(b) and (c) The Origin of Exogamy and Its Relation to Totemism

I have put forth the theories of totemism with considerable detail and yet I am afraid that I have not made them clear enough on account of the condensation that was constantly necessary. In the interest of the reader I am taking the liberty of further condensing the other questions that arise. The discussions about the exogamy of totem races become especially complicated and untractable, one might even say confused, on account of the nature of the material used. Fortunately the object of this treatise permits me to limit myself to pointing out several guide-posts and referring to the frequently quoted writings of experts in the field for a more thorough pursuit of the subject.

The attitude of an author to the problems of exogamy is of course not independent of the stand he has taken toward one or the other of the totem theories. Some of these explanations of totemism lack all connexion with exogamy so that the two institutions are entirely separated. Thus we find here two opposing views, one of which clings to the original likelihood that exogamy is an essential part of the totemic system while the other disputes such a connection and believes in an accidental combination of these two traits of the most ancient cultures. In his later works Frazer has emphatically stood for this latter point of view.

“I must request the reader to bear constantly in mind that the two institutions of totemism and exogamy are fundamentally distinct in origin and nature though they have accidentally crossed and blended in many tribes.” (Totemism and Exogamy I, Preface XII.)

He warns directly against the opposite view as being a source of endless difficulties and misunderstandings. In contrast to this, many authors have found a way of conceiving exogamy as a necessary consequence of the basic views on totemism. Durkheim[172] has shown in his writings how the taboo, which is attached to the totem, must have entailed the prohibition against putting a woman of the same totem to sexual uses. The totem is of the same blood as the human being and for this reason the blood bann (in reference to defloration and menstruation) forbids sexual intercourse with a woman of the same totem[173]. Andrew Lang, who here agrees with Durkheim, goes so far as to believe that the blood taboo was not necessary to bring about the prohibition in regard to the women of the same tribe[174]. The general totem taboo which, for instance, forbids any one to sit in the shadow of the totem tree, would have sufficed. Andrew Lang also contends for another derivation of exogamy (see below) and leaves it in doubt how these two explanations are related to each other.

As regards the temporal relations, the majority of authors subscribe to the opinion that totemism is the older institution and that exogamy came later[175].

Among the theories which seek to explain exogamy independently of totemism only a few need be mentioned in so far as they illustrate different attitudes of the authors towards the problem of incest.

MacLennan[176] had ingeniously guessed that exogamy resulted from the remnants of customs pointing to earlier forms of female rape. He assumed that it was the general custom in ancient times to procure women from strange tribes so that marriage with a woman from the same tribe gradually became “improper because it was unusual”. He sought the motive for the exogamous habit in the scarcity of women among these tribes, which had resulted from the custom of killing most female children at birth. We are not concerned here with investigation whether actual conditions corroborate MacLennan’s assumptions. We are more interested in the argument that these premises still leave it unexplained why the male members of the tribe should have made these few women of their blood inaccessible to themselves, as well as in the manner in which the incest problem is here entirely neglected[177].

Other writers have on the contrary assumed, and evidently with more right, that exogamy is to be interpreted as an institution for the prevention of incest[178].

If we survey the gradually increasing complication of Australian marriage restrictions we can hardly help agreeing with the opinion of Morgan Frazer, Hewitt and Baldwin Spencer[179], that these institutions bear the stamp of ‘deliberate design’, as Frazer puts it, and that they were meant to do what they have actually accomplished. “In no other way does it seem possible to explain in all its details a system at once so complex and so regular”[180].

It is of interest to point out that the first restrictions which the introduction of marriage classes brought about affected the sexual freedom of the younger generation, in other words, incest between brothers and sisters and between sons and mothers, while incest between father and daughter was only abrogated by more sweeping measures.

