: one is dry
and lasts for a long time; the other is rainy and is, on the contrary,
very short and frequently irregular. As soon as the rains arrive,
vegetation springs up from the ground as though by enchantment and
animals multiply, so that the country which had recently been only a
sterile desert is rapidly filled with a luxurious flora and fauna. It is
just at the moment when the good season seems to be close at hand that
the Intichiuma is celebrated. But as the rainy season is extremely
variable, the date of the ceremonies cannot be fixed once for all. It
varies with the climatic circumstances, which only the chief of the
totemic group, the Alatunja, is qualified to judge: on a day which he
considers suitable, he informs his companions that the moment has

Each totemic group has its own Intichiuma. Even if this rite is general
in the societies of the centre, it is not the same everywhere; among the
Warramunga, it is not what it is among the Arunta; it varies, not only
among the tribes, but also within the tribe, among the clans. But it is
obvious that the different mechanisms in use are too closely related to
each other to be dissociated completely. There is no ceremony, perhaps,
which is not made up of several, though these are very unequally
developed: what exists only as a germ in one, occupies the most
important place in another, and inversely. Yet they must be carefully
distinguished, for they constitute just so many different ritual types
to be described and explained separately, but afterwards we must seek
some common source from which they were derived.

Let us commence with those observed among the Arunta.


The celebration includes two successive phases. The object of the rites
which take place in the first is to assure the prosperity of the animal
or vegetable species serving the clan as totem. The means employed for
this end may be reduced to two principal types.

It will be remembered that the fabulous ancestors from whom each clan is
supposed to be descended, formerly lived on earth and left traces of
their passage there. These traces consist especially in stones and rocks
which they deposited at certain places, or which were formed at the
spots where they entered into the ground. These rocks and stones are
considered the bodies or parts of the bodies of the ancestors, whose
memory they keep alive; they represent them. Consequently, they also
represent the animals and plants which served these same ancestors as
totems, for an individual and his totem are only one. The same reality
and the same properties are attributed to them as to the actually living
plants or animals of the same species. But they have this advantage over
these latter, that they are imperishable, knowing neither sickness nor
death. So they are like a permanent immutable and ever-available reserve
of animal and vegetable life. Also, in a certain number of cases, it is
this reserve that they annually draw upon to assure the reproduction of
the species.

Here, for example, is how the Witchetty grub clan, at Alice Springs,
proceeds at its Intichiuma.[1107]

On the day fixed by the chief, all the members of the totemic group
assemble in the principal camp. The men of the other totems retire to a
distance;[1108] for among the Arunta, they are not allowed to be present
at the celebration of the rite, which has all the characteristics of a
secret ceremony. An individual of a different totem, but of the same
phratry, may be invited to be present, as a favour; but this is only as
a witness. In no case can he take an active part.

After the men of the totem have assembled, they leave the camp, leaving
only two or three of their number behind. They advance in a profound
silence, one behind another, all naked, without arms and without any of
their habitual ornaments. Their attitude and their pace are marked with
a religious gravity: this is because the act in which they are taking
part has an exceptional importance in their eyes. Also, until the end of
the ceremony they are required to observe a rigorous fast.

The country which they traverse is all filled with souvenirs left by the
glorious ancestors. Thus they arrive at a spot where a huge block of
quartz is found, with small round stones all around it. This block
represents the witchetty grub as an adult. The Alatunja strikes it with
a sort of wooden tray called _apmara_,[1109] and at the same time he
intones a chant, whose object is to invite the animal to lay eggs. He
proceeds in the same fashion with the stones which are regarded as the
eggs of the animal and with one of which he rubs the stomach of each
assistant. This done, they all descend a little lower, to the foot of a
cliff also celebrated in the myths of the Alcheringa, at the base of
which is another stone, also representing the witchetty grub. The
Alatunja strikes it with his apmara; the men accompanying him do so as
well, with branches of a gum-tree which they have gathered on the way,
all of which goes on in the midst of chants renewing the invitation
previously addressed to the animal. About ten different spots are
visited in turn, some of which are a mile or more from the others. At
each of them there is a stone at the bottom of a cave or hole, which is
believed to represent the witchetty grub in one of his aspects or at one
of the phases of his existence, and upon each of these stones, the same
ceremonies are repeated.

The meaning of the rite is evident. When the Alatunja strikes the sacred
stones, it is to detach some dust. The grains of this very holy dust are
regarded as so many germs of life; each of them contains a spiritual
principle which will give birth to a new being, when introduced into an
organism of the same species. The branches with which the assistants are
provided serve to scatter this precious dust in all directions; it is
scattered everywhere, to accomplish its fecundating work. By this means,
they assure, in their own minds, an abundant reproduction of the animal
species over which the clans guard, so to speak, and upon which it

The natives themselves give the rite this interpretation. Thus, in the
clan of the _ilpirla_ (a kind of "manna"), they proceed in the following
manner. When the day of the Intichiuma arrives, the group assembles near
a huge rock, about fifty feet high; on top of this rock is another, very
similar to the first in aspect and surrounded by other smaller ones.
Both represent masses of manna. The Alatunja digs up the ground at the
foot of this rock and uncovers a churinga which is believed to have been
buried there in Alcheringa times, and which is, as it were, the
quintessence of the manna. Then he climbs up to the summit of the higher
rock and rubs it, first with the churinga and then with the smaller
stones which surround it. Finally, he brushes away the dust which has
thus been collected on the surface of the rock, with the branches of a
tree; each of the assistants does the same in his turn. Now Spencer and
Gillen say that the idea of the natives is that the dust thus scattered
will "settle upon the mulga trees and so produce manna." In fact, these
operations are accompanied by a hymn sung by those present, in which
this idea is expressed.[1110]

With variations, this same rite is found in other societies. Among the
Urabunna, there is a rock representing an ancestor of the Lizard clan;
bits are detached from it which they throw in every direction, in order
to secure an abundant production of lizards.[1111] In this same tribe,
there is a sand-bank which mythological souvenirs closely associate with
the louse totem. At the same spot are two trees, one of which is called
the ordinary louse tree, the other, the crab-louse tree. They take some
of this sand, rub it on these trees, throw it about on every side and
become convinced that, as a result of this, lice will be born in large
numbers.[1112] The Mara perform the Intichiuma of the bees by scattering
dust detached from sacred rocks.[1113] For the kangaroo of the plains, a
slightly different method is used. They take some kangaroo-dung and wrap
it up in a certain herb of which the animal is very fond, and which
belongs to the kangaroo totem for this reason. Then they put the dung,
thus enveloped, on the ground between two bunches of this herb and set
the whole thing on fire. With the flame thus made, they light the
branches of trees and then whirl them about in such a way that sparks
fly in every direction. These sparks play the same rôle as the dust in
the preceding cases.[1114]

In a certain number of clans,[1115] men mix something of their own
substance with that of the stone, in order to make the rite more
efficacious. Young men open their veins and let streams of blood flow on
to the rock. This is the case, for example, in the Intichiuma of the
Hakea flower among the Arunta. The ceremony takes place in a sacred
place around an equally sacred rock which, in the eyes of the natives,
represents Hakea flowers. After certain preliminary operations, "the old
leader asks one of the young men to open a vein in his arm, which he
does, and allows the blood to sprinkle freely, while the other men
continue the singing. The blood flows until the stone is completely
covered."[1116] The object of this practice is to revivify the virtues
of the stone, after a fashion, and to reinforce its efficacy. It should
not be forgotten that the men of the clan are relatives of the plant or
animal whose name they bear; the same principle of life is in them, and
especially in their blood. So it is only natural that one should use
this blood and the mystic germs which it carries to assure the regular
reproduction of the totemic species. It frequently happens among the
Arunta that when a man is sick or tired, one of his young companions
opens his veins and sprinkles him with his blood in order to reanimate
him.[1117] If blood is able to reawaken life in a man in this way, it is
not surprising that it should also be able to awaken it in the animal or
vegetable species with which the men of the clan are confounded.

The same process is employed in the Intichiuma of the Undiara kangaroo
among the Arunta. The theatre of the ceremony is a water-hole vaulted
over by a peaked rock. This rock represents an animal-kangaroo of the
Alcheringa which was killed and deposited there by a man-kangaroo of the
same epoch; many kangaroo spirits are also believed to reside there.
After a certain number of sacred stones have been rubbed against each
other in the way we have described, several of the assistants climb up
on the rock upon which they let their blood flow.[1118] "The purpose of
the ceremony at the present day, so say the natives, is by means of
pouring out the blood of kangaroo men upon the rock, to drive out in all
directions the spirits of the kangaroo animals and so to increase the
number of the animals."[1119]

There is even one case among the Arunta where the blood seems to be the
active principle in the rite. In the Emu group, they do not use sacred
stones or anything resembling them. The Alatunja and some of his
assistants sprinkle the ground with their blood; on the ground thus
soaked, they trace lines in various colours, representing the different
parts of the body of an emu. They kneel down around this design and
chant a monotonous hymn. From the fictitious emu to which this chant is
addressed, and, consequently, from the blood which has served to make
it, they believe that vivifying principles go forth, which animate the
embryos of the new generation, and thus prevent the species from

Among the Wonkgongaru,[1121] there is one clan whose totem is a certain
kind of fish; in the Intichiuma of this totem also, it is the blood that
plays the principal part. The chief of the group, after being
ceremoniously painted, goes into a pool of water and sits down there.
Then he pierces his scrotum and the skin around his navel with small
pointed bones. "The blood from the wounds goes into the water and gives
rise to fish."[1122]

By a wholly similar process, the Dieri think that they assure the
reproduction of two of their totems, the carpet snake and the woma snake
(the ordinary snake). A Mura-mura named Minkani is thought to live under
a dune. His body is represented by some fossil bones of animals or
reptiles, such as the deltas of the rivers flowing into Lake Eyre
contain, according to Howitt. When the day of the ceremony arrives, the
men assemble and go to the home of the Minkani. There they dig until
they come to a layer of damp earth which they call "the excrement of
Minkani." From now on, they continue to turn up the soil with great care
until they uncover "the elbow of Minkani." Then two young men open their
veins and let their blood flow on to the sacred rock. They chant the
hymn of Minkani while the assistants, carried away in a veritable
frenzy, beat each other with their arms. The battle continues until they
get back to the camp, which is about a mile away. Here, the women
intervene and put an end to the combat. They collect the blood which has
flown from the wounds, mix it with the "excrement of Minkani," and
scatter the resulting mixture over the dune. When this rite has been
accomplished, they are convinced that carpet snakes will be born in

In certain cases, they use the very substance which they wish to produce
as the vivifying principle. Thus among the Kaitish, in the course of a
ceremony whose object is to create rain, they sprinkle water over a
sacred rock which represents the mythical heroes of the Water clan. It
is evident that they believe that by this means they augment the
productive virtues of the rock just as well as with blood, and for the
same reasons.[1124] Among the Mara, the actor takes water from a sacred
hole, puts it in his mouth and spits it out in every direction.[1125]
Among the Worgaia, when the yams begin to sprout, the chief of the Yam
clan sends men of the phratry of which he is not a member himself to
gather some of these plants; these bring some to him, and ask him to
intervene, in order that the species may develop well. He takes one,
chews it, and throws the bits in every direction.[1126] Among the
Kaitish when, after various rites which we shall not describe, the grain
of a certain grass called Erlipinna has reached its full development,
the chief of the totem brings a little of it to camp and grinds it
between two stones; the dust thus obtained is piously gathered up, and a
few grains are placed on the lips of the chief, who scatters them by
blowing. This contact with the mouth of the chief, which has a very
special sacramental virtue, undoubtedly has the object of stimulating
the vitality of the germs which these grains contain and which, being
blown to all the quarters of the horizon, go to communicate these
fecundating virtues which they possess to the plants.[1127]

The efficacy of these rites is never doubted by the native: he is
convinced that they must produce the results he expects, with a sort of
necessity. If events deceive his hopes, he merely concludes that they
were counteracted by the sorcery of some hostile group. In any case, it
never enters his mind that a favourable result could be obtained by any
other means. If by chance the vegetation grows or the animals produce
before he has performed his Intichiuma, he supposes that another
Intichiuma has been celebrated under the ground by the ancestors and
that the living reap the benefits of this subterranean ceremony.[1128]


This is the first act of the celebration.

During the period immediately following, there are no regular
ceremonies. However, the religious life remains intense: this is
manifested especially by an aggravation of the system of interdicts. It
is as though the sacred character of the totem were reinforced: they do
not even dare to touch it. In ordinary times, the Arunta may eat the
animal or plant which serves as totem, provided they do so with
moderation, but on the morrow of the Intichiuma this right is suspended;
the alimentary interdiction is strict and without exceptions. They
believe that any violation of this interdict would result in
neutralizing the good effects of the rite and in preventing the increase
of the species. It is true that the men of other totems who happen to be
in the same locality are not submitted to the same prohibition. However,
their liberty is less than ordinary at this time. They may not consume
the totemic animal wherever they place, in the brush, for example; they
must bring it to camp, and it is there only that it may be cooked.[1129]

A final ceremony terminates this period of extraordinary interdictions
and definitely closes this long series of rites. It varies somewhat in
different clans, but the essential elements are the same everywhere.
Here are the two principal forms which it takes among the Arunta. One of
these is in connection with the witchetty grub, the other with the

When the grubs have attained full maturity and appear in abundance, the
men of the totem, as well as others, collect as many of them as
possible; then they all bring those they have found back to camp and
cook them until they become hard and brittle. They are then preserved in
wooden vessels called _pitchi_. The harvest of grubs is possible only
during a very short time, for they appear only after the rain. When they
begin to be less numerous, the Alatunja summons everybody to the camp;
on his invitation, each one brings his supply. The others place theirs
before the men of that totem. The Alatunja takes one of these _pitchi_
and, with the aid of his companions, he grinds its contents between two
stones; after this, he eats a little of the powder thus obtained, his
assistants do the same, and what remains is given to the men of the
other clans, who may now dispose of it freely. They proceed in exactly
the same manner with the supply provided by the Alatunja. From now on,
the men and women of the totem may eat it, but only a little at a time;
if they went beyond the limits allowed, they would lose the powers
necessary to celebrate the Intichiuma and the species would not
reproduce. Yet, if they did not eat any at all, and especially if the
Alatunja ate none in the circumstances we have just described, they
would be overtaken by the same incapacity.

In the totemic group of the Kangaroo, which has its centre at Undiara,
certain characteristics of the ceremony are more clearly marked. After
the rites which we have described have been accomplished on the sacred
rock, the young men go and hunt the kangaroo, bringing their game back
to the camp. Here, the old men, with the Alatunja in their midst, eat a
little of the flesh of the animal, and anoint the bodies of those who
took part in the Intichiuma with its fat. The rest is divided up among
the men assembled. Next, the men of the totem decorate themselves with
totemic designs and the night is passed in songs commemorating the
exploits accomplished by men and animal kangaroos in the times of the
Alcheringa. The next day, the young men go hunting again in the forest
and bring back a larger number of kangaroos than the first time, and the
ceremonies of the day before recommence.[1130]

With variations of detail, the same rite is found in other Arunta
clans,[1131] among the Urabunna,[1132] the Kaitish,[1133] the
Unmatjera,[1134] and in the Encounter Bay Tribe.[1135] Everywhere, it is
made up of the same essential elements. A few specimens of the totemic
animal or plant are presented to the chief of the clan, who solemnly
eats them and who must eat them. If he did not fulfil this duty, he
would lose the power of celebrating the Intichiuma efficaciously, that
is to say, so as to recreate the species annually. Sometimes the ritual
consumption is followed by an unction made with the fat of the animal or
certain parts of the plant.[1136] This rite is generally repeated by the
men of the totem, or at least by the old men, and after it has been
accomplished, the exceptional interdictions are raised.

In the tribes located farther north, among the Warramunga and
neighbouring societies,[1137] this ceremony is no longer found. However,
traces are found which seem to indicate that there was a time when it
was known. It is true that the chief of the clan never eats the totem
ritually and obligatorily. But in certain cases, men who are not of the
totem whose Intichiuma has just been celebrated, must bring the animal
or plant to camp and offer it to the chief, asking him if he wants to
eat it. He refuses and adds, "I have made this for you; you may eat it
freely."[1138] So the custom of the presentation remains and the
question asked of the chief seems to date back to an epoch when the
ritual consumption was practised.[1139]


The interest of the system of rites which has just been described lies
in the fact that in them we find, in the most elementary form that is
actually known, all the essential principles of a great religious
institution which was destined to become one of the foundation stones of
the positive cult in the superior religions: this is the institution of

We know what a revolution the work of Robertson Smith brought about in
the traditional theory of sacrifice.[1140] Before him, sacrifice was
regarded as a sort of tribute or homage, either obligatory or optional,
analogous to that which subjects owe to their princes. Robertson Smith
was the first to remark that this classic explanation did not account
for two essential characteristics of the rite. In the first place, it is
a repast: its substance is food. Secondly, it is a repast in which the
worshippers who offer it take part, along with the god to whom it is
offered. Certain parts of the victim are reserved for the divinity;
others are attributed to the sacrificers, who consume them; this is why
the Bible often speaks of the sacrifice as a repast in the presence of
Jahveh. Now in a multitude of societies, meals taken in common are
believed to create a bond of artificial kinship between those who assist
at them: In fact, relatives are people who are naturally made of the
same flesh and blood. But food is constantly remaking the substance of
the organism. So a common food may produce the same effects as a common
origin. According to Smith, sacrificial banquets have the object of
making the worshipper and his god communicate in the same flesh, in
order to form a bond of kinship between them. From this point of view,
sacrifice takes on a wholly new aspect. Its essential element is no
longer the act of renouncement which the word sacrifice ordinarily
expresses; before all, it is an act of alimentary communion.

Of course there are some reservations to be made in the details of this
way of explaining the efficacy of sacrificial banquets. This does not
result exclusively from the act of eating together. A man does not
sanctify himself merely by sitting down, in some way, at the same table
with a god, but especially by eating food at this ritual repast which
has a sacred character. It has been shown how a whole series of
preliminary operations, lustrations, unctions, prayers, etc., transform
the animal to be immolated into a sacred thing, whose sacredness is
subsequently transferred to the worshipper who eats it.[1141] But it is
true, none the less, that the alimentary communion is one of the
essential elements of the sacrifice. Now when we turn to the rite which
terminates the ceremonies of the Intichiuma, we find that it, too,
consists in an act of this sort. After the totemic animal has been
killed, the Alatunja and the old men solemnly eat it. So they
communicate with the sacred principle residing in it and they assimilate
it. The only difference we find here is that the animal is naturally
sacred while it ordinarily acquires this character artificially in the
course of the sacrifice.

Moreover, the object of this communion is manifest. Every member of a
totemic clan contains a mystic substance within him which is the
pre-eminent part of his being, for his soul is made out of it. From it
come whatever powers he has and his social position, for it is this
which makes him a person. So he has a vital interest in maintaining it
intact and in keeping it, as far as is possible, in a state of perpetual
youth. Unfortunately all forces, even the most spiritual, are used up in
the course of time if nothing comes to return to them the energy they
lose through the normal working of things; there is a necessity of the
first importance here which, as we shall see, is the real reason for the
positive cult. Therefore the men of a totem cannot retain their position
unless they periodically revivify the totemic principle which is in
them; and as they represent this principle in the form of a vegetable or
animal, it is to the corresponding animal or vegetable species that they
go to demand the supplementary forces needed to renew this and to
rejuvenate it. A man of the Kangaroo clan believes himself and feels
himself a kangaroo; it is by this quality that he defines himself; it is
this which marks his place in the society. In order to keep it, he takes
a little of the flesh of this same animal into his own body from time to
time. A small bit is enough, owing to the rule: _the part is equal to
the whole_.[1142]

If this operation is to produce all the desired effects, it may not take
place at no matter what moment. The most opportune time is when the new
generation has just reached its complete development, for this is also
the moment when the forces animating the totemic species attain their
maximum intensity. They have just been drawn with great difficulty from
those rich reservoirs of life, the sacred trees and rocks. Moreover, all
sorts of means have been employed to increase their intensity still
more; this is the use of the rites performed during the first part of
the Intichiuma. Also, by their very aspect, the firstfruits of the
harvest manifest the energy which they contain: here the totemic god
acclaims himself in all the glory of his youth. This is why the
firstfruits have always been regarded as a very sacred fruit, reserved
for very holy beings. So it is natural that the Australian uses it to
regenerate himself spiritually. Thus both the date and the circumstances
of the ceremonies are explained.

Perhaps some will be surprised that so sacred a food may be eaten by
ordinary profane persons. But in the first place, there is no positive
cult which does not face this contradiction. Every sacred being is
removed from profane touch by this very character with which it is
endowed; but, on the other hand, they would serve for nothing and have
no reason whatsoever for their existence if they could not come in
contact with these same worshippers who, on another ground, must remain
respectfully distant from them. At bottom, there is no positive rite
which does not constitute a veritable sacrilege, for a man cannot hold
commerce with the sacred beings without crossing the barrier which
should ordinarily keep them separate. But the important thing is that
the sacrilege should be accompanied with precautions which attenuate
it. Among those employed, the most usual one consists in arranging the
transition so as to introduce the worshipper slowly and gradually into
the circle of sacred things. When it has been broken and diluted in this
fashion, the sacrilege does not offend the religious conscience so
violently; it is not regarded as a sacrilege and so vanishes. This is
what happens in the case now before us. The effect of the whole series
of rites which has preceded the moment when the totem is solemnly eaten
has been to sanctify those who took an active part in them. They
constitute an essentially religious period, through which no one could
go without a transformation of his religious state. The fasts, the
contact with sacred rocks, the churinga,[1143] the totemic decorations,
etc., have gradually conferred upon him a character which he did not
have before and which enables him to approach, without a shocking and
dangerous profanation, this desirable and redoubtable food which is
forbidden him in ordinary times.[1144]

If the act by which a sacred being is first immolated and then eaten by
those who adore it may be called a sacrifice, the rite of which we have
just been speaking has a right to this same name. Moreover, its
significance is well shown by the striking analogies it presents with so
many practices met with in a large number of agrarian cults. It is a
very general rule that even among peoples who have attained a high
degree of civilization, the firstfruits of the harvest are used in the
ritual repasts, of which the pascal feast is the best known
example.[1145] On the other hand, as the agrarian rites are at the very
basis of the most advanced forms of the cult, we see that the Intichiuma
of the Australian societies is closer to us than one might imagine from
its apparent crudeness.

By an intuition of genius, Smith had an intuition of all this, though he
was not acquainted with the facts. By a series of ingenious
deductions--which need not be reproduced here, for their interest is now
only historical[1146]--he thought that he could establish the fact that
at the beginning the animal immolated in the sacrifice must have been
regarded as quasi-divine and as a close relative of those who immolated
it: now these characteristics are just the ones with which the totemic
species is defined. Smith even went so far as to suppose that totemism
must have known and practised a rite wholly similar to the one we have
been studying; he was even inclined to see the original source of the
whole sacrificial institution in a sacrifice of this sort.[1147]
Sacrifice was not founded to create a bond of artificial kinship between
a man and his gods, but to maintain and renew the natural kinship which
primitively united them. Here, as elsewhere, the artifice was born only
to imitate nature. But in the book of Smith this hypothesis was
presented as scarcely more than a theory which the then known facts
supported very imperfectly. The rare cases of totemic sacrifice which he
cites in support of his theory do not have the significance he
attributed to them; the animals which figure in them are not real
totems.[1148] But to-day we are able to state that on at least one point
the demonstration is made: in fact, we have just seen that in an
important number of societies the totemic sacrifice, such as Smith
conceived it, is or has been practised. Of course, we have no proof that
this practice is necessarily inherent to totemism or that it is the germ
out of which all the other types of sacrifices have developed. But if
the universality of the rite is hypothetical, its existence is no longer
to be contested. Hereafter it is to be regarded as established that the
most mystical form of the alimentary communion is found even in the most
rudimentary cults known to-day.


But on another point the new facts at our disposal invalidate the
theories of Smith.

According to him, the communion was not only an essential element of the
sacrifice, but at the beginning, at least, it was the unique element.
Not only is one mistaken when he reduces sacrifice to nothing more than
a tribute or offering, but the very idea of an offering was originally
absent from it; this intervened only at a late period and under the
influence of external circumstances; so instead of being able to aid us
in understanding it, it has rather masked the real nature of the ritual
mechanism. In fact, Smith claimed to find in the very notion of oblation
an absurdity so revolting that it could never have been the fundamental
reason for so great an institution. One of the most important functions
incumbent upon the divinity is to assure to men that food which is
necessary for life; so it seems impossible that the sacrifice, in its
turn, should consist in a presentation of food to the divinity. It even
seems self-contradictory that the gods should expect their food from a
man, when it is from them that he gets his. Why should they have need of
his aid in order to deduct beforehand their just share of the things
which he receives from their hands? From these considerations Smith
concluded that the idea of a sacrifice-offering could have been born
only in the great religions, where the gods, removed from the things
with which they were primitively confused, were thought of as sorts of
kings and the eminent proprietors of the earth and its products. From
this moment onwards, the sacrifice was associated with the tribute which
subjects paid to their prince, as a price of the rights which were
conceded to them. But this new interpretation was really an alteration
and even a corruption of the primitive conception. For "the idea of
property materializes all that it touches"; by introducing itself into
the sacrifice, it denatured it and made it into a sort of bargain
between the man and the divinity.[1149]

But the facts which we have described overthrow this argumentation.
These rites are certainly among the most primitive that have ever been
observed. No determined mythical personality appears in them; there is
no question of gods or spirits that are properly so called; it is only
vaguely anonymous and impersonal forces which they put into action. Yet
the reasoning which they suppose is exactly the one that Smith declared
impossible because of its absurdity.

Let us return to the first act of the Intichiuma, to the rites destined
to assure the fecundity of the animal or vegetable species which serves
the clan as totem. This species is the pre-eminently sacred thing; in it
is incarnated that which we have been able to call, by metaphor, the
totemic divinity. Yet we have seen that to perpetuate itself it has need
of the aid of men. It is they who dispense the life of the new
generation each year; without them, it would never be born. If they
stopped celebrating the Intichiuma, the sacred beings would disappear
from the face of the earth. So in one sense, it is from men that they
get their existence; yet in another way, it is from them that men get
theirs; for after they have once arrived at maturity, it is from them
that men acquire the force needed to support and repair their spiritual
beings. Thus we are able to say that men make their gods, or, at least,
make them live; but at the same time, it is from them that they live
themselves. So they are regularly guilty of the circle which, according
to Smith, is implied in the very idea of a sacrificial tribute: they
give to the sacred beings a little of what they receive from them, and
they receive from them all that they give.

