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on April 17, 2006
This book is amazing because in relatively few words Freud has the ability to explain how mankind developed its belief in a higher power, most often referred to in the western world as God. For some readers his theory may be difficult to accept, for in many respects this explanation forces its readers to question the stories and myths that form the basis of Western Religion. I find it fascinating that such a simple explanation can so effectively explain as complex a subject as the belief in God.
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on December 18, 2012
I am working from vol 13 of the works of Freud published by Hogarth and this work will be for those interested in
ancient culture, especially today as culture due to globalization/industrialization, looks all too similar to most people especially as we pick up the same phones, dvd's, tv shows, and the whole modern hitech atmosphere...especially with mass communication today is one world..although some as a reaction, wanting to maintain their individuality and break from the hitech develop a unique persona and set of experiences, and this can also be part of a modern psychotherapy. Before religion there was culture, human beginnings, a set of rules and customs, and taboo. If primitive people were capable of obeying all commands, there would be no prohibitions. Read an old book like leviticus(ch 25 year of jubilee and freeing of slaves) and numbers you will see an ancient culture predating Moses and all these ancient cultural laws being subsumed into the new yhwh religion..all books ascribed to Moses. So ancient cultural rules and prohibitions..made their way in forming a new religion..Freud knows this but incest interests him its origin, which is an ancient cultural taboo. Incest was a taboo of "excessive avoidance"(p7)..this later developed into prohibition against intercourse between near relations"(p 11). These communities bear strict rules among family relations among them son/mother in law ..and family organization "no longer subject...white peoples of Europe and America"(p 14). Incest is probably the most cardinal rule of ancient culture which found its way into religion. Regarding religion belief in demons is probably older than belief in God, or perhaps polytheism developed into monotheism, even among the ancient jews who constantly were unfaithful toward other divinities..back to demons. "The most primitive and at the same time most lasting of human instincts fear of demonic powers"(p 24)..supposedly hidden in taboo object? In indian communities where is the demon? "beware of the wrath of demons"(p 24)..later the "transplanting..taboo ordinances from the sphere of demons into the sphere of belief in gods"(p 25).

One early prohibition was not to touch..touching develops from childhood..and its prohibition(p 29)..and may become a "psychical fixation"(p 29). Another point are all ideas learned or are there "innate ideas"(p 31)..which DEscartes wrote a famous book on? A subject still of interest and dispute in cognitive psychology? A famous totem object..that represents the sports team is the animal? In biblical times we had the golden calf, and the cow of indian religions and also the many animals on jerseys today? The person who"violates a taboo is taboo himself"(p 32). Later we have atonement and purification. As in ancient Israel kings develop (p 44) as in these ancient cultures the "more powerful a king is, the more taboos he is bound to observe"(p 45). The comparison shows the similar governmental structure in these societies. The kingdom was later divided into a "spiritual and a temporal power"(p 47). The "earliest kings were foreigners"(p 51). Like the ancient biblical tale of Cain and Abel there is a discusion on blood (and the biblical covering up of the blood)..(p 59) and here a fear that the dead,even the murdered dead would come back for revenge "dead filled with a lust for murder"(p 59). In ancient society there developed "fear of demons and ghosts and on the other hand veneration of ancestors"(p 65). We then read "schopenhauer has said that the problem of death stands at the outset of every philosophy;..origin of the belief in souls and demons(p 87)..finitude as the beginning of fears of being dead..and what awaits one in the world of demons, many still have this inconscious dread. Then he talks of animism. He later talks of sacrificial deaths and mithraicism? (p 140). Then the idea of father later conceived as a pattern of conceiving god, in apersonal sense. "totemic religion arose from the filial sense of guilt"(p 145). His reading on these ideas came out of the philosophy of Fuerbach later of use to marxism, whatever you think of it its materialist in origin, or naturalistic or religion from below as opposed to above. I will look at this later in a later volume when he treats of his own religious ideas?

A later book of great interest is the Michelangelo! See the american film Agony and the Ectasy(1965) with charlton heston which gives a vivid biography of the painter an evangelical christian, a christian from below, of the poor which the film exemplifies. Many ideas of Schopenhauer?nietzsche and later Shaw were glimpased not only in the Moses sculpture here studied by Freud but also in the artist's David..and many other works. Shaw's famous play Man and Superman with the middle sequence Don Juan in Hell(the Hell sequence of the play sometimes skipped)..but the idea of not being bound by human limitations and expanding one's development in various ways in anegative sense in the great dictators(the development is not hard to see). As in the film regarding the artists relation with Pope julius 2 this sculpture was a "fragment" "represents moses the lawgiver of the Jews, holding the Tables of the Ten Commandments"(p 213). "MOses looks into the future..immutability..towards mysteries..reflection of eternity"(p 215).."timeless study of character and mood"(p 215). It is a sculting to "master his actions..explosion of his wrath..shattering"(p 216). The "conflict" drawn here is between the "reforming genius" and "rest of mankind".."inexhaustible inner force which tames the recalcitrant world"(p 221)..almost like men becoming like gods as the novel men like gods. It presents the "artistic contrast between the inward fire..outward calm"(p221)..he sees the difference between the "molten calf" and the striving to "make of thee a great nation"(p 231).

