Totem and Taboo


One day the brothers . . . killed and devoured their father . . . Cannibal savages as they were, it goes without saying that they devoured their victim as well as killing him . . . The totem meal, which is perhaps mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things--of social organization, of moral restrictions and of religion.

Sigmund Freud, 1912–13

Curator's Comments

The Oedipus Complex--writ large--is the crux of Freud's speculations about the origins of society. The identification with authority is so great that even after killing the father, the sons return to obeying his rules with renewed enthusiasm.


The "totem meal" refers to a ritual in which an animal is sacrificed and eaten.

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