Imagine a world where all things are connected to one another. This is the way of the Zuni. Zuni fetishes (wemawe) are carvings of animals or gods revered by the Zuni, believed to have innate powers or qualities to aid the owner to connect with unseen life forces. It is the spirit within the carving, and not the object itself, that holds the value. Traditionally, these carvings were used by individuals or families to discover or strengthen one’s connection and balance with Nature. Fetishes were called upon for guidance in hunting, societal initiations, treatment of illness, fertility issues and personal protection. The fetishes are viewed as mediators between humans and the higher forces (deities) in the web of Life.
The earliest fetishes were rocks or stones gathered from the ground that resembled an animal or people and were called Ahlashiwe or ‘stone ancients’. These were sometimes enhanced with more realistic features by the carver. Modern day carvers follow a family tradition, teaching the skill/style they were taught by their elders and siblings to their children and grandchildren.
Zuni fetishes come in different sizes. The fetish may be made from bone, shell, clay, stone or other material. The power of a carving may also be strengthened by decorating it with various designs. A fetish may be decorated with a zigzag pattern evoking lightning. To the Zuni, forces of nature (wind, lightning, rain) are mysterious and powerful and are controlled by the deities. The fetish may be decorated with etched or painted lines. These might depict the feathers of a bird or the fur of the animal. A commonly seen addition is an inlaid ‘heart line’ arrow; a single line that runs from the tip of the nose/mouth (where breath gives life) to the approximate location of the heart (where faith and inner strength reside), terminating in an arrowhead. Representing the life force of the animal spirit, a fetish decorated in this manner is very potent. Additionally, a fetish may carry a medicine bundle, consisting of an arrowhead, beads, coral or turquoise tied around the body with sinew, as an offering of thanks for past or future favors.
To choose a fetish, it is important to select the one that speaks to you. After you have picked your fetish, honoring the animal spirit within will allow its nature to emerge and merge into your home. Keeping the fetish with you or within your home will help bring forth and strengthen the attributes of the animal’s spirit within you. It is important to honor your fetish by feeding and creating a sacred space for it. Fetishes are fed cornmeal (sometimes mixed with crushed turquoise or seashell), which is presented on a piece of pottery, upon an altar. The ritual meal is left out for fifteen to thirty minutes; it is during this time that the spirit of the food is consumed by the fetish. The remaining food should be buried in the ground or thrown in a river; it must not be burned. The strength and protection of the fetish is established by the belief and care brought by the owner.