Actually have read a lot of books, just mention something out of the ordinary.
Hartmut Kraft: Taboo
(Magic and Social reality)
A Taboo, according to the definition in the book, is an 'imperative of evasion, for violating which can a person be excommunicated from a group'. This is (part of) the reason why people are so afraid of breaking taboos - a basic, existential fear of being left alone to die. Especially in primitive societies, being expelled can be fatal. Actually, this fear can lead to a 'psychological death' (caused without any violence, the person seemingly dying of its own).
Thought: Taboo serves to create and maintain identity. So: taboos are always bound to a context (group/place/time) of where they are valid. With a taboo, a group defines what belongs to it, and especially what does not. (The hint for us is obviously create a few taboos for our societies.)
Besides 'taboo', there is often used another term of polynesian origin - 'mana' (which is strangely entertaining for a roleplayer
), rough translated as 'that which is unusually powerful'. Noted is the relation between the terms, and mana is used as an aid to explaining the effects and and power of taboos. Things which are taboo have high mana. Creating or upholding a taboo confers mana to the respective people; breaking it will lessen their mana. Mana is an aid to revealing the structures of power, be they obvious or not.
Aside: A short story mentions a young tribal chief in Africa, who had little influence among his people (yep, mana again); he banned his folk from using dogs; with little enthusiasm, he was obeyed, but since then his mana has rised up to becoming an undeniable chieftain.
The author, a therapeut, also notes something very interesting: taboos can have also psycho-therapeutic effects. How? In human lives, there often happen bad things, sometimes terrible things, of which we have no control about. However, in a society with manifold taboos, you can easily break one. Putting this together, if something terrible happens to you, you can always assume that a taboo was broken, and the terrible event was the punishment for it - hence, you can assume to have some measure of control about your fate, and your life is not simply a plaything of vast powers beyond your reach. Given the proper atonement and care, you could be even able to evade it next time.