But there is still more to be said: the oblations which he is thus
forced to make every year do not differ in nature from those which are
made later in the rites properly called sacrifices. If the sacrificer
immolates an animal, it is in order that the living principles within it
may be disengaged from the organism and go to nourish the divinity.
Likewise, the grains of dust which the Australian detaches from the
sacred rock are so many sacred principles which he scatters into space,
so that they may go to animate the totemic species and assure its
renewal. The gesture with which this scattering is made is also that
which normally accompanies offerings. In certain cases, the resemblance
between the two rites may be followed even to the details of the
movements effected. We have seen that in order to have rain the Kaitish
pour water over the sacred stone; among certain peoples, the priest
pours water over the altar, with the same end in view.[1150] The
effusions of blood which are usual in a certain number of Intichiuma are
veritable oblations. Just as the Arunta or Dieri sprinkle the sacred
rock or the totemic design with blood, so it frequently happens that in
the more advanced cults, the blood of the sacrificed victim or of the
worshipper himself is spilt before or upon the altar.[1151] In these
cases, it is given to the gods, of whom it is the preferred food; in
Australia, it is given to the sacred species. So we have no ground for
saying that the idea of oblation is a late product of civilization.

A document which we owe to Strehlow puts this kinship of the Intichiuma
and the sacrifice clearly into evidence. This is a hymn which
accompanies the Intichiuma of the Kangaroo; the ceremony is described at
the same time that its expected effects are announced. A morsel of
kangaroo fat has been placed by the chief upon a support made of
branches. The text says that this fat makes the fat of the kangaroos
increase.[1152] This time, they do not confine themselves to sprinkling
sacred dust or human blood about; the animal itself is immolated, or
sacrificed as one might say, placed upon a sort of altar, and offered to
the species, whose life it should maintain.

Now we see the sense in which we may say that the Intichiuma contains
the germs of the sacrificial system. In the form which it takes when
fully constituted, a sacrifice is composed of two essential elements: an
act of communion and an act of oblation. The worshipper communes with
his god by taking in a sacred food, and at the same time he makes an
offering to this god. We find these two acts in the Intichiuma, as we
have described it. The only difference is that in the ordinary
sacrifice[1153] they are made simultaneously or else follow one another
immediately, while in the Australian ceremony they are separated. In the
former case, they are parts of one undivided rite; here, they take place
at different times, and may even be separated by a rather long interval.
But, at bottom, the mechanism is the same. Taken as a whole, the
Intichiuma is a sacrifice, but one whose parts are not yet articulated
and organized.

The relating of these two ceremonies has the double advantage of
enabling us to understand better the nature of the Intichiuma and that
of sacrifice.

We understand the Intichiuma better. In fact, the conception of Frazer,
which made it a simple magic operation[1154] with no religious character
at all, is now seen to be unsupportable. One cannot dream of excluding
from religion a rite which is the forerunner of so great a religious

But we also understand what the sacrifice itself is better. In the first
place, the equal importance of the two elements entering into it is now
established. If the Australian makes offerings to his sacred beings,
there is no reason for supposing that the idea of oblation was foreign
to the primitive organization of the sacrificial institution and later
upset its natural arrangement. The theory of Smith must be revised on
this point.[1155] Of course the sacrifice is partially a communion; but
it is also, and no less essentially, a gift and an act of renouncement.
It always presupposes that the worshipper gives some of his substance or
his goods to his gods. Every attempt to deduce one of these elements
from the other is hopeless. Perhaps the oblation is even more permanent
than the communion.[1156]

In the second place, it ordinarily seems as though the sacrifice, and
especially the sacrificial oblation, could only be addressed to personal
beings. But the oblations which we have met with in Australia imply no
notion of this sort. In other words, the sacrifice is independent of the
varying forms in which the religious forces are conceived; it is founded
upon more profound reasons, which we shall seek presently.

In any case, it is clear that the act of offering naturally arouses in
the mind the idea of a moral subject, whom this offering is destined to
please. The ritual acts which we have described become more
intelligible when it is believed that they are addressed to persons. So
the practices of the Intichiuma, while actually putting only impersonal
forces into play, prepare the way for a different conception.[1157] Of
course they were not sufficient to form the idea of mythical
personalities by themselves, but when this idea had once been formed,
the very nature of these rites made it enter into the cult; thus, taking
a more direct interest in action and life, it also acquired a greater
reality. So we are even able to believe that the cult favoured, in a
secondary manner, no doubt, but nevertheless one which is worthy of
attention, the personification of the religious forces.


But we still have to explain the contradiction in which Robertson Smith
saw an inadmissible logical scandal.

If the sacred beings always manifested their powers in a perfectly equal
manner, it would appear inconceivable that men should dream of offering
them services, for we cannot see what need they could have of them. But
in the first place, in so far as they are confused with things, and in
so far as they are regarded as principles of the cosmic life, they are
themselves submitted to the rhythm of this life. Now this goes in
oscillations in contrary directions, which succeed one another according
to a determined law. Sometimes it is affirmed in all its glory;
sometimes it weakens to such an extent that one may ask himself whether
it is not going to fade away. Vegetation dies every year; will it be
reborn? Animal species tend to become extinguished by the effect of
natural and violent death; will they be renewed at such a time and in
such a way as is proper? Above all, the rain is capricious; there are
long periods during which it seems to have disappeared for ever. These
periodical variations of nature bear witness to the fact that at the
corresponding periods, the sacred beings upon whom the plants, animals,
rain, etc., depend are themselves passing through grave crises; so they,
too, have their periods of giving way. But men could not regard these
spectacles as indifferent spectators. If he is to live, the universal
life must continue, and consequently the gods must not die. So he seeks
to sustain and aid them; for this, he puts at their service whatever
forces he has at his disposition, and mobilizes them for this purpose.
The blood flowing in his veins has fecundating virtues; he pours it
forth. From the sacred rocks possessed by his clan he takes those germs
of life which lie dormant there, and scatters them into space. In a
word, he makes oblations.

The external and physical crises, moreover, duplicate internal and
mental crises which tend toward the same result. Sacred beings exist
only when they are represented as such in the mind. When we cease to
believe in them, it is as though they did not exist. Even those which
have a material form and are given by sensible experience, depend upon
the thought of the worshippers who adore them; for the sacred character
which makes them objects of the cult is not given by their natural
constitution; it is added to them by belief. The kangaroo is only an
animal like all others; yet, for the men of the Kangaroo, it contains
within it a principle which puts it outside the company of others, and
this principle exists only in the minds of those who believe in
it.[1158] If these sacred beings, when once conceived, are to have no
need of men to continue, it would be necessary that the representations
expressing them always remain the same. But this stability is
impossible. In fact, it is in the communal life that they are formed,
and this communal life is essentially intermittent. So they necessarily
partake of this same intermittency. They attain their greatest intensity
at the moment when the men are assembled together and are in immediate
relations with one another, when they all partake of the same idea and
the same sentiment. But when the assembly has broken up and each man has
returned to his own peculiar life, they progressively lose their
original energy. Being covered over little by little by the rising flood
of daily experiences, they would soon fall into the unconscious, if we
did not find some means of calling them back into consciousness and
revivifying them. If we think of them less forcefully, they amount to
less for us and we count less upon them; they exist to a lesser degree.
So here we have another point of view, from which the services of men
are necessary to them. This second reason for their existence is even
more important than the first, for it exists all the time. The
intermittency of the physical life can affect religious beliefs only
when religions are not yet detached from their cosmic basis. The
intermittency of the social life, on the other hand, is inevitable; even
the most idealistic religions cannot escape it.

Moreover, it is owing to this state of dependency upon the thought of
men, in which the gods find themselves, that the former are able to
believe in the efficacy of their assistance. The only way of renewing
the collective representations which relate to sacred beings is to
retemper them in the very source of the religious life, that is to say,
in the assembled groups. Now the emotions aroused by these periodical
crises through which external things pass induce the men who witness
them to assemble, to see what should be done about it. But by the very
fact of uniting, they are mutually comforted; they find a remedy because
they seek it together. The common faith becomes reanimated quite
naturally in the heart of this reconstituted group; if is born again
because it again finds those very conditions in which it was born in the
first place. After it has been restored, it easily triumphs over all the
private doubts which may have arisen in individual minds. The image of
the sacred things regains power enough to resist the internal or
external causes which tended to weaken it. In spite of their apparent
failure, men can no longer believe that the gods will die, because they
feel them living in their own hearts. The means employed to succour
them, howsoever crude these may be, cannot appear vain, for everything
goes on as if they were really effective. Men are more confident because
they feel themselves stronger; and they really are stronger, because
forces which were languishing are now reawakened in the consciousness.

So we must be careful not to believe, along with Smith, that the cult
was founded solely for the benefit of men and that the gods have nothing
to do with it: they have no less need of it than their worshippers. Of
course men would be unable to live without gods, but, on the other hand,
the gods would die if their cult were not rendered. This does not have
the sole object of making profane subjects communicate with sacred
beings, but it also keeps these latter alive and is perpetually remaking
and regenerating them. Of course it is not the material oblations which
bring about this regeneration by their own virtues; it is the mental
states which these actions, though vain in themselves, accompany or
reawaken. The real reason for the existence of the cults, even of those
which are the most materialistic in appearance, is not to be sought in
the acts which they prescribe, but in the internal and moral
regeneration which these acts aid in bringing about. The things which
the worshipper really gives his gods are not the foods which he places
upon the altars, nor the blood which he lets flow from his veins: it is
his thought. Nevertheless, it is true that there is an exchange of
services, which are mutually demanded, between the divinity and its
worshippers. The rule _do ut des_, by which the principle of sacrifice
has sometimes been defined, is not a late invention of utilitarian
theorists: it only expresses in an explicit way the very mechanism of
the sacrificial system and, more generally, of the whole positive cult.
So the circle pointed out by Smith is very real; but it contains nothing
humiliating for the reason. It comes from the fact that the sacred
beings, though superior to men, can live only in the human

But this circle will appear still more natural to us, and we shall
understand its meaning and the reason for its existence still better if,
carrying our analysis still farther and substituting for the religious
symbols the realities which they represent, we investigate how these
behave in the rite. If, as we have attempted to establish, the sacred
principle is nothing more nor less than society transfigured and
personified, it should be possible to interpret the ritual in lay and
social terms. And, as a matter of fact, social life, just like the
ritual, moves in a circle. On the one hand, the individual gets from
society the best part of himself, all that gives him a distinct
character and a special place among other beings, his intellectual and
moral culture. If we should withdraw from men their language, sciences,
arts and moral beliefs, they would drop to the rank of animals. So the
characteristic attributes of human nature come from society. But, on the
other hand, society exists and lives only in and through individuals. If
the idea of society were extinguished in individual minds and the
beliefs, traditions and aspirations of the group were no longer felt and
shared by the individuals, society would die. We can say of it what we
just said of the divinity: it is real only in so far as it has a place
in human consciousnesses, and this place is whatever one we may give it.
We now see the real reason why the gods cannot do without their
worshippers any more than these can do without their gods; it is because
society, of which the gods are only a symbolic expression, cannot do
without individuals any more than these can do without society.

Here we touch the solid rock upon which all the cults are built and
which has caused their persistence ever since human societies have
existed. When we see what religious rites consist of and towards what
they seem to tend, we demand with astonishment how men have been able to
imagine them, and especially how they can remain so faithfully attached
to them. Whence could the illusion have come that with a few grains of
sand thrown to the wind, or a few drops of blood shed upon a rock or the
stone of an altar, it is possible to maintain the life of an animal
species or of a god? We have undoubtedly made a step in advance towards
the solution of this problem when we have discovered, behind these
outward and apparently unreasonable movements, a mental mechanism which
gives them a meaning and a moral significance. But we are in no way
assured that this mechanism itself does not consist in a simple play of
hallucinatory images. We have pointed out the psychological process
which leads the believers to imagine that the rite causes the spiritual
forces of which they have need to be reborn about them; but it does not
follow from the fact that this belief is psychologically explicable that
it has any objective value. If we are to see in the efficacy attributed
to the rites anything more than the product of a chronic delirium with
which humanity has abused itself, we must show that the effect of the
cult really is to recreate periodically a moral being upon which we
depend as it depends upon us. Now this being does exist: it is society.

Howsoever little importance the religious ceremonies may have, they put
the group into action; the groups assemble to celebrate them. So their
first effect is to bring individuals together, to multiply the relations
between them and to make them more intimate with one another. By this
very fact, the contents of their consciousnesses is changed. On ordinary
days, it is utilitarian and individual avocations which take the greater
part of the attention. Every one attends to his own personal business;
for most men, this primarily consists in satisfying the exigencies of
material life, and the principal incentive to economic activity has
always been private interest. Of course social sentiments could never be
totally absent. We remain in relations with others; the habits, ideas
and tendencies which education has impressed upon us and which
ordinarily preside over our relations with others, continue to make
their action felt. But they are constantly combated and held in check by
the antagonistic tendencies aroused and supported by the necessities of
the daily struggle. They resist more or less successfully, according to
their intrinsic energy: but this energy is not renewed. They live upon
their past, and consequently they would be used up in the course of
time, if nothing returned to them a little of the force that they lose
through these incessant conflicts and frictions. When the Australians,
scattered in little groups, spend their time in hunting and fishing,
they lose sight of what concerns their clan or tribe: their only thought
is to catch as much game as possible. On feast days, on the contrary,
these preoccupations are necessarily eclipsed; being essentially
profane, they are excluded from these sacred periods. At this time,
their thoughts are centred upon their common beliefs, their common
traditions, the memory of their great ancestors, the collective ideal
of which they are the incarnation; in a word, upon social things. Even
the material interests which these great religious ceremonies are
designed to satisfy concern the public order and are therefore social.
Society as a whole is interested that the harvest be abundant, that the
rain fall at the right time and not excessively, that the animals
reproduce regularly. So it is society that is in the foreground of every
consciousness; It dominates and directs all conduct; this is equivalent
to saying that it is more living and active, and consequently more real,
than in profane times. So men do not deceive themselves when they feel
at this time that there is something outside of them which is born
again, that there are forces which are reanimated and a life which
reawakens. This renewal is in no way imaginary and the individuals
themselves profit from it. For the spark of a social being which each
bears within him necessarily participates in this collective renovation.
The individual soul is regenerated too, by being dipped again in the
source from which its life comes; consequently it feels itself stronger,
more fully master of itself, less dependent upon physical necessities.

We know that the positive cult naturally tends to take periodic forms;
this is one of its distinctive features. Of course there are rites which
men celebrate occasionally, in connection with passing situations. But
these episodic practices are always merely accessory, and in the
religions studied in this book, they are almost exceptional. The
essential constituent of the cult is the cycle of feasts which return
regularly at determined epochs. We are now able to understand whence
this tendency towards periodicity comes; the rhythm which the religious
life follows only expresses the rhythm of the social life, and results
from it. Society is able to revivify the sentiment it has of itself only
by assembling. But it cannot be assembled all the time. The exigencies
of life do not allow it to remain in congregation indefinitely; so it
scatters, to assemble anew when it again feels the need of this. It is
to these necessary alternations that the regular alternations of sacred
and profane times correspond. Since the apparent object, at least, of
the cult was at first to regularize the course of natural phenomena, the
rhythm of the cosmic life has put its mark on the rhythm of the ritual
life. This is why the feasts have long been associated with the seasons;
we have seen this characteristic already in the Intichiuma of Australia.
But the seasons have only furnished the outer frame-work for this
organization, and not the principle upon which it rests; for even the
cults which aim at exclusively spiritual ends have remained periodical.
So this periodicity must be due to other causes. Since the seasonal
changes are critical periods for nature, they are a natural occasion for
assembling, and consequently for religious ceremonies. But other events
can and have successfully fulfilled this function of occasional cause.
However, it must be recognized that this frame-work, though purely
external, has given proof of a singular resistive force, for traces of
it are found even in the religions which are the most fully detached
from all physical bases. Many Christian celebrations are founded, with
no break of continuity, on the pastoral and agrarian feasts of the
ancient Hebrews, although in themselves they are neither pastoral nor

Moreover, this rhythm is capable of varying in different societies.
Where the period of dispersion is long, and the dispersion itself is
extreme, the period of congregation, in its turn, is very prolonged, and
produces veritable debauches of collective and religions life. Feasts
succeed one another for weeks or even for months, while the ritual life
sometimes attains to a sort of frenzy. This is what happens among the
Australian tribes and many of the tribes of North-western America.[1159]
Elsewhere, on the contrary, these two phases of the social life succeed
one another after shorter intervals, and then the contrast between them
is less marked. The more societies develop, the less they seem to allow
of too great intermittences.


THE POSITIVE CULT--_continued_

II.--_Imitative Rites and the Principle of Causality_

But the processes which we have just been describing are not the only
ones employed to assure the fecundity of the totemic species. There are
others which serve for the same end, whether they accompany the
preceding ones or replace them.


In the very ceremonies which we have been describing, in addition to the
oblations, whether bloody or otherwise, there are other rites which are
frequently celebrated, whose object is to complete the former ones and
to consolidate their effects. They consist in movements and cries whose
object is to imitate the different attitudes and aspects of the animal
whose reproduction is desired; therefore, we shall call them

Thus the Intichiuma of the Witchetty grub among the Arunta includes more
than the rites performed upon the sacred rocks, of which we have already
spoken. When these are finished, the men set out to return to camp; but
when they still are about a mile away, they halt and all decorate
themselves ritually; after this, the march is resumed. The decorations
with which they thus adorn themselves announce that an important
ceremony is going to take place. And, in fact, while the company was
absent, one of the old men who had been left to guard the camp had built
a shelter out of branches, called _Umbana_, which represented the
chrysalis out of which the insect comes. All of those who had taken part
in the previous ceremonies assemble near the spot where this
construction has been raised; then they advance slowly, stopping from
time to time, until they reach the _Umbana_, which they enter. At once
all the men who do not belong to the phratry of the Witchetty grub
totem, and who assist at the scene, though from a distance, lie down on
the ground, with their faces against the earth; they must remain in this
position without moving until they are allowed to get up again.
Meanwhile, a chant arises from the interior of the Umbana, which
describes the different phases through which the animal passes in the
course of its development, and the myths of which the sacred rocks are
the subject. When this hymn ceases, the Alatunja glides out of the
_Umbana_, though remaining in a squatting position, and advances slowly
over the ground before him; he is followed by all his companions who
reproduce gestures whose evident object is to represent the insect as it
leaves the chrysalis. Also, a hymn which is heard at just this moment
and which is like an oral commentary on the rite, consists in a
description of the movements made by the insect at this stage of its

Another Intichiuma,[1161] celebrated in connection with another kind of
grub, the _unchalka_[1162] grub, has this character still more clearly.
The actors of this rite decorate themselves with designs representing
the _unchalka_ bush upon which this grub lives at the beginning of its
existence. Then they cover a buckler with concentric circles of down,
representing another kind of bush upon which the insect lays its eggs
when it has become adult. When all these preparations are finished, they
all sit down on the ground in a semicircle facing the principal
officiant. He alternately bends his body double by leaning towards the
ground and then rises on his knees; at the same time, he shakes his
stretched-out arms, which is a way of representing the wings of the
insect. From time to time, he leans over the buckler, imitating the way
in which the butterfly flies over the trees where it lays its eggs. When
this ceremony is finished, another commences at a different spot, to
which they go in silence. This time they use two bucklers. Upon one the
tracks of the grub are represented by zigzag lines; upon the other,
concentric circles of uneven dimensions represent the eggs of the insect
and the seed of the Eremophile bush, upon which it is nourished. As in
the former ceremony, they all sit down in silence while the officiant
acts, representing the movements of the animal when leaving its
chrysalis and taking its first flight.

Spencer and Gillen also point out certain analogous facts among the
Arunta, though these are of a minor importance: in the Intichiuma of the
Emu, for example, at a certain moment the actors try to reproduce by
their attitude the air and aspect of this bird;[1163] in the Intichiuma
of water, the men of the totem utter the characteristic cry of the
plover, a cry which is naturally associated in the mind with the rainy
season.[1164] But in all, the examples of imitative rites which these
two explorers have noted are rather few in number. However, it is
certain that their relative silence on this point is due either to their
not having observed the Intichiuma sufficiently or else to their having
neglected this side of the ceremonies; Schulze, on the other hand, has
been struck by the essentially imitative nature of the Arunta rites.
"The sacred corrobbori," he says, "are generally ceremonies representing
animals": he calls them _animal tjurunga_[1165] and his testimony is now
confirmed by the documents collected by Strehlow. The examples given by
this latter author are so numerous that it is impossible to cite them
all: there are scarcely any ceremonies in which some imitating gesture
is not pointed out. According to the nature of the animals whose feast
is celebrated, they jump after the manner of kangaroos, or imitate the
movements they make in eating, the flight of winged ants, the
characteristic noise of the bat, the cry of the wild turkey, the hissing
of the snake, the croaking of the frog, etc.[1166] When the totem is a
plant, they make the gesture of plucking it,[1167] or eating it,[1168]

Among the Warramunga, the Intichiuma generally takes a special form,
which we shall describe in the next chapter and which differs from those
which we have studied up to the present. However, there is one typical
case of a purely imitative Intichiuma among this people; it is that of
the black cockatoo. The ceremony described by Spencer and Gillen
commenced at ten o'clock in the evening. All night long the chief of the
clan imitated the cry of the bird with a disheartening monotony. He
stopped only when he had come to the end of his force, and then his son
replaced him; then he commenced again as soon as he felt a little
refreshed. These exhausting exercises continued until morning without

Living beings are not the only ones which they try to imitate. In a
large number of tribes, the Intichiuma of rain consists essentially in
imitative rites. One of the most simple of these is that celebrated
among the Arabunna. The chief of the clan is seated on the ground, all
covered with white down and holding a lance in his hands. He shakes
himself, undoubtedly in order to detach from his body the down which is
fixed there and which represents clouds when scattered about in the air.
Thus he imitates the men-clouds of the Alcheringa who, according to the
legend, had the habit of ascending to heaven and forming clouds there,
from which the rain then fell. In a word, the object of the whole rite
is to represent the formation and ascension of clouds, the bringers of

The ceremony is much more complicated among the Kaitish. We have already
spoken of one of the means employed: the officiant pours water over the
sacred stones and himself. But the action of this sort of oblation is
reinforced by other rites. The rainbow is considered to have a close
connection with rain: they say that it is its son and that it is always
urged to appear to make the rain stop. To make the rain fall, it is
therefore necessary that it should not appear; they believe that this
result can be obtained in the following manner. A design representing a
rainbow is made upon a buckler. They carry this buckler to camp, taking
care to keep it hidden from all eyes. They are convinced that by making
this image of the rainbow invisible, they keep the rainbow itself from
appearing. Meanwhile, the chief of the clan, having beside him a
_pitchi_ full of water, throws in all directions flakes of down which
represent clouds. Repeated imitations of the cry of the plover complete
this ceremony, which seems to have an especial gravity; for as long as
it lasts, all those who participate in it, either as actors or
assistants, may have no relations whatsoever with their wives; they may
not even speak to them.[1171]

The processes of figuration are different among the Dieri. Rain is not
represented by water, but by blood, which the men cause to flow from
their veins on to the assistants.[1172] At the same time they throw
handfuls of white down about, which represent clouds. A hut has been
constructed previously, in which they now place two large stones
representing piles of clouds, a sign of rain. After they have been left
there for a little while, they are carried a little distance away and
placed as high as possible in the loftiest tree to be found; this is a
way of making the clouds mount into the sky. Powdered gypsum is then
thrown into a water-hole, for when he sees this, the rain spirit soon
makes the clouds appear. Finally all the men, young and old, assemble
around the hut and with heads lowered, they charge upon it; they rush
violently through it, repeating the operation several times, until
nothing remains of the whole construction except the supporting posts.
Then they fall upon these and shake and pull at them until the whole
thing has tumbled down. The operation consisting in running through the
hut is supposed to represent clouds bursting; the tumbling down of the
construction, the fall of rain.[1173]

In the north-western tribes studied by Clement,[1174] which occupy the
district included between the Fontescue and Fitzroy rivers, certain
ceremonies are celebrated whose object is exactly the same as that of
the Intichiuma of the Arunta, and which seem to be, for the most part,
essentially imitative.

These peoples give the name _tarlow_ to certain piles of stones which
are evidently sacred, for, as we shall see, they are the object of
important rites. Every animal, every plant, and in fact, every totem or
sub-totem,[1175] is represented by a _tarlow_ which a special clan[1176]
guards. The analogy between these _tarlow_ and the sacred rocks of the
Arunta is easily seen.

When kangaroos, for example, become rare, the chief of the clan to which
the _tarlow_ of the kangaroo belongs goes to it with a certain number of
companions. Here various rites are performed, the chief of which consist
in jumping around the _tarlow_ as kangaroos jump, in drinking as they
drink and, in a word, in imitating all their most characteristic
movements. The weapons used in hunting the animal have an important part
in these rites. They brandish them, throw them against the stones, etc.
When they are concerned for emus, they go to the _tarlow_ of the emu,
and walk and run as these birds do. The skill which the natives show in
these imitations is, as it appears, really remarkable.

Other _tarlow_ are consecrated to plants, such as the cereals. In this
case, they imitate the actions of threshing and grinding the grain.
Since in ordinary life it is the women who are normally charged with
these tasks, it is also they who perform the rite, in the midst of songs
and dances.


All these rites belong to the same type. The principle upon which they
rest is one of those at the basis of what is commonly and incorrectly
called sympathetic[1177] magic.

These principles are ordinarily reduced to two.[1178]

The first may be stated thus: _anything touching an object also touches
everything which has any relation of proximity or unity whatsoever with
this object_. Thus, whatever affects the part also affects the whole;
any action exercised over an individual is transmitted to his
neighbours, relatives and all those to whom he is united in any way. All
these cases are simple applications of the law of contagion, which we
have already studied. A condition or a good or bad quality are
communicated contagiously from one subject to another who has some
connection with the former.

