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- Chapter II. Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions. Sigmund Freud. Totem and Taboo
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He finally becomes clean through washing and other ceremonies. Among the Natchez in North America young warriors who had procured their first scalp were bound for six months to the observance of certain renunciations. They were not allowed to sleep with their wives or to eat meat, and received only fish and maize pudding as nourishment.
When a Choctaw had killed and scalped an enemy he began a period of mourning for one month, during which he was not allowed to comb his hair. When his head itched he was not allowed to scratch it with his hand but used a small stick for this purpose. After a Pima Indian had killed an Apache he had to submit himself to severe ceremonies of purification and expiation.
During a fasting period of sixteen days he was not allowed to touch meat or salt, to look at a fire or to speak to any one. He lived alone in the woods, where he was waited upon by an old woman who brought him a small allowance of food; he often bathed in the nearest river, and carried a lump of clay on his head as a sign of mourning. On the seventeenth day there took place a public ceremony through which he and his weapons were solemnly purified.
As the Pima Indians took the manslayer taboo much more seriously than their enemies and, unlike them, did not postpone expiation and purification until the end of the expedition, their prowess in war suffered very much through their moral severity or what might be called their piety. In spite of their extraordinary bravery they proved to be unsatisfactory allies to the Americans in their wars against the Apaches. The detail and variations of these expiatory and purifying ceremonies after the killing of an enemy would be most interesting for purposes of a more searching study but I need not enumerate any more of them here because they cannot furnish us with any new points of view.
I might mention that the temporary or permanent isolation of the professional executioner, which was maintained up to our time, is a case in point. The current explanation of all these rules of reconciliation, restriction, expiation and purification, combines two principles, namely, the extension of the taboo of the dead to everything that has come into contact with him, and the fear of the spirit of the slain. In what combination these two elements are to explain the ceremonial, whether they are to be considered as of equal value or whether one of them is primary and the other secondary, and which one, is nowhere stated, nor would this be an easy matter to decide.
In contradistinction to all this we emphasize the unity which our interpretation gains by deducing all these rules from the ambivalence of the emotion of savages towards their enemies. They must both be guarded and be guarded against. Both objects are accomplished through innumerable rules of taboo. Why one must guard against rulers is already known to us; because they are the bearers of that mysterious and dangerous magic power which communicates itself by contact, like an electric charge, bringing death and destruction to any one not protected by a similar charge.
All direct or indirect contact with this dangerous sacredness is therefore avoided, and where it cannot be avoided a ceremonial has been found to ward off the dreaded consequences. The Nubas in East Africa, for instance, believe that they must die if they enter the house of their priest-king, but that they escape this danger if, on entering, they bare the left shoulder and induce the king to touch it with his hand. Where the healing power of the royal touch is concerned we do not have to look for examples among savages.
Charles I is said to have healed a hundred sufferers at one time, in the year Under his dissolute son Charles II, after the great English revolution had passed, royal healings of scrofula attained their greatest vogue. This king is said to have touched close to a hundred thousand victims of scrofula in the course of his reign. The crush of those seeking to be cured used to be so great that on one occasion six or seven patients suffered death by suffocation instead of being healed. The following account will bear witness to the terrible effect of touching by virtue of which a person, even though unintentionally, becomes active against his king or against what belongs to him.
A chief of high rank and great holiness in New Zealand happened to leave the remains of his meal by the roadside.
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A young slave came along, a strong, healthy fellow, who saw what was left over and started to eat it. Hardly had he finished when a horrified spectator informed him of his offense in eating the meal of the chief. The man had been a strong, brave, warrior, but as soon as he heard this he collapsed and was afflicted by terrible convulsions, from which he died towards sunset of the following day. She cried out that the spirit of the chief whom she had thus offended would surely kill her.
The chief had lost it and those who found it used it to light their pipes. When they learned whose property the tinder box was they all died of fright. It is hardly astonishing that the need was felt to isolate dangerous persons like chiefs and priests, by building a wall around them which made them inaccessible to others.