However, to trace back exogamous sexual restrictions to legal intentions does not add anything to the understanding of the motive which created these institutions. From what source, in the final analysis, springs the dread of incest which must be recognized as the root of exogamy? It evidently does not suffice to appeal to an instinctive aversion against sexual intercourse with blood relatives, that is to say, to the fact of incest dread, in order to explain the dread of incest, if social experience shows that, in spite of this instinct, incest is not a rare occurrence even in our society, and if the experience of history can acquaint us with cases in which incestuous marriage of privileged persons was made the rule.

Westermarck[181] advanced the following to explain the dread of incest: “that an innate aversion against sexual intercourse exists between persons who live together from childhood and that this feeling, since such persons are as a rule consanguineous, finds a natural expression in custom and law through the abhorrence of sexual intercourse between those closely related.” Though Havelock Ellis disputed the instinctive character of this aversion in the Studies in the Psychology of Sex, he otherwise supported the same explanation in its essentials by declaring: “The normal absence of the manifestation of the pairing instinct where brothers and sisters or boys and girls living together from childhood are concerned, is a purely negative phenomenon due to the fact that under these circumstances the antecedent conditions for arousing the mating instinct must be entirely lacking.... For persons who have grown up together from childhood habit has dulled the sensual attraction of seeing, hearing and touching and has led it into a channel of quiet attachment, robbing it of its power to call forth the necessary erethistic excitement required to produce sexual tumescence.”

It seems to me very remarkable that Westermarck looks upon this innate aversion to sexual intercourse with persons with whom we have shared childhood as being at the same time a psychic representative of the biological fact that inbreeding means injury to the species. Such a biological instinct would hardly go so far astray in its psychological manifestation as to affect the companions of home and hearth which in this respect are quite harmless, instead of the blood relatives which alone are injurious to procreation. And I cannot resist citing the excellent criticism which Frazer opposes to Westermarck’s assertion. Frazer finds it incomprehensible that sexual sensibility to-day is not at all opposed to sexual intercourse with companions of the hearth and home while the dread of incest, which is said to be nothing but an offshoot of this reluctance, has nowadays grown to be so overpowering. But other remarks of Frazer’s go deeper and I set them down here in unabbreviated form because they are in essential agreement with the arguments developed in my chapter on taboo.

“It is not easy to see why any deep human instinct should need reinforcement through law. There is no law commanding men to eat and drink, or forbidding them to put their hands in the fire. Men eat and drink and keep their hands out of the fire instinctively, for fear of natural, not legal penalties, which would be entailed by violence done to these instincts. The law only forbids men to do what their instincts incline them to do; what nature itself prohibits and punishes it would be superfluous for the law to prohibit and punish. Accordingly we may always safely assume that crimes forbidden by law are crimes which many men have a natural propensity to commit. If there were no such propensity there would be no such crimes, and if no such crimes were committed, what need to forbid them? Instead of assuming therefore, from the legal prohibition of incest, that there is a natural aversion to incest we ought rather to assume that there is a natural instinct in favour of it, and that if the law represses it, it does so because civilized men have come to the conclusion that the satisfaction of these natural instincts is detrimental to the general interests of society[182].

To this valuable argument of Frazer’s I can add that the experiences of psychoanalysis make the assumption of such an innate aversion to incestuous relations altogether impossible. They have taught, on the contrary, that the first sexual impulses of the young are regularly of an incestuous nature and that such repressed impulses play a rôle which can hardly be overestimated as the motive power of later neuroses.

The interpretation of incest dread as an innate instinct must therefore be abandoned. The same holds true of another derivation of the incest prohibition which counts many supporters, namely the assumption that primitive races very soon observed the dangers with which inbreeding threatened their race and that they therefore had decreed the incest prohibition with a conscious purpose. The objections to this attempted explanation crowd upon each other[183]. Not only must the prohibition of incest be older than all breeding of domestic animals from which men could derive experience of the effect of inbreeding upon the characteristics of the breed, but the harmful consequences of inbreeding are not established beyond all doubt even to-day and in man they can be shown only with difficulty. Besides, everything that we know about contemporaneous savages makes it very improbable that the thoughts of their far-removed ancestors should already have been occupied with preventing injury to their later descendants. It sounds almost ridiculous to attribute hygienic and eugenic motives such as have hardly yet found consideration in our culture, to these children of the race who lived without thought of the morrow[184].

