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Zuni Fetishes

American Indians have used fetishes throughout recorded history. Fetishes are believed to hold magical powers and protect the owner or craftsmen from various problems of Mind or Body. Some believe that their mystical powers can even protect against problems of the Universe. It is also believed that the Stewart Quandelacycare a fetish receives is directly proportional to the protection it will provide. Zuni Indians believe that Fetishes must be properly cared for. They are given offerings of cornmeal and kept in special Turquoise encrusted Fetish pots or pouches. Often Fetishes are adorned with Turquoise, Arrowheads and feathers. These are offerings to the fetish for gifts received or anticipated. Zuni Indians believe in the six Cardinal Guardian Fetishes. Each Guardian fetish guards one of the Six Directions: The Mountain Lion is the Guardian of the North, the Badger Guards the South, the bear defends the west, and the wolf is the Guardian of the East. The mole is the Guardian of the inner Earth and the Eagle is the Guardian of the Sky. The power and Strength of the Fetish can be absorbed into the body by placing the nose of the fetish to ones mouth and inhaling deeply.

Fetish Meanings

 

Mountain Lions

Protective and Hunting Animal of the North

Mountain lion fetishes vary the most in usage of all the animal fetishes. They are essential to hunters in the taking of big game, especially deer, elk, buffalo and mountain sheep. Zuni warriors carried them, and they are believed to protect travelers on their journey. The mountain lion is considered the elder brother of all the other protective and hunting animals. Originally mountain lions were carved  with their tails forming a central ridge up their backs. Now they are also carved with tails slung over the back and down the side or hanging down from the back. Their tails are narrow, not thick or bushy.*

 

Bears

Protective Animal of the West

Bear fetishes are on of the most important fetish animals throughout the Southwest. They probably compromise the most commonly carved fetish subject because so many Native and non-Native Americans feel and affinity for them. Initiates of the Bear Clan (or Bear Society) in many Pueblo cultures become members of what might be called the equivalent of the American Medical Association. While all bears have great curative abilities, white bears provide especially powerful healing. Generally bear fetishes will have little or no tails but quite and range of body shapes.*

 

Badgers

Protective Animal of the South

Badger fetishes are not as common in Pueblo cultures and those of the mountain lion and bear. It is believed that the badger helps medicine men and shamans dig the roots and herbs needed in healing. Their fetishes are usually carved fairly low to the ground with somewhat bushy tails and pointed noses. Their carvings have been likened to flat wolves. Badger fetishes at one time were hard to find but now are appearing with greater frequency.*

 

Wolves

Protective and Hunting Animal of the East

Wolf fetishes are used by many Pueblo tribes. They have very strong hunting powers and may be carried by Zuni hunters when antelope or some larger game are the prey. The carvings generally feature longish, hanging tails which are thick and full, but some carvers give their wolves upturned tails. Older wolf fetishes often had shorter, thinner tails and a few artist continue to use this style today. In other words, there is a great variety in their appearance, so they are not always easily recognized by collectors. *

 

Eagles

Protective and Hunting Animal of the Sky

Eagle fetishes exist in a number of Pueblo cultures. Hunters sometimes carry them for success when rabbits or other small game are their prey. Eagles may be called upon to carry a shaman in flight when his spirit leaves his body to search for the cause of a patient's illness. As carving tools have improved over the years, eagle fetishes have also changed in form. They were originally carved very simply and compactly, often with an "x" on their backs to symbolize their crossed wings. Now artists can create realistic eagles with upturned, out-stretched, or lowered wings reaching away from the body and with great detailing in the feathers.*

 

Moles

Protective and Hunting Animal of the Underground

Mole fetishes seem uncommon among the Pueblo tribes. The mole (or shrew, which may be a more likely interpretation) helps protect growing crops by hunting mice, rodents, and other small game that damage those crops. The mole has the least power of all the protective and hunting animals. Moles are generally carved low to the ground, often with pointed noses. They can have fairly thin, pointed, or stubby tails. Although mole fetishes were rarely carved in past years, they appear more frequently now due to the increased demand from collectors looking to complete directional sets.*

 

Coyotes

Hunting Animal of the West

While the coyote is known as a trickster in many Native American cultures, this has little to do with coyote fetishes and how they are used. Coyote fetishes can rarely be found at most Pueblos, but at Zuni they may be used when hunting rabbit. One story has it that mountain sheep were coyote's designated prey. When coyote failed to catch a mountain sheep set free especially for him, he was forced to give up his claim to the mountain lion who then caught the mountain sheep instead. Coyote was relegated to scavenging. Coyote fetishes originally were formed with longish, straight-back tails but are now usually carved in a howling position.*

 

