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Complex of ideas and practices based on the belief in kinship or mystical relationship between a group (or individual) and a natural object, such as an animal or plant. The term derives from the Ojibwa word ototeman, signifying a blood relationship. A society exhibits totemism if it is divided into an apparently fixed number of clans, each of which has a specific relationship to an animate or inanimate species (totem). A totem may be a feared or respected hunted animal or an edible plant. Very commonly connected with origin myths and with instituted morality, the totem is almost always hedged about with taboos of avoidance or of strictly ritualized contact. Totem, taboo, and exogamy seem to be inextricably intertwined. See also totem pole.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on totemism, visit Britannica.com.