The second principle is ordinarily summed up in the formula: _like
produces like_. The representation of a being or condition produces this
being or condition. This is the maxim which brings about the rites which
we have just been describing, and it is in them that we can best observe
its characteristics. The classical example of the magic charm, which is
ordinarily given as the typical application of this same precept, is
much less significant. The charm is, to a large extent, a simple
phenomenon of transfer. The idea of the image is associated in the mind
with that of the model; consequently the effects of an action performed
upon a statue are transmitted contagiously to the person whose traits it
reproduces. The function of the image is for its original what that of a
part is for the whole: it is an agent of transmission. Therefore men
think that they can obtain the same result by burning the hair of the
person whom they wish to injure: the only difference between these two
sorts of operations is that in one, the communication is made through
similarity, while in the other it is by means of contiguity. It is
different with the rites which concern us. They suppose not only the
displacement of a given condition or quality, which passes from one
object into the other, but also the creation of something entirely new.
The mere act of representing the animal gives birth to this animal and
creates it; by imitating the sound of wind or falling water, they cause
clouds to form, rain to fall, etc. Of course resemblance plays an
important part in each case, but not at all the same one. In a charm, it
only gives a special direction to the action exercised; it directs in a
certain way an action not originating in it. In the rites of which we
have just been speaking, it acts by itself and is directly efficacious.
So, in contradiction to the usual definitions, the real difference
between the two principles of the so-called sympathetic magic and the
corresponding practices is not that it is contiguity acts in one case
and resemblance in the other, but that in the former there is a simple
contagious communication, while there is production and creation in the

The explanation of imitative rites therefore implies the explanation of
the second of these principles, and reciprocally.

We shall not tarry long to discuss the explanation proposed by the
anthropological school, and especially by Tylor and Frazer. Just as in
their attempts to account for the contagiousness of a sacred character,
they invoke the association of ideas. "Hom[oe]opathic magic," says
Frazer, who prefers this expression to imitative magic, "is founded on
the association of ideas by similarity; contagious magic is founded on
the association of ideas by contiguity. Hom[oe]opathic magic commits the
mistake of assuming that things which resemble each other are the
same."[1180] But this is a misunderstanding of the special nature of the
practices under discussion. On the one hand, the formula of Frazer may
be applied with some fitness to the case of charms;[1181] here, in fact,
two distinct things are associated with each other, owing to their
partial resemblance: these are the image and the model which it
represents more or less systematically. But in the imitative rites,
which we have just been observing, the image alone is given; as for the
model, it does not exist, for the new generation of the totemic species
is as yet only a hope and even an uncertain hope at that. So there could
be no question of association, whether correct or not; there is a real
creation, and we cannot see how the association of ideas could possibly
lead to a belief in this creation. How could the mere act of
representing the movements of an animal bring about the certitude that
this animal will be born, and born in abundance?

The general properties of human nature cannot explain such special
practices. So instead of considering the principle upon which they rest
in its general and abstract form, let us replace it in the environment
of which it is a part and where we have been observing it, and let us
connect it with the system of ideas and sentiments which the above rites
put into practice, and then we shall be better able to perceive the
causes from which it results.

The men who assemble on the occasion of these rites believe that they
are really animals or plants of the species whose name they bear. They
feel within them an animal or vegetable nature, and in their eyes, this
is what constitutes whatever is the most essential and the most
excellent in them. So when they assemble, their first movement ought to
be to show each other this quality which they attribute to themselves
and by which they are defined. The totem is their rallying sign; for
this reason, as we have seen, they design it upon their bodies; but it
is no less natural that they should seek to resemble it in their
gestures, their cries, their attitude. Since they are emus or kangaroos,
they comport themselves like the animals of the same name. By this
means, they mutually show one another that they are all members of the
same moral community and they become conscious of the kinship uniting
them. The rite does not limit itself to expressing this kinship; it
makes it or remakes it. For it exists only in so far as it is believed
in, and the effect of all these collective demonstrations is to support
the beliefs upon which they are founded. Therefore, these leaps, these
cries and these movements of every sort, though bizarre and grotesque in
appearance, really have a profound and human meaning. The Australian
seeks to resemble his totem just as the faithful in more advanced
religions seek to resemble their God. For the one as for the other, this
is a means of communicating with the sacred being, that is to say, with
the collective ideal which this latter symbolizes. This is an early form
of the [Greek: homoiôsis tô theô].

However, as this first reason is connected with the most specialized
portions of the totemic beliefs, the principle by which like produces
like should not have survived totemism, if this had been the only one in
operation. Now there is probably no religion in which rites derived from
it are not found. So another reason must co-operate with this first one.

And, in fact, the ceremonies where we have seen it applied do not merely
have the very general object which we have just mentioned, howsoever
essential this may be; they also aim at a more immediate and more
conscious end, which is the assurance of the reproduction of the totemic
species. The idea of this necessary reproduction haunts the minds of the
worshippers: upon it the forces of their attention and will are
concentrated. Now a single preoccupation cannot possess a group of men
to this point without being externalized in a material form. Since all
think of the animal or plant to whose destinies the clan is united, it
is inevitable that this common thought should not be manifested
outwardly by gestures,[1182] and those naturally designated for this
office are those which represent this animal or plant in one of its most
characteristic attitudes; there are no other movements so close to the
idea filling every mind, for these are an immediate and almost automatic
translation of it. So they make themselves imitate the animal; they cry
like it, they jump like it; they reproduce the scenes in which they make
daily use of the plant. All these ways of representation are just so
many means of ostensibly showing the end towards which all minds are
directed, of telling the thing which they wish to realize, of calling it
up and of evoking it. And this need belongs to no one time, nor does it
depend upon the beliefs of any special religion; it is essentially
human. This is why, even in religions very far removed from those we
have been studying, the worshippers, when assembled to ask their gods
for some event which they ardently desire, are forced to figure it. Of
course, the word is also a way of expressing it; but the gesture is no
less natural; it bursts out from the organism just as spontaneously; it
even precedes the word, or, in any case, accompanies it.

But if we can thus understand how the gestures acquired a place in the
ceremony, we still must explain the efficacy attributed to them. If the
Australian repeats them regularly each new season, it is because he
believes them essential to the success of the rite. Where could he have
gotten the idea that by imitating an animal, one causes it to reproduce?

So manifest an error seems hardly intelligible so long as we see in the
rite only the material end towards which it seems to aim. But we know
that in addition to the effect which it is thought to have on the
totemic species, it also exercises a profound influence over the souls
of the worshippers who take part in it. They take away with them a
feeling of well-being, whose causes they cannot clearly see, but which
is well founded. They feel that the ceremony is good for them; and, as a
matter of fact, they reforge their moral nature in it. How could this
sort of well-being fail to give them a feeling that the rite has
succeeded, that it has been what it set out to be, and that it has
attained the ends at which it was aimed? As the only end which was
consciously sought was the reproduction of the totemic species, this
seems to be assured by the means employed, the efficacy of which is thus
proven. Thus it comes about that men attribute creative virtues to their
gestures, which in themselves are vain. The moral efficacy of the rite,
which is real, leads to the belief in its physical efficacy, which is
imaginary; that of the whole, to the belief in that of each part by
itself. The truly useful effects produced by the whole ceremony are like
an experimental justification of the elementary practices out of which
it is made, though in reality, all these practices are in no way
indispensable to its success. A certain proof, moreover, that they do
not act by themselves is that they may be replaced by others, of a very
different nature, without any modification of the final result. It
appears that there are Intichiuma which include only oblations, with no
imitative rites; others are purely imitative, and include no oblations.
However, both are believed to have the same efficacy. So if a price is
attached to these various man[oe]uvres, it is not because of their
intrinsic value, but because they are a part of a complex rite, whose
utility as a whole is realized.

We are able to understand this state of mind all the easier because we
can still observe it about us. Especially among the most cultivated
peoples and environments, we frequently meet with believers who, though
having doubts as to the special efficacy attributed by dogma to each
rite considered separately, still continue to participate in the cult.
They are not sure that the details of the prescribed observances are
rationally justifiable; but they feel that it would be impossible to
free oneself of them without falling into a moral confusion before which
they recoil. The very fact that in them the faith has lost its
intellectual foundations throws into eminence the profound reasons upon
which they rest. This is why the easy criticisms to which an unduly
simple rationalism has sometimes submitted ritual prescriptions
generally leave the believer indifferent: it is because the true
justification of religious practices does not lie in the apparent ends
which they pursue, but rather in the invisible action which they
exercise over the mind and in the way in which they affect our mental
status. Likewise, when preachers undertake to convince, they devote much
less attention to establishing directly and by methodical proofs the
truth of any particular proposition or the utility of such and such an
observance, than to awakening or reawakening the sentiment of the moral
comfort attained by the regular celebration of the cult. Thus they
create a predisposition to belief, which precedes proofs, which leads
the mind to overlook the insufficiency of the logical reasons, and which
thus prepares it for the proposition whose acceptance is desired. This
favourable prejudice, this impulse towards believing, is just what
constitutes faith; and it is faith which makes the authority of the
rites, according to the believer, whoever he may be, Christian or
Australian. The only superiority of the former is that he better
accounts for the psychological process from which his faith results; he
knows that "it is faith that saves."

It is because faith has this origin that it is, in a sense, "impermeable
to experience."[1183] If the intermittent failures of the Intichiuma do
not shake the confidence of the Australian in his rite, it is because
he holds with all the strength of his soul to these practices in which
he periodically recreates himself; he could not deny their principle
without causing an upheaval of his own being, which resists. But
howsoever great this force of resistance may be, it cannot radically
distinguish religious mentality from the other forms of human mentality,
even those which are the most habitually opposed to it. In this
connection, that of a scholar differs from the preceding only in degree.
When a scientific law has the authority of numerous and varied
experiments, it is against all method to renounce it too quickly upon
the discovery of a fact which seems to contradict it. It is still
necessary to make sure that the fact does not allow of a single
interpretation, and that it is impossible to account for it, without
abandoning the proposition which it seems to invalidate. Now the
Australian does not proceed otherwise when he attributes the failure of
the Intichiuma to some sorcery, or the abundance of a premature crop to
a mystic Intichiuma celebrated in the beyond. He has all the more reason
for not doubting his rite on the belief in a contrary fact, since its
value is, or seems to be, established by a larger number of harmonizing
facts. In the first place, the moral efficacy of the ceremony is real
and is felt directly by all who participate in it; there is a constantly
renewed experience in it, whose importance no contradictory experience
can diminish. Also, the physical efficacy itself is not unable to find
an at least apparent confirmation in the data of objective observation.
As a matter of fact, the totemic species normally does reproduce
regularly; so in the great majority of cases, everything happens just as
if the ritual gestures really did produce the effects expected of them.
Failures are the exception. As the rites, and especially those which are
periodical, demand nothing more of nature than that it follow its
ordinary course, it is not surprising that it should generally have the
air of obeying them. So if the believer shows himself indocile to
certain lessons of experience, he does so because of other experiences
which seem more demonstrative. The scholar does not do otherwise; only
he introduces more method.

So magic is not, as Frazer has held,[1184] an original fact, of which
religion is only a derived form. Quite on the contrary, it was under the
influence of religious ideas that the precepts upon which the art of the
magician is based were established, and it was only through a secondary
extension that they were applied to purely lay relations. Since all the
forces of the universe have been conceived on the model of the sacred
forces, the contagiousness inherent in the second was extended to the
first, and men have believed that all the properties of a body could be
transmitted contagiously. Likewise, when the principle according to
which like produces like had been established, in order to satisfy
certain religious needs, it detached itself from its ritual origins to
become, through a sort of spontaneous generalization, a law of
nature.[1185] But in order to understand these fundamental axioms of
magic, they must be replaced in the religious atmosphere in which they
arose and which alone enables us to account for them. When we regard
them as the work of isolated individuals or solitary magicians, we ask
how they could ever have occurred to the mind of man, for nothing in
experience could either suggest or verify them; and especially we do not
explain how so deceiving an art has been able to impose itself for so
long a time in the confidence of men. But this problem disappears when
we realize that the faith inspired by magic is only a particular case of
religious faith in general, and that it is itself the product, at least
indirectly, of a collective effervescence. This is as much as to say
that the use of the expression sympathetic magic to designate the system
of rites which we have just been speaking is not very exact. There are
sympathetic rites, but they are not peculiar to magic; not only are they
to be found in religion, but it was from religion that magic received
them. So we only risk confusion when, by the name we give them, we have
the air of making them something which is specifically magic.

The results of our analysis thus attach themselves to and confirm those
attained by MM. Hubert and Mauss when they studied magic directly.[1186]
They have shown that this is nothing more nor less than crude industry
based on incomplete science. Behind the mechanisms, purely laical in
appearance, which are used by the magician, they point out a background
of religious conceptions and a whole world of forces, the idea of which
has been taken by magic from religion. We are now able to understand how
it comes that magic is so full of religious elements: it is because it
was born of religion.


But the principle which has just been set forth does not merely have a
function in the ritual; it is of direct interest for the theory of
knowledge. In fact, it is a concrete statement of the law of causality
and, in all probability, one of the most primitive statements of it
which has ever existed. A full conception of the causal relation is
implied in the power thus attributed to the like to produce the like;
and this conception dominates primitive thought, for it is the basis
both of the practices of the cult and the technique of the magician. So
the origins of the precept upon which the imitative rites depend are
able to clarify those of the principle of causality. The genesis of one
should aid us in understanding the genesis of the other. Now we have
shown how the former is a product of social causes: it was elaborated by
groups having collective ends in view, and it translates collective
sentiments. So we may assume that the same is true for the second.

In fact, an analysis of the principle of causality is sufficient to
assure us that the diverse elements of which it is composed really did
have this origin.

The first thing which is implied in the notion of the causal relation is
the idea of efficacy, of productive power, of active force. By cause we
ordinarily mean something capable of producing a certain change. The
cause is the force before it has shown the power which is in it; the
effect is this same power, only actualized. Men have always thought of
causality in dynamic terms. Of course certain philosophers had refused
all objective value to this conception; they see in it only an arbitrary
construction of the imagination, which corresponds to nothing in the
things themselves. But, at present, we have no need of asking whether it
is founded in reality or not; it is enough for us to state that it
exists and that it constitutes and always has constituted an element of
ordinary mentality; and this is recognized even by those who criticize
it. Our immediate purpose is to seek, not what it may be worth
logically, but how it is to be explained.

Now it depends upon social causes. Our analysis of facts has already
enabled us to see that the prototype of the idea of force was the mana,
wakan, orenda, the totemic principle or any of the various names given
to collective force objectified and projected into things.[1187] The
first power which men have thought of as such seems to have been that
exercised by humanity over its members. Thus reason confirms the results
of observation; in fact, it is even possible to show why this notion of
power, efficacy or active force could not have come from any other

In the first place, it is evident and recognized by all that it could
not be furnished to us by external experience. Our senses only enable
us to perceive phenomena which coexist or which follow one another, but
nothing perceived by them could give us the idea of this determining and
compelling action which is characteristic of what we call a power or
force. They can touch only realized and known conditions, each separate
from the others; the internal process uniting these conditions escapes
them. Nothing that we learn could possibly suggest to us the idea of
what an influence or efficaciousness is. It is for this very reason that
the philosophers of empiricism have regarded these different conceptions
as so many mythological aberrations. But even supposing that they all
are hallucinations, it is still necessary to show how they originated.

If external experience counts for nothing in the origin of these ideas,
and it is equally inadmissible that they were given us ready-made, one
might suppose that they come from internal experience. In fact, the
notion of force obviously includes many spiritual elements which could
only have been taken from our psychic life.

Some have believed that the act by which our will brings a deliberation
to a close, restrains our impulses and commands our organism, might have
served as the model of this construction. In willing, it is said, we
perceive ourselves directly as a power in action. So when this idea had
once occurred to men, it seems that they only had to extend it to things
to establish the conception of force.

As long as the animist theory passed as a demonstrated truth, this
explanation was able to appear to be confirmed by history. If the forces
with which human thought primitively populated the world really had been
spirits, that is to say, personal and conscious beings more or less
similar to men, it was actually possible to believe that our individual
experience was enough to furnish us with the constituent elements of the
notion of force. But we know that the first forces which men imagined
were, on the contrary, anonymous, vague and diffused powers which
resemble cosmic forces in their impersonality, and which are therefore
most sharply contrasted with the eminently personal power, the human
will. So it is impossible that they should have been conceived in its

Moreover, there is one essential characteristic of the impersonal forces
which would be inexplicable under this hypothesis: this is their
communicability. The forces of nature have always been thought of as
capable of passing from one object to another, of mixing, combining and
transforming themselves into one another. It is even this property which
gives them their value as an explanation, for it is through this that
effects can be connected with their causes without a break of
continuity. Now the self has just the opposite characteristic: it is
incommunicable. It cannot change its material substratum or spread from
one to another; it spreads out in metaphor only. So the way in which it
decides and executes its decisions could never have suggested the idea
of an energy which communicates itself and which can even confound
itself with others and, through these combinations and mixings, give
rise to new effects.

Therefore, the idea of force, as implied in the conception of the causal
relation, must present a double character. In the first place, it can
come only from our internal experience; the only forces which we can
directly learn about are necessarily moral forces. But, at the same
time, they must be impersonal, for the notion of an impersonal power was
the first to be constituted. Now the only ones which satisfy these two
conditions are those coming from life together: they are collective
forces. In fact, these are, on the one hand, entirely psychical; they
are made up exclusively of objectified ideas and sentiments. But, on the
other hand, they are impersonal by definition, for they are the product
of a co-operation. Being the work of all, they are not the possession of
anybody in particular. They are so slightly attached to the
personalities of the subjects in whom they reside that they are never
fixed there. Just as they enter them from without, they are also always
ready to leave them. Of themselves, they tend to spread further and
further and to invade ever new domains: we know that there are none more
contagious, and consequently more communicable. Of course physical
forces have the same property, but we cannot know this directly; we
cannot even become acquainted with them as such, for they are outside
us. When I throw myself against an obstacle, I have a sensation of
hindrance and trouble; but the force causing this sensation is not in
me, but in the obstacle, and is consequently outside the circle of my
perception. We perceive its effects, but we cannot reach the cause
itself. It is otherwise with social forces: they are a part of our
internal life, as we know, more than the products of their action; we
see them acting. The force isolating the sacred being and holding
profane beings at a distance is not really in this being; it lives in
the minds of the believers. So they perceive it at the very moment when
it is acting upon their wills, to inhibit certain movements or command
others. In a word, this constraining and necessitating action, which
escapes us when coming from an external object, is readily perceptible
here because everything is inside us. Of course we do not always
interpret it in an adequate manner, but at least we cannot fail to be
conscious of it.

Moreover, the idea of force bears the mark of its origin in an apparent
way. In fact, it implies the idea of power which, in its turn, does not
come without those of ascendancy, mastership and domination, and their
corollaries, dependence and subordination; now the relations expressed
by all these ideas are eminently social. It is society which classifies
beings into superiors and inferiors, into commanding masters and obeying
servants; it is society which confers upon the former the singular
property which makes the command efficacious and which makes _power_. So
everything tends to prove that the first powers of which the human mind
had any idea were those which societies have established in organizing
themselves: it is in their image that the powers of the physical world
have been conceived. Also, men have never succeeded in imagining
themselves as forces mistress over the bodies in which they reside,
except by introducing concepts taken from social life. In fact, these
must be distinguished from their physical doubles and must be attributed
a dignity superior to that of these latter; in a word, they must think
of themselves as souls. As a matter of fact, men have always given the
form of souls to the forces which they believe that they are. But we
know that the soul is quite another thing from a name given to the
abstract faculty of moving, thinking and feeling; before all, it is a
religious principle, a particular aspect of the collective force. In
fine, a man feels that he has a soul, and consequently a force, because
he is a social being. Though an animal moves its members just as we do,
and though it has the same power as we over its muscles, nothing
authorizes us to suppose that it is conscious of itself as an active and
efficacious cause. This is because it does not have, or, to speak more
exactly, does not attribute to itself a soul. But if it does not
attribute a soul to itself, it is because it does not participate in a
social life comparable to that of men. Among animals, there is nothing
resembling a civilization.[1188]

But the notion of force is not all of the principle of causality. This
consists in a judgment stating that every force develops in a definite
manner, and that the state in which it is at each particular moment of
its existence predetermines the next state. The former is called cause,
the latter, effect, and the causal judgment affirms the existence of a
necessary connection between these two moments for every force. The mind
posits this connection before having any proofs of it, under the empire
of a sort of constraint from which it cannot free itself; it postulates
it, as they say, _a priori_.

Empiricism has never succeeded in accounting for this apriorism and
necessity. Philosophers of this school have never been able to explain
how an association of ideas, reinforced by habit, could produce more
than an expectation or a stronger or weaker predisposition on the part
of ideas to appear in a determined order. But the principle of causality
has quite another character. It is not merely an imminent tendency of
our thought to take certain forms; it is an external norm, superior to
the flow of our representations, which it dominates and rules
imperatively. It is invested with an authority which binds the mind and
surpasses it, which is as much as to say that the mind is not its
artisan. In this connection, it is useless to substitute hereditary
habit for individual habit, for habit does not change its nature by
lasting longer than one man's life; it is merely stronger. An instinct
is not a rule.

The rites which we have been studying allow us to catch a glimpse of
another source of this authority, which, up to the present, has scarcely
been suspected. Let us bear in mind how the law of causality, which the
imitative rites put into practice, was born. Being filled with one
single preoccupation, the group assembles: if the species whose name it
bears does not reproduce, it is a matter of concern to the whole clan.
The common sentiment thus animating all the members is outwardly
expressed by certain gestures, which are always the same in the same
circumstances, and after the ceremony has been performed, it happens,
for the reasons set forth, that the desired result seems obtained. So an
association arises between the idea of this result and that of the
gestures preceding it; and this association does not vary from one
subject to another; it is the same for all the participators in the
rite, since it is the product of a collective experience. However, if no
other factor intervened, it would produce only a collective expectation;
after the imitative gestures had been accomplished, everybody would
await the subsequent appearance of the desired event, with more or less
confidence; an imperative rule of thought could never be established by
this. But since a social interest of the greatest importance is at
stake, society cannot allow things to follow their own course at the
whim of circumstances; it intervenes actively in such a way as to
regulate their march in conformity with its needs. So it demands that
this ceremony, which it cannot do without, be repeated every time that
it is necessary, and consequently, that the movements, a condition of
its success, be executed regularly: it imposes them as an obligation.
Now they imply a certain definite state of mind which, in return,
participates in this same obligatory character. To prescribe that one
must imitate an animal or plant to make them reproduce, is equivalent to
stating it as an axiom which is above all doubt, that like produces
like. Opinion cannot allow men to deny this principle in theory without
also allowing them to violate it in their conduct. So society imposes
it, along with the practices which are derived from it, and thus the
ritual precept is doubled by a logical precept which is only the
intellectual aspect of the former. The authority of each is derived from
the same source: society. The respect which this inspires is
communicated to the ways of thought to which it attaches a value, just
as much as to ways of action. So a man cannot set aside either the ones
or the others without hurling himself against public opinion. This is
why the former require the adherence of the intelligence before
examination, just as the latter require the submission of the will.

From this example, we can show once more how the sociological theory of
the idea of causality, and of the categories in general, sets aside the
classical doctrines on the question, while conciliating them. Together
with apriorism, it maintains the prejudicial and necessary character of
the causal relation; but it does not limit itself to affirming this; it
accounts for it, yet without making it vanish under the pretext of
explaining it, as empiricism does. On the other hand, there is no
question of denying the part due to individual experience. There can be
no doubt that by himself, the individual observes the regular succession
of phenomena and thus acquires a certain _feeling_ of regularity. But
this feeling is not the _category_ of causality. The former is
individual, subjective, incommunicable; we make it ourselves, out of our
own personal observations. The second is the work of the group, and is
given to us ready-made. It is a frame-work in which our empirical
ascertainments arrange themselves and which enables us to think of them,
that is to say, to see them from a point of view which makes it possible
for us to understand one another in regard to them. Of course, if this
frame can be applied to the contents, that shows that it is not out of
relation with the matter which it contains; but it is not to be confused
with this. It surpasses it and dominates it. This is because it is of a
different origin. It is not a mere summary of individual experiences;
before all else, it is made to fulfil the exigencies of life in common.

In fine, the error of empiricism has been to regard the causal bond as
merely an intellectual construction of speculative thought and the
product of a more or less methodical generalization. Now, by itself,
pure speculation can give birth only to provisional, hypothetical and
more or less plausible views, but ones which must always be regarded
with suspicion, for we can never be sure that some new observation in
the future will not invalidate them. An axiom which the mind accepts and
must accept, without control and without reservation, could never come
from this source. Only the necessities of action, and especially of
collective action, can and must express themselves in categorical
formulæ, which are peremptory and short, and admit of no contradiction,
for collective movements are possible only on condition of being in
concert and, therefore, regulated and definite. They do not allow of any
fumbling, the source of anarchy; by themselves, they tend towards an
organization which, when once established, imposes itself upon
individuals. And as action cannot go beyond intelligence, it frequently
happens that the latter is drawn into the same way and accepts without
discussion the theoretical postulates demanded by action. The
imperatives of thought are probably only another side of the imperatives
of action.

It is to be borne in mind, moreover, that we have never dreamed of
offering the preceding observations as a complete theory of the concept
of causality. The question is too complex to be resolved thus. The
principle of causality has been understood differently in different
times and places; in a single society, it varies with the social
environment and the kingdoms of nature to which it is applied.[1189] So
it would be impossible to determine with sufficient precision the causes
and conditions upon which it depends, after a consideration of only one
of the forms which it has presented during the course of history. The
views which we have set forth should be regarded as mere indications,
which must be controlled and completed. However, as the causal law which
we have been considering is certainly one of the most primitive which
exists, and as it has played a considerable part in the development of
human thought and industry, it is a privileged experiment, so we may
presume that the remarks of which it has been the occasion may be
generalized to a certain degree.


THE POSITIVE CULT--_continued_

III.--_Representative or Commemorative Rites_

The explanation which we have given of the positive rites of which we
have been speaking in the two preceding chapters attributes to them a
significance which is, above all, moral and social. The physical
efficaciousness assigned to them by the believer is the product of an
interpretation which conceals the essential reason for their existence:
it is because they serve to remake individuals and groups morally that
they are believed to have a power over things. But even if this
hypothesis has enabled us to account for the facts, we cannot say that
it has been demonstrated directly; at first view, it even seems to
conciliate itself rather badly with the nature of the ritual mechanisms
which we have analysed. Whether they consist in oblations or imitative
acts, the gestures composing them have purely material ends in view;
they have, or seem to have, the sole object of making the totemic
species reproduce. Under these circumstances, is it not surprising that
their real function should be to serve moral ends?

