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Zuni Fetishes

As a kid, if I went for a walk I came home with stones in my pocket. I still do. There was always a sense of life to these supposedly inanimate objects. When I
began learning about the Zuni’s beliefs concerning animal spirits in stones which resemble those animals, I felt very comfortable with those beliefs. I’ve put together some information on Zuni fetishes for my friends. If you have questions, comments, additions, corrections, whatever, drop me an email.

General Design Traditional Uses Modern Uses Care Books Shopping

General

Animals are partway between human beings and the Great Spirits. This is because animals are partly like humans (they are mortal, have physical form, etc.) and partly unlike humans (mysterious, their ways are unknown). Some animals are closer to humans (dogs, which live with us, or bears which resemble us physically) and some are closer to the spirits (snakes, whose movement and striking ability resembles lightning and therefore makes snakes closer to lightning). Humans are at the bottom of the scale, because we are not mysterious and we are dependent on those things around us. The forces of nature (wind or rain, for instance) are at the higher end of the scale because they are mysterious and not dependent (or we don’t know what they are dependent on).

In Zuni mythology, A’wonawil’ona (“the container of all things”) created Father Sun, Moon and two superhuman beings. These two beings created the creatures which would eventually become humans, animals, insects, etc. At the beginning of the world, the great beasts which lived on the earth (which was mostly mud) were a big problem for human beings. When the twin superhuman sons of A’wonawil’ona were tasked to dry out the world, spirits of the great beasts were petrified into stones. The spirits were told they were kept this way to teach human beings and to act as translators and mediators to the higher spirits. This is why it is believed that inanimate objects, such as rocks, have a spirit within them. That spirit may just be dormant (like a seed that’s not yet growing or a bear in hibernation). It is
the spirit inside the rock which is worshipped and worked with, not the stone itself.

Zuni’s believe that all life is interconnected and that problems are the result of being out of balance with the web of life and nature’s forces.

There are animals associated with each of the six directions (the four cardinal points, plus the upper regions (above) and lower regions (below). There are actually two groups of animals — one for protection and healing and the other for hunting.

Direction Protection
& Healing
Hunting Color
East Wolf Wolf White
South Badger Bobcat Red
West Bear Coyote Blue
North Mountain lion Mountain lion Yellow
Above Eagle Eagle All colors
Below Mole Mole Black

For each animal, one of the color for the direction is considered the elder brother of those of different colors. For example, a yellow mountain lion is the elder brother of a blue mountain lion. In turn, a blue mountain lion is the elder brother of a red mountain lion, and so on round the circle, going counter-clockwise.

Design

Most Zuni fetish carvings are around 2 to 4 inches in length. Most are carved from stone, although you may find carvings made from antler or shell available as well. A fetish may have an “offering bundle” attached. A bundle may contain bits of turquoise, heishe shell, beads or some other item and may be attached with sinew, fishing wire, etc. The bundle is an offering to the spirit of the fetish.

Some fetishes have a “heartline”. A heartline goes from the mouth of the fetish to the heart, on both sides of the carving, and ends in an arrow (or triangle) shape. This lines marks the path of the spirit’s breath. This serves two purposes. The heartline acknowledges the spirit in the carving is alive. Also, in some uses of the fetish, the shaman or warrior will take in the breath of the fetish (to help absorb the essence of its spirit) and the heartline makes this connection stronger.

Traditional Uses

Fetishes are made for many other animals besides those associated with the directions. The hunter would use a fetish for the animal which is the best hunter for the game he wants to kill. He would ritually feed the “prey” fetish, chant, sing, and otherwise acknowledge its spirit and those of the natural forces. At this point, the hunter may breathe in the fetish’s spirit’s breath in order to absorb its essence.

He may also use a fetish for the game animal itself, to promote the game animal’s fertility and to ask the game animal for it’s willingness to give up it’s life to feed the hunter’s family. Also, after a kill, the hunter will dip the prey fetish in the game animal’s blood as a reward. The hunter would also pray that the game’s spirit would be preserved and immortalized.

Modern Uses

Hal Bennett’s excellent book describes methods of getting to know and consulting your fetishes. Meditating with them opens up conversations with the spirits within. Bennett gives a good explanation of the attributes of the different animals (I’ll summarize the main ones below) in order to help you decide which fetish to use. You may have a decision to make or want to seek advice on a particular subject. Knowing which fetish best meets your needs can be very useful.

  • Mountain lion – master hunter, personal power, territorialism, intuitive ability, steadfastness, bond with Higher Source, resourcefulness, loyalty or dedication, inner spirit (see Bennett, p. 94)
  • Bear – Introspection (self-examination), healing, solitude, change, strength in the face of adversity, introversion (withdrawal from the world), management of transitions, communication between humans and Spirit (see Bennett, p. 97)
  • Badger – aggressiveness, single-mindedness, passion, control, antidote to passivity or victimization, persistence in the service of a mission, groundedness and knowledge of the earth (see Bennett, p. 101)
  • Wolf – loyalty, insight and revelation, social and familial values, teaching and learning, instinct linked with intelligence, clarity, inner guidance, expression of personal truths, newness – including new choices (see Bennett, p. 105)
  • Eagle – great power and balance, dignity with grace, ability to see the “big picture”, grace achieved through knowledge and hard work, respect for the boundaries of the regions, connection with higher truths, intuitive and creative spirit (see Bennett, p. 109)
  • Mole – connection with the energies of the earth, knowledge of herbs, roots, minerals, seeds, rivers, and other hidden bounties of the earth, sensitivity to touch and vibration – the kinesthetic sense, ability to turn inward, introspection and blindness to all but light and dark in the material world, love expressed in nature, awareness of subtle energies and influences (see Bennett, p. 113)
  • Coyote – self-centererdness, crazy wisdom, buffoonery, arrogance, personification of the “human comedy”, vanity, the “trickster”, clownishness, ability to laugh at one’s own mistakes, the antihero whose antics make it easier to see ourselves, puppet of the gods (see Bennett, p. 117)

Care

Traditionally, fetishes reside in a fetish bowl. The bowl is anywhere from a couple inches to around a foot in width. Bowls are usually fairly plain. They may be covered in crushed turquoise and may have a lightning or other simple design. The bowl may contain corn meal or something else for the fetishes to rest on.

The bowl will usually have feeding holes, through which the fetishes are given a daily meal. The meal can be corn meal, crushed turquoise, or a bit of what the family who owns the fetish is eating themselves. Food is placed before the fetish for a short period of time (maybe half an hour) so the spirit of the fetish can consume the spirit of the food. When done with the food, it should be buried. Food whose essence has been consumed by a fetish should not be burned, because it will give offense to Air spirits to give them food which has already been used.

Books

A couple of these books are out-of-print. You may have better luck getting them through one of the shops listed below than through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

  • Zuni Fetishes: Using Native American Objects for Meditation, Reflection and Insight by Hal Zina Bennett
  • Zuni Fetishes by Frank Cushing
  • Zuni Fetishism by Ruth Kirk
  • A Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings (Volume I – The Animals and the Carvers) by Kent McManis
  • A Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings (Volume II – The Materials and the Carvers) by Kent McManis
  • Fetish Carvers of Zuni by Marion Rodee

Shopping

Here are some places online which sell Zuni fetish carvings. Some sites also have information on the carvers and many sell other Native American artwork.