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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 sacred-ness. 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.1 We have already had occasion to show how simple contact with a churinga is enough to sanctify men and things;2 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.3 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.1 The initiate lives in an atmosphere charged with religiousness, and it is as though he were impregnated with it himself.2 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.3 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.4 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;5 aquatic 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.6 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.7 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.8 Certain animals which he ate may also be prohibited.9 This contagiousness of sacredness is too well known a

phenomenon1 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.2 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 interdict.3

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.