chapter  13
22 Pages

The Field of Ritual: Religion

I SAID EARLIER that any attempt to distinguish clearly between magic and religion is bound to be arbitrary, for the difference between the notion of a magical power in things and the idea of a more or less personalized spirit in things is very much one of degree. The beliefs and practices which we call totemism fall on the borderline. Sometimes, as among the Australian aborigines, the totem is thought of as a kind of spiritual agent for which special ceremonies are performed, so that it is the object of a totemic cult. More commonly, as among many Bantu peoples, it is little more than a clan symbol or emblem, though it may be the object of a ritual avoidance, and it is sometimes imbued with a magical power to injure members of the totemic group who abuse it. The chief difficulty in discussing totemism is that the term has been applied to many different social and cultural institutions. Indeed, as the American anthropologist Goldenweiser showed, there is no single criterion by which totemism might be defined which is not lacking in what is called totemism in some other society.1