Learn More - Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Fetishes?
Indian fetishes are carvings believed to contain the power and spirit of the animal or figure they represent.
The earliest fetishes are called 'Ahlashiwe' or stone ancients by the Zunis. They were naturally formed stones that seemed to resemble people or animals. These were considered more powerful and were thought to be ancient animals or people turned to stone yet retaining their spirit and life force.
What Are They For?
While the carvings can be beautiful, what matters is the spirit force that the carving hosts. If treated properly and with respect, it is believed the spirit, the power of the fetish will help and protect the one who possesses it.
I own and carry fetishes to help remind me. They help me remember I have inner strengths I can draw on, to be watchful and protective when I'm alone, to be vigilant and caring of all I am entrusted with, to listen to more than words, to be mindful of what can't be seen above and below me as much as what surrounds me.
What Do The Decorations Mean?
Some fetishes have special features such as an inlaid “heartline” leading to the powers in the animal's heart. Others have offerings to the fetish, such as arrowheads, shells or stones tied on with sinew or bead string. These offerings are given in gratitude to the animal's spirit and to further empower the fetish to help the one who owns it.
What Are The Directional Fetishes?
The four directions plus the sky and the underground each have a protective or healing animal associated with it, encircling the one to be protected.
The mountain lion, considered the most powerful, is the protector of the north, the bear protects the west, the badger the south and the wolf the east. The mole protects the underground and the eagle is the protector of the heavens.
There is also a directional set for powers of the hunt, the predators. In this set the bobcat and coyote, more highly skilled hunters, replace the bear in the west and the badger in the south.
What Distinguishes The Different Materials Used?
Certain materials are more traditionally used, such as turquoise, coral, shell and jet, a very hard form of coal. Many carving materials originate in or near the southwest, including the beautifully colored dolomite, the highly distinguished Picasso marble from Utah and the red clay pipestone. More recently a variety of imported stones have been introduced such as labradorite, malachite, rhodochrosite and lapis lazuli.
In addition to stone, many carvings are done in other types of materials such as antler, cedar, fossilized ivory from Alaska and tagua, a palm nut from South America.
What Should I Consider As I Collect?
To be sure your carvings are authentic, always buy from reputable dealers. Other than that, collect what you like! Some collectors go for directional sets, others like certain animals or materials or particular artists. Only you know what draws you to a certain carving. As you see more and learn more about fetishes your feelings about what you like will probably expand, but you'll always find yourself drawn to certain pieces on sight and even by touch, it's the nature of the art, enjoy it!
Zuni Fetishes & Carvings. Kent McManus; Rio Nuevo Publishers - Tucson AZ
Spirit In The Stone, A Handbook Of Southwest Indian Animal Carvings And Beliefs. Mark Bahti; Treasure Chest Books-Tucson AZ
The Fetish Carvers Of Zuni. The Maxwell Museum Of Anthropology, Albuquerque; University Of New Mexico
Zuni Fetishes, Using Native American Objects For Meditation, Reflection and Insight. Hal Zina Bennett - Harper San Francisco
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