It is true that their physical function may have been exaggerated by
Spencer and Gillen, even in the cases where it is the most
incontestable. According to these authors, each clan celebrates its
Intichiuma for the purpose of assuring a useful food to the other clans,
and the whole cult consists in a sort of economic co-operation of the
different totemic groups; each works for the others. But according to
Strehlow, this conception of Australian totemism is wholly foreign to
the native mind. "If," he says, "the members of one totemic group set
themselves to multiplying the animals or plants of the consecrated
species, and seem to work for their companions of other totems, we must
be careful not to regard this collaboration as the fundamental principle
of Arunta or Loritja totemism. The blacks themselves have never told me
that this was the object of their ceremonies. Of course, when I
suggested and explained the idea to them, they understood it and
acquiesced. But I should not be blamed for having some distrust of
replies gained in this fashion." Strehlow also remarks that this way of
interpreting the rite is contradicted by the fact that the totemic
animals and plants are not all edible or useful; some are good for
nothing; some are even dangerous. So the ceremonies which concern them
could not have any such end in view.[1190] "When some one asks the
natives what the determining reason for these ceremonies is," concludes
our author, "they are unanimous in replying: 'It is because our
ancestors arranged things thus. This is why we do thus and not
differently.'"[1191] But in saying that the rite is observed because it
comes from the ancestors, it is admitted that its authority is
confounded with the authority of tradition, which is a social affair of
the first order. Men celebrate it to remain faithful to the past, to
keep for the group its normal physiognomy, and not because of the
physical effects which it may produce. Thus, the way in which the
believers themselves explain them show the profound reasons upon which
the rites proceed.

But there are cases when this aspect of the ceremonies is immediately


These may be observed the best among the Warramunga.[1192]

Among this people, each clan is thought to be descended from a single
ancestor who, after having been born in some determined spot, passed his
terrestrial existence in travelling over the country in every direction.
It is he who, in the course of his voyages, gave to the land the form
which it now has; it is he who made the mountains and plains, the
water-holes and streams, etc. At the same time, he sowed upon his route
living germs which were disengaged from his body and, after many
successive reincarnations, became the actual members of the clan. Now
the ceremony of the Warramunga which corresponds exactly to the
Intichiuma of the Arunta, has the object of commemorating and
representing the mythical history of this ancestor. There is no
question of oblations or, except in one single case,[1193] of imitative
practices. The rite consists solely in recollecting the past and, in a
way, making it present by means of a veritable dramatic representation.
This word is the more exact because in this ceremony, the officiant is
in no way considered an incarnation of the ancestor, whom he represents;
he is an actor playing a rôle.

As an example, let us describe the Intichiuma of the Black Snake, as
Spencer and Gillen observed it.[1194]

An initial ceremony does not seem to refer to the past; at least the
description of it which is given us gives no authorization for
interpreting it in this sense. It consists in running and leaping on the
part of two officiants,[1195] who are decorated with designs
representing the black snake. When they finally fall exhausted on the
ground, the assistants gently pass their hands over the emblematic
designs with which the backs of the two actors are covered. They say
that this act pleases the black snake. It is only afterwards that the
series of commemorative ceremonies commences.

They put into action the mythical history of the ancestor Thalaualla,
from the moment he emerged from the ground up to his definite return
thither. They follow him through all his voyages. The myth says that in
each of the localities where he sojourned, he celebrated totemic
ceremonies; they now repeat them in the same order in which they are
supposed to have taken place originally. The movement which is acted the
most frequently consists in twisting the entire body about rhythmically
and violently; this is because the ancestor did the same thing to make
the germs of life which were in him come out. The actors have their
bodies covered with down, which is detached and flies away during these
movements; this is a way of representing the flight of these mystic
germs and their dispersion into space.

It will be remembered that among the Arunta, the scene of the ceremony
is determined by the ritual: it is the spot where the sacred rocks,
trees and water-holes are found, and the worshippers must go there to
celebrate the cult. Among the Warramunga, on the contrary, the
ceremonial ground is arbitrarily chosen according to convenience. It is
a conventional scene. However, the original scene of the events whose
reproduction constitutes the theme of the rite is itself represented by
means of designs. Sometimes these designs are made upon the very bodies
of the actors. For example, a small circle coloured red, painted on the
back and stomach, represents a water-hole.[1196] In other cases, the
image is traced on the soil. Upon a ground previously soaked and covered
with red ochre, they draw curved lines, made up of a series of white
points, which symbolize a stream or a mountain. This is a beginning of

In addition to the properly religious ceremonies which the ancestor is
believed to have celebrated long ago, they also represent simple
episodes of his career, either epic or comic. Thus, at a given moment,
while three actors are on the scene, occupied in an important rite,
another one hides behind a bunch of trees situated at some distance. A
packet of down is attached about his neck which represents a _wallaby_.
As soon as the principal ceremony is finished, an old man traces a line
upon the ground which is directed towards the spot where the fourth
actor is hidden. The others march behind him, with eyes lowered and
fixed upon this line, as though following a trail. When they discover
the man, they assume a stupefied air and one of them beats him with a
club. This represents an incident in the life of the great black snake.
One day, his son went hunting, caught a _wallaby_ and ate it without
giving his father any. The latter followed his tracks, surprised him and
forced him to disgorge; it is to this that the beating at the end of the
representation alludes.[1197]

We shall not relate here all the mythical events which are represented
successively. The preceding examples are sufficient to show the
character of these ceremonies: they are dramas, but of a particular
variety; they act, or at least they are believed to act, upon the course
of nature. When the commemoration of Thalaualla is terminated, the
Warramunga are convinced that black snakes cannot fail to increase and
multiply. So these dramas are rites, and even rites which, by the nature
of their efficacy, are comparable on every point to those which
constitute the Intichiuma of the Arunta.

Therefore each is able to clarify the other. It is even more legitimate
to compare them than if there were no break of continuity between them.
Not only is the end pursued identical in each case, but the most
characteristic part of the Warramunga ritual is found in germ in the
other. In fact, the Intichiuma, as the Arunta generally perform it,
contains within it a sort of implicit commemoration. The places where it
is celebrated are necessarily those which the ancestor made illustrious.
The roads over which the worshippers pass in the course of their pious
pilgrimages are those which the heroes of the Alcheringa traversed; the
places where they stop to proceed with the rites are those where their
fathers sojourned themselves, where they vanished into the ground, etc.
So everything brings their memory to the minds of the assistants.
Moreover, to the manual rites they frequently add hymns relating the
exploits of their ancestors.[1198] If, instead of being told, these
stories are acted, and if, in this new form, they develop in such a way
as to become an essential part of the ceremony, then we have the
ceremony of the Warramunga. But even more can be said, for on one side,
the Arunta Intichiuma is already a sort of representation. The officiant
is one with the ancestor from whom he is descended and whom he
reincarnates.[1199] The gestures he makes are those which this ancestor
made in the same circumstances. Speaking exactly, of course he does not
play the part of the ancestral personage as an actor might do it; he is
this personage himself. But it is true, notwithstanding, that, in one
sense, it is the hero who occupies the scene. In order to accentuate the
representative character of the rite, it would be sufficient for the
duality of the ancestor and the officiant to become more marked; this is
just what happens among the Warramunga.[1200] Even among the Arunta, at
least one Intichiuma is mentioned in which certain persons are charged
with representing ancestors with whom they have no relationship of
mythical descent, and in which there is consequently a proper dramatic
representation: this is the Intichiuma of the Emu.[1201] It seems that
in this case, also, contrarily to the general rule among this people,
the theatre of the ceremony is artificially arranged.[1202]

It does not follow from the fact that, in spite of the differences
separating them, these two varieties of ceremony thus have an air of
kinship, as it were, that there is a definite relation of succession
between them, and that one is a transformation of the other. It may very
well be that the resemblances pointed out come from the fact that the
two sprang from the same source, that is, from the same original
ceremony, of which they are only divergent forms: we shall even see that
this hypothesis is the most probable one. But even without taking sides
on this question, what has already been said is enough to show that they
are rites of the same nature. So we may be allowed to compare them, and
to use the one to enable us to understand the other better.

Now the peculiar thing in the ceremonies of the Warramunga of which we
have been speaking, is that not a gesture is made whose object is to aid
or to provoke directly the increase of the totemic species.[1203] If we
analyse the movements made, as well as the words spoken, we generally
find nothing which betrays any intention of this sort. Everything is in
representations whose only object can be to render the mythical past of
the clan present to the mind. But the mythology of a group is the system
of beliefs common to this group. The traditions whose memory it
perpetuates express the way in which society represents man and the
world; it is a moral system and a cosmology as well as a history. So the
rite serves and can serve only to sustain the vitality of these beliefs,
to keep them from being effaced from memory and, in sum, to revivify the
most essential elements of the collective consciousness. Through it, the
group periodically renews the sentiment which it has of itself and of
its unity; at the same time, individuals are strengthened in their
social natures. The glorious souvenirs which are made to live again
before their eyes, and with which they feel that they have a kinship,
give them a feeling of strength and confidence: a man is surer of his
faith when he sees to how distant a past it goes back and what great
things it has inspired. This is the characteristic of the ceremony which
makes it instructive. Its tendency is to act entirely upon the mind and
upon it alone. So if men believe nevertheless that it acts upon things
and that it assures the prosperity of the species, this can be only as a
reaction to the moral action which it exercises and which is obviously
the only one which is real. Thus the hypothesis which we have proposed
is verified by a significant experiment, and this verification is the
more convincing because, as we have shown, there is no difference in
nature between the ritual system of the Warramunga and that of the
Arunta. The one only makes more evident what we had already conjectured
from the other.


But there are ceremonies in which this representative and idealistic
character is still more accentuated.

In those of which we have been speaking, the dramatic representation did
not exist for itself; it was only a means having a very material end in
view, namely, the reproduction of the totemic species. But there are
others which do not differ materially from the preceding ones, but from
which, nevertheless, all preoccupations of this sort are absent. The
past is here represented for the mere sake of representing it and fixing
it more firmly in the mind, while no determined action over nature is
expected of the rite. At least, the physical effects sometimes imputed
to it are wholly secondary and have no relation with the liturgical
importance attributed to it.

This is the case notably with the ceremonies which the Warramunga
celebrate in honour of the snake Wollunqua.[1204]

As we have already said, the Wollunqua is a totem of a very especial
sort. It is not an animal or vegetable species, but a unique being:
there is only one Wollunqua. Moreover, this being is purely mythical.
The natives represent it as a colossal snake whose length is such that
when it rises on its tail its head is lost in the clouds. It resides,
they believe, in a water-hole called Thapauerlu, which is hidden in the
bottom of a solitary valley. But if it differs in certain ways from the
ordinary totems, it has all their distinctive characteristics
nevertheless. It serves as the collective name and emblem of a whole
group of individuals who regard it as their common ancestor, while the
relations which they sustain with this mythical beast are identical with
those which the members of other totems believe that they sustain with
the founders of their respective clans. In the Alcheringa[1205] times,
the Wollunqua traversed the country in every direction. In the different
localities where it stopped, it scattered "spirit-children," the
spiritual principles which still serve as the souls of the living of
to-day. The Wollunqua is even considered as a sort of pre-eminent totem.
The Warramunga are divided into two phratries, called Uluuru and
Kingilli. Nearly all the totems of the former are snakes of different
kinds. Now they are all believed to be descended from the Wollunqua;
they say that it was their grandfather.[1206] From this, we can catch a
glimpse of how the myth of the Wollunqua probably arose. In order to
explain the presence of so many similar totems in the same phratry, they
imagined that all were derived from one and the same totem; it was
necessary to give it a gigantic form so that in its very appearance it
might conform to the considerable rôle assigned to it in the history of
the tribe.

Now the Wollunqua is the object of ceremonies not differing in nature
from those which we have already studied: they are representations in
which are portrayed the principal events of its fabulous life. They show
it coming out of the ground and passing from one locality to another;
they represent different episodes in its voyages, etc. Spencer and
Gillen assisted at fifteen ceremonies of this sort which took place
between the 27th of July and the 23rd of August, all being linked
together in a determined order, in such a way as to form a veritable
cycle.[1207] In the details of the rites constituting it, this long
celebration is therefore indistinct from the ordinary Intichiuma of the
Warramunga, as is recognized by the authors who have described it to
us.[1208] But, on the other hand, it is an Intichiuma which could not
have the object of assuring the fecundity of an animal or vegetable
species, for the Wollunqua is a species all by itself and does not
reproduce. It exists, and the natives do not seem to feel that it has
need of a cult to preserve it in its existence. These ceremonies not
only seem to lack the efficacy of the classic Intichiuma, but it even
seems as though they have no material efficacy of any sort. The
Wollunqua is not a divinity set over a special order of natural
phenomena, so they expect no definite service from him in exchange for
the cult. Of course they say that if the ritual prescriptions are badly
observed, the Wollunqua becomes angry, leaves his retreat and comes to
punish his worshippers for their negligence; and inversely, when
everything passes regularly, they are led to believe that they will be
fortunate and that some happy event will take place; but it is quite
evident that these possible sanctions are an after-thought to explain
the rite. After the ceremony had been established, it seemed natural
that it should serve for something, and that the omission of the
prescribed observances should therefore expose one to grave dangers. But
it was not established to forestall these mythical dangers or to assure
particular advantages. The natives, moreover, have only the very haziest
ideas of them. When the whole ceremony is completed, the old men
announce that if the Wollunqua is pleased, he will send rain. But it is
not to have rain that they go through with the celebration.[1209] They
celebrate it because their ancestors did, because they are attached to
it as to a highly respected tradition and because they leave it with a
feeling of moral well-being. Other considerations have only a
complimentary part; they may serve to strengthen the worshippers in the
attitude prescribed by the rite, but they are not the reason for the
existence of this attitude.

So we have here a whole group of ceremonies whose sole purpose is to
awaken certain ideas and sentiments, to attach the present to the past
or the individual to the group. Not only are they unable to serve useful
ends, but the worshippers themselves demand none. This is still another
proof that the psychical state in which the assembled group happens to
be constitutes the only solid and stable basis of what we may call the
ritual mentality. The beliefs which attribute such or such a physical
efficaciousness to the rites are wholly accessory and contingent, for
they may be lacking without causing any alteration in the essentials of
the rite. Thus the ceremonies of the Wollunqua show even better than the
preceding ones the fundamental function of the positive cult.

If we have insisted especially upon these solemnities, it is because of
their exceptional importance. But there are others with exactly the same
character. Thus, the Warramunga have a totem "of the laughing boy."
Spencer and Gillen say that the clan bearing this name has the same
organization as the other totemic groups. Like them, it has its sacred
places (_mungai_) where the founder-ancestor celebrated ceremonies in
the fabulous times, and where he left behind him spirit-children who
became the men of the clan; the rites connected with this totem are
indistinguishable from those relating to the animal or vegetable
totems.[1210] Yet it is evident that they could not have any physical
efficaciousness. They consist in a series of four ceremonies which
repeat one another more or less, but which are intended only to amuse
and to provoke laughter by laughter, in fine, to maintain the gaiety and
good-humour which the group has as its speciality.[1211]

We find more than one totem among the Arunta themselves which has no
other Intichiuma. We have seen that among this people, the
irregularities and depressions of the land, which mark the places where
some ancestor sojourned, sometimes serve as totems.[1212] Ceremonies are
attached to these totems which are manifestly incapable of physical
effects of any sort. They can consist only in representations whose
object is to commemorate the past, and they can aim at no end beyond
this commemoration.[1213]

While they enable us to understand the nature of the cult better, these
ritual representations also put into evidence an important element of
religion: this is the recreative and esthetic element.

We have already had occasion to show that they are closely akin to
dramatic representations.[1214] This kinship appears with still greater
clarity in the latter ceremonies of which we have spoken. Not only do
they employ the same processes as the real drama, but they also pursue
an end of the same sort: being foreign to all utilitarian ends, they
make men forget the real world and transport them into another where
their imagination is more at ease; they distract. They sometimes even go
so far as to have the outward appearance of a recreation: the assistants
may be seen laughing and amusing themselves openly.[1215]

Representative rites and collective recreations are even so close to one
another that men pass from one sort to the other without any break of
continuity. The characteristic feature of the properly religious
ceremonies is that they must be celebrated on a consecrated ground, from
which women and non-initiated persons are excluded.[1216] But there are
others in which this religious character is somewhat effaced, though it
has not disappeared completely. They take place outside the ceremonial
ground, which proves that they are already laicized to a certain degree;
but profane persons, women and children, are not yet admitted to them.
So they are on the boundary between the two domains. They generally deal
with legendary personages, but ones having no regular place in the
frame-work of the totemic religion. They are spirits, more generally
malevolent ones, having relations with the magicians rather than the
ordinary believers, and sorts of bugbears, in whom men do not believe
with the same degree of seriousness and firmness of conviction as in the
proper totemic beings and things.[1217] As the bonds by which the events
and personages represented are attached to the history of the tribe
relax, these take on a proportionately more unreal appearance, while the
corresponding ceremonies change in nature. Thus men enter into the
domain of pure fancy, and pass from the commemorative rite to the
ordinary corrobbori, a simple public merry-making, which has nothing
religious about it and in which all may take part indifferently. Perhaps
some of these representations, whose sole object now is to distract, are
ancient rites, whose character has been changed. In fact, the
distinction between these two sorts of ceremonies is so variable that it
is impossible to state with precision to which of the two kinds they

It is a well-known fact that games and the principal forms of art seem
to have been born of religion and that for a long time they retained a
religious character.[1219] We now see what the reasons for this are: it
is because the cult, though aimed primarily at other ends, has also been
a sort of recreation for men. Religion has not played this rôle by
hazard or owing to a happy chance, but through a necessity of its
nature. Though, as we have established, religious thought is something
very different from a system of fictions, still the realities to which
it corresponds express themselves religiously only when religion
transfigures them. Between society as it is objectively and the sacred
things which express it symbolically, the distance is considerable. It
has been necessary that the impressions really felt by men, which served
as the original matter of this construction, should be interpreted,
elaborated and transformed until they became unrecognizable. So the
world of religious things is a partially imaginary world, though only in
its outward form, and one which therefore lends itself more readily to
the free creations of the mind. Also, since the intellectual forces
which serve to make it are intense and tumultuous, the unique task of
expressing the real with the aid of appropriate symbols is not enough to
occupy them. A surplus generally remains available which seeks to employ
itself in supplementary and superfluous works of luxury, that is to say,
in works of art. There are practices as well as beliefs of this sort.
The state of effervescence in which the assembled worshippers find
themselves must be translated outwardly by exuberant movements which are
not easily subjected to too carefully defined ends. In part, they escape
aimlessly, they spread themselves for the mere pleasure of so doing, and
they take delight in all sorts of games. Besides, in so far as the
beings to whom the cult is addressed are imaginary, they are not able to
contain and regulate this exuberance; the pressure of tangible and
resisting realities is required to confine activities to exact and
economical forms. Therefore one exposes oneself to grave
misunderstandings if, in explaining rites, he believes that each gesture
has a precise object and a definite reason for its existence. There are
some which serve nothing; they merely answer the need felt by
worshippers for action, motion, gesticulation. They are to be seen
jumping, whirling, dancing, crying and singing, though it may not always
be possible to give a meaning to all this agitation.

Therefore religion would not be itself if it did not give some place to
the free combinations of thought and activity, to play, to art, to all
that recreates the spirit that has been fatigued by the too great
slavishness of daily work: the very same causes which called it into
existence make it a necessity. Art is not merely an external ornament
with which the cult has adorned itself in order to dissimulate certain
of its features which may be too austere and too rude; but rather, in
itself, the cult is something æsthetic. Owing to the well-known
connection which mythology has with poetry, some have wished to exclude
the former from religion;[1220] the truth is that there is a poetry
inherent in all religion. The representative rites which have just been
studied make this aspect of the religious life manifest; but there are
scarcely any rites which do not present it to some degree.

One would certainly commit the gravest error if he saw only this one
aspect of religion, or if he even exaggerated its importance. When a
rite serves only to distract, it is no longer a rite. The moral forces
expressed by religious symbols are real forces with which we must reckon
and with which we cannot do what we will. Even when the cult aims at
producing no physical effects, but limits itself to acting on the mind,
its action is in quite a different way from that of a pure work of art.
The representations which it seeks to awaken and maintain in our minds
are not vain images which correspond to nothing in reality, and which we
call up aimlessly for the mere satisfaction of seeing them appear and
combine before our eyes. They are as necessary for the well working of
our moral life as our food is for the maintenance of our physical life,
for it is through them that the group affirms and maintains itself, and
we know the point to which this is indispensable for the individual. So
a rite is something different from a game; it is a part of the serious
life. But if its unreal and imaginary element is not essential,
nevertheless it plays a part which is by no means negligible. It has its
share in the feeling of comfort which the worshipper draws from the rite
performed; for recreation is one of the forms of the moral remaking
which is the principal object of the positive rite. After we have
acquitted ourselves of our ritual duties, we enter into the profane life
with increased courage and ardour, not only because we come into
relations with a superior source of energy, but also because our forces
have been reinvigorated by living, for a few moments, in a life that is
less strained, and freer and easier. Hence religion acquires a charm
which is not among the slightest of its attractions.

This is why the very idea of a religious ceremony of some importance
awakens the idea of a feast. Inversely, every feast, even when it has
purely lay origins, has certain characteristics of the religious
ceremony, for in every case its effect is to bring men together, to put
the masses into movement and thus to excite a state of effervescence,
and sometimes even of delirium, which is not without a certain kinship
with the religious state. A man is carried outside himself and diverted
from his ordinary occupation and preoccupations. Thus the same
manifestations are to be observed in each case: cries, songs, music,
violent movements, dances, the search for exciteants which raise the
vital level, etc. It has frequently been remarked that popular feasts
lead to excesses, and cause men to lose sight of the distinction
separating the licit from the illicit;[1221] there are also religious
ceremonies which make it almost necessary to violate the rules which are
ordinarily the most respected.[1222] Of course this does not mean that
there is no way to distinguish these two forms of public activity. The
simple merry-making, the profane corrobbori, has no serious object,
while, as a whole, a ritual ceremony always has an important end. Still
it is to be remembered that there is perhaps no merry-making in which
the serious life does not have some echo. The difference consists rather
in the unequal proportions in which the two elements are combined.


A more general fact confirms the views which precede.

In their first book, Spencer and Gillen presented the Intichiuma as a
perfectly definite ritual entity: they spoke of it as though it were an
operation destined exclusively for the assurance of the reproduction of
the totemic species, and it seemed as though it ought to lose all
meaning, if this unique function were set aside. But in their _Northern
Tribes of Central Australia_, the same authors use a different language,
though perhaps without noticing it. They recognize that these same
ceremonies may take place either in the regular Intichiuma or in the
initiation rites.[1223] So they serve equally in the making of animals
or plants of the totemic species, or in conferring upon novices the
qualities necessary to make them regular members of the men's
society.[1224] From this point of view, the Intichiuma takes on a new
aspect. It is no longer a distinct ritual mechanism, resting upon
principles of its own, but a particular application of more general
ceremonies which may be utilized for very different ends. For this
reason, in their later work, before speaking of the Intichiuma and the
initiation they consecrate a special chapter to the totemic ceremonies
in general, making abstraction of the diverse forms which they may take,
according to the ends for which they are employed.[1225]

This fundamental indetermination of the totemic ceremonies was only
indicated by Spencer and Gillen, and rather indirectly at that; but it
has now been confirmed by Strehlow in more explicit terms. "When they
lead the young novices through the different feasts of the initiation,"
he says, "they perform before them a series of ceremonies which, though
reproducing, even in their most characteristic details, the rites of the
regular cult (viz. _the rites which Spencer and Gillen call the
Intichiuma_), do not have, nevertheless, the end of multiplying the
corresponding totem and causing it to prosper."[1226] It is the same
ceremony which serves in the two cases; the name alone is not the same.
When its special object is the reproduction of the species, they call it
_mbatjalkatiuma_ and it is only when it is a part of the process of
initiation that they give it the name Intichiuma.[1227]

Moreover, these two sorts of ceremonies are distinguished from one
another among the Arunta by certain secondary characteristics. Though
the structure of the rite is the same in both cases, still we know that
the effusions of blood and, more generally, the oblations characteristic
of the Arunta Intichiuma are not found in the initiation ceremonies.
Moreover, among this same people, the Intichiuma takes place at
a spot regularly fixed by tradition, to which men must make a
pilgrimage, while the scene of the initiation ceremonies is purely
conventional.[1228] But when the Intichiuma consists in a simple
dramatic representation, as is the case among the Warramunga, the lack
of distinction between the two rites is complete. In the one as in the
other, they commemorate the past, they put the myth into action, they
play--and one cannot play in two materially different ways. So,
according to the circumstances, one and the same ceremony serves two
distinct functions.[1229]

It may even lend itself to other uses. We know that as blood is a sacred
thing, women must not see it flow. Yet it happens sometimes that a
quarrel breaks out in their presence and ends in the shedding of blood.
Thus an infraction of the ritual is committed. Among the Arunta, the man
whose blood flowed first must, to atone for this fault, "celebrate a
ceremony connected with the totem either of his father or of his
mother";[1230] this ceremony has a special name, _Alua uparilima_, which
means the washing away of blood. But in itself, it does not differ from
those celebrated at the time of the initiation or in the Intichiuma: it
represents an event of ancestral history. So it may serve equally to
initiate, to act upon the totemic species or to expiate a sacrilege. We
shall see that a totemic ceremony may also take the place of a funeral

MM. Hubert and Mauss have already pointed out a functional ambiguity of
this same sort in the case of sacrifice, and more especially, in that of
Hindu sacrifice.[1232] They have shown how the sacrifice of communion,
that of expiation, that of a vow and that of a contract are only
variations of one and the same mechanism. We now see that the fact is
much more primitive, and in no way limited to the institution of
sacrifice. Perhaps no rite exists which does not present a similar
indetermination. The mass serves for marriages as for burials; it
redeems the faults of the dead and wins the favours of the deity for the
living, etc. Fasting is an expiation and a penance; but it is also a
preparation for communion; it even confers positive virtues. This
ambiguity shows that the real function of a rite does not consist in the
particular and definite effects which it seems to aim at and by which it
is ordinarily characterized, but rather in a general action which,
though always and everywhere the same, is nevertheless capable of taking
on different forms according to the circumstances. Now this is just what
is demanded by the theory which we have proposed. If the real function
of the cult is to awaken within the worshippers a certain state of soul,
composed of moral force and confidence, and if the various effects
imputed to the rites are due only to a secondary and variable
determination of this fundamental state, it is not surprising if a
single rite, while keeping the same composition and structure, seems to
produce various effects. For the mental dispositions, the excitation of
which is its permanent function, remain the same in every case; they
depend upon the fact that the group is assembled, and not upon the
special reasons for which it is assembled. But, on the other hand, they
are interpreted differently according to the circumstances to which they
are applied. Is it a physical result which they wish to obtain? The
confidence they feel convinces them that the desired result is or will
be obtained by the means employed. Has some one committed a fault for
which he wishes to atone? The same state of moral assurance will lead
him to attribute expiatory virtues to these same ritual gestures. Thus,
the apparent efficacy will seem to change while the real efficacy
remains invariable, and the rite will seem to fulfil various functions
though in fact it has only one, which is always the same.

