The choice of essays is excellent, covering the whole chronological range of Freud’s writings on art and literature.”—J.
Though incomprehensible to us they are taken as a matter of course by those who are under their dominance.
As we are in need of an impartial presentation of the subject of taboo before subjecting it to psychoanalytic consideration I shall now cite an excerpt from the article “Taboo” in the Encyclopedia Britannica written by the anthropologist Northcote W.
Our combination of “holy dread” would often express the meaning of taboo.
The taboo restrictions are different from religious or moral prohibitions.
Among the subjects Freud engages are Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and Macbeth, Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit, Michelangelo's Moses, E. All texts are drawn from The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachey.
The volume includes the notes prepared for that edition by the editor.It was still current with the ancient Romans: their word “sacer” was the same as the taboo of the Polynesians.The “[Greek]” of the Greeks and the “Kodaush” of the Hebrews must also have signified the same thing which the Polynesians express through their word taboo and what many races in America, Africa (Madagascar), North and Central Asia express through analogous designations.They are not traced to a commandment of a god but really they themselves impose their own prohibitions; they are differentiated from moral prohibitions by failing to be included in a system which declares abstinences in general to be necessary and gives reasons for this necessity.The taboo prohibitions lack all justification and are of unknown origin.A peculiar power inherent in persons and ghosts, which can be transmitted from them to inanimate objects is regarded as the source of the taboo.This part of the article reads as follows: “Persons or things which are regarded as taboo may be compared to objects charged with electricity; they are the seat of tremendous power which is transmissible by contact, and may be liberated with destructive effect if the organisms which provoke its discharge are too weak to resist it; the result of a violation of a taboo depends partly on the strength of the magical influence inherent in the taboo object or person, partly on the strength of the opposing mana of the violator of the taboo.The term taboo is also applied to ritual prohibitions of a different nature; but its use in these senses is better avoided.It might be argued that the term should be extended to embrace cases in which the sanction of the prohibition is the creation of a god or spirit, i.e., to religious interdictions as distinguished from magical, but there is neither automatic action nor contagion in such a case, and a better term for it is religious interdiction. direct taboos aim at (a) protection of important persons—chiefs, priests, etc.—and things against harm; (b) safeguarding of the weak—women, children and common people generally—from the powerful mana (magical influence) of chiefs and priests; (c) providing against the dangers incurred by handling or coming in contact with corpses, by eating certain food, etc.; (d) guarding the chief acts of life—births, initiation, marriage and sexual functions—against interference; (e) securing human beings against the wrath or power of gods and spirits; 3 (f) securing unborn infants and young children, who stand in a specially sympathetic relation with their parents, from the consequence of certain actions, and more especially from the communication of qualities supposed to be derived from certain foods. Taboos are imposed in order to secure against thieves the property of an individual, his fields, tools, etc.” Other parts of the article may be summarized as follows.Thus, kings and chiefs are possessed of great power, and it is death for their subjects to address them directly; but a minister or other person of greater mana than common, can approach them unharmed, and can in turn be approached by their inferiors without risk….So, too, indirect taboos depend for their strength on the mana of him who opposes them; if it is a chief or a priest, they are more powerful than those imposed by a common person.” The author states that there are permanent and temporary taboos.