Totem and Taboo by Sigmund Freud

Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics pdf by Sigmund Freud

The four essays that follow were originally published (under a heading which serves as the present book’s sub-title) in the first two volumes of Imago, a periodical issued under my direction. They represent a first attempt on my part at applying the point of view and the findings of psycho-analysis to some unsolved problems of social psychology [Volkerpsychologie].

Thus they offer a methodological contrast on the one hand to Wilhelm Wundt’s extensive work, which applies the hypotheses and working methods of non-analytic psychology to the same purposes, and on the other hand to the writings of the Zurich school of psycho-analysis, which endeavour, on the contrary, to solve the problems of individual psychology with the help of material derived from social psychology. (Cf. Jung, 1912 and 1913.) I readily confess that it was from these two sources that I received the first stimulus for my own essays.

I am fully conscious of the deficiencies of these studies. I need not mention those which are necessarily characteristic of pioneering work; but others require a word of explanation. The four essays collected in these pages aim at arousing the interest of a fairly wide circle of educated readers, but they cannot in fact be understood and appreciated except by those few who are no longer strangers to the essential nature of psycho-analysis. They seek to bridge the gap between students of such subjects as social anthropology, philology and folklore on the one hand, and psycho-analysts on the other. Yet they cannot offer to either side what each lacks—to the former an adequate initiation into the new psychological technique or to the latter a sufficient grasp of the material that awaits treatment.

They must therefore rest content with attracting the attention of the two parties and with encouraging a belief that occasional co-operation between them could not fail to be of benefit to research.

It will be found that the two principal themes from which the title of this little book is derived—totems and taboos—have not received the same treatment. The analysis of taboos is put forward as an assured and exhaustive attempt at the solution of the problem. The investigation of totemism does no more than declare that ‘here is what psycho-analysis can at the moment contribute towards elucidating the problem of the totem’. The difference is related to the fact that taboos still exist among us.

Though expressed in a negative form and directed towards another subject-matter, they do not differ in their psychological nature from Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’, which operates in a compulsive fashion and rejects any conscious motives. Totemism, on the contrary, is something alien to our contemporary feelings—a religio-social institution which has been long abandoned as an actuality and replaced by newer forms. It has left only the slightest traces behind it in the religions, manners and customs of the civilized peoples of to-day and has been subject to far-reaching modifications even among the races over which it still holds sway. The social and technical advances in human history have affected taboos far less than the totem.

An attempt is made in this volume to deduce the original meaning of totemism from the vestiges remaining of it in childhood—from the hints of it which emerge in the course of the growth of our own children. The close connection between totems and taboos carries us a step further along the path towards the hypothesis presented in these pages; and if in the end that hypothesis bears a highly improbable appearance, that need be no argument against the possibility of its approximating more or less closely to the reality which it is so hard to reconstruct.
Rome, September 1913.


Translator’s Note Preface
Preface totheHebrewTranslation

1 The Horror of Incest
2 Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence
3 Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts
4 The Return ofTotemism in Childhood

List of Works referred to in theText

Language: English
Format: PDF
Pages: 215
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