Encyclopedia of History
Home > Encyclopedia of History

totem



An object, animal, or plant toward which a tribe, clan, or other group feels a specific affinity, often considering it as a mythical ancestor. Killing of the totemic animal or animals by members of the group is taboo, except, with some peoples, ritually during religious ceremonies. Totem poles, on which are carved human and animal shapes representing the particular warrior's heritage, were at one time common among American indigenous peoples.