We surmise that this wall, which originally was constructed out of taboo rules, still exists today in the form of court ceremony. But probably the greater part of this taboo of the rulers cannot be traced back to the need of guarding against them. The other point of view in the treatment of privileged persons, the need of guarding them from dangers with which they are threatened, has had a distinct share in the creation of taboo and therefore of the origin of court etiquette.
The necessity of guarding the king from every conceivable danger arises from his great importance for the weal and woe of his subjects. Strictly speaking, he is a person who regulates the course of the world; his people have to thank him not only for rain and sunshine, which allow the fruits of the earth to grow, but also for the wind which brings the ships to their shores and for the solid ground on which they set their feet.
These savage kings are endowed with a wealth of power and an ability to bestow happiness which only gods possess; certainly in later stages of civilization none but the most servile courtiers would play the hypocrite to the extent of crediting their sovereigns with the possession of attributes similar to these. It seems like an obvious contradiction that persons of such perfection of power should themselves require the greatest care to guard them against threatening dangers, but this is not the only contradiction revealed in the treatment of royal persons on the part of savages.
These races consider it necessary to watch over their kings to see that they use their powers in the right way; they are by no means sure of their good intentions or of their conscientiousness. A strain of mistrust is mingled with the motivation of the taboo rules for the king. So soon as he fails to do so, the care, the devotion, the religious homage which they had hitherto lavished on him cease and are changed into hatred and contempt; he is ignominiously dismissed and may be thankful if he escapes with his life. Worshiped as a god one day, he is killed as a criminal the next.
But in this changed behavior of the people there is nothing capricious or inconsistent. On the contrary, their conduct is quite consistent. If their king is their god he is, or should be, also their preserver; and if he will not preserve them he must make room for another who will.
So long, however, as he answers their expectations, there is no limit to the care which they take of him, and which they compel him to take of himself. A king of this sort lives hedged in by ceremonious etiquette, a network of prohibitions and observances, of which the intention is not to contribute to his dignity, much less to his comfort, but to restrain him from conduct which, by disturbing the harmony of nature, might involve himself, his people, and the universe in one common catastrophe.
Far from adding to his comfort, these observances, by trammeling his every act, annihilate his freedom and often render the very life, which it is their object to preserve, a burden and sorrow to him. One of the most glaring examples of thus fettering and paralyzing a holy ruler through taboo ceremonial seems to have been reached in the life routine of the Mikado of Japan, as it existed in earlier centuries. Much less will they suffer that he should expose his sacred person to the open air, and the sun is not thought worthy to shine on his head.
There is such a holiness ascribed to all the parts of his body that he dares to cut off neither his hair, nor his beard, nor his nails. However, lest he should grow too dirty, they may clean him in the night when he is asleep; because they say that what is taken from his body at that time, hath been stolen from him, and that such a theft does not prejudice his holiness or dignity. In ancient times, he was obliged to sit on the throne for some hours every morning, with the imperial crown on his head; but to sit altogether like a statue without stirring either hands or feet, head or eyes, nor indeed any part of his body, because by this means, it was thought that he could preserve peace and tranquility in his empire; for if unfortunately, he turned himself on one side or other, or if he looked a good while towards any part of his dominion, it was apprehended that war, famine, fire or some other great misfortune was near at hand to desolate the country.
Some of the taboos to which barbarian kings are subject vividly recall the restrictions placed on murderers. He is not allowed to touch a woman or to leave his house and cannot even rise out of his chair, in which he must sleep in a sitting position. If he should lie down the wind would cease and shipping would be disturbed. It is his function to keep storms in check and, in general, to see to an even, healthy condition of the atmosphere.
The heir to the throne is also bound to them from childhood on; they accumulate about him while he is growing up, and by the time of his accession he is suffocated by them. Our interest in the matter does not require us to take up more space to describe more fully the taboos that cling to royal and priestly dignity.
