Critical Examination of Preceding Theories

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Beliefs which we have just summarized are manifestly

1  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.