Got a Fetish for Fetishes

wolf fetishThe coyote, symbol of laughter and foolishness, the master trickster. How do I know this? I didn’t really, until I started collecting Indian fetishes. The hand-carved objects are imbued with the spirits of the animals they represent. Native peoples of North America tried to master their world and predict their future through these carvings, dating back to the stone ancients created by the Zunis.

Although all the Southwestern tribes make and use these fetishes, Zunis have a reputation for being skilled and elaborate carvers. The fetishes might be used by an individual or the entire tribe. It could be used to provide protection, good luck on a hunt, curing an illness or for an initiation. The Zunis believe that each animal or inanimate object has a spirit force which can hurt them or help them, so the owner of the fetish might buffalo fetishovercome obstacles or have good luck.

You choose your fetish for its inherent qualities. The mole fetish protects the fields from rodents; the frog promotes fertility; a mountain lion, or wolf can help you be a better hunter. If an arrowhead or piece of turquoise is tied to the fetish, it acts as an offering for favors received or in the future. A Zuni fetish is always given a place of honor,such as on a family’s altar or in a special fetish bowl. Tradtional carving materials are turquoise, coral and shell, but some contemporary carvers are using new materials such as malchite and serpentine.

If you collect fetishes, it’s your responsibility to care for it and treat it with respect. Feeding the fetish cornmeal is traditional, and you can also tie on your own offering, such bear fetishas a stone or feather. Such an offering is typically rewarded with the healing or strength that you desire.

Many of the characteristics of various fetishes are not surprising. The armadillo is sure and gets things right. The badger is aggressive and persistent. The bat is the guardian of the night. The bear has strength. The buffalo has endurance and courage. The raven represents magic, as a messenger of mysteries. The wolf is the teacher and pathfinder. The turkey is considered smart and elusive, so they must be referring to the wild turkey rather than its domesticated cousin.

Whether you prize the skill of the carver or hope to capture the spirits that will guide your life, collecting Zuni fetishes may have a profound effect on the course of your life. Good luck.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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