And finally it must be pointed out that a prohibition against inbreeding as an element weakening to the race, which is imposed from practical hygienic motives, seems quite inadequate to explain the deep abhorrence which our society feels against incest. This dread of incest, as I have shown elsewhere[185], seems to be even more active and stronger among primitive races living to-day than among the civilized.

In inquiring into the origin of incest dread it could be expected that here also there is the choice between possible explanations of a sociological, biological, and psychological nature in which the psychological motives might have to be considered as representative of biological forces. Still, in the end, one is compelled to subscribe to Frazer’s resigned statement, namely, that we do not know the origin of incest dread and do not even know how to guess at it. None of the solutions of the riddle thus far advanced seems satisfactory to us[186].

I must mention another attempt to explain the origin of incest dread which is of an entirely different nature from those considered up to now. It might be called an historic explanation.

This attempt is associated with a hypothesis of Charles Darwin about the primal social state of man. From the habits of the higher apes Darwin concluded that man, too, lived originally in small hordes in which the jealousy of the oldest and strongest male prevented sexual promiscuity. “We may indeed conclude from what we know of the jealousy of all male quadrupeds, armed, as many of them are, with special weapons for battling with their rivals, that promiscuous intercourse in a state of nature is extremely improbable.... If we therefore look back far enough into the stream of time and judging from the social habits of man as he now exists, the most probable view is that he originally lived in small communities, each with a single wife, or if powerful with several, whom he jealously defended against all other men. Or he may not have been a social animal and yet have lived with several wives, like the gorilla; for all the natives agree that only the adult male is seen in a band; when the young male grows up a contest takes place for mastery, and the strongest, by killing and driving out the others, establishes himself as the head of the community (Dr Savage in the Boston Journal of Natural History, Vol. V, 1845-7). The younger males being thus driven out and wandering about would also, when at last successful in finding a partner, prevent too close breeding within the limits of the same family”[187].

Atkinson[188] seems to have been the first to recognize that these conditions of the Darwinian primal horde would in practice bring about the exogamy of the young men. Each one of those driven away could found a similar horde in which, thanks to jealousy of the chief, the same prohibition as to sexual intercourse obtained, and in the course of time these conditions would have brought about the rule which is now known as law: no sexual intercourse with the members of the horde. After the advent of totemism the rule would have changed into a different form: no sexual intercourse within the totem.

Andrew Lang[189] declared himself in agreement with this explanation of exogamy. But in the same book he advocates the other theory of Durkheim which explains exogamy as a consequence of the totem laws. It is not altogether easy to combine the two interpretations; in the first case exogamy would have existed before totemism; in the second case it would be a consequence of it[190].


Into this darkness psychoanalytic experience throws one single ray of light.

The relation of the child to animals has much in common with that of primitive man. The child does not yet show any trace of the pride which afterwards moves the adult civilized man to set a sharp dividing line between his own nature and that of all other animals. The child unhesitatingly attributes full equality to animals; he probably feels himself more closely related to the animal than to the undoubtedly mysterious adult, in the freedom with which he acknowledges his needs.

Not infrequently a curious disturbance manifests itself in this excellent understanding between child and animal. The child suddenly begins to fear a certain animal species and to protect himself against seeing or touching any individual of this species. There results the clinical picture of animal phobia, which is one of the most frequent among the psychoneurotic diseases of this age and perhaps the earliest form of such an ailment. The phobia is as a rule in regard to animals for which the child has until then shown the liveliest interest and has nothing to do with the individual animal. In cities the choice of animals which can become the object of phobia is not great. They are horses, dogs, cats, more seldom birds, and strikingly often very small animals like bugs and butterflies. Sometimes animals which are known to the child only from picture books and fairy stories become objects of the senseless and inordinate anxiety which is manifested with these phobias; it is seldom possible to learn the manner in which such an unusual choice of anxiety has been brought about. I am indebted to Dr Karl Abraham for the report of a case in which the child itself explained its fear of wasps by saying that the colour and the stripes of the body of the wasp had made it think of the tiger of which, from all that it had heard, it might well be afraid.

