An Introduction into Native American Fetishes
American Indians have used fetishes throughout recorded history; especially the Indians of the Southwest. A fetish is an object, which is believed to have magic powers. Fetishes may be of any form or material. Regardless of the form or material, however, a fetish has one paramount purpose; to assist man against any real or potential problems. The problems can be those of the mind, the body or the universe.
A fetish can be owned by an individual, a family, a clan, a Kiva Society or an entire tribe. Regardless of the ownership the care of a fetish is always the responsibility of an individual. Special care must be taken to see that the fetish is properly fed, admired and cared for. Fetishes are believed to feed on cornmeal while they are kept in a special pot or pouch. A Fetish Bowl is a handmade pot, usually ebcrusted with Turquoise chips, with the four directional fetishes attached to the outside. Inside the pot, fetishes are stored in a mixture of wood ash and corn pollen. These fetishes are ceremonially fed through a small hole in the side of the pot.
A fetish is made and decorated with Turquoise, arrowheads, coral, etc, as a means of adornment. This adornment is a show of affection and appreciation by its maker and or owner. The better treatment a fetish receives, the better performance it is likely to provide. Most fetishes relate to animals. Most always these animals are animals of prey. These are acknowledged as the most powerful providers in life; so, they are likewise accepted as having the greatest powers. They are generally admired for their strong hearts. Many believe the strong heart makes them dominant and therefore, survivors; the hunter rather than the hunted.
The Zuni Indians of New Mexico have developed a reputation for being the most skillful in carving elaborate fetishes, which are used in their religious rituals and believe strongly in six cardinal guardian fetishes. Each is symbolic of a direction and has a specific color, which is synonymous with the direction. The guardian fetish of the North is the mountain lion (yellow). The South (red) is the badger, the West (blue) is the bear and the East (white) is the wolf. Additionally, the mole is the guardian of the Nadir or inner earth (black) and Zepath (sky) is the eagle.
The characteristics of the fetish animals and their possible usefulness for the owner are the basis of their selection. For example, the mole fetish is to protect the fields from rodents, frog fetishes are valued for fertility, the mountain lion, wolf and other predator animal fetishes provide the owner with power over the deer and other game animals.The power and strength of a fetish is obtained by placing the nostrils of the fetish to one’s mouth and taking deep breaths.
Guidelines for Selection
- What creature does it represent? Often many of the older-style fetishes are not readily identifiable.
- From what material is it carved? Turquoise, coral and amber are usually more expensive than the more common dolomite, serpentine, jet or antler.
- Who carved the fetish? Was it carved by a Native American? To what pueblo or tribal group does the carver belong? Not all fetishes today are signed by the carver but many Zuni carvers have begun to sign their names on their creations.
- Buy what you like! The carvings are an art form and must be judged individually. When you purchase a Native American fetish, you are the owner of a representative part of Native American culture.
Care of Fetishes
Since most fetishes are made of stone, they require little or no care. Fetishes may be dusted with a soft, dry cloth. The leather sinew or feathers on the bundles should be kept dry or they may stretch or deteriorate. Older fetishes often appear soiled or dirty and should be left in their original condition to maintain their value.
Fetishes and Their Meanings
Eagle – Spirit, a connection of the Divine.
Deer – Gentleness, the power of gentleness.
Bear – Strength, introspection, the power of the soul.
Snake – Transmutation, life-death, rebirth
Turtle – Longevity, a symbol of Mother Earth
Coyote – Trickster, laughter, humor.
Wolf – Teacher, pathfinder on a never-ending journey for survival.
Mountain Lion – Leadership, resourcefulness.
Beaver – Builder, strong sense of family and home.
Fox – Camouflage, protection.
Badger – Aggressiveness, perseverance.
Horse – Along with the Raven, has the possession of healing powers.
Frog – Invokes the Spirits to provide rain in drought.
Ram – Used to secure and increase of flocks.
Buffalo – Endurance to overcome one’s weakness.