The study on Moses is typical of the great and avid interest in Michaelangelo's works, portaying the greatness of man and the striving of the will when harnessed to great projects and endeavors...and many artists and historical personages attest to this in their writings, a tourist's delight and often talked of. The study on culture and religion and taboos uses the work of Fuerbach and many researchers and develops a religion from below as opposed to revealed or prophetic religion..of interest to those studying human origins, and you may not agree, and incest avoidance is probably the oldest taboo in ancient religion, and probably the most firm religious value held in all modern religions, from which others spring. The liberation theologies of south america are an example of religion from below where as the fundamentalist religions in the U.S. are from above, as well as many of the other populist religions in the U.S. in the U.S are from above, like Pentecostal, and there is value in the two, which approach you take you should note the difference?
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on August 12, 2003
This is the first Freud book I have ever read. I am not a trained psychiatrist, or sociologist, or ethnologist, so I am going to review the book from a layman's standpoint.
In this work, Freud draws heavily on observations and theories of ethnology, emphasizing on studies of Australian aborigines and Frazer's work. He draws a parellel with his personal observations from treatment of "neurotic" patients and claims to have found common patterns in these two classes of subjects, which tend to explain certain social and psychological phenomena, as well as the "birth" of religion.
He focuses on the concepts of "Totem" and "Taboo". While familiar with taboo (although our understanding of the term is narrower than Freud's), totem is remote to us. Certain aboriginal peoples were grouped in social groupings, centered on the cult of and belief of descent from a certain animal. So, you are the "Kangaroo tribe", we are the "Ostrich tribe" etc. The topic most interesting Freud, to which he devotes the first essay in the book, is "exogamy", i.e. marriage outside one's group. This practice of exogamy seems to be in contradiction to what is pursued by some ethnic groups in America (Jews and Greeks come to mind) i.e. "endogamy" - a push to have children marry within their parents' ethnic group. This practice of exogamy in Australian aborigines is attributed by Freud to fear of incest, with quite convincing arguments.

What is challening is to concoct a theory that suggests totemism and exogamy are not orthogonal social institutions that just happenned to coexist, but intricately bound together. Freud accomplishes that through intricate reasoning that draws heavily on religion (in his 4th essay). His argumentation may seem far-fetched to many, but is plausible, although it is hard to get convinced that it is the single, or most probable, theory explaining the issue.
Freud makes the analogy that what primitive people are to ethnography, "neurotics" are to psychoanalysis and tries to map patterns from one domain to the other. Another goal is to establish the theory of totemism as the primordial religion from which all known religions and beliefs have spawned over time. The fact that Hinduists rever and never kill cows, seems to me (my example, not Freud's) to support this theory; Hinduists could be considered an outgrowth of a "Cow totem". Also, in modern Judeochristian societies, the totem, for intermarriage avoidance, has been replaced by the blood relatives group. Greek civil law for instance, forbids marrying blood relatives to the 4th degree and relatives through marriage to the 3th degree (i.e. after marriage your also become a member of your spouse's "totem" - for life).
His 2nd essay discusses the concept of taboo. He defines it as "a set of limitations that primitive people apply to themselves". He contends that people who do "taboo things" become taboo themselves (certainly prostitutes would fit that profile). In our modern society, one's car is taboo, such as one's tools and guns were in prehistory.
Deists may have a hard time with Freud, especially since he states "we know well that just like gods, demons too are figments of the human imagination". Freud was an atheist and his train of thought is naturally and instictively atheistic, and this could be challenging for a deist.
Amazing is how some taboos of primitive times, remain alive, even in a degenerate form, in our times. For instance, just as primitives of New Guinea don't eat meat after killing an enemy (a taboo), modern Greek Orthodox people don't eat meat in the lunch following the funeral ceremony (only fish and veggies allowed). Also, the "dirtiness" taboo, where primitives were subjected to purification ceremonies, seems to be alive in the Eastern Orthodox sacrament of baptism where the to-be-christened baby is washed in the baptisery. Female "uncleanliness" during menstruation is also taboo in the Eastern Church; women are never allowed in the santum (blood taboo). It is considered taboo in Greek to say that a woman is menstruating, whereas politeness calls to say that "she feels sick". Also, the death taboo is alive in an incomprehensible to me (but "self-evident" to them as Freud would say) avoidance by many to refer to cancer by its name, opting instead the expressions "the bad thing" or "the cursed disease".
Also, the taboo, Freud mentions, whereby the archpriest of Zeus in Rome, was forbidden to ride horses, seems to be alive, in that the heads of states rarely drive cars themselves, but are rather given a ride by their chauffers. Regarding king-priests, last time I checked the Queen of England was also the head of the Church of England...

