Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Totems

The adoption of a patron animal by a tribe or clan – most famously, among the North American Indians – is thought to bestow some of that animal's virtues by sympathetic Magic and also to offer protection, with part of the tribesman's Soul being invested in the totem animal like a heart kept safe outside the body (>>> Koshchei). Patron animals survive as emblems in heraldry: Arthur's device is often said to have been a bear. Fantasy sometimes invokes them in this simple, symbolic sense, as with the shepherd-folk in William Morris's The Well at the World's End (1896), whose totem (in whose name they may be rallied) is also the bear, as is that of Jean M Auel's central clan in The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980). The "Granbretan" villains of Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon sequence wear various totemic Masks; the movers and shakers in R A Lafferty's Fourth Mansions (1969) have certain qualities of (respectively) toads, Serpents, eagles and badgers. But in settings where magic is real, the tendency is to take the tribe/animal relationship to its logical extreme of intimacy via Shapeshifting. [DRL]

see also: Shamanism; Skinned.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.