The animal phobias have not yet been made the object of careful analytical investigation, although they very much merit it. The difficulties of analysing children of so tender an age have probably been the motive of such neglect. It cannot therefore be asserted that the general meaning of these illnesses is known, and I myself do not think that it would turn out to be the same in all cases. But a number of such phobias directed against larger animals have proved accessible to analysis and have thus betrayed their secret to the investigator. In every case it was the same: the fear at bottom was of the father, if the children examined were boys, and was merely displaced upon the animal.

Every one of any experience in psychoanalysis has undoubtedly seen such cases and has received the same impression from them. But I can refer to only a few detailed reports on the subject. This is an accident of the literature of such cases, from which the conclusion should not be drawn that our general assertion is based on merely scattered observation. For instance I mention an author, M. Wulff of Odessa, who has very intelligently occupied himself with the neuroses of childhood. He tells, in relating the history of an illness, that a nine year old boy suffered from a dog phobia at the age of four. “When he saw a dog running by on the street he wept and cried: ‘Dear dog, don’t touch me, I will be good.’” By “being good” he meant “not to play violin any more” (to practise onanism)[A].

The same author later sums up as follows: “His dog phobia is really his fear of the father displaced upon the dog, for his peculiar expression: ‘Dog, I will be good’—that is to say, I will not masturbate—really refers to the father who has forbidden masturbation.” He then adds something in a note which fully agrees with my experience and at the same time bears witness to the abundance of such experiences: “such phobias (of horses, dogs, cats, chickens and other domestic animals) are, I think, at least as prevalent as pavor nocturnus in childhood, and usually reveal themselves in the analysis as a displacement of fear from one of the parents to animals. I am not prepared to assert that the wide-spread mouse and rat phobia has the same mechanism.”

I reported the “Analysis of the Phobia of a five-year-old Boy[191] which the father of the little patient had put at my disposal. It was a fear of horses as a result of which the boy refused to go on the street. He expressed his apprehension that the horse would come into the room and bite him. It proves that this was meant to be the punishment for his wish that the horse should fall over (die). After assurances had relieved the boy of his fear of his father, it proved that he was fighting against wishes whose content was the absence (departure or death) of the father. He indicated only too plainly that he felt the father to be his rival for the favour of the mother, upon whom his budding sexual wishes were by dark premonitions directed. He therefore had the typical attitude of the male child to its parents which we call the ‘Oedipus complex’ in which we recognize the central complex of the neuroses in general. Through the analysis, of ‘little John’ we have learnt a fact which is very valuable in relation to totemism, namely, that under such conditions the child displaces a part of its feelings from the father upon some animal.

Analysis showed the paths of association, both significant and accidental in content, along which such a displacement took place. It also allowed one to guess the motives for the displacement. The hate which resulted from the rivalry for the mother could not permeate the boy’s psychic life without being inhibited; he had to contend with the tenderness and admiration which he had felt for his father from the beginning, so that the child assumed a double or ambivalent emotional attitude towards the father and relieved himself of this ambivalent conflict by displacing his hostile and anxious feelings upon a substitute for the father. The displacement could not, however, relieve the conflict by bringing about a smooth division between the tender and the hostile feelings. On the contrary, the conflict was continued in reference to the object to which displacement has been made and to which also the ambivalence spreads. There was no doubt that little John had not only fear, but respect and interest for horses. As soon as his fear was moderated he identified himself with the feared animal; he jumped around like a horse, and now it was he who bit the father[192]. In another stage of solution of the phobia he did not scruple to identify his parents with other large animals[193].

