For Freud, totems and taboos both were outward expressions of the same psychological tendency. Totem is heads and taboo is tails. Or rather, the totem grows from the muck of the taboo, like a lotus. Totems, for him, were created by tribal societies in order to resolve conflicts that arose from ambiguity – something people are notoriously loathe to tolerate. Characteristically, Freud relates this ambiguity to the incest taboo. In order to prevent incest, genetically related people would be of the same totem and were prohibited from intermarrying. The totem both united the clan, and prevented its members from engaging in conjugal union.
Freud’s anthropological analysis seems spurious to me. But nevertheless, as with so much of his thinking, ALL thinking, it might be true in a poetic rather than literal sense. The creation of the totem is a way of resolving, through physical manipulation of matter, a queasy problem of consciousness. A queasy relationship we, the acting agent, the desiring agent, the repulsed agent, have to something in our lives.
In the spirit world, there is no distinction between subject and object. There, in that infinite realm encompassing everything, particularly our paltry subjectivity, everything is a sign, a manifold symbol. Everything in the spirit world has resonance. The entire fabric of the spirit world, or the Shamanic State of Consciousness, is made up of layers of meaning. In the material world, that is also true. But we forget. It’s easy to do. To get caught up in by the story of daily life, the Ordinary State of Consciousness. Calling Sallie Mae. Frustrated in traffic. Disgusted by news programs.
A totem can be our guiding spirit. The totem we have created calls us back to the Shamanic State of Consciousness. Calls us back to ambiguity, layered meanings and synchronicities. To the larger story of the great reality and the materials and spirit that create it. The totem asks us to look deeper at our world. Where did those feathers come from, where did that bird come from, where did that worm come from, where did that dirt come from? The story of the Universe is in everything. Spirit is in everything. The totem is a reminder, a token for the guide. The layered meanings called in through the ambiguous totem lead us through the porthole of the imagination and into the spirit world.