FOOD FOR THOUGHT: "Ignorance is an outlook on life. Even the educated can be ignorant."
YOU ARE IN DARKNESS.
TABOO & TOTEMISM
by Mudarras Kadhir Gaznavi
The beliefs/faiths of today are yesterday's mythology embellished by human interpretation tailored by the interests of the belief system, strengthened by the humanly need to believe in and to identify with something (a need created by the supposedly never ending human weaknesses). In other words man used man for his own aims. As the saying goes, "homo homini lupus." We have taken mythology as the starting point, but there were people living even before the age of mythology.
So what was going on then?
Was there a social order?
Did people identify themselves with something?
How did they get along with nature surrounding them.
How did they feel about the natural forces?
All kinds of myths would be invented if there are people thinking hard on questions like,"where did we come from?" "where are we going?", "why?", "what for?"
But research tells us that myths in those primitive communities were not abstract philosophising. They had no interest in matters like the source of the universe, creation of man etc. Primitive man said, "things are as they are, because they are so created and ordained." The primitive mind was not interested in a visionary explanation of the formation of Universe. The only thing important for the primitive mind was the belief that the past course of events was important because they had a bearing on the present affairs and realities.
POWER OF THE WORD
The belief in the myth that spoken word is anoracle and the repetition of it sets free the creative and re-creative power which it is full of is an indication of the power of the word! In Sumer people believed that it was sufficient for the creator god to make a plan, and utter the appropriate word, his wishes were realized at that instant. Zoroaster/Zarathustra preached positive thought, positive speech and positive deeds. Why positive speech? We should know the answer. Praying to and praising the Supreme Being with recitation of litanies; the apprehension felt for using pessimistic words; the supposed power of a curse, etc. may have their origins in this belief. Remember how the Gospel of John begins? It begins by declaring that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" ["In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum'']. Jesus Christ is believed to be the incarnation of the Word. According to the codebooks of the Abrahamic-Semitic religions - the Old Testament, the New Testament and Kuran - word has initiated the creation. Do you remember the command "Let there be light!"? So where do you think this story about the power of word comes from?
In short, numerous myths worldwide which recur in the primitive states of cultures are not the expressions of the innate inquisitiveness felt towards the problem of creation or an intellectual search for the "first cause". Formation of the universe, creation of man, the first cause.. These words have been invented and put together by the human mind to express ideas. According to some, long after those primitive tribes, humanity's intellectual ability has started developing in the right(!) direction. What was this right direction? If it is the fruitless efforts to explain the inexplicable and the irrational, who could in his right mind, say that it is the right direction? No one.
The primitive mind was interested only in the present. Hence the primitive myths rose from the conviction that the creation of the world had a permanent effect on the subsequent behaviour and structure of the society.According to Australian aborigines the mythic past is concerned largely with the "dream time of long ago" when the ancestors brought the existing configuration of the country into being, created the various human groups and ordered their laws, customs, beliefs and the social and religious organization before they retired to the "sky-world." To where? To "sky-world" of course..
Who are these ancestors?
Are they human beings dead and gone or do these aborigines mean that they have descended from the superior beings so the ancestors lived once on the earth and when they felt their work is finished they have retired to the sky-world?
Why not to the "underground" world?
Why is sky so attractive?
Is it because of the tremendous power it unleashes every now and then?
Is it because of the fascinating, unfathomable distance of the space?
Is it because of the Sun, Moon and stars, and other "imaginary" figures across the firmament?
Don't forget! For us humans earth is bad and undesirable. It is written in those codebooks. Sky is clean, desirable, ideal(!). The higher beings cannot live and walk amongst the earthlings. Can they? Should they? Of course not. They should be aloof and aloft "up there."
