Understanding The Zuni Fetish

Cultural Wisdom

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The Native American tribe of Zuni have received world renown for their spectacular art of Fetish carvings. Not only that but they are undoubtedly among the very best of talented silversmiths worldwide.

With their unique gift of perfection in semi-precious gem inlay work crafted so finely that you can not get a hair between the gemstones, incorporated into their Fetish carvings make them highly collectable and treasured. This however is not the main reason people globally collect Fetish carvings. It has more to do with the animal object having magical powers.

To the Zuni their carvings are not simply representations of an animal, they are imbued with the spirit of the animal, the actual personification of the physical energy that animal contains.

Each carver is taught their trade by their family. The knowledge is passed down from father to son mother to daughter. Each family has different qualities to impart to their carvings. It is quite common to find a carver has a certain animal it will carve. That is because the carver works with the spirit energy of that animal and they will have certain minerals or crystals they prefer to use.

The carver will start to work with a piece of gemstone looking for the very best use of the stone for colouring and cutting. They will clear their mind and allow the stone to talk to them in the dreamtime. Each animal Fetish is carved for someone. The carver does not know who, but the sacred dreamtime does and will instruct the carver how to proceed.

Each carving is unique. It is hand carved from selected pieces of gemstone and the carver will proceed to produce the spirit of the animal from the sacred dreamtime that is exactly right for you.

Somehow, someway your very own sacred animal Fetish will find its way to you. There are no coincidences, if you are meant to work with shamanic energy of the Fetish then it will call you and you will know that it is yours.

So you might ask, once I have found my Fetish what do I do with it? Well once you have your sacred Fetish you begin the sacred journey into the heart of the shaman.

The animal will take you on a journey of remembering, deep into your past and into your future.

You will need to find a place to keep your fetish. A home for it. Usually it is customary to make or acquire a small open fronted pot like container to house your Fetish. It needs to feel safe and loved so it needs a home.

A ceramic pot is what would be fashioned on the reservation, but anything could potentially be used as long as the animal can come and go as it pleases.

You will  also need to feed the spirit of the fetish. Cornmeal is the preferred food on the reservation. And, you will need to spend time with your Fetish, talk to it and bond with it.

As the connection grows the messages and magic begin to happen.

Many use their fetish to help them through difficulties. Spiritual growth is a given, but they also help with healing the physical body, family fractures and transformations.

Each animal has a certain direction it resides over. There are six directional animals and each direction has certain characters attributed to it.

Many will collect all six animal fetishes, learning the lessons as they go.  

Here is a list of the animal fetishes for a directional medicine bundle;

Mountain Lion: direction of North: stands for one’s personal power, for resourcefulness and independence. It is the Fetish carried by travellers for protection, for hunters for a successful hunt and for those wishing to learn leadership skills or communication skills or personal growth. The Mountain Lion is intuitive, a highly skilled tracker and hunter and a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Wolf: direction of West: one of a pack. Wolves being pack animals have great ability in working as a team. They are wonderful teachers of wisdom gained through experience and of listening to ones own inner voice. Wolf as a Fetish is often given to newlyweds, one for each bride and groom that after the ceremony are bound together with a tiny turquoise arrow for protection. Wolves strengthen the bond within families and enhance loyalty. The wolf is known as the pathfinder or way-finder for those who get lost so is perfect for those who are struggling to find their way.

Badger: direction of South: the badger lives in the earth and has knowledge of roots and herbs. The badger stands for healing the physical body. Represents passion and stability. The badger is strong and ready for action. Those who find a badger Fetish for themselves will learn about focusing ones energy on the here and now. They will ground negative energy and become more productive due to strength of will and stamina. Badgers are a huge asset to shaman as they find the correct form of healing required and then stubbornly stand their ground protectively guarding the space until the healing is complete.

Bear: direction of West: protectors of the direction where the sunsets and of seeing your enemies before they strike. The bear stands for wisdom, for inner strength and overcoming adversity. Bear medicine is one of the most sought after and powerful of all the Zuni fetishes. Shamanically it is bear medicine that is used when the physical strength of the bears spirit is required. This can be for powerful healing when all else has failed or for times when great wisdom is needed. Bear wisdom is about taking time – like hibernating – rest, patience and thought processing. Entering the sacred dreamtime and bringing back the missing pieces necessary to make a plan work. Nothing is too complicated or large for Bear wisdom to find an answer too. Bear is a great friend for meditation purposes, it is strong, protective and a powerful medicine.

