Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Historical Use of Zuni Fetishes

This guest post was written by Zoe Lancaster, a writer and analyst for MBA Admission Essay Blog

With the increasing interest in Zuni crafts, particularly Zuni fetishes, perhaps it's just right to delve on the roots of these masterpieces before they became collectibles. And it's interesting to note that these historical uses of Zuni fetishes have modern followers.


Traditionally, fetishes were found items, not crafted objects. The Zuni people believed that these stones were spiritual manifestations of the animals they resembled. As such, these fetishes contained the powers and characteristics of these animals.
These fetishes were not worshiped as idols, as some early missionaries thought. In fact, these items were merely messengers to the gods and spirits. They assisted in the Zunis' communication with the divine. This can be likened to praying or meditation, wherein channels are used for clearer and more effective spiritual conversation.

Using Zuni fetishes

To begin to use fetishes, the item can be held by the hands. These can also be placed in front. Prayer and meditation
begins. The person needs to keep in mind the intrinsic qualities of the animal symbols before him or her. This is the best way to channel the fetish's most powerful qualities. As Tom Bahti, renowned anthropologist, puts it, they are used to "assist man, that most vulnerable of all living creatures, in meeting the problems that face him during his life. Each fetish contains a living power which, if treated properly and with veneration, will give its help to its owner."

Within the web of life

Among the different animal fetishes, the holiest are those that have the least relation to man. Say, for example, one has dog and snake fetishes. The snake fetish is deemed more holy because of its distance from man. The dog, on the contrary, lives with man and is therefore closer to man than the divine.
Of all animal fetishes, perhaps it is the bear, which is the most valued mediator between man and the divine. This stems from the physical attribute of the animal, as it closely resembles man. At the same time, it is distant to man, and survives life closer to the divine because of its mystery and power. Because of these two traits, tradition values the bear fetish as one of the best channels between man and the gods.

When carving fetishes began

When the tradition of carving fetishes began, this was first deemed as less powerful than found fetishes. Of these carved items, those done by people who have special wisdom of the healing and spiritual powers of fetishes were said to have greater powers.
The sizes of fetishes vary; although typically, one can find them in lengths between three and twelve inches. Each of these carved crafts is a manifestation of the animals they represent. They may have heads of humans, serpents and other animals. Its legs and arms can either be etched or carved. The body of these crafts is made of either stone, clay, shell or bones. Other materials can be used, although these are more seldom. They are made more potent by etchings and symbols on the fetish or the jars they inhabit.

Regardless of the owner's background, Zuni fetishes must be cared for and valued as they traditionally deserve.
Many Zunis and even outsiders still believe that these crafts are ways toward spiritual upliftment. These traditions should be respected, if not practiced.
Thank you to our guest blogger, Zoe Alexander, for her excellent explanation of Zuni fetish carvings and their relation to owners. William Ernest and Susanne Waites, proprietors of ZuniLink.com Here's an example of a typical crafted Zuni bear fetish carving:


Iron Buffalo Shop said...

This was a very interesting and informative article. I appreciate the education about Zuni fetish carvings and the original fetish used.
I am curious about the circle of white, blue, and red with the black lines separating each color. I hope I can find an article that explains about this circle.
I have Zuni jewelry and love that circle without having a real clue about its symbology.

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