NEGATIVE SIDES OF BEING HUMAN
Humans are seen as the source of 'evil' and everything undesirable. Why? Because the earthlings almost always had their attention on the negative sides of being human, which needed correcting if we were to win an afterlife and to rise to the higher levels of existence (in some belief systems even exceed that level and achieve nothingness/nibbana/nirvana. That's why a righteous life has always been emphasized. Have you ever thought, and ask yourself why? If the need for this emphasis on a righteous life had a valid reason then the negative aspects of existence must have been dominant on earth in those days. What does the codebooks say? The supreme being or beings have created the earth especially for man to inhabit. Then they have created the flora and fauna for the benefit of man. Being superior and supreme and being able to hear and see what was going on 'down here' they thought - or humans believed that these beeings must have thought - it would be suitable for them to reside up in the sky, in their own world. After all sun is there with its tremendous power. Moon is there lighting up the night. Myriads of twinkling 'beings' are up there. On top of all that, sky has no connection with land which is 'polluted' with humans, their wrongdoings, weaknesses, and sins. Sky is clean. Fitting the superior ones. They should stay up there, and not contaminate themselves by mixing with the 'mud' down on earth and make sure that their dirty-sinful 'creation' stayed on course. What course? If they were behind the creation, why did not they make sure those created are all 'good' and righteous? They supposedly have the power, the resolve, the vision etc. to do that and they would have saved themselves from keeping a constant watch over us, the sinners, down here.
If we go back to those aborigines again, have you noticed their sincerity and openness? They call that extremely distant past as 'dream time'. Their sincerity is genuine. They have no qualms about that expression. Why do humans living in present era feel uneasy about how to describe that very distant past? How to present it? What to call it? It is very simple, they should call it a dream time? Full stop!
WHO NEEDS A HIGHER TERMINOLOGY?
Let us pause for a moment here. What you are reading here is written in English. The words belong to this earth. And all the definitions, terms etc. are written with the letters and expressed via the thought processes, beliefs and doctrines which belong to earthlings. If the earthlings are able to describe these ambiguous lofty ideas with their words, who needs another higher terminology? Humans have invented these words and notions to express them. Imagine a primitive person speaking no language, but uttering only unintelligible sounds. What sounds would he have used to describe thunder, lightning, flood, earthquake, Sun, Moon, stars and most of all the superior beings? He would have made the sounds that he thought suitable, because they lacked the intellectual symbols or had not developed yet the thought processes to match them. And what about the superior beings? Well they called them the superior beings, didn't they? These superiors could not be seen but the signs of their power, their actions, their energy and a whole series of consequences of their wishes could be experienced by the earthlings, and almost always to their (earthlings) detriment. Their shape and size? What do they look like? The primitive man and woman had only their kind and the animals around them. They had no idea what a superior being would look like, because it did not belong to their concrete environment. So it all boils down to unseen, powerful, far away, watchful, penalizing etc. superior ones. Hence the "personalities" assigned to the natural phenomena - precursors of the present day supreme beings.
ANCESTORS, "DREAM TIME" AND THE "SKY WORLD"
Now let's go back to the ancestors. These ancestors have established an order both for the sky-world and the earth. According to these primitive tribes these ancestors exist but no longer on earth. They kept their ties with the living. And people in their tribes have revered and consulted them. If they are consulted and the signs of their response is expected, they must be somewhere 'out there'. Since they have the wisdom to give to the earthlings, they must have established a link also with the 'higher wisdom out there'. Wisdom of whom? Of the higher beings! So the earthlings should consult them whenever they felt the need. They are the ancestors, they were the keepers of the order from the dream time, when they were alive. Now they have risen to another 'level' and are in touch with the 'heavenly wisdom'. They have become special entities who merit to be consulted. Have you asked yourself the question: "Who decided on their worth ?" Well, earthlings themselves. The ancestors lived a long time ago, they were nearer time wise to the dream time then the later generations. They knew much more. They established and enforced the rules. They kept and transmitted the rules to the following generations. And they are consulted. That is all. There is nothing mystifying in that. When you are young your parents (usually the stronger, imposing one) establish a certain set of rules and you obey. You become a parent yourself and you either build on those rules or modify them in accordance with the changing times. Is there anything mystifying in this? Not even a hint? The only peculiar thing here is that these aborigines consider themselves to be the descendants of those superiors. When one reflects on what our present day believers are doing, there's nothing strange in their behaviour. Thousands of years later, these believers uphold sometimes identical, equally nonsensical, and abstract ideas.
