Among the Australians the system of Totemism takes the place of all religious and social institutions. Australian tribes are divided into small septs or clans, each taking the name of its totem. Now what is a totem? As a rule it is an animal, either edible grharmless, or dangerous and feared; more rarely the totem is a plant or a force of nature (rain, water), which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan. The totem is first of all the tribal ancestor of the clan, as well as its tutelary spirit and protector; it sends oracles and, though otherwise dangerous, the totem knows and spares its children. The members of a totem are therefore under a sacred obligation not to kill (destroy) their totem, to obstain from eating its meat or from any other enjoyment of it. Any violation of these prohibitions is automatically punished. The character of a totem is inherent not only in a single animal or a single being but in all the members of the species. From time to time festivals are held at which the members of a totem represent or imitate, in ceremonial dances, the movements and characteristics of their totems .... We must consider that peculiarity of the totemic system which attracts the interest of the psychoanalyst. Almost everywhere where the totem prevails, there also exists the law that the members of the same totem are not allowed to enter into sexual relations with each other; that is, that they cannot marry each other. This represents the exogamy which is associated with the totem.
Totemism as the Earliest Religion
Totemism, with its worship of a father substitute, the ambivalency towards the father which is evidenced by the totem feast, the institution of remembrance festivals and of laws the breaking of which is punished by death-this totemism, I conclude, may be regarded as the earliest appearance of religion in the history of mankind, and it illustrates the close connection existing from the very beginning of time between social institutions and moral obligations.
Though it may seem that instinctual renunciation, and the ethics based on it, do not belong to the essence of religion, still they are genetically closely related to religion. Totemism, the first form of religion of which we know, contains as an indispensable part of its system a number of laws and prohihitions which plainly mean nothing else but instinctual renunciation.