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Zuni Fetish Carvings

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Fetishes have been used by Indians since pre-Columbian times. In archaeological excavations, stones have been found that resemble certain animals and many had added adornments such as shells and stones wrapped by fiber or sinew. Fetishes dating back to 650 A.D. from ancestors of the Zuni Indians have been found in kivas and storage pits protecting food. 

Native Americans have long carried interesting or unusual "charm stones" believing they bring luck, power or protection. The A-shi-wi, Zuni Pueblo Indians, like most Native American Indians, feel that animals and plants have spiritual nature. A fetish is an object, natural or shaped by man, in which an animal spirit is thought to reside. Stones that naturally resemble animals are "concretion" fetishes. Concretions and stones that require very little carving to bring out an image are considered more powerful than fetishes that require a great deal of carving. In short, the reason goes back to when the Zuni believe that the world was once covered by floodwaters that left it swampy. The Sun Father, revered by the Zuni as the giver of life and light, created twin sons giving them a magic shield, a bow {the rainbow} and arrows {lightning}. The Twins realized the world was too wet for mankind to survive so they placed their shield, the rainbow, crossed lightning arrows on top of the rainbow and shot an arrow into the point where they crossed and lightning flew out creating a tremendous fire. This dried the earth but made it too easy for predators to catch and eat people. To save humanity, the Twins struck these animals with their lightning, shriveling them into stone. But deep within, the animal's hearts were kept alive, with instructions to help mankind with the magic captured within them. When a Zuni finds a stone that naturally resembles an animal, this is one of these ancient stone animals.

Today, Zuni Indians revere, care for and feed their fetishes. The animal spirit must be nurtured for the owner to receive the fetish's assistance. Some fetishes are created with special features: an inlaid or carved "heartline" which is the breath path leading to the power in the fetish's heart, a bundle with various stones, shells or arrowheads is sometimes wrapped to a fetish and serves as an offering which empowers the fetish to better aid its owner.

The Zuni universe is divided into six regions with each associated with a different color and guarded by a certain animal. These animals are known as the "directional" or guardian fetishes.

Directional Fetishes

Mountain Lion  Yellow  Guardian of the North
Bear Blue Guardian of the West
Badger Red Guardian of the South
Wolf White Guardian of the East
Eagle Multi-color Guardian of the Upper Region
Mole Black Guardian of the Lower Region, Inner Earth or Nadir

The most important fetishes have been the animals of the hunt - the predator fetishes. They were used to assist Zuni hunters. The predator fetishes are admired for their strong hearts, which many believe the strong hearts makes them dominant and, therefore, survivors; hunter rather than hunted. 

Fetish Meanings

  • Armadillo: Gentle, quiet reserve, ability to live in a niche of its own, solitude
  • Badger: Aggressiveness, control, passion, persistence
  • Bear: Guardian fetish of the West, healing fetish, strength in the face of adversity
  • Beaver: industrious, diligent, skillful
  • Buffalo: Prophesy and fulfillment of prayers
  • Butterfly: Beauty, transformation, rebirth
  • Coyote: Trickster, the ability to laugh at one's own mistakes
  • Deer: Grace, gratitude, ability to sacrifice for the higher good
  • Eagle: Vision, higher truths, Guardian fetish of the Upper Region
  • Falcon: Power, harmony, intuitive, ability to see the "big picture"
  • Fox: Cleverness, ability to blend in, observant, loyalty to loved ones
  • Frog: Rain and fertility fetish
  • Horse: Power, expanding one's abilities, prosperous and safe journey
  • Hummingbird: Energy, joy
  • Lizard: Patience, wisdom
  • Mole: Guardian fetish of the Lower Region, ability to look inward, awareness, grounding
  • Mountain Lion: Guardian fetish of the North, leadership, personal power, agility
  • Owl: Protector of the home, wisdom and the ability to see what others cannot, link between the spiritual and physical world
  • Rabbit: Gentleness, charm, playful trickster, awareness of others, depends on it's wit
  • Raven: Adept, clever, magic, transformation
  • Snake: Lightning, the ability to transmute, important in Zuni ceremonials
  • Squirrel: Foresight, the ability to plan ahead, industrious
  • Turtle: Symbol of Mother Earth, self-reliance, tenacity, centered, longevity
  • Wolf: Teaches us truths, inner guidance, clarity, loyalty, sociability

corn-maiden-pendant.pngA popular design also carved is the Corn Maiden. Corn has been a major staple for many Native Americans for thousands of years. Corn has been a symbol of fertility and the gift of life. The Corn Maidens were instrumental in giving instructions to the Native Americans in growing corn. The body is often carved with shape and texture of corn.

The Zuni Indians appreciate nature and all animals and take great joy and pride in carving them. It is not unusual to see parrots, dinosaurs, bats and other animals being carved today. The Zuni are also known for their silver and turquoise jewelry. Some of their inlay jewelry will feature animals, also.

We would like for you to be aware that there are imports being sold as Native American and many of which are made of block or plastic materials. There are other Native Americans besides the Zuni that do carvings also. All of our fetishes come with a Certificate of Authenticity and are guaranteed. Click here to view our Zuni Fetishes.

Zuni fetishes are truly charming works of art. Each Zuni carver has his own style and each fetish has its own personality. Whether you are buying a fetish for spiritual, medicinal, as a collector or as a pet, there is one thing about a fetish, they do speak to your soul. 

Recommended Reading:

  • "A Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings Volume 1" by Kent McManis
  • "A Guide to Zuni Fetishes and Carvings Volume 2" by Kent McManis
  • "The Fetish Carvers of Zuni" by Marian Rodee and James Ostler
  • "Zuni Fetishes" by Frank Hamilton Cushing
  • "Zuni Fetish Carvings" by Harold Finkelstein
  • "Zuni Fetishes" by Hal Zina Bennett

Kent McManis's books have great photos, fetish carving gem identification, and examples by some of the known carvers. Hal Zina Bennett's book gives an in-depth symbolic and historical overview. Marian Rodee's book has beautiful photography and history of Zuni carvers.