Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Taboo is a concept that originated in a very specific cultural meaning and became generalized in popular English. Popularly it means forbidden and to be avoided—by custom, or because of some danger, or under some general supernatural sanction, or by explicit divine order. But in anthropology, it has much more specific meaning. Based in the universal idea that all things have an inherent mystical power of some sort, taboo means the avoidance of a specific behavior for fear of harm by a dangerous power, or of dangerous pollution caused by the intermixing of incompatible powers. Taboo circumscribes some kind of supernatural threat that is usually simply termed “danger.” Some tabooed acts might have horrendous society-wide consequences; examples are incest, culturally defined but universally forbidden, or severe forms of sacrilege. But most taboos are sanctioned by some specific consequence, most commonly infection by some powerful mystical force, which can cause The ...