Eagle: direction of up or the sky: The eagle can fly up to great heights, it has huge wings that carry it to the highest perspective and viewpoint. Eagle medicine is its ability to see a bigger picture or point of view and to see the hurdles before they happen and to be able to offer insights. The eagle can mediate between the physical and the spiritual words. The majestic eagle is considered father sky medicine, impressive with magical powers.

Mole: direction of underground: Mole energy represents the inner earth plane, the eco of Mother earth, and one’s ties to the earth. It can represent one’s inner world and the inner child. Mole is the guardian of the underworld and is a mediator between the upper and lower planes. Mole is for grounding negative energy, for spiritual awareness and for introspection. Mole protects one on their journey within. Mole is the younger brother to Eagle.

These six carved animals make up a healing directional collection.

But these animals are not necessarily fixed as different people will require different animal energies. For a hunting collection of say a warrior, you might swap the Bear for a Coyote. The Bear representing the strength and connection to the higher realms of spirit against the cunning and trickster qualities of the Coyote. The coyote will often work in packs like wolves, they circle their prey and will even imitate their call to confuse or lure their prey towards them. So, it would make sense that the hunter would look for different qualities from spirit to help him.

The colour also makes a difference. The colours of the directions are;

Yellow – north for wisdom

White – east for illumination

Red – south for passion and earthly drive

Blue – west for inner strength and protection

Multi-colour – sky for vision and ability to see what is coming no matter what the weather.

Black – underground for going within, searching the unknowable and sacred knowledge.

Here is where it gets very interesting. A warrior may ask for, dream or acquire a animal fetish in a colour other than the direction it represents.

For example, a traditional healing bear is blue. If you have a bear that is white it will have qualities of the colour as well so this bear would possess illumination and spiritual guidance. A yellow bear would have an extra dose of wisdom and a black bear would carry introspection amongst its qualities.

This is why you will see coloured semiprecious inlay carved into the design of some fetishes. It is not because the carver wanted to make his job really difficult or to show off his skills exactly, it is to include the colours of the directions for added energy.

There are of course other animals that the Native Americans collect. Here is a short list of some of them not yet mentioned;

Horse – for direction, speed, power and success. The horse possesses healing powers is loyal and has rhythm.

Turtle – very special and sought after – mother earth, connection to all things, belonging, acceptance, love.

Beaver – the builder and constructor of the camp.

Snake – anther very interesting one, there are two distinct shapes here of the Zuni carvings. One like a streak of lightening for the ability to strike fast, quick movement and stealth. This snake is closest to the deities of thunder and lightning.  The coiled more upright snake who although has no legs and writhes around closest to the ground as well is now represented as having the ear of the mighty spirit and creator. This snake is the intermediary between mother earth and father sky.

Rabbit – considered good luck and of plenty. Represents food, clothing and warmth.

Frog – the bringer of rain, finder of water and for fertility. The frog with a dragonfly represents life and death – the cycle of life. Good medicine as everything is in balance.

Owl – is considered magical and mysterious. It moves silently and is full of wisdom. It is a silent hunter patiently watching its prey until it strikes effortlessly with efficiency and speed.

Raven – another favourite in the west, raven energy is powerful mysterious medicine.  Raven helps one to look at the things in their life that stop them becoming the best they can be. Things that frighten, stress, intimidate or anger for example are all things that hold us back. Raven helps to dissolve these fears and lift the fog that causes it. Magically raven medicine aids one to a different understanding of oneself and then integrates these lessons into the psyche to facilitate helping others.

As you can see, the world of Zuni Fetishes is multi-faceted. Each one is truly unique, carved for the recipient and imbued with both the power of the animal, direction and colour it represents.

Have you met yours yet?

If you are interested in learning more about Zuni Fetishes and the families that carve them, why not read our other blog, The Magic of Zuni Fetishes .