We may venture the impression that certain traits of totemism return as a negative expression in these animal phobias of children. But we are indebted to S. Ferenczi for a beautiful individual observation of what must be called a case of positive totemism in the child[194]. It is true that with the little Arpád, whom Ferenczi reports, the totemic interests do not awaken in direct connexion with the Oedipus complex, but on the basis of a narcistic premise, namely, the fear of castration. But whoever looks attentively through the history of little John will also find there abundant proof that the father was admired as the possessor of large genitals and was feared as threatening the child’s own genitals. In the Oedipus as well as in the castration complex the father plays the same rôle of feared opponent to the infantile sexual interests. Castration and its substitute through blinding is the punishment he threatens[195].

When little Arpád was two and a half years old he once tried, while at a summer resort, to urinate into the chicken coop, and on this occasion a chicken bit his penis or snapped at it. When he returned to the same place a year later he became a chicken himself, was interested only in the chicken coop and in everything that occurred there, and gave up human speech for cackling and crowing. During the period of observation, at the age of five, he spoke again, but his speech was exclusively about chickens and other fowl. He played with no other toy and sang only songs in which there was something about poultry. His behaviour towards his totem animal was subtly ambivalent, expressing itself in immoderate hating and loving. He loved best to play killing chickens. “The slaughtering of poultry was quite a festival for him. He could dance around the animals’ bodies for hours at a time in a state of intense excitement[196].” But then he kissed and stroked the slaughtered animal, and cleaned and caressed the chicken effigies which he himself had ill-used.

Arpád himself saw to it that the meaning of his curious activity could not remain hidden. At times he translated his wishes from the totemic method, of expression back into that of everyday life. “Now I am small, now I am a chicken. When I get bigger I shall be a fowl. When I am bigger still, I shall be a cock.” On another occasion he suddenly expressed the wish to eat a “potted mother” (by analogy, potted fowl). He was very free with open threats of castration against others, just as he himself had received them on account of onanistic preoccupation with his penis.

According to Ferenczi there was no doubt as to the source of his interest in the activities of the chicken yard: “The continual sexual activity between cock and hen, the laying of eggs and the creeping out of the young brood[197] satisfied his sexual curiosity which really was directed towards human family life. His object wishes have been formed on the model of chicken life when we find him saying to a woman neighbour: “I am going to marry you and your sister and my three cousins and the cook; no, instead of the cook I’ll marry my mother.”

We shall be able to complete our consideration of these observations later; at present we will only point out two traits that show a valuable correspondence with totemism: the complete identification with the totem animal[198], and the ambivalent affective attitude towards it. In view of these observations we consider ourselves justified in substituting the father for the totem animal in the male’s formula of totemism. We then notice that in doing so we have taken no new or especially daring step. For primitive men say it themselves and, as far as the totemic system is still in effect to-day, the totem is called ancestor and primal father. We have only taken literally an expression of these races which ethnologists did not know what to do with and were therefore inclined to put it into the background. Psychoanalysis warns us, on the contrary, to emphasize this very point and to connect it with the attempt to explain totemism[199].

The first result of our substitution is very remarkable. If the totem animal is the father, then the two main commandments of totemism, the two taboo rules which constitute its nucleus,—not to kill the totem animal and not to use a woman belonging to the same totem for sexual purposes,—agree in content with the two crimes of Oedipus, who slew his father and took his mother to wife, and also with the child’s two primal wishes whose insufficient repression or whose re-awakening forms the nucleus of perhaps all neuroses. If this similarity is more than a deceptive play of accident it would perforce make it possible for us to shed light upon the origin of totemism in prehistoric times. In other words, we should succeed in making it probable that the totemic system resulted from the conditions underlying the Oedipus complex, just as the animal phobia of ‘little John’ and the poultry perversion of ‘little Arpád’ resulted from it. In order to trace this possibility we shall in what follows study a peculiarity of the totemic system or, as we may say, of the totemic religion, which until now could hardly be brought into the discussion.