Inversely, just as a single rite may serve many ends, so many rites may
produce the same effect and mutually replace one another. To assure the
reproduction of the totemic species, one may have recourse equally to
oblations, to imitative practices or to commemorative representations.
This aptitude of rites for substituting themselves for one another
proves once more both their plasticity and the extreme generality of the
useful action which they exercise. The essential thing is that men are
assembled, that sentiments are felt in common and expressed in common
acts; but the particular nature of these sentiments and acts is
something relatively secondary and contingent. To become conscious of
itself, the group does not need to perform certain acts in preference to
all others. The necessary thing is that it partakes of the same thought
and the same action; the visible forms in which this communion takes
place matter but little. Of course, these external forms do not come by
chance; they have their reasons; but these reasons do not touch the
essential part of the cult.

So everything leads us back to this same idea: before all, rites are
means by which the social group reaffirms itself periodically. From
this, we may be able to reconstruct hypothetically the way in which the
totemic cult should have arisen originally. Men who feel themselves
united, partially by bonds of blood, but still more by a community of
interest and tradition, assemble and become conscious of their moral
unity. For the reasons which we have set forth, they are led to
represent this unity in the form of a very special kind of
consubstantiality: they think of themselves as all participating in the
nature of some determined animal. Under these circumstances, there is
only one way for them to affirm their collective existence: this is to
affirm that they are like the animals of this species, and to do so not
only in the silence of their own thoughts, but also by material acts.
These are the acts which make up the cult, and they obviously can
consist only in movements by which the man imitates the animal with
which he identifies himself. When understood thus, the imitative rites
appear as the first form of the cult. It will be thought that this is
attributing a very considerable historical importance to practices
which, at first view, give the effect of childish games. But, as we have
shown, these naïve and awkward gestures and these crude processes of
representation translate and maintain a sentiment of pride, confidence
and veneration wholly comparable to that expressed by the worshippers in
the most idealistic religions when, being assembled, they proclaim
themselves the children of the almighty God. For in the one case as in
the other, this sentiment is made up of the same impressions of security
and respect which are awakened in individual consciousnesses by this
great moral force which dominates them and sustains them, and which is
the collective force.

The other rites which we have been studying are probably only variations
of this essential rite. When the close union of the animal and men has
once been admitted, men feel acutely the necessity of assuring the
regular reproduction of the principal object of the cult. These
imitative practices, which probably had only a moral end at first, thus
became subordinated to utilitarian and material ends, and they were
thought of as means of producing the desired result. But
proportionately as, through the development of mythology, the ancestral
hero, who was at first confused with the totemic animal, distinguished
himself more and more, and became a more personal figure, the imitation
of the ancestor was substituted for the imitation of the animal, or took
a place beside it, and then representative ceremonies replaced or
completed the imitative rites. Finally, to be surer of attaining the end
they sought, men felt the need of putting into action all the means at
their disposal. Close at hand they had reserves of living forces
accumulated in the sacred rocks, so they utilized them; since the blood
of the men was of the same nature as that of the animal, they used it
for the same purpose and shed it. Inversely, owing to this same kinship,
men used the flesh of the animal to remake their own substance. Hence
came the rites of oblation and communion. But, at bottom, all these
different practices are only variations of one and the same theme:
everywhere their basis is the same state of mind, interpreted
differently according to the situations, the moments of history and the
dispositions of the worshippers.



Howsoever much they may differ from one another in the nature of the
gestures they imply, the positive rites which we have been passing under
review have one common characteristic: they are all performed in a state
of confidence, joy and even enthusiasm. Though the expectation of a
future and contingent event is not without a certain uncertainty, still
it is normal that the rain fall when the season for it comes, and that
the animal and vegetable species reproduce regularly. Oft-repeated
experiences have shown that the rites generally do produce the effects
which are expected of them and which are the reason for their existence.
Men celebrate them with confidence, joyfully anticipating the happy
event which they prepare and announce. Whatever movements men perform
participate in this same state of mind: of course, they are marked with
the gravity which a religious solemnity always supposes, but this
gravity excludes neither animation nor joy.

These are all joyful feasts. But there are sad celebrations as well,
whose object is either to meet a calamity, or else merely to commemorate
and deplore it. These rites have a special aspect, which we are going to
attempt to characterize and explain. It is the more necessary to study
them by themselves since they are going to reveal a new aspect of the
religious life to us.

We propose to call the ceremonies of this sort piacular. The term
_piaculum_ has the advantage that while it suggests the idea of
expiation, it also has a much more extended signification. Every
misfortune, everything of evil omen, everything that inspires sentiments
of sorrow or fear necessitates a _piaculum_ and is therefore called
piacular.[1233] So this word seems to be very well adapted for
designating the rites which are celebrated by those in a state of
uneasiness or sadness.


Mourning offers us a first and important example of piacular rites.

However, a distinction is necessary between the different rites which go
to make up mourning. Some consist in mere abstentions: it is forbidden
to pronounce the name of the dead,[1234] or to remain near the place
where the death occurred;[1235] relatives, especially the female ones,
must abstain from all communication with strangers;[1236] the ordinary
occupations of life are suspended, just as in feast-time,[1237] etc. All
these practices belong to the negative cult and are explained like the
other rites of the same sort, so they do not concern us at present. They
are due to the fact that the dead man is a sacred being. Consequently,
everything which is or has been connected with him is, by contagion, in
a religious state excluding all contact with things from profane life.

But mourning is not made up entirely of interdicts which have to be
observed. Positive acts are also demanded, in which the relatives are
both the actors and those acted upon.

Very frequently these rites commence as soon as the death appears
imminent. Here is a scene which Spencer and Gillen witnessed among the
Warramunga. A totemic ceremony had just been celebrated and the company
of actors and spectators was leaving the consecrated ground when a
piercing cry suddenly came from the camp: a man was dying there. At
once, the whole company commenced to run as fast as they could, while
most of them commenced to howl. "Between us and the camp," say these
observers, "lay a deep creek, and on the bank of this, some of the men,
scattered about here and there, sat down, bending their heads forwards
between their knees, while they wept and moaned. Crossing the creek we
found that, as usual, the men's camp had been pulled to pieces. Some of
the women, who had come from every direction, were lying prostrate on
the body, while others were standing or kneeling around, digging the
sharp ends of yam-sticks into the crown of their heads, from which the
blood streamed down over their faces, while all the time they kept up a
loud, continuous wail. Many of the men, rushing up to the spot, threw
themselves upon the body, from which the women arose when the men
approached, until in a few minutes we could see nothing but a struggling
mass of bodies all mixed up together. To one side, three men of the
Thapungarti class, who still wore their ceremonial decorations, sat down
wailing loudly, with their backs towards the dying man, and in a minute
or two another man of the same class rushed on to the ground yelling and
brandishing a stone knife. Reaching the camp, he suddenly gashed both
thighs deeply, cutting right across the muscles, and, unable to stand,
fell down into the middle of the group, from which he was dragged out
after a time by three or four female relatives, who immediately applied
their mouths to the gaping wounds while he lay exhausted on the ground."
The man did not actually die until late in the evening. As soon as he
had given up his last breath, the same scene was re-enacted, only this
time the wailing was still louder, and men and women, seized by a
veritable frenzy, were rushing about cutting themselves with knives and
sharp-pointed sticks, the women battering one another's heads with
fighting clubs, no one attempting to ward off either cuts or blows.
Finally, after about an hour, a torchlight procession started off across
the plain, to a tree in whose branches the body was left.[1238]

Howsoever great the violence of these manifestations may be, they are
strictly regulated by etiquette. The individuals who make bloody
incisions in themselves are designated by usage: they must have certain
relations of kinship with the dead man. Thus, in the case observed by
Spencer and Gillen among the Warramunga, those who slashed their thighs
were the maternal grandfather of the deceased, his maternal uncle, and
the maternal uncle and brother of his wife.[1239] Others must cut their
whiskers and hair, and then smear their scalps with pipe-clay. Women
have particularly severe obligations. They must cut their hair and cover
the whole body with pipe-clay; in addition to this, a strict silence is
imposed upon them during the whole period of mourning, which may last as
long as two years. It is not rare among the Warramunga that, as a result
of this interdiction, all the women of a camp are condemned to the most
absolute silence. This becomes so habitual to them that even after the
expiration of the period of mourning, they voluntarily renounce all
spoken language and prefer to communicate with gestures--in which, by
the way, they acquire a remarkable ability. Spencer and Gillen knew one
old woman who had not spoken for over twenty-four years.[1240]

The ceremony which we have described opens a long series of rites which
succeed one another for weeks and even for months. During the days which
follow, they are renewed in various forms. Groups of men and women sit
on the ground, weeping and lamenting, and kissing each other at certain
moments. These ritual kissings are repeated frequently during the period
of mourning. It seems as though men felt a need of coming close together
and communicating most closely; they are to be seen holding to each
other and wound together so much as to make one single mass, from which
loud groans escape.[1241] Meanwhile, the women commence to lacerate
their heads again, and, in order to intensify the wounds they make, they
even go so far as to burn them with the points of fiery sticks.[1242]

Practices of this sort are general in all Australia. The funeral rites,
that is, the ritual cares given to the corpse, the way in which it is
buried, etc., change with different tribes,[1243] and in a single tribe
they vary with the age, sex and social importance of the
individual.[1244] But the real ceremonies of mourning repeat the same
theme everywhere; the variations are only in the details. Everywhere we
find this same silence interrupted by groans,[1245] the same obligation
of cutting the hair and beard,[1246] or of covering one's head with
pipe-clay or cinders, or perhaps even with excrements;[1247] everywhere,
finally, we find this same frenzy for beating one's self, lacerating
one's self and burning one's self. In central Victoria, "when death
visits a tribe there is great weeping and lamentation amongst the women,
the elder portion of whom lacerate their temples with their nails. The
parents of the deceased lacerate themselves fearfully, especially if it
be an only son whose loss they deplore. The father beats and cuts his
head with a tomahawk until he utters bitter groans, the mother sits by
the fire and burns her breasts and abdomen with a small fire-stick.
Sometimes the burns thus inflicted are so severe as to cause

According to an account of Brough Smyth, here is what happens in one of
the southern tribes of the same state. As the body is lowered into the
grave, "the widow begins her sad ceremonies. She cuts off her hair above
her forehead, and becoming frantic, seizes fire-sticks, and burns her
breasts, arms, legs and thighs. She seems to delight in the
self-inflicted torture. It would be rash and vain to interrupt her. When
exhausted, and when she can hardly walk, she yet endeavours to kick the
embers of the fire, and to throw them about. Sitting down, she takes the
ashes into her hands, rubs them into her wounds, and then scratches her
face (the only part not touched by the fire-sticks) until the blood
mingles with the ashes, which partly hide her cruel wounds. In this
plight, scratching her face continually, she utters howls and

The description which Howitt gives of the rites of mourning among the
Kurnai is remarkably similar to these others. After the body has been
wrapped up in opossum skins and put in a shroud of bark, a hut is built
in which the relatives assemble. "There they lay lamenting their loss,
saying, for instance, 'Why did you leave us?' Now and then their grief
would be intensified by some one, for instance, the wife, uttering an
ear-piercing wail, 'My spouse is dead,' or another would say, 'My child
is dead.' All the others would then join in with the proper term of
relationship, and they would gash themselves with sharp stones and
tomahawks until their heads and bodies streamed with blood. This bitter
wailing and weeping continued all night."[1250]

Sadness is not the only sentiment expressed during these ceremonies; a
sort of anger is generally mixed with it. The relatives feel a need of
avenging the death in some way or other. They are to be seen throwing
themselves upon one another and trying to wound each other. Sometimes
the attack is real; sometimes it is only pretended.[1251] There are even
cases when these peculiar combats are organized. Among the Kaitish, the
hair of the deceased passes by right to his son-in-law. But he, in
return, must go, in company with some of his relatives and friends, and
provoke a quarrel with one of his tribal brothers, that is, with a man
belonging to the same matrimonial class as himself and one who might
therefore have married the daughter of the dead man. This provocation
cannot be refused and the two combatants inflict serious wounds upon
each other's shoulders and thighs. When the duel is terminated, the
challenger passes on to his adversary the hair which he had temporarily
inherited. This latter then provokes and fights with another of his
tribal brothers, to whom the precious relic is next transmitted, but
only provisionally; thus it passes from hand to hand and circulates from
group to group.[1252] Also, something of these same sentiments enters
into that sort of rage with which each relative beats himself, burns
himself or slashes himself: a sorrow which reaches such a paroxysm is
not without a certain amount of anger. One cannot fail to be struck by
the resemblances which these practices present to those of the vendetta.
Both proceed from the same principle that death demands the shedding of
blood. The only difference is that in one case the victims are the
relatives, while in the other they are strangers. We do not have to
treat especially of the vendetta, which belongs rather to the study of
juridic institutions; but it should be pointed out, nevertheless, how it
is connected with the rites of mourning, whose end it announces.[1253]

In certain societies, the mourning is terminated by a ceremony whose
effervescence reaches or surpasses that produced by the inaugural
ceremonies. Among the Arunta, this closing rite is called _Urpmilchima_.
Spencer and Gillen assisted at two of these rites. One was celebrated in
honour of a man, the other of a woman. Here is the description they give
of the latter.[1254]

They commence by making some ornaments of a special sort, called
_Chimurilia_ by the men and _Aramurilia_ by the women. With a kind of
resin, they fixed small animal bones, which had previously been gathered
and set aside, to locks of hair furnished by the relatives of the dead
woman. These are then attached to one of the head-bands which women
ordinarily wear and the feathers of black cockatoos and parrots are
added to it. When these preparations are completed, the women assemble
in their camp. They paint their bodies different colours, according to
their degree of kinship with the deceased. After being embraced by one
another for some ten minutes, while uttering uninterrupted groans, they
set out for the tomb. At a certain distance, they meet a brother by
blood of the dead woman, who is accompanied by some of his tribal
brothers. Everybody sits down on the ground, and the lamentations
recommence. A _pitchi_[1255] containing the Chimurilia is then presented
to the elder brother, who presses it against his stomach; they say that
this is a way of lessening his sorrow. They take out one of the
Chimurilia and the dead woman's mother puts it on her head for a little
while; then it is put back into the _pitchi_, which each of the other
men presses against his breast, in his turn. Finally, the brother puts
the Chimurilia on the heads of two elder sisters and they set out again
for the tomb. On the way, the mother throws herself on the ground
several times, and tries to slash her head with a pointed stick. Every
time, the other women pick her up, and seem to take care that she does
not hurt herself too much. When they arrive at the tomb, she throws
herself on the knoll and endeavours to destroy it with her hands, while
the other women literally dance upon her. The tribal mothers and aunts
(sisters of the dead woman's father) follow her example; they also throw
themselves on the ground, and mutually beat and tear each other; finally
their bodies are all streaming with blood. After a while, they are
dragged aside. The elder sisters then make a hole in the earth of the
tomb, in which they place the Chimurilia, which had previously been torn
to pieces. Once again the tribal mothers throw themselves on the ground
and slash each other's heads. At this moment, "the weeping and wailing
of the women who were standing round seemed to drive them almost
frenzied, and the blood, streaming down their bodies over the white
pipe-clay, gave them a ghastly appearance. At last only the old mother
was left crouching alone, utterly exhausted and moaning weakly on the
grave."[1256] Then the others raised her up and rubbed off the pipe-clay
with which she was covered; this was the end of the ceremony and of the

Among the Warramunga, the final rite presents some rather particular
characteristics. There seems to be no shedding of blood here, but the
collective effervescence is translated in another manner.

Among his people, before the body is definitely interred, it is exposed
upon a platform placed in the branches of a tree; it is left there to
decompose slowly, until nothing remains but the bones. Then these are
gathered together and, with the exception of the humerus, they are
placed inside an ant-hill. The humerus is wrapped up in a bark box,
which is decorated in different manners. The box is then brought to
camp, amid the cries and groans of the women. During the following days,
they celebrate a series of totemic rites, concerning the totem of the
deceased and the mythical history of the ancestors from whom the clan is
descended. When all these ceremonies have been terminated, they proceed
to the closing rite.

A trench one foot deep and fifteen feet long is dug in the field of the
ceremony. A design representing the totem of the deceased and certain
spots where the ancestor stopped is made on the ground a little distance
from it. Near this design, a little ditch is dug in the ground. Ten
decorated men then advance, one behind another, and with their hands
crossed behind their heads and their legs wide apart they stand
astraddle the trench. At a given signal, the women run from the camp in
a profound silence; when they are near, they form in Indian file, the
last one holding in her hands the box containing the humerus. Then,
after throwing themselves on the ground, they advance on their hands and
knees, and pass all along the trench, between the legs of the men. The
scene shows a state of great sexual excitement. As soon as the last
woman has passed, they take the box from her, and take it to the ditch,
near which is an old man; he breaks the bone with a sharp blow, and
hurriedly buries it in the debris. During this time, the women have
remained at a distance, with their backs turned upon the scene, for they
must not see it. But when they hear the blow of the axe, they flee,
uttering cries and groans. The rite is accomplished; the mourning is


These rites belong to a very different type from those which we have
studied hitherto. We do not mean to say that important resemblances
cannot be found between the two, which we shall have to note; but the
differences are more apparent. Instead of happy dances, songs and
dramatic representations which distract and relax the mind, they are
tears and groans and, in a word, the most varied manifestations of
agonized sorrow and a sort of mutual pity, which occupy the whole scene.
Of course the shedding of blood also takes place in the Intichiuma, but
this is an oblation made with a movement of pious enthusiasm. Even
though the motions may be the same, the sentiments expressed are
different and even opposed. Likewise, the ascetic rites certainly imply
privations, abstinences and mutilations, but ones which must be borne
with an impassive firmness and serenity. Here, on the contrary,
dejection, cries and tears are the rule. The ascetic tortures himself in
order to prove, in his own eyes and those of his fellows, that he is
above suffering. During mourning, men injure themselves to prove that
they suffer. By all these signs, the characteristic traits of the
piacular rites are to be recognized.

But how are they to be explained?

One initial fact is constant: mourning is not the spontaneous expression
of individual emotions.[1258] If the relations weep, lament, mutilate
themselves, it is not because they feel themselves personally affected
by the death of their kinsman. Of course, it may be that in certain
particular cases, the chagrin expressed is really felt.[1259] But it is
more generally the case that there is no connection between the
sentiments felt and the gestures made by the actors in the rite.[1260]
If, at the very moment when the weepers seem the most overcome by their
grief, some one speaks to them of some temporal interest, it frequently
happens that they change their features and tone at once, take on a
laughing air and converse in the gayest fashion imaginable.[1261]
Mourning is not a natural movement of private feelings wounded by a
cruel loss; it is a duty imposed by the group. One weeps, not simply
because he is sad, but because he is forced to weep. It is a ritual
attitude which he is forced to adopt out of respect for custom, but
which is, in a large measure, independent of his affective state.
Moreover, this obligation is sanctioned by mythical or social penalties.
They believe, for example, that if a relative does not mourn as is
fitting, then the soul of the departed follows upon his steps and kills
him.[1262] In other cases, society does not leave it to the religious
forces to punish the negligent; it intervenes itself, and reprimands the
ritual faults. If a son-in-law does not render to his father-in-law the
funeral attentions which are due him, and if he does not make the
prescribed incisions, then his tribal fathers-in-law take his wife away
from him and give him another.[1263] Therefore, in order to square
himself with usage, a man sometimes forces tears to flow by artificial

Whence comes this obligation?

Ethnographers and sociologists are generally satisfied with the reply
which the natives themselves give to this question. They say that the
dead wish to be lamented, that by refusing them the tribute of sorrow
which is their right, men offend them, and that the only way of
preventing their anger is to conform to their will.[1265]

But this mythological interpretation merely modifies the terms of the
problem, without resolving it; it is still necessary to explain why the
dead imperatively reclaim the mourning. It may be said that it is
natural for men to wish to be mourned and regretted. But in making this
sentiment explain the complex system of rites which make up mourning, we
attribute to the Australian affective exigencies of which the civilized
man himself does not always give evidence. Let us admit--as is not
evident _a priori_--that the idea of not being forgotten too readily is
pleasing to a man who thinks of the future. It is still to be
established that it has ever had enough importance in the minds of the
living for one to attribute to the dead a state of mind proceeding
almost entirely from this preoccupation. It seems especially improbable
that such a sentiment could obsess and impassion men who are seldom
accustomed to thinking beyond the present moment. So far is it from
being a fact that the desire to survive in the memory of those who are
still alive is to be regarded as the origin of mourning, that we may
even ask ourselves whether it was not rather mourning itself which, when
once established, aroused the idea of and the taste for posthumous

The classic interpretation appears still more unsustainable when we know
what the primitive mourning consists in. It is not made up merely of
pious regrets accorded to him who no longer is, but also of severe
abstinences and cruel sacrifices. The rite does not merely demand that
one think of the deceased in a melancholy way, but also that he beat
himself, bruise himself, lacerate himself and burn himself. We have even
seen that persons in mourning sometimes torture themselves to such a
degree that they do not survive their wounds. What reason has the dead
man for imposing such torments upon them? Such a cruelty on his part
denotes something more than a desire not to be forgotten. If he is to
find pleasure in seeing his own suffer, it is necessary that he hate
them, that he be thirsty for their blood. This ferocity would
undoubtedly appear natural to those for whom every spirit is necessarily
an evil and redoubted power. But we know that there are spirits of every
sort; how does it happen that the soul of the dead man is necessarily an
evil spirit? As long as the man is alive, he loves his relatives and
exchanges services with them. Is it not strange that as soon as it is
freed from his body, his soul should instantly lay aside its former
sentiments and become an evil and tormenting genius? It is a general
rule that the dead man retains the personality of the living, and that
he has the same character, the same hates and the same affections. So
this metamorphosis is not easily understandable by itself. It is true
that the natives admit it implicitly when they explain the rite by the
exigencies of the dead man, but the question now before us is to know
whence this conception came. Far from being capable of being regarded
as a truism, it is as obscure as the rite itself, and consequently
cannot account for it.

Finally, even if we had found the reasons for this surprising
transformation, we would still have to explain why it is only temporary.
For it does not last beyond the period of mourning; after the rites have
once been accomplished, the dead man becomes what he was when alive, an
affectionate and devoted relation. He puts the new powers which he
receives from his new condition at the service of his friends.[1266]
Thenceforth, he is regarded as a good genius, always ready to aid those
whom he was recently tormenting. Whence come these successive transfers?
If the evil sentiments attributed to the soul come solely from the fact
that it is no longer in life, they should remain invariable, and if the
mourning is due to this, it should be interminable.

These mythical explanations express the idea which the native has of the
rite, and not the rite itself. So we may set them aside and face the
reality which they translate, though disfiguring it in doing so. If
mourning differs from the other forms of the positive cult, there is one
feature in which it resembles them: it, too, is made up out of
collective ceremonies which produce a state of effervescence among those
who take part in them. The sentiments aroused are different; but the
arousal is the same. So it is presumable that the explanation of the
joyous rites is capable of being applied to the sad rites, on condition
that the terms be transposed.

When some one dies, the family group to which he belongs feels itself
lessened and, to react against this loss, it assembles. A common
misfortune has the same effects as the approach of a happy event:
collective sentiments are renewed which then lead men to seek one
another and to assemble together. We have even seen this need for
concentration affirm itself with a particular energy: they embrace one
another, put their arms round one another, and press as close as
possible to one another. But the affective state in which the group then
happens to be only reflects the circumstances through which it is
passing. Not only do the relatives, who are effected the most directly,
bring their own personal sorrow to the assembly, but the society
exercises a moral pressure over its members, to put their sentiments in
harmony with the situation. To allow them to remain indifferent to the
blow which has fallen upon it and diminished it, would be equivalent to
proclaiming that it does not hold the place in their hearts which is due
it; it would be denying itself. A family which allows one of its
members to die without being wept for shows by that very fact that it
lacks moral unity and cohesion: it abdicates; it renounces its
existence. An individual in his turn, if he is strongly attached to the
society of which he is a member, feels that he is morally held to
participating in its sorrows and joys; not to be interested in them
would be equivalent to breaking the bonds uniting him to the group; it
would be renouncing all desire for it and contradicting himself. When
the Christian, during the ceremonies commemorating the Passion, and the
Jew, on the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem, fast and mortify
themselves, it is not in giving way to a sadness which they feel
spontaneously. Under these circumstances, the internal state of the
believer is out of all proportion to the severe abstinences to which
they submit themselves. If he is sad, it is primarily because he
consents to being sad, and he consents to it in order to affirm his
faith. The attitude of the Australian during mourning is to be explained
in the same way. If he weeps and groans, it is not merely to express an
individual chagrin; it is to fulfil a duty of which the surrounding
society does not fail to remind him.

We have seen elsewhere how human sentiments are intensified when
affirmed collectively. Sorrow, like joy, becomes exalted and amplified
when leaping from mind to mind, and therefore expresses itself outwardly
in the form of exuberant and violent movements. But these are no longer
expressive of the joyful agitation which we observed before; they are
shrieks and cries of pain. Each is carried along by the others; a
veritable panic of sorrow results. When pain reaches this degree of
intensity, it is mixed with a sort of anger and exasperation. One feels
the need of breaking something, of destroying something. He takes this
out either upon himself or others. He beats himself, burns himself,
wounds himself or else he falls upon others to beat, burn and wound
them. Thus it became the custom to give one's self up to the veritable
orgies of tortures during mourning. It seems very probable that
blood-revenge and head-hunting have their origin in this. If every death
is attributed to some magic charm, and for this reason it is believed
that the dead man ought to be avenged, it is because men must find a
victim at any price, upon whom the collective pain and anger may be
discharged. Naturally this victim is sought outside the group; a
stranger is a subject _minoris resistentiæ_; as he is not protected by
the sentiments of sympathy inspired by a relative or neighbour, there is
nothing in him which subdues and neutralizes the evil and destructive
sentiments aroused by the death. It is undoubtedly for this same reason
that women serve more frequently than men as the passive objects of the
cruellest rites of mourning; since they have a smaller social value,
they are more obviously designated as scapegoats.