RITUAL, PRAYER, CEREMONY
As I have told you earlier a belief system has the following components: A central 'superior being', a message, a messenger, a codebook, initiated persons, priests, temple, rituals, ceremonies, the faithful, rituals, prayers. Ceremonies are very important because they indicate the faith of a believer and bring in a social dimension. In order to be true to one's faith one has to be extremely careful not to leave out anything and not to forget the order of events to follow. Because a mistake, a seemingly unimportant neglect in the ritual/ceremony creates uneasiness in one's conscience. Ritual/prayer/ceremony necessitates absolute focusing on a single activity and excluding all the others. Lastly, every detail needs extreme attention. Ritual/prayer/ceremony has a stereotype character (like praying, turning to east, turning to south, reciting together). Ceremonies of the belief systems have a social/communal character. Details of these ceremonies have a full meaning and they are symbolic. A believer taking part in these ceremonies, rarely or never pays full attention to their meaning. For an average believer a ceremony starts as an act of defence, assurance and protection. A believer believes that he/she is prone to sin always, and prays before doing anything or doing something not regulated by the rules of that faith. This act - praying - is thought to have a protective power.
BELIEF SYSTEM : A UNIVERSAL OBSESSIONAL NEUROSIS
Emergence of the belief systems and their rules give us the impression that they rest on suppressing and pushing aside some of the natural, instinctive impulses. It is proven that this act of suppressing has to be continuous. Believers are very much preoccupied with sin and sinning. This naturally leads to repentance/asking for forgiveness. A belief system can be defined as a universal obsessional neurosis. A prohibitive attitude is much more dominant. You must be wandering why? It is very simple; if you want to create a monolithic body of followers you cannot afford to leave people free, doing as they please. In order to curb freedoms you have to set limits.
THE SUPREME BEING SAID : " I ' LL TAKE YOUR REVENGE"
The continuous suppression of the basic instincts seems to be one of the foundations on which the human civilization progressed. This act is partly carried out by the belief systems and the individual is asked to relinquish his/her instinctual satisfaction to supreme being, because that supreme being is believed to have said: "I'll take your revenge". In the development of the old belief systems many things, which were abandoned by humanity because they were sins, were turned over to the supreme being, and won permission in his name. This gave earthlings the opportunity to save themselves from the domination of their bad and socially harmful instincts.
Now we are ready to discuss the taboo and totem. What is a totem? It is an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan, as a reminder of its ancestry. It is usually a carved or painted representation of such an object. Something that serves as an emblem or revered symbol. A totem could be passed via female or male lineage. Once upon a time totem inheritance via female lineage may have been the dominant tradition with male lineage replacing it later. For a person his/her relationship with the totem is at the centre of all social duties. This aspect comes before the membership of the tribe and all kinds of blood ties. Totem is not attached to any place. The functioning of totemic associations could be seen today in Australia, among the natives of North America, the peoples of Oceania, eastern Indians and in Africa. Judging by some remains one can say that totemism has existed once amongst the Europeans, and also amongst theAryan and Semitic peoples.
TOTEM LAW: "EXOGAMY"
Wherever there is a totem there is a law which prohibits sexual relations, consequently, marriage between the persons belonging to the same totem. This is a taboo. Every man and woman has to marry someone from another tribe of a different totem. This principle is called exogamy. As one can easily see here, totem functions as a blood relationship. All the individuals coming from the same totem are connected by their blood. This naturally creates 'avoidance rules' (women and men of the same clan don't come together), which refer to sexual relations.
THREE MORE TOTEMIC RULES
The French archaeologist and philologist Salomon Reinach wrote down the Code of Totemism. Here are the last three entries out of 12:"..Totem animal protects and warns the members of its clan. To those loyal members of its clan totem animal gives advance information on the future and guides them. In many cases, members of the totemic clan believe that there is a kinship between themselves and the totem animal." Any of these codes sound familiar? We will see as we progress.
