Paper 88— Fetishes, Charms, and Magic — Page 970

To become fetishes, words had to be considered inspired, and the invocation of supposed divinely inspired writings led directly to the establishment of the authority of the church, while the evolution of civil forms led to the fruition of the authority of the state.


Fetishism ran through all the primitive cults from the earliest belief in sacred stones, through idolatry, cannibalism, and nature worship, to totemism.

Totemism is a combination of social and religious observances. Originally it was thought that respect for the totem animal of supposed biologic origin insured the food supply. Totems were at one and the same time symbols of the group and their god. Such a god was the clan personified. Totemism was one phase of the attempted socialization of otherwise personal religion. The totem eventually evolved into the flag, or national symbol, of the various modern peoples.

A fetish bag, a medicine bag, was a pouch containing a reputable assortment of ghost-impregnated articles, and the medicine man of old never allowed his bag, the symbol of his power, to touch the ground. Civilized peoples in the twentieth century see to it that their flags, emblems of national consciousness, likewise never touch the ground.

The insignia of priestly and kingly office were eventually regarded as fetishes, and the fetish of the state supreme has passed through many stages of development, from clans to tribes, from suzerainty to sovereignty, from totems to flags. Fetish kings have ruled by “divine right,” and many other forms of government have obtained. Men have also made a fetish of democracy, the exaltation and adoration of the common man's ideas when collectively called “public opinion.” One man's opinion, when taken by itself, is not regarded as worth much, but when many men are collectively functioning as a democracy, this same mediocre judgment is held to be the arbiter of justice and the standard of righteousness.


Civilized man attacks the problems of a real environment through his science; savage man attempted to solve the real problems of an illusory ghost environment by magic. Magic was the technique of manipulating the conjectured spirit environment whose machinations endlessly explained the inexplicable; it was the art of obtaining voluntary spirit co-operation and of coercing involuntary spirit aid through the use of fetishes or other and more powerful spirits.

The object of magic, sorcery, and necromancy was twofold:

1. To secure insight into the future.

2. Favorably to influence environment.

The objects of science are identical with those of magic. Mankind is progressing from magic to science, not by meditation and reason, but rather through long experience, gradually and painfully. Man is gradually backing into the truth, beginning in error, progressing in error, and finally attaining the threshold of truth. Only with the arrival of the scientific method has he faced forward. But primitive man had to experiment or perish.

The fascination of early superstition was the mother of the later scientific curiosity. There was progressive dynamic emotion—fear plus curiosity—in these