We see that this explanation of mourning completely leaves aside all
ideas of souls or spirits. The only forces which are really active are
of a wholly impersonal nature: they are the emotions aroused in the
group by the death of one of its members. But the primitive does not
know the psychical mechanism from which these practices result. So when
he tries to account for them, he is obliged to forge a wholly different
explanation. All he knows is that he must painfully mortify himself. As
every obligation suggests the notion of a will which obliges, he looks
about him to see whence this constraint which he feels may come. Now,
there is one moral power, of whose reality he is assured and which seems
designated for this rôle: this is the soul which the death has
liberated. For what could have a greater interest than it in the effects
which its own death has on the living? So they imagine that if these
latter inflict an unnatural treatment upon themselves, it is to conform
to its exigencies. It was thus that the idea of the soul must have
intervened at a later date into the mythology of mourning. But also,
since it is thus endowed with inhuman exigencies, it must be supposed
that in leaving the body which it animated, the soul lays aside every
human sentiment. Hence the metamorphosis which makes a dreaded enemy out
of the relative of yesterday. This transformation is not the origin of
mourning; it is rather its consequence. It translates a change which has
come over the affective state of the group: men do not weep for the dead
because they fear them; they fear them because they weep for them.

But this change of the affective state can only be a temporary one, for
while the ceremonies of mourning result from it, they also put an end to
it. Little by little, they neutralize the very causes which have given
rise to them. The foundation of mourning is the impression of a loss
which the group feels when it loses one of its members. But this very
impression results in bringing individuals together, in putting them
into closer relations with one another, in associating them all in the
same mental state, and therefore in disengaging a sensation of comfort
which compensates the original loss.--Since they weep together, they
hold to one another and the group is not weakened, in spite of the blow
which has fallen upon it. Of course they have only sad emotions in
common, but communicating in sorrow is still communicating, and every
communion of mind, in whatever form it may be made, raises the social
vitality. The exceptional violence of the manifestations by which the
common pain is necessarily and obligatorily expressed even testifies to
the fact that at this moment, the society is more alive and active than
ever. In fact, whenever the social sentiment is painfully wounded, it
reacts with greater force than ordinarily: one never holds so closely to
his family as when it has just suffered. This surplus energy effaces the
more completely the effects of the interruption which was felt at first,
and thus dissipates the feeling of coldness which death always brings
with it. The group feels its strength gradually returning to it; it
begins to hope and to live again. Presently one stops mourning, and he
does so owing to the mourning itself. But as the idea formed of the soul
reflects the moral state of the society, this idea should change as this
state changes. When one is in the period of dejection and agony, he
represents the soul with the traits of an evil being, whose sole
occupation is to persecute men. But when he feels himself confident and
secure once more, he must admit that it has retaken its former nature
and its former sentiments of tenderness and solidarity. Thus we explain
the very different ways in which it is conceived at different moments of
its existence.[1267]

Not only do the rites of mourning determine certain of the secondary
characteristics attributed to the soul, but perhaps they are not foreign
to the idea that it survives the body. If he is to understand the
practices to which he submits on the death of a parent, a man is obliged
to believe that these are not an indifferent matter for the deceased.
The shedding of blood which is practised so freely during mourning is a
veritable sacrifice offered to the dead man.[1268] So something of the
dead man must survive, and as this is not the body, which is manifestly
immobile and decomposed, it can only be the soul. Of course it is
impossible to say with any exactness what part these considerations have
had in the origin of the idea of immortality. But it is probable that
here the influence of the cult is the same as it is elsewhere. Rites are
more easily explicable when one imagines that they are addressed to
personal beings; so men have been induced to extend the influence of
the mythical personalities in the religious life. In order to account
for mourning, they have prolonged the existence of the soul beyond the
tomb. This is one more example of the way in which rites react upon


But death is not the only event which may disturb a community. Men have
many other occasions for being sorry and lamenting, so we might foresee
that even the Australians would know and practise other piacular rites
besides mourning. However, it is a remarkable fact that only a small
number of examples are to be found in the accounts of the observers.

One rite of this sort greatly resembles those which have just been
studied. It will be remembered that among the Arunta, each local group
attributes exceptionally important virtues to its collection of
churinga: this is this collective palladium, upon whose fate the fate of
the community itself is believed to depend. So when enemies or white men
succeed in stealing one of these religious treasures, this loss is
considered a public calamity. This misfortune is the occasion of a rite
having all the characteristics of mourning: men smear their bodies with
white pipe-clay and remain in camp, weeping and lamenting, during a
period of two weeks.[1269] This is a new proof that mourning is
determined, not by the way in which the soul of the dead is conceived,
but by impersonal causes, by the moral state of the group. In fact, we
have here a rite which, in its structure, is indistinguishable from the
real mourning, but which is, nevertheless, independent of every notion
of spirits or evil-working demons.[1270]

Another circumstance which gives occasion for ceremonies of the same
nature is the distress in which the society finds itself after an
insufficient harvest. "The natives who live in the vicinity of Lake
Eyre," says Eylmann, "also seek to prevent an insufficiency of food by
means of secret ceremonies. But many of the ritual practices observed in
this region are to be distinguished from those which have been mentioned
already: it is not by symbolic dances, by imitative movements nor
dazzling decorations that they try to act upon the religious powers or
the forces of nature, but by means of the suffering which individuals
inflict upon themselves. In the northern territories, it is by means of
tortures, such as prolonged fasts, vigils, dances persisted up to the
exhaustion of the dancers, and physical pains of every sort, that they
attempt to appease the powers which are ill-disposed towards men."[1271]
The torments to which the natives submit themselves for this purpose
sometimes leave them in such a state of exhaustion that they are unable
to follow the hunt for some days to come.[1272]

These practices are employed especially for fighting against drought.
This is because a scarcity of water results in a general want. To remedy
this evil, they have recourse to violent methods. One which is
frequently used is the extraction of a tooth. Among the Kaitish, for
example, they pull out an incisor from one man, and hang it on a
tree.[1273] Among the Dieri, the idea of rain is closely associated with
that of bloody incisions made in the skin of the chest and arms.[1274]
Among this same people, whenever the drought is very great, the great
council assembles and summons the whole tribe. It is really a tribal
event. Women are sent in every direction to notify men to assemble at a
given place and time. After they have assembled, they groan and cry in a
piercing voice about the miserable state of the land, and they beg the
_Mura-mura_ (the mythical ancestors) to give them the power of making an
abundant rain fall.[1275] In the cases, which, by the way, are very
rare, when there has been an excessive rainfall, an analogous ceremony
takes place to stop it. Old men then enter into a veritable
frenzy,[1276] while the cries uttered by the crowd are really painful to

Spencer and Gillen describe, under the name of Intichiuma, a ceremony
which may well have the same object and the same origin as the preceding
ones: a physical torture is applied to make an animal species multiply.
Among the Urabunna, there is one clan whose totem is a variety of snake
called _wadnungadni_. This is how the chief of the clan proceeds, to
make sure that these snakes may never be lacking. After having been
decorated, he kneels down on the ground, holding his arms straight out.
An assistant pinches the skin of his right arm between his fingers, and
the officiant forces a pointed bone five inches long through the fold
thus formed. This self-mutilation is believed to produce the desired
result.[1278] An analogous rite is used among the Dieri to make the
wild-hens lay: the operators pierce their scrotums.[1279] In certain of
the Lake Eyre tribes, men pierce their ears to make yams

But these partial or total famines are not the only plagues which may
fall upon a tribe. Other events happen more or less periodically which
menace, or seem to menace, the existence of the group. This is the case,
for example, with the southern lights. The Kurnai believe that this is a
fire lighted in the heavens by the great god Mungan-ngaua; therefore,
whenever they see it, they are afraid that it may spread to the earth
and devour them, so a great effervescence results in the camp. They
shake a withered hand, to which the Kurnai attribute various virtues,
and utter such cries as "Send it away; do not let us be burned." At the
same time, the old men order an exchange of wives, which always
indicates a great excitement.[1281] The same sexual licence is mentioned
among the Wiimbaio whenever a plague appears imminent, and especially in
times of an epidemic.[1282]

Under the influence of these ideas, mutilations and the shedding of
blood are sometimes considered an efficient means of curing maladies. If
an accident happens to a child among the Dieri, his relations beat
themselves on the head with clubs or boomerangs until the blood flows
down over their faces. They believe that by this process, they relieve
the child of the suffering.[1283] Elsewhere, they imagine that they can
obtain the same end by means of a supplementary totemic ceremony.[1284]
We may connect with these the example already given of a ceremony
celebrated specially to efface the effects of a ritual fault.[1285] Of
course there are neither wounds nor blows nor physical suffering of any
sort in these two latter cases, yet the rite does not differ in nature
from the others: the end sought is always the turning aside of an evil
or the expiation of a fault by means of an extraordinary ritual

Outside of mourning, such are the only cases of piacular rites which we
have succeeded in finding in Australia. To be sure, it is probable that
some have escaped us, while we may presume equally well that others have
remained unperceived by the observers. But if those discovered up to the
present are few in number, it is probably because they do not hold a
large place in the cult. We see how far primitive religions are from
being the daughters of agony and fear from the fact that the rites
translating these painful emotions are relatively rare. Of course this
is because the Australian, while leading a miserable existence as
compared with other more civilized peoples, demands so little of life
that he is easily contented. All that he asks is that nature follow its
normal course, that the seasons succeed one another regularly, that the
rain fall, at the ordinary time, in abundance and without excess. Now
great disturbances in the cosmic order are always exceptional; thus it
is noticeable that the majority of the regular piacular rites, examples
of which we have given above, have been observed in the tribes of the
centre, where droughts are frequent and constitute veritable disasters.
It is still surprising, it is true, that piacular rites specially
destined to expiate sins, seem to be completely lacking. However, the
Australian, like every other man, must commit ritual faults, which he
has an interest in redeeming; so we may ask if the silence of the texts
on this point may not be due to insufficient observation.

But howsoever few the facts which we have been able to gather may be,
they are, nevertheless, instructive.

When we study piacular rites in the more advanced religions, where the
religious forces are individualized, they appear to be closely bound up
with anthropomorphic conceptions. When the believer imposes privations
upon himself and submits himself to austerities, it is in order to
disarm the malevolence attributed by him to certain of the sacred beings
upon whom he thinks that he is dependent. To appease their hatred or
anger, he complies with their exigencies; he beats himself in order that
he may not be beaten by them. So it seems as though these practices
could not arise until after gods and spirits were conceived as moral
persons, capable of passions analogous to those of men. For this reason,
Robertson Smith thought it possible to assign a relatively late date to
expiatory sacrifices, just as to sacrificial oblations. According to
him, the shedding of blood which characterizes these rites was at first
a simple process of communion: men poured forth their blood upon the
altar in order to strengthen the bonds uniting them to their god. The
rite acquired a piacular and penal character only when its original
significance was forgotten and when the new idea which was formed of
sacred beings allowed men to attribute another function to it.[1286]

But as piacular rites are met with even in the Australian societies, it
is impossible to assign them so late an origin. Moreover, all that we
have observed, with one single exception,[1287] are independent of all
anthropomorphic conceptions: there is no question of either spirits or
gods. Abstinences and effusions of blood stop famines and cure
sicknesses directly and by themselves. No spiritual being introduces his
action between the rite and the effect it is believed to produce. So
mythical personalities intervened only at a late date. After the
mechanism of the ritual had once been established, they served to make
it more easily representable in the mind, but they are not conditions of
its existence. It is for other reasons that it was founded; it is to
another cause that it owes its efficacy.

It acts through the collective forces which it puts into play. Does a
misfortune which menaces the group appear imminent? Then the group
unites, as in the case of mourning, and it is naturally an impression of
uneasiness and perplexity which dominates the assembled body. Now, as
always, the pooling of these sentiments results in intensifying them. By
affirming themselves, they exalt and impassion themselves and attain a
degree of violence which is translated by the corresponding violence of
the gestures which express them. Just as at the death of a relative,
they utter terrible cries, fly into a passion and feel that they must
tear and destroy; it is to satisfy this need that they beat themselves,
wound themselves, and make their blood flow. When emotions have this
vivacity, they may well be painful, but they are not depressing; on the
contrary, they denote a state of effervescence which implies a
mobilization of all our active forces, and even a supply of external
energies. It matters little that this exaltation was provoked by a sad
event, for it is real, notwithstanding, and does not differ specifically
from what is observed in the happy feasts. Sometimes it is even made
manifest by movements of the same nature: there is the same frenzy which
seizes the worshippers and the same tendency towards sexual debauches, a
sure sign of great nervous over-excitement. Robertson Smith had already
noticed this curious influence of sad rites in the Semitic cults: "in
evil times," he says, "when men's thoughts were habitually sombre, they
betook themselves to the physical excitement of religion as men now take
refuge in wine.... And so in general when an act of Semitic worship
began with sorrow and lamentation--as in the mourning for Adonis, or the
great atoning ceremonies which became common in later times--a swift
revulsion of feeling followed, and the gloomy part of the service was
presently succeeded by a burst of hilarious revelry."[1288] In a word,
even when religious ceremonies have a disquieting or saddening event as
their point of departure, they retain their stimulating power over the
affective state of the group and individuals. By the mere fact that they
are collective, they raise the vital tone. When one feels life within
him--whether it be in the form of painful irritation or happy
enthusiasm--he does not believe in death; so he becomes reassured and
takes courage again, and subjectively, everything goes on as if the rite
had really driven off the danger which was dreaded. This is how curing
or preventive virtues come to be attributed to the movements which one
makes, to the cries uttered, to the blood shed and to the wounds
inflicted upon one's self or others; and as these different tortures
necessarily make one suffer, suffering by itself is finally regarded as
a means of conjuring evil or curing sickness.[1289] Later, when the
majority of the religious forces had taken the form of moral
personalities, the efficacy of these practices was explained by
imagining that their object was to appease an evil-working or irritated
god. But these conceptions only reflect the rite and the sentiments it
arouses; they are an interpretation of it, not its determining cause.

A negligence of the ritual acts in the same way. It, too, is a menace
for the group; it touches it in its moral existence for it touches it in
its beliefs. But if the anger which it causes is affirmed ostensibly and
energetically, it compensates the evil which it has caused. For if it is
acutely felt by all, it is because the infraction committed is an
exception and the common faith remains entire. So the moral unity of the
group is not endangered. Now the penalty inflicted as an expiation is
only a manifestation of the public anger, the material proof of its
unanimity. So it really does have the healing effect attributed to it.
At bottom, the sentiment which is at the root of the real expiatory
rites does not differ in nature from that which we have found at the
basis of the other piacular rites: it is a sort of irritated sorrow
which tends to manifest itself by acts of destruction. Sometimes it is
assuaged to the detriment of him who feels it; sometimes it is at the
expense of some foreign third party. But in either case, the psychic
mechanism is essentially the same.[1290]


One of the greatest services which Robertson Smith has rendered to the
science of religions is to have pointed out the ambiguity of the notion
of sacredness.

Religious forces are of two sorts. Some are beneficent, guardians of the
physical and moral order, dispensers of life and health and all the
qualities which men esteem: this is the case with the totemic principle,
spread out in the whole species, the mythical ancestor, the
animal-protector, the civilizing heroes and the tutelar gods of every
kind and degree. It matters little whether they are conceived as
distinct personalities or as diffused energies; under either form they
fulfil the same function and affect the minds of the believers in the
same way: the respect which they inspire is mixed with love and
gratitude. The things and the persons which are normally connected with
them participate in the same sentiments and the same character: these
are holy things and persons. Such are the spots consecrated to the cult,
the objects which serve in the regular rites, the priests, the ascetics,
etc.--On the other hand, there are evil and impure powers, productive of
disorders, causes of death and sickness, instigators of sacrilege. The
only sentiments which men have for them are a fear into which horror
generally enters. Such are the forces upon which and by which the
sorcerer acts, those which arise from corpses or the menstrual blood,
those freed by every profanation of sacred things, etc. The spirits of
the dead and malign genii of every sort are their personified forms.

Between these two categories of forces and beings, the contrast is as
complete as possible and even goes into the most radical antagonism. The
good and salutary powers repel to a distance these others which deny and
contradict them. Therefore the former are forbidden to the latter: any
contact between them is considered the worst of profanations. This is
the typical form of those interdicts between sacred things of different
species, the existence of which we have already pointed out.[1291] Women
during menstruation, and especially at its beginning, are impure; so at
this moment they are rigorously sequestered; men may have no relations
with them.[1292] Bull-roarers and churinga never come near a dead
man.[1293] A sacrilegious person is excluded from the society of the
faithful; access to the cult is forbidden him. Thus the whole religious
life gravitates about two contrary poles between which there is the same
opposition as between the pure and the impure, the saint and the
sacrilegious, the divine and the diabolic.

But while these two aspects of the religious life oppose one another,
there is a close kinship between them. In the first place, both have the
same relation towards profane beings: these must abstain from all
contact with impure things just as from the most holy things. The former
are no less forbidden than the latter: they are withdrawn from
circulation alike. This shows that they too are sacred. Of course the
sentiments inspired by the two are not identical: respect is one thing,
disgust and horror another. Yet, if the gestures are to be the same in
both cases, the sentiments expressed must not differ in nature. And, in
fact, there is a horror in religious respect, especially when it is very
intense, while the fear inspired by malign powers is generally not
without a certain reverential character. The shades by which these two
attitudes are differentiated are even so slight sometimes that it is not
always easy to say which state of mind the believers actually happen to
be in. Among certain Semitic peoples, pork was forbidden, but it was not
always known exactly whether this was because it was a pure or an impure
thing[1294] and the same may be said of a very large number of
alimentary interdictions.

But there is more to be said; it very frequently happens that an impure
thing or an evil power becomes a holy thing or a guardian power, without
changing its nature, through a simple modification of external
circumstances. We have seen how the soul of a dead man, which is a
dreaded principle at first, is transformed into a protecting genius as
soon as the mourning is finished. Likewise, the corpse, which begins by
inspiring terror and aversion, is later regarded as a venerated relic:
funeral anthropophagy, which is frequently practised in the Australian
societies, is a proof of this transformation.[1295] The totemic animal
is the pre-eminently sacred being; but for him who eats its flesh
unduly, it is a cause of death. In a general way, the sacrilegious
person is merely a profane one who has been infected with a benevolent
religious force. This changes its nature in changing its habitat; it
defiles rather than sanctifies.[1296] The blood issuing from the
genital organs of a woman, though it is evidently as impure as that of
menstruation, is frequently used as a remedy against sickness.[1297] The
victim immolated in expiatory sacrifices is charged with impurities, for
they have concentrated upon it the sins which were to be expiated. Yet,
after it has been slaughtered, its flesh and blood are employed for the
most pious uses.[1298] On the contrary, though the communion is
generally a religious operation whose normal function is to consecrate,
it sometimes produces the effects of a sacrilege. In certain cases, the
persons who have communicated are forced to flee from one another as
from men infected with a plague. One would say that they have become a
source of dangerous contamination for one another: the sacred bond which
unites them also separates them. Examples of this sort of communion are
numerous in Australia. One of the most typical has been observed among
the Narrinyeri and the neighbouring tribes. When an infant arrives in
the world, its parents carefully preserve its umbilical cord, which is
believed to conceal a part of its soul. Two persons who exchange the
cords thus preserved communicate together by the very act of this
exchange, for it is as though they exchanged their souls. But, at the
same time, they are forbidden to touch or speak to or even to see one
another. It is just as though they were each an object of horror for the

So the pure and the impure are not two separate classes, but two
varieties of the same class, which includes all sacred things. There are
two sorts of sacredness, the propitious and the unpropitious, and not
only is there no break of continuity between these two opposed forms,
but also one object may pass from the one to the other without changing
its nature. The pure is made out of the impure, and reciprocally. It is
in the possibility of these transmutations that the ambiguity of the
sacred consists.

But even if Robertson Smith did have an active sentiment of this
ambiguity, he never gave it an express explanation. He confined himself
to remarking that, as all religious forces are indistinctly intense and
contagious, it is wise not to approach them except with respectful
precautions, no matter what direction their action may be exercised in.
It seemed to him that he could thus account for the air of kinship which
they all present, in spite of the contrasts which oppose them
otherwise. But the question was only put off; it still remains to be
shown how it comes that the powers of evil have the same intensity and
contagiousness as the others. In other words, how does it happen that
they, too, are of a religious nature? Also, the energy and force of
expansion which they have in common do not enable us to understand how,
in spite of the conflict which divides them, they may be transformed
into one another or substituted for each other in their respective
functions, and how the pure may contaminate while the impure sometimes
serves to sanctify.[1300]

The explanation of piacular rites which we have proposed enables us to
reply to this double question.

We have seen, in fact, that the evil powers are the product of these
rites and symbolize them. When a society is going through circumstances
which sadden, perplex or irritate it, it exercises a pressure over its
members, to make them bear witness, by significant acts, to their
sorrow, perplexity or anger. It imposes upon them the duty of weeping,
groaning or inflicting wounds upon themselves or others, for these
collective manifestations, and the moral communion which they show and
strengthen, restore to the group the energy which circumstances threaten
to take away from it, and thus they enable it to become settled. This is
the experience which men interpret when they imagine that outside them
there are evil beings whose hostility, whether constitutional or
temporary, can be appeased only by human suffering. These beings are
nothing other than collective states objectified; they are society
itself seen under one of its aspects. But we also know that the
benevolent powers are constituted in the same way; they, too, result
from the collective life and express it; they, too, represent the
society, but seen from a very different attitude, to wit, at the moment
when it confidently affirms itself and ardently presses on towards the
realization of the ends which it pursues. Since these two sorts of
forces have a common origin, it is not at all surprising that, though
facing in opposite directions, they should have the same nature, that
they are equally intense and contagious and consequently forbidden and

From this we are able to understand how they change into one another.
Since they reflect the abjective state in which the group happens to be,
it is enough that this state change for their character to change. After
the mourning is over, the domestic group is re-calmed by the mourning
itself; it regains confidence; the painful pressure which they felt
exercised over them is relieved; they feel more at their ease. So it
seems to them as though the spirit of the deceased had laid aside its
hostile sentiments and become a benevolent protector. The other
transmutations, examples of which we have cited, are to be explained in
the same way. As we have already shown, the sanctity of a thing is due
to the collective sentiment of which it is the object. If, in violation
of the interdicts which isolate it, it comes in contact with a profane
person, then this same sentiment will spread contagiously to this latter
and imprint a special character upon him. But in spreading, it comes
into a very different state from the one it was in at first. Offended
and irritated by the profanation implied in this abusive and unnatural
extension, it becomes aggressive and inclined to destructive violences:
it tends to avenge itself for the offence suffered. Therefore the
infected subject seems to be filled with a mighty and harmful force
which menaces all that approaches him; it is as though he were marked
with a stain or blemish. Yet the cause of this blemish is the same
psychic state which, in other circumstances, consecrates and sanctifies.
But if the anger thus aroused is satisfied by an expiatory rite, it
subsides, alleviated; the offended sentiment is appeased and returns to
its original state. So it acts once more as it acted in the beginning;
instead of contaminating, it sanctifies. As it continues to infect the
object to which it is attached, this could never become profane and
religiously indifferent again. But the direction of the religious force
with which it seems to be filled is inverted: from being impure, it has
become pure and an instrument of purification.

In résumé, the two poles of the religious life correspond to the two
opposed states through which all social life passes. Between the
propitiously sacred and the unpropitiously sacred there is the same
contrast as between the states of collective well-being and ill-being.
But since both are equally collective, there is, between the
mythological constructions symbolizing them, an intimate kinship of
nature. The sentiments held in common vary from extreme dejection to
extreme joy, from painful irritation to ecstatic enthusiasm; but, in
any case, there is a communion of minds and a mutual comfort resulting
from this communion. The fundamental process is always the same; only
circumstances colour it differently. So, at bottom, it is the unity and
the diversity of social life which make the simultaneous unity and
diversity of sacred beings and things.

This ambiguity, moreover, is not peculiar to the idea of sacredness
alone; something of this characteristic has been found in all the rites
which we have been studying. Of course it was essential to distinguish
them; to confuse them would have been to misunderstand the multiple
aspects of the religious life. But, on the other hand, howsoever
different they may be, there is no break of continuity between them.
Quite on the contrary, they overlap one another and may even replace
each other mutually. We have already shown how the rites of oblation and
communion, the imitative rites and the commemorative rites frequently
fulfil the same function. One might imagine that the negative cult, at
least, would be more sharply separated from the positive cult; yet we
have seen that the former may produce positive effects, identical with
those produced by the latter. The same results are obtained by fasts,
abstinences and self-mutilations as by communions, oblations and
commemorations. Inversely, offerings and sacrifices imply privations and
renunciations of every sort. The continuity between ascetic and piacular
rites is even more apparent: both are made up of sufferings, accepted or
undergone, to which an analogous efficacy is attributed. Thus the
practices, like the beliefs, are not arranged in two separate classes.
Howsoever complex the outward manifestations of the religious life may
be, at bottom it is one and simple. It responds everywhere to one and
the same need, and is everywhere derived from one and the same mental
state. In all its forms, its object is to raise man above himself and to
make him lead a life superior to that which he would lead, if he
followed only his own individual whims: beliefs express this life in
representations; rites organize it and regulate its working.


At the beginning of this work we announced that the religion whose study
we were taking up contained within it the most characteristic elements
of the religious life. The exactness of this proposition may now be
verified. Howsoever simple the system which we have studied may be, we
have found within it all the great ideas and the principal ritual
attitudes which are at the basis of even the most advanced religions:
the division of things into sacred and profane, the notions of the soul,
of spirits, of mythical personalities, and of a national and even
international divinity, a negative cult with ascetic practices which are
its exaggerated form, rites of oblation and communion, imitative rites,
commemorative rites and expiatory rites; nothing essential is lacking.
We are thus in a position to hope that the results at which we have
arrived are not peculiar to totemism alone, but can aid us in an
understanding of what religion in general is.

It may be objected that one single religion, whatever its field of
extension may be, is too narrow a base for such an induction. We have
not dreamed for a moment of ignoring the fact that an extended
verification may add to the authority of a theory, but it is equally
true that when a law has been proven by one well-made experiment, this
proof is valid universally. If in one single case a scientist succeeded
in finding out the secret of the life of even the most protoplasmic
creature that can be imagined, the truths thus obtained would be
applicable to all living beings, even the most advanced. Then if, in our
studies of these very humble societies, we have really succeeded in
discovering some of the elements out of which the most fundamental
religious notions are made up, there is no reason for not extending the
most general results of our researches to other religions. In fact, it
is inconceivable that the same effect may be due now to one cause, now
to another, according to the circumstances, unless the two causes are at
bottom only one. A single idea cannot express one reality here and
another one there, unless the duality is only apparent. If among certain
peoples the ideas of sacredness, the soul and God are to be explained
sociologically, it should be presumed scientifically that, in principle,
the same explanation is valid for all the peoples among whom these same
ideas are found with the same essential characteristics. Therefore,
supposing that we have not been deceived, certain at least of our
conclusions can be legitimately generalized. The moment has come to
disengage these. And an induction of this sort, having at its foundation
a clearly defined experiment, is less adventurous than many summary
generalizations which, while attempting to reach the essence of religion
at once, without resting upon the careful analysis of any religion in
particular, greatly risk losing themselves in space.