TYPES OF TOTEM
There are three types of totem: Firstly, there is the one calledclan totem which envelopes the whole clan and is transferred between generations via inheritance (this is the important one). Secondly, there is the sexual totem which is common to either the males or the females and which excludes the other sex. Thirdly we have personal totem which belongs to a single person and is not inherited.
TOTEMISM : A RELIGIOUS AND SOCIAL SYSTEM
Totemism is both a religious and a social system. Its religious aspect involves the relationship between the totem and a person; its social aspect applies to the relations among the members of the clan and with the members of other clans. Members of the totem clan call themselves with the name of the totem. They maintain a mutual belief that they have really descended from the totem. Since the totem animal is believed to be the ancestor of the tribe, the totemic concept have a determining effect on those sections of clan which are subject to certain traditional norms and on the tribal organization as a whole.
TABOO : PROHIBITION, RESTRICTION, BAN
What istaboo? It is simply a prohibition, a ban. Taboo has the meaning of an unapproachable thing. If taboo is an unapproachable thing, then the divine-heavenly fear we have today will correspond to taboo, the breaking of which in many ways will be like committing a sinful act. But restrictions based on taboo are different from the religious and moral prohibitions. They are not tied to a divine command. Wilhelm Wundt describes taboo as "the oldest unwritten laws of humanity". When taboo was in full swing, in the deepest recesses of history, there was no idea of a supreme being, and there were no belief systems. Therefore taboo could be said to be older than the supreme being.
TABOO: NO ENJOYMENT, NO FREE MOVEMENT, NO FREE SPEECH
In the beginning violation was punished by the taboo. But when the concepts of supreme being and spirit have emerged and linked with taboo at a later period, a heavenly power is expected to punish the violation. Later on probably due to the extreme evolution of the concept, the community punished the culprits who jeopardized the social life. Consequently the most ancient punishment systems of humanity could be tied to taboo. Violation of a taboo by someone makes the culprit a taboo as well. Avoidance of the dangers created by the violation of a taboo may be possible by penance and purification. In other words, one pays something, refrains from certain things and cleanses oneself. What interests us here is a series of prohibitions these primitive communities were subject to. There were all kinds of prohibitions, but they didn't know why. And they didn't think of asking questions. On the contrary they accepted the taboo as if it was an open truth and believed that violation would be punished automatically. All the prohibitions aimed basically at the freedom of enjoying oneself, freedom of movement and the freedom of communication.ONE SHOULD NOT ENJOY ONESELF.. ONE SHOULD NOT MOVE FREELY.. ONE SHOULD NOT COMMUNICATE AS ONE PLEASED.
Taboos then and belief systems today are against individuals, because to in order to have a monolithic belief system personal freedoms, personalities and individualism should be eradicated. Because enjoying oneself is bad. You are not allowed to enjoy an 'earthly' life. Instead you are supposed to work relentlessly to correct yourself here on earth. For what? For an afterlife. In other words, if you wish to live eternally(!) (although that afterlife is on a completely different level of existence which has no resemblance with life here on earth) you have to obey the rules and purify yourself.
Moving freely means an uncontrollable individual. This cannot be allowed. All the believers in a belief system should be under constant surveillance or at least they should feel that they are being watched. The idea behind this is the fact that people feel the urge to stand up against permanent, strict rules. They will seek personal freedoms and individualism.
Communicating freely means, circulation of all kinds of ideas and thoughts. Some of these could be harmful to the belief system. So freedom of communication cannot be allowed. In certain cases taboos had an understandable meaning and had abstinence and renunciation as their purpose. But in other cases they had an incomprehensible structure, related to unimportant details and seem like having only a ceremonial constitution. At the primitive beginnings of taboo there was no separation between divine and dirty, according to W. Wundt, and " this genuine character (in the beginning) of taboo, and the belief that the 'satanic power ' endemic in an object would take its revenge on the violator when touched or used in spite of the ban, was only an 'objective fear.' " This fear has acquired two different forms - worship and horror - at a later stage when the taboo dictates were transferred from the domain of satans (evil spirits) to the domain of belief in the supreme being. Prohibitions has come into being at an unknown instant, and carry on existing based on an irresistible fear. An external threat of punishment was never needed because of the inner certainty, a moral belief, that violation would lead to an unbearable disaster. Prohibitions are kept alive by an inner necessity; they change places easily; they are connected to the danger of contamination from the banned object; and they necessitate ceremonial acts. One could assume that all the taboos were ancient prohibitions imposed externally and by force on a generation of primitive human beings in a certain period.
