Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics (Paperback)

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics Cover Image
By Sigmund Freud, A. A. Brill (Translator)
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In this controversial study Freud applies the theories and evidence of his psychoanalytic investigations to the study of aboriginal peoples and, by extension, to the earliest cultural stages of the human race before the rise of large-scale civilizations. Relying on the reports of ethnographers such as J. G. Frazer, E. B. Tylor, and others, Freud points out the striking parallels between the cultural practices of native tribal groups and the behavior patterns of neurotics. His ultimate aim is to shed light on the psychological factors involved in the development of culture in the same way as he analyzed the unconscious motivations of neurotic individuals.

Beginning with a discussion of the incest taboo, which is one of the main features of the totemic tribal structure, he compares the taboo to the infantile stage of individual psychological development, in which the male child experiences incestuous sexual feelings for his mother (and the girl for her father). He draws parallels between some of the elaborate taboo restrictions seen in these early cultures and the scrupulous rituals of compulsion neurotics, who in a similar fashion are wrestling with the ambivalent emotions aroused by the incest taboo. The implication is that many of the ceremonies and
rituals of culture develop as a psychological reaction to the incest taboo, which prohibits the acting out of an infantile impulse that would be socially destructive.

Freud contends that cultures evolve through three main stages: the animistic, the religious, and the scientific. The earliest stage of animism corresponds to the narcissistic phase of individual development, when the child overvalues the importance and influence of his inner psychic life on the outer world. In the religious stage of culture, humanity realizes that its own conceptions do not have full power to control outer reality and attributes this power to deities, who nonetheless can be manipulated through religious ceremony. This stage of culture corresponds to the individual growth phase of dependence on the parents. The scientific stage is tantamount to the mature phase of individual development, in which the individual recognizes his very limited power to control the universe and accepts the reality of his own death as well as all other natural realities.

Freud concludes by invoking his famous Oedipus complex as the key to the development of culture, just as it is the main conflict underlying all neurotic illness in his theory. The repressed psychological urge to kill the father as the rival for the mother's affections is the underlying motive for the symbols and ceremonies of religion with all its many sacrificial rituals of expiation and its notions of angry gods, original sin, and humankind's guilt and need for atonement.

Although Freud's theories and life are controversial today, this masterful synthesis and its undeniable influence on later scholars of religion, anthropology, and psychology make it an indispensable work.

About the Author


SIGMUND FREUD was born in Freiberg, Moravia, on May 6, 1856. When he was four, his father, a Jewish wool merchant, moved the family to Vienna. Concentrating on the study of the human nervous system and human personality, Freud entered the University of Vienna medical school in 1873 and studied under physiologist Ernest Bruecke from 1876 to 1872. After earning a degree in medicine in 1881, he completed his internship and residency at the Vienna General Hospital. 1n 1885, he was awarded a one-year fellowship to study in Paris with neu-rologist Jean-Martin Charcot, an authority on hysteria. Freud returned to Vienna in 1886 and established a medical prac-tice, specializing in nervous diseases. He worked with physician Josef Breuer on the treatment of hysteria with hypnosis, collaborating with Breuer on Studies in Hysteria (1895). Freud believed that repressed and forgotten impressions underlie all abnormal mental states and that revelation of these impressions often effects a cure. Convinced that repressed sexual urges play a major role in many forms of neurosis, he developed the Oedipal complex the-ory, which focuses on emotional and sexual complications between parents and children. He described this theory in the major work, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). In 1902, Freud organized a weekly discussion group, which became the Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society in 1908. Among its member were Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. But by 1911, the society dissolved. Freud taught neuropathology at the University of Vienna from 1902 to 1938, and continued his private psychoanalytic practice. Dur-ing this period he wrote many of his major works including Psy-chopathology of Everyday Life (1904), Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1910), Totem and Taboo (1913), The Complete Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1917), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Ego and the Id (1923), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Dis-contents (1930), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1932), and Moses and Monotheism (1939). When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, they burned Freud's books and banned his theories. Friends helped him escape to England, where he died of cancer of the jaw and palate in London on Septem-ber 23, 1939.
Product Details
ISBN: 9781573927895
ISBN-10: 1573927899
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication Date: March 1st, 2000
Pages: 281
Language: English
Series: Great Minds Series