The theorists who have undertaken to explain religion in rational terms
have generally seen in it before all else a system of ideas,
corresponding to some determined object. This object has been conceived
in a multitude of ways: nature, the infinite, the unknowable, the ideal,
etc.; but these differences matter but little. In any case, it was the
conceptions and beliefs which were considered as the essential elements
of religion. As for the rites, from this point of view they appear to be
only an external translation, contingent and material, of these internal
states which alone pass as having any intrinsic value. This conception
is so commonly held that generally the disputes of which religion is the
theme turn about the question whether it can conciliate itself with
science or not, that is to say, whether or not there is a place beside
our scientific knowledge for another form of thought which would be
specifically religious.

But the believers, the men who lead the religious life and have a direct
sensation of what it really is, object to this way of regarding it,
saying that it does not correspond to their daily experience. In fact,
they feel that the real function of religion is not to make us think, to
enrich our knowledge, nor to add to the conceptions which we owe to
science others of another origin and another character, but rather, it
is to make us act, to aid us to live. The believer who has communicated
with his god is not merely a man who sees new truths of which the
unbeliever is ignorant; he is a man who is _stronger_. He feels within
him more force, either to endure the trials of existence, or to conquer
them. It is as though he were raised above the miseries of the world,
because he is raised above his condition as a mere man; he believes that
he is saved from evil, under whatever form he may conceive this evil.
The first article in every creed is the belief in salvation by faith.
But it is hard to see how a mere idea could have this efficacy. An idea
is in reality only a part of ourselves; then how could it confer upon us
powers superior to those which we have of our own nature? Howsoever rich
it might be in affective virtues, it could add nothing to our natural
vitality; for it could only release the motive powers which are within
us, neither creating them nor increasing them. From the mere fact that
we consider an object worthy of being loved and sought after, it does
not follow that we feel ourselves stronger afterwards; it is also
necessary that this object set free energies superior to these which we
ordinarily have at our command and also that we have some means of
making these enter into us and unite themselves to our interior lives.
Now for that, it is not enough that we think of them; it is also
indispensable that we place ourselves within their sphere of action, and
that we set ourselves where we may best feel their influence; in a word,
it is necessary that we act, and that we repeat the acts thus necessary
every time we feel the need of renewing their effects. From this point
of view, it is readily seen how that group of regularly repeated acts
which form the cult get their importance. In fact, whoever has really
practised a religion knows very well that it is the cult which gives
rise to these impressions of joy, of interior peace, of serenity, of
enthusiasm which are, for the believer, an experimental proof of his
beliefs. The cult is not simply a system of signs by which the faith is
outwardly translated; it is a collection of the means by which this is
created and recreated periodically. Whether it consists in material acts
or mental operations, it is always this which is efficacious.

Our entire study rests upon this postulate that the unanimous sentiment
of the believers of all times cannot be purely illusory. Together with a
recent apologist of the faith[1301] we admit that these religious
beliefs rest upon a specific experience whose demonstrative value is, in
one sense, not one bit inferior to that of scientific experiments,
though different from them. We, too, think that "a tree is known by its
fruits,"[1302] and that fertility is the best proof of what the roots
are worth. But from the fact that a "religious experience," if we choose
to call it this, does exist and that it has a certain foundation--and,
by the way, is there any experience which has none?--it does not follow
that the reality which is its foundation conforms objectively to the
idea which believers have of it. The very fact that the fashion in which
it has been conceived has varied infinitely in different times is enough
to prove that none of these conceptions express it adequately. If a
scientist states it as an axiom that the sensations of heat and light
which we feel correspond to some objective cause, he does not conclude
that this is what it appears to the senses to be. Likewise, even if the
impressions which the faithful feel are not imaginary, still they are in
no way privileged intuitions; there is no reason for believing that they
inform us better upon the nature of their object than do ordinary
sensations upon the nature of bodies and their properties. In order to
discover what this object consists of, we must submit them to an
examination and elaboration analogous to that which has substituted for
the sensuous idea of the world another which is scientific and

This is precisely what we have tried to do, and we have seen that this
reality, which mythologies have represented under so many different
forms, but which is the universal and eternal objective cause of these
sensations _sui generis_ out of which religious experience is made, is
society. We have shown what moral forces it develops and how it awakens
this sentiment of a refuge, of a shield and of a guardian support which
attaches the believer to his cult. It is that which raises him outside
himself; it is even that which made him. For that which makes a man is
the totality of the intellectual property which constitutes
civilization, and civilization is the work of society. Thus is explained
the preponderating rôle of the cult in all religions, whichever they may
be. This is because society cannot make its influence felt unless it is
in action, and it is not in action unless the individuals who compose it
are assembled together and act in common. It is by common action that it
takes consciousness of itself and realizes its position; it is before
all else an active co-operation. The collective ideas and sentiments are
even possible only owing to these exterior movements which symbolize
them, as we have established.[1303] Then it is action which dominates
the religious life, because of the mere fact that it is society which is
its source.

In addition to all the reasons which have been given to justify this
conception, a final one may be added here, which is the result of our
whole work. As we have progressed, we have established the fact that the
fundamental categories of thought, and consequently of science, are of
religious origin. We have seen that the same is true for magic and
consequently for the different processes which have issued from it. On
the other hand, it has long been known that up until a relatively
advanced moment of evolution, moral and legal rules have been
indistinguishable from ritual prescriptions. In summing up, then, it may
be said that nearly all the great social institutions have been born in
religion.[1304] Now in order that these principal aspects of the
collective life may have commenced by being only varied aspects of the
religious life, it is obviously necessary that the religious life be the
eminent form and, as it were, the concentrated expression of the whole
collective life. If religion has given birth to all that is essential in
society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.

Religious forces are therefore human forces, moral forces. It is true
that since collective sentiments can become conscious of themselves only
by fixing themselves upon external objects, they have not been able to
take form without adopting some of their characteristics from other
things: they have thus acquired a sort of physical nature; in this way
they have come to mix themselves with the life of the material world,
and then have considered themselves capable of explaining what passes
there. But when they are considered only from this point of view and in
this rôle, only their most superficial aspect is seen. In reality, the
essential elements of which these collective sentiments are made have
been borrowed by the understanding. It ordinarily seems that they should
have a human character only when they are conceived under human
forms;[1305] but even the most impersonal and the most anonymous are
nothing else than objectified sentiments.

It is only by regarding religion from this angle that it is possible to
see its real significance. If we stick closely to appearances, rites
often give the effect of purely manual operations: they are anointings,
washings, meals. To consecrate something, it is put in contact with a
source of religious energy, just as to-day a body is put in contact with
a source of heat or electricity to warm or electrize it; the two
processes employed are not essentially different. Thus understood,
religious technique seems to be a sort of mystic mechanics. But these
material man[oe]uvres are only the external envelope under which the
mental operations are hidden. Finally, there is no question of
exercising a physical constraint upon blind and, incidentally, imaginary
forces, but rather of reaching individual consciousnesses, of giving
them a direction and of disciplining them. It is sometimes said that
inferior religions are materialistic. Such an expression is inexact. All
religions, even the crudest, are in a sense spiritualistic: for the
powers they put in play are before all spiritual, and also their
principal object is to act upon the moral life. Thus it is seen that
whatever has been done in the name of religion cannot have been done in
vain: for it is necessarily the society that did it, and it is humanity
that has reaped the fruits.

But, it is said, what society is it that has thus made the basis of
religion? Is it the real society, such as it is and acts before our very
eyes, with the legal and moral organization which it has laboriously
fashioned during the course of history? This is full of defects and
imperfections. In it, evil goes beside the good, injustice often reigns
supreme, and the truth is often obscured by error. How could anything so
crudely organized inspire the sentiments of love, the ardent enthusiasm
and the spirit of abnegation which all religions claim of their
followers? These perfect beings which are gods could not have taken
their traits from so mediocre, and sometimes even so base a reality.

But, on the other hand, does someone think of a perfect society, where
justice and truth would be sovereign, and from which evil in all its
forms would be banished for ever? No one would deny that this is in
close relations with the religious sentiment; for, they would say, it is
towards the realization of this that all religions strive. But that
society is not an empirical fact, definite and observable; it is a
fancy, a dream with which men have lightened their sufferings, but in
which they have never really lived. It is merely an idea which comes to
express our more or less obscure aspirations towards the good, the
beautiful and the ideal. Now these aspirations have their roots in us;
they come from the very depths of our being; then there is nothing
outside of us which can account for them. Moreover, they are already
religious in themselves; thus it would seem that the ideal society
presupposes religion, far from being able to explain it.[1306]

But, in the first place, things are arbitrarily simplified when religion
is seen only on its idealistic side: in its way, it is realistic. There
is no physical or moral ugliness, there are no vices or evils which do
not have a special divinity. There are gods of theft and trickery, of
lust and war, of sickness and of death. Christianity itself, howsoever
high the idea which it has made of the divinity may be, has been obliged
to give the spirit of evil a place in its mythology. Satan is an
essential piece of the Christian system; even if he is an impure being,
he is not a profane one. The anti-god, is a god, inferior and
subordinated, it is true, but nevertheless endowed with extended
powers; he is even the object of rites, at least of negative ones. Thus
religion, far from ignoring the real society and making abstraction of
it, is in its image; it reflects all its aspects, even the most vulgar
and the most repulsive. All is to be found there, and if in the majority
of cases we see the good victorious over evil, life over death, the
powers of light over the powers of darkness, it is because reality is
not otherwise. If the relation between these two contrary forces were
reversed, life would be impossible; but, as a matter of fact, it
maintains itself and even tends to develop.

But if, in the midst of these mythologies and theologies we see reality
clearly appearing, it is none the less true that it is found there only
in an enlarged, transformed and idealized form. In this respect, the
most primitive religions do not differ from the most recent and the most
refined. For example, we have seen how the Arunta place at the beginning
of time a mythical society whose organization exactly reproduces that
which still exists to-day; it includes the same clans and phratries, it
is under the same matrimonial rules and it practises the same rites. But
the personages who compose it are ideal beings, gifted with powers and
virtues to which common mortals cannot pretend. Their nature is not only
higher, but it is different, since it is at once animal and human. The
evil powers there undergo a similar metamorphosis: evil itself is, as it
were, made sublime and idealized. The question now raises itself of
whence this idealization comes.

Some reply that men have a natural faculty for idealizing, that is to
say, of substituting for the real world another different one, to which
they transport themselves by thought. But that is merely changing the
terms of the problem; it is not resolving it or even advancing it. This
systematic idealization is an essential characteristic of religions.
Explaining them by an innate power of idealization is simply replacing
one word by another which is the equivalent of the first; it is as if
they said that men have made religions because they have a religious
nature. Animals know only one world, the one which they perceive by
experience, internal as well as external. Men alone have the faculty of
conceiving the ideal, of adding something to the real. Now where does
this singular privilege come from? Before making it an initial fact or a
mysterious virtue which escapes science, we must be sure that it does
not depend upon empirically determinable conditions.

The explanation of religion which we have proposed has precisely this
advantage, that it gives an answer to this question. For our definition
of the sacred is that it is something added to and above the real: now
the ideal answers to this same definition; we cannot explain one without
explaining the other. In fact, we have seen that if collective life
awakens religious thought on reaching a certain degree of intensity, it
is because it brings about a state of effervescence which changes the
conditions of psychic activity. Vital energies are over-excited,
passions more active, sensations stronger; there are even some which are
produced only at this moment. A man does not recognize himself; he feels
himself transformed and consequently he transforms the environment which
surrounds him. In order to account for the very particular impressions
which he receives, he attributes to the things with which he is in most
direct contact properties which they have not, exceptional powers and
virtues which the objects of every-day experience do not possess. In a
word, above the real world where his profane life passes he has placed
another which, in one sense, does not exist except in thought, but to
which he attributes a higher sort of dignity than to the first. Thus,
from a double point of view it is an ideal world.

The formation of the ideal world is therefore not an irreducible fact
which escapes science; it depends upon conditions which observation can
touch; it is a natural product of social life. For a society to become
conscious of itself and maintain at the necessary degree of intensity
the sentiments which it thus attains, it must assemble and concentrate
itself. Now this concentration brings about an exaltation of the mental
life which takes form in a group of ideal conceptions where is portrayed
the new life thus awakened; they correspond to this new set of psychical
forces which is added to those which we have at our disposition for the
daily tasks of existence. A society can neither create itself nor
recreate itself without at the same time creating an ideal. This
creation is not a sort of work of supererogation for it, by which it
would complete itself, being already formed; it is the act by which it
is periodically made and remade. Therefore when some oppose the ideal
society to the real society, like two antagonists which would lead us in
opposite directions, they materialize and oppose abstractions. The ideal
society is not outside of the real society; it is a part of it. Far from
being divided between them as between two poles which mutually repel
each other, we cannot hold to one without holding to the other. For a
society is not made up merely of the mass of individuals who compose it,
the ground which they occupy, the things which they use and the
movements which they perform, but above all is the idea which it forms
of itself. It is undoubtedly true that it hesitates over the manner in
which it ought to conceive itself; it feels itself drawn in divergent
directions. But these conflicts which break forth are not between the
ideal and reality, but between two different ideals, that of yesterday
and that of to-day, that which has the authority of tradition and that
which has the hope of the future. There is surely a place for
investigating whence these ideals evolve; but whatever solution may be
given to this problem, it still remains that all passes in the world of
the ideal.

Thus the collective ideal which religion expresses is far from being due
to a vague innate power of the individual, but it is rather at the
school of collective life that the individual has learned to idealize.
It is in assimilating the ideals elaborated by society that he has
become capable of conceiving the ideal. It is society which, by leading
him within its sphere of action, has made him acquire the need of
raising himself above the world of experience and has at the same time
furnished him with the means of conceiving another. For society has
constructed this new world in constructing itself, since it is society
which this expresses. Thus both with the individual and in the group,
the faculty of idealizing has nothing mysterious about it. It is not a
sort of luxury which a man could get along without, but a condition of
his very existence. He could not be a social being, that is to say, he
could not be a man, if he had not acquired it. It is true that in
incarnating themselves in individuals, collective ideals tend to
individualize themselves. Each understands them after his own fashion
and marks them with his own stamp; he suppresses certain elements and
adds others. Thus the personal ideal disengages itself from the social
ideal in proportion as the individual personality develops itself and
becomes an autonomous source of action. But if we wish to understand
this aptitude, so singular in appearance, of living outside of reality,
it is enough to connect it with the social conditions upon which it

Therefore it is necessary to avoid seeing in this theory of religion a
simple restatement of historical materialism: that would be
misunderstanding our thought to an extreme degree. In showing that
religion is something essentially social, we do not mean to say that it
confines itself to translating into another language the material forms
of society and its immediate vital necessities. It is true that we take
it as evident that social life depends upon its material foundation and
bears its mark, just as the mental life of an individual depends upon
his nervous system and in fact his whole organism. But collective
consciousness is something more than a mere epiphenomenon of its
morphological basis, just as individual consciousness is something more
than a simple efflorescence of the nervous system. In order that the
former may appear, a synthesis _sui generis_ of particular
consciousnesses is required. Now this synthesis has the effect of
disengaging a whole world of sentiments, ideas and images which, once
born, obey laws all their own. They attract each other, repel each
other, unite, divide themselves, and multiply, though these combinations
are not commanded and necessitated by the condition of the underlying
reality. The life thus brought into being even enjoys so great an
independence that it sometimes indulges in manifestations with no
purpose or utility of any sort, for the mere pleasure of affirming
itself. We have shown that this is often precisely the case with ritual
activity and mythological thought.[1307]

But if religion is the product of social causes, how can we explain the
individual cult and the universalistic character of certain religions?
If it is born _in foro externo_, how has it been able to pass into the
inner conscience of the individual and penetrate there ever more and
more profoundly? If it is the work of definite and individualized
societies, how has it been able to detach itself from them, even to the
point of being conceived as something common to all humanity?

In the course of our studies, we have met with the germs of individual
religion and of religious cosmopolitanism, and we have seen how they
were formed; thus we possess the more general elements of the reply
which is to be given to this double question.

We have shown how the religious force which animates the clan
particularizes itself, by incarnating itself in particular
consciousnesses. Thus secondary sacred beings are formed; each
individual has his own, made in his own image, associated to his own
intimate life, bound up with his own destiny; it is the soul, the
individual totem, the protecting ancestor, etc. These beings are the
object of rites which the individual can celebrate by himself, outside
of any group; this is the first form of the individual cult. To be sure,
it is only a very rudimentary cult; but since the personality of the
individual is still only slightly marked, and but little value is
attributed to it, the cult which expresses it could hardly be expected
to be very highly developed as yet. But as individuals have
differentiated themselves more and more and the value of an individual
has increased, the corresponding cult has taken a relatively greater
place in the totality of the religious life and at the same time it is
more fully closed to outside influences.

Thus the existence of individual cults implies nothing which contradicts
or embarrasses the sociological interpretation of religion; for the
religious forces to which it addresses itself are only the
individualized forms of collective forces. Therefore, even when religion
seems to be entirely within the individual conscience, it is still in
society that it finds the living source from which it is nourished. We
are now able to appreciate the value of the radical individualism which
would make religion something purely individual: it misunderstands the
fundamental conditions of the religious life. If up to the present it
has remained in the stage of theoretical aspirations which have never
been realized, it is because it is unrealizable. A philosophy may well
be elaborated in the silence of the interior imagination, but not so a
faith. For before all else, a faith is warmth, life, enthusiasm, the
exaltation of the whole mental life, the raising of the individual above
himself. Now how could he add to the energies which he possesses without
going outside himself? How could he surpass himself merely by his own
forces? The only source of life at which we can morally reanimate
ourselves is that formed by the society of our fellow beings; the only
moral forces with which we can sustain and increase our own are those
which we get from others. Let us even admit that there really are beings
more or less analogous to those which the mythologies represent. In
order that they may exercise over souls the useful direction which is
their reason for existence, it is necessary that men believe in them.
Now these beliefs are active only when they are partaken by many. A man
cannot retain them any length of time by a purely personal effort; it is
not thus that they are born or that they are acquired; it is even
doubtful if they can be kept under these conditions. In fact, a man who
has a veritable faith feels an invincible need of spreading it:
therefore he leaves his isolation, approaches others and seeks to
convince them, and it is the ardour of the convictions which he arouses
that strengthens his own. It would quickly weaken if it remained alone.

It is the same with religious universalism as with this individualism.
Far from being an exclusive attribute of certain very great religions,
we have found it, not at the base, it is true, but at the summit of the
Australian system. Bunjil, Daramulun or Baiame are not simple tribal
gods; each of them is recognized by a number of different tribes. In a
sense, their cult is international. This conception is therefore very
near to that found in the most recent theologies. So certain writers
have felt it their duty to deny its authenticity, howsoever
incontestable this may be.

And we have been able to show how this has been formed.

Neighbouring tribes of a similar civilization cannot fail to be in
constant relations with each other. All sorts of circumstances give an
occasion for it: besides commerce, which is still rudimentary, there are
marriages; these international marriages are very common in Australia.
In the course of these meetings, men naturally become conscious of the
moral relationship which united them. They have the same social
organization, the same division into phratries, clans and matrimonial
classes; they practise the same rites of initiation, or wholly similar
ones. Mutual loans and treaties result in reinforcing these spontaneous
resemblances. The gods to which these manifestly identical institutions
were attached could hardly have remained distinct in their minds.
Everything tended to bring them together and consequently, even
supposing that each tribe elaborated the notion independently, they must
necessarily have tended to confound themselves with each other. Also, it
is probable that it was in inter-tribal assemblies that they were first
conceived. For they are chiefly the gods of initiation, and in the
initiation ceremonies, the different tribes are usually represented. So
if sacred beings are formed which are connected with no geographically
determined society, that is not because they have an extra-social
origin. It is because there are other groups above these geographically
determined ones, whose contours are less clearly marked: they have no
fixed frontiers, but include all sorts of more or less neighbouring and
related tribes. The particular social life thus created tends to spread
itself over an area with no definite limits. Naturally the mythological
personages who correspond to it have the same character; their sphere of
influence is not limited; they go beyond the particular tribes and their
territory. They are the great international gods.

Now there is nothing in this situation which is peculiar to Australian
societies. There is no people and no state which is not a part of
another society, more or less unlimited, which embraces all the peoples
and all the States with which the first comes in contact, either
directly or indirectly; there is no national life which is not dominated
by a collective life of an international nature. In proportion as we
advance in history, these international groups acquire a greater
importance and extent. Thus we see how, in certain cases, this
universalistic tendency has been able to develop itself to the point of
affecting not only the higher ideas of the religious system, but even
the principles upon which it rests.


Thus there is something eternal in religion which is destined to survive
all the particular symbols in which religious thought has successively
enveloped itself. There can be no society which does not feel the need
of upholding and reaffirming at regular intervals the collective
sentiments and the collective ideas which make its unity and its
personality. Now this moral remaking cannot be achieved except by the
means of reunions, assemblies and meetings where the individuals, being
closely united to one another, reaffirm in common their common
sentiments; hence come ceremonies which do not differ from regular
religious ceremonies, either in their object, the results which they
produce, or the processes employed to attain these results. What
essential difference is there between an assembly of Christians
celebrating the principal dates of the life of Christ, or of Jews
remembering the exodus from Egypt or the promulgation of the decalogue,
and a reunion of citizens commemorating the promulgation of a new moral
or legal system or some great event in the national life?

If we find a little difficulty to-day in imagining what these feasts and
ceremonies of the future could consist in, it is because we are going
through a stage of transition and moral mediocrity. The great things of
the past which filled our fathers with enthusiasm do not excite the same
ardour in us, either because they have come into common usage to such an
extent that we are unconscious of them, or else because they no longer
answer to our actual aspirations; but as yet there is nothing to replace
them. We can no longer impassionate ourselves for the principles in the
name of which Christianity recommended to masters that they treat their
slaves humanely, and, on the other hand, the idea which it has formed of
human equality and fraternity seems to us to-day to leave too large a
place for unjust inequalities. Its pity for the outcast seems to us too
Platonic; we desire another which would be more practicable; but as yet
we cannot clearly see what it should be nor how it could be realized in
facts. In a word, the old gods are growing old or already dead, and
others are not yet born. This is what rendered vain the attempt of Comte
with the old historic souvenirs artificially revived; it is life itself,
and not a dead past which can produce a living cult. But this state of
incertitude and confused agitation cannot last for ever. A day will come
when our societies will know again those hours of creative
effervescence, in the course of which new ideas arise and new formulæ
are found which serve for a while as a guide to humanity; and when these
hours shall have been passed through once, men will spontaneously feel
the need of reliving them from time to time in thought, that is to say,
of keeping alive their memory by means of celebrations which regularly
reproduce their fruits. We have already seen how the French Revolution
established a whole cycle of holidays to keep the principles with which
it was inspired in a state of perpetual youth. If this institution
quickly fell away, it was because the revolutionary faith lasted but a
moment, and deceptions and discouragements rapidly succeeded the first
moments of enthusiasm. But though the work may have miscarried, it
enables us to imagine what might have happened in other conditions; and
everything leads us to believe that it will be taken up again sooner or
later. There are no gospels which are immortal, but neither is there any
reason for believing that humanity is incapable of inventing new ones.
As to the question of what symbols this new faith will express itself
with, whether they will resemble those of the past or not, and whether
or not they will be more adequate for the reality which they seek to
translate, that is something which surpasses the human faculty of
foresight and which does not appertain to the principal question.

But feasts and rites, in a word, the cult, are not the whole religion.
This is not merely a system of practices, but also a system of ideas
whose object is to explain the world; we have seen that even the
humblest have their cosmology. Whatever connection there may be between
these two elements of the religious life, they are still quite
different. The one is turned towards action, which it demands and
regulates; the other is turned towards thought, which it enriches and
organizes. Then they do not depend upon the same conditions, and
consequently it may be asked if the second answers to necessities as
universal and as permanent as the first.

When specific characteristics are attributed to religious thought, and
when it is believed that its function is to express, by means peculiar
to itself, an aspect of reality which evades ordinary knowledge as well
as science, one naturally refuses to admit that religion can ever
abandon its speculative rôle. But our analysis of the facts does not
seem to have shown this specific quality of religion. The religion which
we have just studied is one of those whose symbols are the most
disconcerting for the reason. There all appears mysterious. These beings
which belong to the most heterogeneous groups at the same time, who
multiply without ceasing to be one, who divide without diminishing, all
seem, at first view, to belong to an entirely different world from the
one where we live; some have even gone so far as to say that the mind
which constructed them ignored the laws of logic completely. Perhaps the
contrast between reason and faith has never been more thorough. Then if
there has ever been a moment in history when their heterogeneousness
should have stood out clearly, it is here. But contrary to all
appearances, as we have pointed out, the realities to which religious
speculation is then applied are the same as those which later serve as
the subject of reflection for philosophers: they are nature, man,
society. The mystery which appears to surround them is wholly
superficial and disappears before a more painstaking observation: it is
enough merely to set aside the veil with which mythological imagination
has covered them for them to appear such as they really are. Religion
sets itself to translate these realities into an intelligible language
which does not differ in nature from that employed by science; the
attempt is made by both to connect things with each other, to establish
internal relations between them, to classify them and to systematize
them. We have even seen that the essential ideas of scientific logic are
of religious origin. It is true that in order to utilize them, science
gives them a new elaboration; it purges them of all accidental elements;
in a general way, it brings a spirit of criticism into all its doings,
which religion ignores; it surrounds itself with precautions to "escape
precipitation and bias," and to hold aside the passions, prejudices and
all subjective influences. But these perfectionings of method are not
enough to differentiate it from religion. In this regard, both pursue
the same end; scientific thought is only a more perfect form of
religious thought. Thus it seems natural that the second should
progressively retire before the first, as this becomes better fitted to
perform the task.

