Monday, July 2, 2012

Getting totems

Tonight, went and listened to Prof. Stephen Knight talk at Melbourne University about emotion in Culhwch ac Olwen and Chretien de Troyes's Erec et Enide, using as his main connecting thread the tension in the stories between culture and nature and whether emotion was integrating or destructive.

The story of Culhwch ac Olwen incorporates some totemic animals, including the salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest animal of them all.

The context Prof. Knight framed his discussion made totemic animals make more sense to me. Culture is creating from using and taming nature. But you cannot do that in such cultures unless you understand the ways of nature and the things which inhabit nature. Totemic animals--by being the archetype of an animal--are conceptual images of human knowing about such animals.

They could then be used to give people not only a sense of power over nature--through the rituals of magic--but as a way of expressing and passing on knowledge about the animal. And, by spinning stories, other matters.

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