TWO BASIC TABOOS : "THOU SHALT NOT KILL!" - NO SEX WITH YOUR KIN
The oldest and most important taboo prohibitions are the two basic totemism laws:"Don't kill the totem animal" and "Avoid sexual relations with the opposite sex of the same clan." If this was the case, then the most basic, oldest and the most powerful human desires must have been to kill and have sexual relations with the opposite sex. It is beyond doubt that primitive people living long before the imposition of the laws by gods had this valid command (or a moral rule): You should not kill.. This is a rule the violation of which shouldn't go unpunished. The appeasement ceremonies, sacrifices, restrictions, isolation period, atonement and purification ceremonies following a battle in primitive communities all originate from one superstition: Thou shalt not kill!. (Did you know that isolation of professional executioners for a set period or temporarily, originates from this superstition?) This superstition must be familiar. Don't you think? Let me help you: Check the Ten Commandments!
RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO TOUCH
Taboo is a social institution. Sometimes someone, who does not violate a taboo, may become a taboo permanently or in a temporary fashion, because of arousing forbidden desires and having a character of causing an unpredictable conflict in others. Who are these? King or the chief create jealousies because of their privileged position. New born babies, women in their periods or in labour arouse desire because of their frail condition. A young man promises new pleasures and titillates the people. Because of that, all these people and all these conditions are taboo. In other words they are untouchable. One has to resist the temptation to touch becausetouching a human being or an object is the first step to take control of or to benefit from it. If violation of a taboo necessitates rectification via repentance or atonement involving relinquishment of a certain ownership or forfeiting a freedom then a taboo ban in itself means giving up a desired thing. This leads us to the conclusion that atonement in taboo ceremonies is much more fundamental than purification. Taboo is a prohibition imposed by an external authority and it aims at the most powerful expectations and desires. The fact that violation of a taboo is put right by giving up something shows us that relinquishing lies at the bottom of the compliance with a taboo. Taboo is the typical method of legislation and it serves other secondary social purposes as well. This is the case with the taboos which are imposed by the chiefs and priests whose purpose is to preserve their assets and privilege.
WHERE ARE THE DEAD? : "ON THE OTHER SIDE"
Taboo relating to the dead is important. There are certain rules about touching the dead. Those who touched the dead should obey certain rules. People feared the spirit of the dead and numerous ceremonies were performed to keep the spirit away. It is thought that mentioning the name of the dead person was identical with awakening him, resulting with his sudden appearance. Those living didn't feel secure unless there is a body of water between themselves and the dead. This is why the dead are buried on the islands or on the 'other bank' of a river. This is the origin of the expressions,'here and there', 'on the other side' or 'the other side', meaning the place where the dead are buried. But with the arrival of belief systems the meaning of this expression changed from 'there on the other side' (meaning dead were buried there on the other side or on the other bank, physically) into a mystical 'other side' meaning, heaven, hell, the underworld, the other world, etc.