Bobcats

Hunting Animal of the South

The bobcat (or wildcat or even lynx depending on different viewpoints) is another uncommon animal fetish among the Pueblo peoples. For some reason the bobcat is, and always has been, one of the rarest of the fetish animals. At Zuni, the bobcat can be used when antelope is the prey. Bobcats originally were carved with shortish, straight-back tails and flat faces. Now they are often crafted in great detail, usually with whiskers protruding from either side of the face and a bobbed tail.*

 

Frogs and Turtles

Both the frog and turtle carvings appeared in prehistoric times as jewelry. The Hohokam were prolific producers of shell frogs, carving the shell so that the domed half became the body of the frog. Considered one of, if not the major rain-bringing fetish, the frog is also associated with abundance and fertility. While fertility is not its' main function, some women keep a frog fetish by their beds in the hopes of becoming pregnant. Turtles also also have a rain association in addition to serving as a link to the Zuni ancestors. Frog and turtle fetishes are some of the most frequently carved at Zuni.*

 

Snakes

Snake fetishes have widespread usage throughout the Southwestern Pueblo cultures, possessing curative powers in some tribes. At Zuni, snakes are associated with the lightning that usually accompanies our dramatic Southwestern thunderstorms. Snake fetishes can be coiled, slightly curving or slithering. Many are done in great details now, unlike the simple shapes of old serpent fetishes which were often formed from the curved part of deer antlers. The old fetishes were more likely the rain-associated Plumed or Water Serpent rather than the rattlesnake we see today.*

 

Snakes

Snake fetishes have widespread usage throughout the Southwestern Pueblo cultures, possessing curative powers in some tribes. At Zuni, snakes are associated with the lightning that usually accompanies our dramatic Southwestern thunderstorms. Snake fetishes can be coiled, slightly curving or slithering. Many are done in great details now, unlike the simple shapes of old serpent fetishes which were often formed from the curved part of deer antlers. The old fetishes were more likely the rain-associated Plumed or Water Serpent rather than the rattlesnake we see today.*

 

Owls and Other Birds

Some Native American groups perceive the owls as harbingers of death, while others may see them as guardians of both the home and the village, hooting to warn villagers of approaching enemies. Many different types of bird fetishes appear at Zuni, including birds not intended to be any specific species. Hawks, falcons and ground owls, while rarely carved, have hunting powers. Most birds are believed to carry prayers to the clouds and sky, asking for rain and blessings. *

 

Game Animals

Buffalo, Mountain Sheep, Deer, Antelope, Elk and Rabbits

Fetishes of the game species help increase the numbers of each animal so the Zuni will have plenty to eat. The function of the hunting or prey animal fetishes is to help catch these animals. Deer, antelope and elk were infrequently carved in the past because the tools in use at the time did not allow sculpting fragile horns without breakage. Now that carving tools have improved, more of these fetishes can be crafted in great detail.*

 

Domesticated Animals

Horses, Sheep, Goats and Cows

While all of these domesticated animals are carved at Zuni, their usage  is most common among the Navajo. Several Zuni carvers over the years have specialized in supplying a steady stream of these fetishes to traders who sold them to the Navajo. The Navajo still use them to protect their herds and flocks from disease, injury and death or to help increase the numbers of their animals. Navajos will sometimes make these fetishes for themselves or even purchase store-bought replicas if necessary.*

 

Local Animals

The Zuni create many different animal carvings today. Animals such as beaver, lizards and horned toads, while often part of Zuni mythology, are not generally "fetish" animals in the same sense that the carvings mentioned are. Their images are not usually kept to provide a specific benefit or blessing to their owner. Yet Zuni fetish carvers, like most other artists, often desire to try something different and challenging. Some of the finest contemporary carvings in this genre are of reptiles with almost life-like realism.*

 

Non-Local Animals

This is the area in which Zuni creativity is most rapidly expanding. Photographs and drawings in books have inspired incredibly detailed animals from far outside the area of Zuni contact and even outside the realm of reality. From alligators to whales to jackalopes, innovation and imagination are generating new and different creations almost daily. While these carvings do not play a part in Zuni religious tradition (although non-local animal carvings go back at least as early as the 1930's), they certainly speak well of Zuni ingenuity, skill and adaptability.*

 

Corn Maidens and Maidens

The corn maidens are said to have secretly emerged with the Zuni from their previous existence in the Underworld. After a while, the Corn Maidens and the Zuni became separated and witches destroyed the Zuni's crops. The twin sons of the Sun Father set out to find the maidens. After a long search they were found, and the Twins asked them to bring corn back to the Zuni people. So they Corn Maidens returned to save the Zuni from starvation. Other maidens carved represent  Zuni and Hopi women. Both types of figurines have recently gained popularity at Zuni, and some of the best artists produce quite graceful figurines.*

 

 

 

* Information found in A Guide to Zuni Fetishes & Carvings Vol 1 by Kent McManis

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