the great catastrophe of the human family

The author is drawing upon Freud’s hypothesis of atrocities committed by our primitive ancestors—incest, parricide and cannibalism—and their psychological effects to explain the origin of the Fall depicted in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament.

The result of our search for clues, concealed in the biblical tale of the Fall, led us to conclusions similar to those at which Freud arrived. He developed in 1912 a hypothesis about the state of the early human family and about the events that must have taken place within it, evens whose repercussions led many thousands of years later to the beginnings of primitive religion and social organization.

Following remarks by Charles Darwin and suggestions of Atkinson as well as making use of analytical material, Freud attempted a reconstruction of those prehistoric events in his book Totem and Taboo.

The main features are the following: in primeval times men lived in small, unorganized hordes, under the domination of a strong and despotic father. The expelled sons, living together in small hordes themselves, were all consumed by the passionate wish to overcome the father, to take his place, and to possess the women.

They killed the tyrant and ate his body by which primitive method they, according to primeval belief, took part of his superior force and power. Freud assumes that this grab crime in which the sons got rid of the tyrant was not a single act, but one that was committed in all the hordes and repeated through the centuries.

The succession of parricides had tremendous direct effects and repercussions, which determined the whole development of mankind. Those events beyond all memory are the most important that happened to mankind and their significance cannot be compared to any of the things that happened to men in the following millennia. Their impact surpasses and eclipses that of the events in history records.

The reactions to that atrocious deed led to the first social ties, to the basic moral inhibitions, and to the oldest forms of primitive religion, to totemism.

Reik, Theodor. Myth and Guilt: The Crime and Punishment of Mankind. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1957. 152–153. Print.


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