ANIMISM : THERE ARE SPIRITS IN EVERYTHING
According toSir James George Frazer human race has developed three systems of thought, three grand pictures related to the universe: Animistic; Religious; Scientific.. This sequence of evolution of the human thought is no longer accepted. But animism is there for us to have a look. What is this animism? Animistic thought may be the most coherent and extensive amongst them and offers a really complete explanation on the nature of universe. This is the early human's point of view on earth and universe. It is a psychological theory. It could be said that animism in the beginning was not a a belief system, but incorporated all the foundations which were used later on in the construction of belief systems. It is also clear that myths are based on animistic propositions. Animism in its narrow meaning is a doctrine of spirits, whereas its wider meaning is a doctrine of creatures who have spirits. We now know that those primitive peoples had definitely had a substantial idea on universe, according to which numerous good and bad spirits were living on earth. These spirits were considered as the causes of the natural phenomena and not only the animals and plants but also all the lifeless/inorganic objects on earth were thought to come alive with these spirits. Most important of all, these primitive peoples believed that similar spirits lived in humans as well. These spirits changed their abode (the person they live in); inhabited other persons; they were the medium of spiritual activities; and to a certain extent they were independent of the body they have inhabited. Spirits in the beginning were thought to be very similar to humans, but later on they lost their objective characteristics and became spiritualised. Now let us pause for a moment to think and ask the right questions:
Since we have the clues now, where do you think these stories about spirits, incarnations and/or reincarnations, transmigration of souls come from?
Of course some 'belief systems of the book' were and are against these ideas, because these ideas belong to a different belief system, which means competition, and more than that animism opens the door to magic, which is the most serious rival of a belief system.
ANIMISM : PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR MAGIC TO ENFORCE THE "WILL"
We are not surprised to see that a system of instructions on how to establish a domination over persons, wild animals and objects - or rather on their spirits - was developed hand in hand with the annimistic system. These instructions are known as black magic-witchcraft and magic. Black magic is the art of taking someone or something under the will of one. Magic is something different. It ignores the spirits and employs not daily psychological methods but special procedures. Resolve and intent are absolutely essential to be a believer. Without them your belief means nothing. Non-comprehension makes resolve and intent impossible. So to believe or to have faith in something - in other words, to act at spiritual level - one has to know, to understand, to decide and to act accordingly. These are processes related to your mind and spirituality, and they dissolve down to the 'will'. 'Will' makes actions important, effective and valuable. Resolve and intent come up again vis a vis magic. In order to perform magic, one has to desire-think-reflect-decide-concentrate on what to do; this process could be expressed as 'will'. This 'will' envelops all the spiritual processes. Thus all the spiritual processes and 'thought' are elevated/magnified.
THOUGHT IS CAPABLE OF EVERYTHING
So, thoughts related to objects become much more important than the objects themselves. "The action which is thought about an object, will inevitably happen to it." In a nutshell, it could be said that the principle valid in magic is "thought is capable of everything." Is this mind over matter? Have a guess: What is the origin of the claims related to moving objects from afar without touching; mind-reading; bending spoons; stopping clocks etc. just by thinking and concentrating? Could it be Animism? Let me give you an example of magic: One of the most widespread methods of magic for harming ones enemy is to make a puppet of that enemy. Resemblance between the puppet and the enemy is not essential. Any object could be used as a puppet. It is believed that anything done to the puppet will happen to the enemy; any harm done on any part of the puppet will duplicate itself on the enemy. Now remember the Old Testament's ban on making pictures or statues of living beings. In those ancient age peoples of that region were worshipping local, tribal supreme beings in the form of animal figures, totem-like objects, human and semi-human like objects etc. But the Old Testament's supreme being ('the unmentionable') is a jealous entity(!). This entity was never to be represented by idols or images. This supreme entity has also banned all kinds of figures, idols, objects etc. Because being a jealous superior this entity(!) did not like competition. But is this the real reason behind the ban or could there be something else? This practice is certainly an animistic remnant from the deep recesses of history so the writers of the Old Testament may have wished to deny magic one of it's tools. Hebrew religion considers magic a revolting practice. What do you think? The natural result of being an Abrahamic-Semitic belief system a similar ban is included also in Kuran.
Now the most difficult question:Which words have replaced the totem and taboo in the belief systems of our day? If you are able to find the right answer and dare to express it you will have taken a step towards becoming a 'being', an individual and not a follower. This is taboo and totemism in a nutshell, summarized from Sigmund Freud, together with views thrown in from other scholars and myself.