The third essay (animism and magic) is also important. Interestingly, Freud considers animism as the only weltanschaung completely and comprehensively (albeit incorrectly) explaining world's nature. He does not believe that subsequent religious and scientific weltanschaungen have achieved this. The animism->religion->science progression of world views discussed is extremely important and core for understanding his work. I guess that were he alive and learned that 90% of Americans are religious (Source: Euronews) he would be rather skeptical of the "progress" of mankind...
In his fourth essay, he returns to totemism, reaching the culmination of this work, in an awe-inspiring scene, where the young brothers kill and devour their own father. This vivid scene of patricide, which he subsequently manages to mitigate, suggesting the possibility that it was perpetrated only in people's minds (temptation), he proclaims as the original sin of mankind, which young males throughout the millenia try to redeem. This theory is highly controversial, albeit very interesting and thought-provoking. This scene is worth the whole book not only for its intensity, but also for the dexterity with which Freud creatively combines and correlates findings from fields so diverse, such as psychiatry, psychology, sociology, ethnology, religion, and philosophy, along with deep understanding of the human psyche, to reach a conclusion of such importance, and arguably impact, regarding who we are, and why we are doing things the way we are.
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on March 24, 2003
And this time trough those primitive manifestations performed by that very primitive peoples like aborigenes from Australia, North and South America indians and many others discovered by colonization european, manifestation that we are used to call by Totem and Taboo. This is the standard Freud's view on the subject and to understand this book is a necessary step to proceed to other important Freud's work like Moses and Monotheism, The Future of an Ilusion and many others, where he approaches with reluctance the idea of religion as an offspring of early animism.
The prior standard way of seeing these types of primitive manifestation was to see them trough the amount of dread the primitive men have against the manifestation of some praeternatural agency, to use a term used by Mr.Thorstein Veblen, a contemporary of Freud, in his magnificent book on the leisure class (The Theory of the Leisure Class). It is worthy to note that nobody can be sure on the origins of this type of tradition and that adds substance to Mr.Freud's arguments.
Sigmund Freud goes a step further to the classical view and says that totemism and taboo as animism are the manifestation of something not outside ourselves but rather inside human minds of the primitive people, where the unconscious played a good part to the forming of this kind of culture manifestation and where there is an intricate and unconscious and almost mathematical calculation in order to attribute to the priest-king, who typifies the carrier of this tradition, both the pleasures and the burden of the function. In Freud's view, both totem and taboo are traditions that have to find their origim in the unconscious of that primitive folks and not in the concurrence of fear to the dead, following the tradition of his many other books on the latent manifestations of the unconscious. The ritual and actual killing of the father by the Horde or Band of Brothers, who are in search of vital space for their development, is the real reason behind all that happens afterwards and, following Freud's hypotheses, are the groundwork of modern and ancient religion.
The concepts here explained will be fundamental to the development of the hypotheses developed latter in Moses and Monotheism.
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on November 11, 2001
Totem and Taboo, along with _The Future of an Illusion_, should be necessary reading for any serious student of social science. Of course, there are massive holes in Freud's arguments (such as his tendancy to make sweeping generalizations about other cultures from his armchair in Europe), but people who disagree with him for moral and ethical reasons tend to amplify those holes and simply ridicule Freud the man instead of intelligently approaching his arguments.
The fact is, his suppositions about parental relations (as they relate to "totem" cultures), about religion, and about sexuality are extremely relevant and have proven, over the years, to possess an extraordinary predictive power. Even if one disagrees with this literature, one should read it and know exactly what they disagree with.
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on June 14, 1999
Draws the age of antiquity up to the present in a way that demonstrates how far away we really are not from the savages. It helps to shed the light on some of the really neurotic impulses we still exhibit today!! we're fast approaching Y2K but we are as primitive in many regards when compared to our ancestors.
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on February 18, 2012
I do not recommend this book or publishing company to anyone. The lack of editing shown by grammatical errors, improper syntax, and spelling mistakes really takes away from the quality of one of Sigmund Freud's classic works. This book was probably mashed out by a child. What a waste of money.
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