[ toh-tuh-miz-uhm ]

  1. the practice of having totems.

  2. the system of tribal division according to totems.

Origin of totemism

An Americanism dating back to 1785–95; totem + -ism

Other words from totemism

  • to·tem·is·tic, adjective

Words Nearby totemism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use totemism in a sentence

  • The authorities superstitious “custom” and it is probable that in symbolism may also be found the origin of totemism.

    Archaic England | Harold Bayley
  • Hence Animism, totemism, and their numerous subsidiary developments.

    Theism or Atheism | Chapman Cohen
  • From early times on, the phenomena of totemism have been accompanied by certain forms of tribal organization.

  • These do not appear until the period of totemism, with whose firm social organization they are closely connected.

  • The breeding of useful domestic animals, in particular, is very closely connected with totemism.

British Dictionary definitions for totemism


/ (ˈtəʊtəˌmɪzəm) /

  1. the belief in kinship of groups or individuals having a common totem

  2. the rituals, taboos, and other practices associated with such a belief

Derived forms of totemism

  • totemist, noun
  • totemistic, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for totemism


[ (toh-tuh-miz-uhm) ]

The belief that people are descended from animals, plants, and other natural objects. Symbols (see also symbol) of these natural ancestors, known as totems, are often associated with clans (groups of families tracing common descent). By representing desirable individual qualities (such as the swiftness of a deer) and helping to explain the mythical origin of the clan, totems reinforce clan identity and solidarity.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.