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History & Context of Fetishes

A fetish is an object, natural or man made, in which a spirit is thought to reside and which can be used to effect either good or evil. Zuni belief, like that of most Native Americans, gives a spiritual nature to all animals and plants. In addition, it is believed that animals have powers that humans do not: animals are stronger, faster, and can fly or burrow underground and thus are creatures to be feared and respected. If a stone or part of the landscape resembles an animal, such as a mountain that looks like a sleeping bear, or a stone shaped like a frog, then the  spirit of that animal may reside in those objects. For an individual to gain access to those powers, the animal spirit must be cultivated, and for this reason Zuni fetishes are fed cornmeal and water, kept in a protected place and given gifts of turquoise and coral. The bundle tied to fetishes, typically small beads and arrowheads, can be seen as an offering to the animal spirit that resides within and as the fetish is honored or nourished so the animal spirit is nourished through the fetish.


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