The Notion of the Totemic Principle, or Mana, and the Idea of Force

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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 tnem 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. [188]

pass and are replaced by others ; but this force always remains actual, living and the same. It animates the generations of to­day 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 principle.

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.1 If they are introduced into an organism not made to receive them, they produce sick­ness and death by a wholly automatic action.2 Outside of men, they play the role of vital principle ; it is by acting on them, we shall see,3 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.4 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 conduct ?