An association between human groups or individuals and specific animals or plants which entailed ritualized observances and sometimes eating avoidances. The term was first drawn to the attention of Westerners by J. Long in Voyages and Travels(1791), being derived from the American Indian Algonquin language. The ensuing debates read like a history of anthropological theory.
J. F. McLennan searched for the origins of totemism, asserting it to be a remnant of animism (the belief that natural phenomena, animate and inanimate alike, are endowed with spirits or souls which effect consequences in society). William Robertson Smith argued that people had totems because they expected something beneficial from them. James Frazer argued that totemism existed where ‘savages’ had no knowledge of the role of the human male in conception. Émile Durkheim took totemism as the most elementary form of religious life and suggested that it was the clan worshipping itself. Bronislaw Malinowski offered a matter-of-fact explanation: namely, that in order to survive, people had to have detailed knowledge and control over animals and plants, especially the indispensable species. E. E. Evans-Pritchard questioned functional utility as an explanation. The most useless animals could be the object of ritual attention. The relationship between humans and animals could be seen as metaphorical. Meyer Fortes linked the perceived relations between humans and animals to those between living men and their ancestors. Claude Lévi-Strauss concluded that the differences between animals or plants were used by humans to affirm differences between themselves. Animals were ‘good to think with’ and were just one example of humanity's need to classify. His arguments stimulated further studies of animal symbolism in both non-Western and Western societies.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • Totemism — • Constitutes the group of superstitions and customs of which the totem is the center Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Totemism     Totemism      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • totemism — TOTEMÍSM s.n. Ansamblu de credinţe şi obiceiuri religioase primitive legate de totem; credinţa în totemuri. – Din fr. totémisme. Trimis de LauraGellner, 28.06.2004. Sursa: DEX 98  totemísm s. n. Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa: Dicţionar… …   Dicționar Român

  • Totemism — To tem*ism, n. 1. The system of distinguishing families, clans, etc., in a tribe by the totem. [1913 Webster] 2. Superstitious regard for a totem; the worship of any real or imaginary object; nature worship. Tylor. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • totemism — [tōt′əm iz΄əm] n. 1. belief in totems and totemic relationships 2. the use of totems to distinguish kin or descent groups 3. social customs based on this totemist n. totemistic adj …   English World dictionary

  • totemism — totemistic, adj. /toh teuh miz euhm/, n. 1. the practice of having totems. 2. the system of tribal division according to totems. [1785 95, Amer.; TOTEM + ISM] * * * Complex of ideas and practices based on the belief in kinship or mystical… …   Universalium

  • Totemism —    Often confused with the exceptionally close or “spiritual” relationship of a shaman with a particular animal or plant, totem derives from an Algonquian term for “clan.” Many indigenous cultures understand that clans are not merely kinship… …   Historical dictionary of shamanism

  • totemism — noun Date: 1791 1. belief in kinship with or a mystical relationship between a group or an individual and a totem 2. a system of social organization based on totemic affiliations …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • totemism — noun ˈtoʊtəmɪzm The belief that a person or group has a special mystical relationship to a totem See Also: totemistic …   Wiktionary

  • totemism — Belief in a kinship with, or a mystical relationship between, a group or individual and a totem …   Medical dictionary

  • TOTEMISM —    division of a race into tribes, each of which has its own Totem, or animal, as the symbol of it and the name, and as such treated with superstitious veneration, as involving religious obligation …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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