We merely add that restrictions as to freedom of movement and diet play the main role among them. But two examples of taboo ceremonial taken from civilized nations, and therefore from much higher stages of culture, will indicate to what an extent association with these privileged persons tends to preserve ancient customs.
Chapter II. Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions. Sigmund Freud. Totem and Taboo
The Flamen Dialis, the high-priest of Jupiter in Rome, had to observe an extraordinarily large number of taboo rules. He was not allowed to ride, to see a horse or an armed man, to wear a ring that was not broken, to have a knot in his garments, to touch wheat flour or leaven, or even to mention by name a goat, a dog, raw meat, beans and ivy; his hair could only be cut by a free man and with a bronze knife, his hair combings and nail parings had to be buried under a lucky tree; he could not touch the dead, go into the open with bare head, and similar prohibitions.
His wife, the Flaminica, also had her own prohibitions: she was not allowed to ascend more than three steps on a certain kind of stairs and on certain holidays she could not comb her hair; the leather for her shoes could not be taken from any animal that had died a natural death but only from one that had been slaughtered or sacrificed; when she heard thunder she was unclean until she had made an expiatory sacrifice. The old kings of Ireland were subject to a series of very curious restrictions, the observance of which was expected to bring every blessing to the country while their violation entailed every form of evil.
The complete description of these taboos is given in the Book of Rights, of which the oldest manuscript copies bear the dates and The prohibitions are very detailed and concern certain activities at specified places and times; in some cities, for instance, the king cannot stay on a certain day of the week, while at some specified hour this or that river may not be crossed, or again there is a plane on which he cannot camp a full nine days, etc.
Among many savage races the severity of the taboo restrictions for the priest-kings has had results of historic importance which are especially interesting from our point of view. The honor of being a priest-king ceased to be desirable; the person in line for the succession often used every means to escape it. Thus in Combodscha, where there is a fire and water king, it is often necessary to use force to compel the successor to accept the honor.
On Nine or Savage Island, a coral island in the Pacific Ocean, monarchy actually came to an end because nobody was willing to undertake the responsible and dangerous office. In some parts of West Africa a general council is held after the death of the king to determine upon the successor. The man on whom the choice falls is seized, tied and kept in custody in the fetich house until he has declared himself willing to accept the crown.
Sometimes the presumptive successor to the throne finds ways and means to avoid the intended honor; thus it is related of a certain chief that he used to go armed day and night and resist by force every attempt to place him on the throne. Frazer makes these conditions responsible for the fact that in the development of history a separation of the original priest-kingship into a spiritual and a secular power finally took place. Kings, crushed by the burden of their holiness, became incapable of exercising their power over real things and had to leave this to inferior but executive persons who were willing to renounce the honors of royal dignity.
From these there grew up the secular rulers, while the spiritual over-lordship, which was now of no practical importance, was left to the former taboo kings. It is well known to what extent this hypothesis finds confirmation in the history of old Japan. A survey of the picture of the relations of primitive peoples to their rulers gives rise to the expectation that our advance from description to psychoanalytic understanding will not be difficult. These relations are of an involved nature and are not free from contradictions. Rulers are granted great privileges which are practically cancelled by taboo prohibitions in regard to other privileges.
They are privileged persons, they can do or enjoy what is withheld from the rest through taboo.
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But in contrast to this freedom they are restricted by other taboos which do not affect the ordinary individual. Here, therefore, is the first contrast, which amounts almost to a contradiction, between an excess of freedom and an excess of restriction as applied to the same persons. They are credited with extraordinary magic powers and contact with their person or their property is therefore feared, while on the other hand the most beneficial effect is expected from these contacts.
This seems to be a second and an especially glaring contradiction; but we have already learned that it is only apparent. Another contradiction which is not so easily solved is expressed in the fact that great power over the processes of nature is ascribed to the ruler and yet the obligation is felt to guard him with especial care against threatening dangers, as if his own power, which can do so much, were incapable of accomplishing this.