And there is no doubt that this regression has taken place in the course
of history. Having left religion, science tends to substitute itself for
this latter in all that which concerns the cognitive and intellectual
functions. Christianity has already definitely consecrated this
substitution in the order of material things. Seeing in matter that
which is profane before all else, it readily left the knowledge of this
to another discipline, _tradidit mundum hominum disputationi_, "He gave
the world over to the disputes of men"; it is thus that the natural
sciences have been able to establish themselves and make their authority
recognized without very great difficulty. But it could not give up the
world of souls so easily; for it is before all over souls that the god
of the Christians aspires to reign. That is why the idea of submitting
the psychic life to science produced the effect of a sort of profanation
for a long time; even to-day it is repugnant to many minds. However,
experimental and comparative psychology is founded and to-day we must
reckon with it. But the world of the religious and moral life is still
forbidden. The great majority of men continue to believe that here there
is an order of things which the mind cannot penetrate except by very
special ways. Hence comes the active resistance which is met with every
time that someone tries to treat religious and moral phenomena
scientifically. But in spite of these oppositions, these attempts are
constantly repeated and this persistence even allows us to foresee that
this final barrier will finally give way and that science will establish
herself as mistress even in this reserved region.

That is what the conflict between science and religion really amounts
to. It is said that science denies religion in principle. But religion
exists; it is a system of given facts; in a word, it is a reality. How
could science deny this reality? Also, in so far as religion is action,
and in so far as it is a means of making men live, science could not
take its place, for even if this expresses life, it does not create it;
it may well seek to explain the faith, but by that very act it
presupposes it. Thus there is no conflict except upon one limited point.
Of the two functions which religion originally fulfilled, there is one,
and only one, which tends to escape it more and more: that is its
speculative function. That which science refuses to grant to religion is
not its right to exist, but its right to dogmatize upon the nature of
things and the special competence which it claims for itself for knowing
man and the world. As a matter of fact, it does not know itself. It does
not even know what it is made of, nor to what need it answers. It is
itself a subject for science, so far is it from being able to make the
law for science! And from another point of view, since there is no
proper subject for religious speculation outside that reality to which
scientific reflection is applied, it is evident that this former cannot
play the same rôle in the future that it has played in the past.

However, it seems destined to transform itself rather than to disappear.

We have said that there is something eternal in religion: it is the cult
and the faith. Men cannot celebrate ceremonies for which they see no
reason, nor can they accept a faith which they in no way understand. To
spread itself or merely to maintain itself, it must be justified, that
is to say, a theory must be made of it. A theory of this sort must
undoubtedly be founded upon the different sciences, from the moment
when these exist; first of all, upon the social sciences, for religious
faith has its origin in society; then upon psychology, for society is a
synthesis of human consciousnesses; and finally upon the sciences of
nature, for man and society are a part of the universe and can be
abstracted from it only artificially. But howsoever important these
facts taken from the constituted sciences may be, they are not enough;
for faith is before all else an impetus to action, while science, no
matter how far it may be pushed, always remains at a distance from this.
Science is fragmentary and incomplete; it advances but slowly and is
never finished; but life cannot wait. The theories which are destined to
make men live and act are therefore obliged to pass science and complete
it prematurely. They are possible only when the practical exigencies and
the vital necessities which we feel without distinctly conceiving them
push thought in advance, beyond that which science permits us to affirm.
Thus religions, even the most rational and laicized, cannot and never
will be able to dispense with a particular form of speculation which,
though having the same subjects as science itself, cannot be really
scientific: the obscure intuitions of sensation and sentiment too often
take the place of logical reasons. On one side, this speculation
resembles that which we meet with in the religions of the past; but on
another, it is different. While claiming and exercising the right of
going beyond science, it must commence by knowing this and by inspiring
itself with it. Ever since the authority of science was established, it
must be reckoned with; one can go farther than it under the pressure of
necessity, but he must take his direction from it. He can affirm nothing
that it denies, deny nothing that it affirms, and establish nothing that
is not directly or indirectly founded upon principles taken from it.
From now on, the faith no longer exercises the same hegemony as formerly
over the system of ideas that we may continue to call religion. A rival
power rises up before it which, being born of it, ever after submits it
to its criticism and control. And everything makes us foresee that this
control will constantly become more extended and efficient, while no
limit can be assigned to its future influence.


But if the fundamental notions of science are of a religious origin, how
has religion been able to bring them forth? At first sight, one does not
see what relations there can be between religion and logic. Or, since
the reality which religious thought expresses is society, the question
can be stated in the following terms, which make the entire difficulty
appear even better: what has been able to make social life so important
a source for the logical life? It seems as though nothing could have
predestined it to this rôle, for it certainly was not to satisfy their
speculative needs that men associated themselves together.

Perhaps we shall be found over bold in attempting so complex a question
here. To treat it as it should be treated, the sociological conditions
of knowledge should be known much better than they actually are; we are
only beginning to catch glimpses of some of them. However, the question
is so grave, and so directly implied in all that has preceded, that we
must make an effort not to leave it without an answer. Perhaps it is not
impossible, even at present, to state some general principles which may
at least aid in the solution.

Logical thought is made up of concepts. Seeking how society can have
played a rôle in the genesis of logical thought thus reduces itself to
seeking how it can have taken a part in the formation of concepts.

If, as is ordinarily the case, we see in the concept only a general
idea, the problem appears insoluble. By his own power, the individual
can compare his conceptions and images, disengage that which they have
in common, and thus, in a word, generalize. Then it is hard to see why
this generalization should be possible only in and through society. But,
in the first place, it is inadmissible that logical thought is
characterized only by the greater extension of the conceptions of which
it is made up. If particular ideas have nothing logical about them, why
should it be different with general ones? The general exists only in the
particular; it is the particular simplified and impoverished. Then the
first could have no virtues or privileges which the second has not.
Inversely, if conceptual thought can be applied to the class, species or
variety, howsoever restricted these may be, why can it not be extended
to the individual, that is to say, to the limit towards which the
conception tends, proportionately as its extension diminishes? As a
matter of fact, there are many concepts which have only individuals as
their object. In every sort of religion, gods are individualities
distinct from each other; however, they are conceived, not perceived.
Each people represents its historic or legendary heroes in fashions
which vary with the time. Finally, every one of us forms an idea of the
individuals with whom he comes in contact, of their character, of their
appearance, their distinctive traits and their moral and physical
temperaments: these notions, too, are real concepts. It is true that in
general they are formed crudely enough; but even among scientific
concepts, are there a great many that are perfectly adequate for their
object? In this direction, there are only differences of degree between

Therefore the concept must be defined by other characteristics. It is
opposed to sensual representations of every order--sensations,
perceptions or images--by the following properties.

Sensual representations are in a perpetual flux; they come after each
other like the waves of a river, and even during the time that they
last, they do not remain the same thing. Each of them is an integral
part of the precise instant when it takes place. We are never sure of
again finding a perception such as we experienced it the first time; for
if the thing perceived has not changed, it is we who are no longer the
same. On the contrary, the concept is, as it were, outside of time and
change; it is in the depths below all this agitation; it might be said
that it is in a different portion of the mind, which is serener and
calmer. It does not move of itself, by an internal and spontaneous
evolution, but, on the contrary, it resists change. It is a manner of
thinking that, at every moment of time, is fixed and crystallized.[1308]
In so far as it is what it ought to be, it is immutable. If it changes,
it is not because it is its nature to do so, but because we have
discovered some imperfection in it; it is because it had to be
rectified. The system of concepts with which we think in everyday life
is that expressed by the vocabulary of our mother tongue; for every word
translates a concept. Now language is something fixed; it changes but
very slowly, and consequently it is the same with the conceptual system
which it expresses. The scholar finds himself in the same situation in
regard to the special terminology employed by the science to which he
has consecrated himself, and hence in regard to the special scheme of
concepts to which this terminology corresponds. It is true that he can
make innovations, but these are always a sort of violence done to the
established ways of thinking.

And at the same time that it is relatively immutable, the concept is
universal, or at least capable of becoming so. A concept is not my
concept; I hold it in common with other men, or, in any case, can
communicate it to them. It is impossible for me to make a sensation pass
from my consciousness into that of another; it holds closely to my
organism and personality and cannot be detached from them. All that I
can do is to invite others to place themselves before the same object as
myself and to leave themselves to its action. On the other hand,
conversation and all intellectual communication between men is an
exchange of concepts. The concept is an essentially impersonal
representation; it is through it that human intelligences

The nature of the concept, thus defined, bespeaks its origin. If it is
common to all, it is the work of the community. Since it bears the mark
of no particular mind, it is clear that it was elaborated by a unique
intelligence, where all others meet each other, and after a fashion,
come to nourish themselves. If it has more stability than sensations or
images, it is because the collective representations are more stable
than the individual ones; for while an individual is conscious even of
the slight changes which take place in his environment, only events of a
greater gravity can succeed in affecting the mental status of a society.
Every time that we are in the presence of a _type_[1310] of thought or
action which is imposed uniformly upon particular wills or
intelligences, this pressure exercised over the individual betrays the
intervention of the group. Also, as we have already said, the concepts
with which we ordinarily think are those of our vocabulary. Now it is
unquestionable that language, and consequently the system of concepts
which it translates, is the product of a collective elaboration. What it
expresses is the manner in which society as a whole represents the facts
of experience. The ideas which correspond to the diverse elements of
language are thus collective representations.

Even their contents bear witness to the same fact. In fact, there are
scarcely any words among those which we usually employ whose meaning
does not pass, to a greater or less extent, the limits of our personal
experience. Very frequently a term expresses things which we have never
perceived or experiences which we have never had or of which we have
never been the witnesses. Even when we know some of the objects which it
concerns, it is only as particular examples that they serve to
illustrate the idea which they would never have been able to form by
themselves. Thus there is a great deal of knowledge condensed in the
word which I never collected, and which is not individual; it even
surpasses me to such an extent that I cannot even completely appropriate
all its results. Which of us knows all the words of the language he
speaks and the entire signification of each?

This remark enables us to determine the sense in which we mean to say
that concepts are collective representations. If they belong to a whole
social group, it is not because they represent the average of the
corresponding individual representations; for in that case they would be
poorer than the latter in intellectual content, while, as a matter of
fact, they contain much that surpasses the knowledge of the average
individual. They are not abstractions which have a reality only in
particular consciousnesses, but they are as concrete representations as
an individual could form of his own personal environment: they
correspond to the way in which this very special being, society,
considers the things of its own proper experience. If, as a matter of
fact, the concepts are nearly always general ideas, and if they express
categories and classes rather than particular objects, it is because the
unique and variable characteristics of things interest society but
rarely; because of its very extent, it can scarcely be affected by more
than their general and permanent qualities. Therefore it is to this
aspect of affairs that it gives its attention: it is a part of its
nature to see things in large and under the aspect which they ordinarily
have. But this generality is not necessary for them, and, in any case,
even when these representations have the generic character which they
ordinarily have, they are the work of society and are enriched by its

That is what makes conceptual thought so valuable for us. If concepts
were only general ideas, they would not enrich knowledge a great deal,
for, as we have already pointed out, the general contains nothing more
than the particular. But if before all else they are collective
representations, they add to that which we can learn by our own personal
experience all that wisdom and science which the group has accumulated
in the course of centuries. Thinking by concepts, is not merely seeing
reality on its most general side, but it is projecting a light upon the
sensation which illuminates it, penetrates it and transforms it.
Conceiving something is both learning its essential elements better and
also locating it in its place; for each civilization has its organized
system of concepts which characterizes it. Before this scheme of ideas,
the individual is in the same situation as the [Greek: noûs] of Plato
before the world of Ideas. He must assimilate them to himself, for he
must have them to hold intercourse with others; but the assimilation is
always imperfect. Each of us sees them after his own fashion. There are
some which escape us completely and remain outside of our circle of
vision; there are others of which we perceive certain aspects only.
There are even a great many which we pervert in holding, for as they are
collective by nature, they cannot become individualized without being
retouched, modified, and consequently falsified. Hence comes the great
trouble we have in understanding each other, and the fact that we even
lie to each other without wishing to: it is because we all use the same
words without giving them the same meaning.

We are now able to see what the part of society in the genesis of
logical thought is. This is possible only from the moment when, above
the fugitive conceptions which they owe to sensuous experience, men have
succeeded in conceiving a whole world of stable ideas, the common ground
of all intelligences. In fact, logical thinking is always impersonal
thinking, and is also thought _sub species ætrnitatis_--as though for
all time. Impersonality and stability are the two characteristics of
truth. Now logical life evidently presupposes that men know, at least
confusedly, that there is such a thing as truth, distinct from sensuous
appearances. But how have they been able to arrive at this conception?
We generally talk as though it should have spontaneously presented
itself to them from the moment they opened their eyes upon the world.
However, there is nothing in immediate experience which could suggest
it; everything even contradicts it. Thus the child and the animal have
no suspicion of it. History shows that it has taken centuries for it to
disengage and establish itself. In our Western world, it was with the
great thinkers of Greece that it first became clearly conscious of
itself and of the consequences which it implies; when the discovery was
made, it caused an amazement which Plato has translated into magnificent
language. But if it is only at this epoch that the idea is expressed in
philosophic formulæ, it was necessarily pre-existent in the stage of an
obscure sentiment. Philosophers have sought to elucidate this sentiment,
but they have not succeeded. In order that they might reflect upon it
and analyse it, it was necessary that it be given them, and that they
seek to know whence it came, that is to say, in what experience it was
founded. This is in collective experience. It is under the form of
collective thought that impersonal thought is for the first time
revealed to humanity; we cannot see by what other way this revelation
could have been made. From the mere fact that society exists, there is
also, outside of the individual sensations and images, a whole system of
representations which enjoy marvellous properties. By means of them, men
understand each other and intelligences grasp each other. They have
within them a sort of force or moral ascendancy, in virtue of which they
impose themselves upon individual minds. Hence the individual at least
obscurely takes account of the fact that above his private ideas, there
is a world of absolute ideas according to which he must shape his own;
he catches a glimpse of a whole intellectual kingdom in which he
participates, but which is greater than he. This is the first intuition
of the realm of truth. From the moment when he first becomes conscious
of these higher ideas, he sets himself to scrutinizing their nature; he
asks whence these pre-eminent representations hold their prerogatives
and, in so far as he believes that he has discovered their causes, he
undertakes to put these causes into action for himself, in order that he
may draw from them by his own force the effects which they produce; that
is to say, he attributes to himself the right of making concepts. Thus
the faculty of conception has individualized itself. But to understand
its origins and function, it must be attached to the social conditions
upon which it depends.

It may be objected that we show the concept in one of its aspects only,
and that its unique rôle is not the assuring of a harmony among minds,
but also, and to a greater extent, their harmony with the nature of
things. It seems as though it had a reason for existence only on
condition of being true, that is to say, objective, and as though its
impersonality were only a consequence of its objectivity. It is in
regard to things, thought of as adequately as possible, that minds ought
to communicate. Nor do we deny that the evolution of concepts has been
partially in this direction. The concept which was first held as true
because it was collective tends to be no longer collective except on
condition of being held as true: we demand its credentials of it before
according it our confidence. But we must not lose sight of the fact that
even to-day the great majority of the concepts which we use are not
methodically constituted; we get them from language, that is to say,
from common experience, without submitting them to any criticism. The
scientifically elaborated and criticized concepts are always in the very
slight minority. Also, between them and those which draw all their
authority from the fact that they are collective, there are only
differences of degree. A collective representation presents guarantees
of objectivity by the fact that it is collective: for it is not without
sufficient reason that it has been able to generalize and maintain
itself with persistence. If it were out of accord with the nature of
things, it would never have been able to acquire an extended and
prolonged empire over intellects. At bottom, the confidence inspired by
scientific concepts is due to the fact that they can be methodically
controlled. But a collective representation is necessarily submitted to
a control that is repeated indefinitely; the men who accept it verify it
by their own experience. Therefore, it could not be wholly inadequate
for its subject. It is true that it may express this by means of
imperfect symbols; but scientific symbols themselves are never more than
approximative. It is precisely this principle which is at the basis of
the method which we follow in the study of religious phenomena: we take
it as an axiom that religious beliefs, howsoever strange their
appearance may be at times, contain a truth which must be

On the other hand, it is not at all true that concepts, even when
constructed according to the rules of science, get their authority
uniquely from their objective value. It is not enough that they be true
to be believed. If they are not in harmony with the other beliefs and
opinions, or, in a word, with the mass of the other collective
representations, they will be denied; minds will be closed to them;
consequently it will be as though they did not exist. To-day it is
generally sufficient that they bear the stamp of science to receive a
sort of privileged credit, because we have faith in science. But this
faith does not differ essentially from religious faith. In the last
resort, the value which we attribute to science depends upon the idea
which we collectively form of its nature and rôle in life; that is as
much as to say that it expresses a state of public opinion. In all
social life, in fact, science rests upon opinion. It is undoubtedly true
that this opinion can be taken as the object of a study and a science
made of it; this is what sociology principally consists in. But the
science of opinion does not make opinions; it can only observe them and
make them more conscious of themselves. It is true that by this means it
can lead them to change, but science continues to be dependent upon
opinion at the very moment when it seems to be making its laws; for, as
we have already shown, it is from opinion that it holds the force
necessary to act upon opinion.[1312]

Saying that concepts express the manner in which society represents
things is also saying that conceptual thought is coeval with humanity
itself. We refuse to see in it the product of a more or less retarded
culture. A man who did not think with concepts would not be a man, for
he would not be a social being. If reduced to having only individual
perceptions, he would be indistinguishable from the beasts. If it has
been possible to sustain the contrary thesis, it is because concepts
have been defined by characteristics which are not essential to them.
They have been identified with general ideas[1313] and with clearly
limited and circumscribed general ideas.[1314] In these conditions it
has possibly seemed as though the inferior societies had no concepts
properly so called; for they have only rudimentary processes of
generalization and the ideas which they use are not generally very well
defined. But the greater part of our concepts are equally indetermined;
we force ourselves to define them only in discussions or when doing
careful work. We have also seen that conceiving is not generalizing.
Thinking conceptually is not simply isolating and grouping together the
common characteristics of a certain number of objects; it is relating
the variable to the permanent, the individual to the social. And since
logical thought commences with the concept, it follows that it has
always existed; there is no period in history when men have lived in a
chronic confusion and contradiction. To be sure, we cannot insist too
much upon the different characteristics which logic presents at
different periods in history; it develops like the societies themselves.
But howsoever real these differences may be, they should not cause us to
neglect the similarities, which are no less essential.


We are now in a position to take up a final question which has already
been raised in our introduction[1315] and which has been taken as
understood in the remainder of this work. We have seen that at least
some of the categories are social things. The question is where they got
this character.

Undoubtedly it will be easily understood that since they are themselves
concepts, they are the work of the group. It can even be said that there
are no other concepts which present to an equal degree the signs by
which a collective representation is recognized. In fact, their
stability and impersonality are such that they have often passed as
being absolutely universal and immutable. Also, as they express the
fundamental conditions for an agreement between minds, it seems evident
that they have been elaborated by society.

But the problem concerning them is more complex, for they are social in
another sense and, as it were in the second degree. They not only come
from society, but the things which they express are of a social nature.
Not only is it society which has founded them, but their contents are
the different aspects of the social being: the category of class was at
first indistinct from the concept of the human group; it is the rhythm
of social life which is at the basis of the category of time; the
territory occupied by the society furnished the material for the
category of space; it is the collective force which was the prototype of
the concept of efficient force, an essential element in the category of
causality. However, the categories are not made to be applied only to
the social realm; they reach out to all reality. Then how is it that
they have taken from society the models upon which they have been

It is because they are the pre-eminent concepts, which have a
preponderating part in our knowledge. In fact, the function of the
categories is to dominate and envelop all the other concepts: they are
permanent moulds for the mental life. Now for them to embrace such an
object, they must be founded upon a reality of equal amplitude.

Undoubtedly the relations which they express exist in an implicit way in
individual consciousnesses. The individual lives in time, and, as we
have said, he has a certain sense of temporal orientation. He is
situated at a determined point in space, and it has even been held, and
sustained with good reasons, that all sensations have something special
about them.[1316] He has a feeling of resemblances; similar
representations are brought together and the new representation formed
by their union has a sort of generic character. We also have the
sensation of a certain regularity in the order of the succession of
phenomena; even an animal is not incapable of this. However, all these
relations are strictly personal for the individual who recognizes them,
and consequently the notion of them which he may have can in no case go
beyond his own narrow horizon. The generic images which are formed in my
consciousness by the fusion of similar images represent only the objects
which I have perceived directly; there is nothing there which could give
me the idea of a class, that is to say, of a mould including the _whole_
group of all possible objects which satisfy the same condition. Also, it
would be necessary to have the idea of group in the first place, and the
mere observations of our interior life could never awaken that in us.
But, above all, there is no individual experience, howsoever extended
and prolonged it may be, which could give a suspicion of the existence
of a whole class which would embrace every single being, and to which
other classes are only co-ordinated or subordinated species. This idea
of _all_, which is at the basis of the classifications which we have
just cited, could not have come from the individual himself, who is only
a part in relation to the whole and who never attains more than an
infinitesimal fraction of reality. And yet there is perhaps no other
category of greater importance; for as the rôle of the categories is to
envelop all the other concepts, the category _par excellence_ would seem
to be this very concept of _totality_. The theorists of knowledge
ordinarily postulate it as if it came of itself, while it really
surpasses the contents of each individual consciousness taken alone to
an infinite degree.

For the same reasons, the space which I know by my senses, of which I am
the centre and where everything is disposed in relation to me, could not
be space in general, which contains all extensions and where these are
co-ordinated by personal guide-lines which are common to everybody. In
the same way, the concrete duration which I feel passing within me and
with me could not give me the idea of time in general: the first
expresses only the rhythm of my individual life; the second should
correspond to the rhythm of a life which is not that of any individual
in particular, but in which all participate.[1317] In the same way,
finally, the regularities which I am able to conceive in the manner in
which my sensations succeed one another may well have a value for me;
they explain how it comes about that when I am given the first of two
phenomena whose concurrence I have observed, I tend to expect the other.
But this personal state of expectation could not be confounded with the
conception of a universal order of succession which imposes itself upon
all minds and all events.

Since the world expressed by the entire system of concepts is the one
that society regards, society alone can furnish the most general notions
with which it should be represented. Such an object can be embraced only
by a subject which contains all the individual subjects within it. Since
the universe does not exist except in so far as it is thought of, and
since it is not completely thought of except by society, it takes a
place in this latter; it becomes a part of society's interior life,
while this is the totality, outside of which nothing exists. The concept
of totality is only the abstract form of the concept of society: it is
the whole which includes all things, the supreme class which embraces
all other classes. Such is the final principle upon which repose all
these primitive classifications where beings from every realm are placed
and classified in social forms, exactly like men.[1318] But if the world
is inside of society, the space which this latter occupies becomes
confounded with space in general. In fact, we have seen how each thing
has its assigned place in social space, and the degree to which this
space in general differs from the concrete expanses which we perceive is
well shown by the fact that this localization is wholly ideal and in no
way resembles what it would have been if it had been dictated to us by
sensuous experience alone.[1319] For the same reason, the rhythm of
collective life dominates and embraces the varied rhythms of all the
elementary lives from which it results; consequently the time which it
expresses dominates and embraces all particular durations. It is time in
general. For a long time the history of the world has been only another
aspect of the history of society. The one commences with the other; the
periods of the first are determined by the periods of the second. This
impersonal and total duration is measured, and the guide-lines in
relation to which it is divided and organized are fixed by the movements
of concentration or dispersion of society; or, more generally, the
periodical necessities for a collective renewal. If these critical
instants are generally attached to some material phenomenon, such as the
regular recurrence of such or such a star or the alternation of the
seasons, it is because objective signs are necessary to make this
essentially social organization intelligible to all. In the same way,
finally, the causal relation, from the moment when it is collectively
stated by the group, becomes independent of every individual
consciousness; it rises above all particular minds and events. It is a
law whose value depends upon no person. We have already shown how it is
clearly thus that it seems to have originated.

Another reason explains why the constituent elements of the categories
should have been taken from social life: it is because the relations
which they express could not have been learned except in and through
society. If they are in a sense immanent in the life of an individual,
he has neither a reason nor the means for learning them, reflecting upon
them and forming them into distinct ideas. In order to orient himself
personally in space and to know at what moments he should satisfy his
various organic needs, he has no need of making, once and for all, a
conceptual representation of time and space. Many animals are able to
find the road which leads to places with which they are familiar; they
come back at a proper moment without knowing any of the categories;
sensations are enough to direct them automatically. They would also be
enough for men, if their sensations had to satisfy only individual
needs. To recognize the fact that one thing resembles another which we
have already experienced, it is in no way necessary that we arrange them
all in groups and species: the way in which similar images call up each
other and unite is enough to give the feeling of resemblance. The
impression that a certain thing has already been seen or experienced
implies no classification. To recognize the things which we should seek
or from which we should flee, it would not be necessary to attach the
effects of the two to their causes by a logical bond, if individual
conveniences were the only ones in question. Purely empirical sequences
and strong connections between the concrete representations would be as
sure guides for the will. Not only is it true that the animal has no
others, but also our own personal conduct frequently supposes nothing
more. The prudent man is the one who has a very clear sensation of what
must be done, but which he would ordinarily be quite incapable of
stating as a general law.

It is a different matter with society. This is possible only when the
individuals and things which compose it are divided into certain groups,
that is to say, classified, and when these groups are classified in
relation to each other. Society supposes a self-conscious organization
which is nothing other than a classification. This organization of
society naturally extends itself to the place which this occupies. To
avoid all collisions, it is necessary that each particular group have a
determined portion of space assigned to it: in other terms, it is
necessary that space in general be divided, differentiated, arranged,
and that these divisions and arrangements be known to everybody. On the
other hand, every summons to a celebration, a hunt or a military
expedition implies fixed and established dates, and consequently that a
common time is agreed upon, which everybody conceives in the same
fashion. Finally, the co-operation of many persons with the same end in
view is possible only when they are in agreement as to the relation
which exists between this end and the means of attaining it, that is to
say, when the same causal relation is admitted by all the co-operators
in the enterprise. It is not surprising, therefore, that social time,
social space, social classes and causality should be the basis of the
corresponding categories, since it is under their social forms that
these different relations were first grasped with a certain clarity by
the human intellect.

In summing up, then, we must say that society is not at all the
illogical or a-logical, incoherent and fantastic being which it has too
often been considered. Quite on the contrary, the collective
consciousness is the highest form of the psychic life, since it is the
consciousness of the consciousnesses. Being placed outside of and above
individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their
permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable
ideas. At the same time that it sees from above, it sees farther; at
every moment of time, it embraces all known reality; that is why it
alone can furnish the mind with the moulds which are applicable to the
totality of things and which make it possible to think of them. It does
not create these moulds artificially; it finds them within itself; it
does nothing but become conscious of them. They translate the ways of
being which are found