Fetishes, Carvings, and their Meaning

Posted by Two Ponies Trading on

 Zuni Fetish and Carving Meanings

Animal carvings and fetishes have been a part of American Indian culture for thousands of years. Although the meaning associated with each animal may differ slightly, there is a great consistency across tribes.

The Zuni tribe, who call themselves Asiwi (Ah-she-wee) is most known for their fetishes and carvings. True fetishes are believed to hold mystical powers. Zuni fetishes have been used for many purposes: for a good hunt, abundant hunt, healing of mind or body, or to increase qualities of animals or the gods. Many believe that the protective and healing powers can span the universe if it is the intention of the artist and the owner. 

Native Americans believe that fetishes should be respected and properly cared for. They are blessed and used in sacred ceremonial celebrations. Some of these are open to the public while others are reserved for natives only. Offerings of cornmeal and turquoise adorned fetish pots or pouches are quite common and protect a fetish. Many fetishes are embellished with additional stones, turquoise being the most common, arrowheads and feathers. Although many animal carvings may be used as fetishes, Zuni Indians hold special the six cardinal guardian fetishes. It is believed that each guardian fetish protects one of the six directions found in nature: the mountain lion is the keeper of the North, the badger keeps watch over the South, the bear protects the west, and the wolf is the guardian of the East. In addition, the mole guards the properties of the inner Earth while the eagle is the protector of the Sky.

Although it is common to use fetish and carving interchangeably, fetishes sold today are more appropriately referred to as simply carvings, since they have not been blessed as part of sacred ceremonial celebrations. However, many Zuni carvers include their own blessing for the receiver of the carving. Many times their blessing is in keeping with the attributes associated with the animal itself. Listed below are some of the most common animal carvings and the strength associated with each. This list is well circulated and not original to Two Ponies Trading. 

 Armadillo- Armadillo is the keeper of the home, slow-moving and makes sure he gets things done correctly. Armadillo represents variety in one's inner life; he is thick-skinned and reserved.

Badger - Associated with the South. The badger is relatively small but fierce and tenacious. It has been known to prevail over animals far larger, as such they can be counted on in tight situations to display boldness and perseverance. Badger represents passion and persistence. He will not give up until he has reached a desired goal. Living close to the ground, he has great knowledge of the earth.

Bat - Bat is the guardian of the night. The bat protects the sky and land and is known as the cleaner.

Bear - Guardian of the West. The bear is associated with great strength, power, healing and self-knowledge. He is the great protector, the "sacred bear".  He is a spiritual guide and also carries within him supernatural powers. Bear is a powerful healing fetish. All bear fetishes are powerful but the white bear is the most powerful medicine bear.

Beaver - Beaver is hardworking,industrious and diligent. He represents achievement and hard work. Beaver promotes family unity.

Bobcat - Elusive and intelligent, a solitary and independent hunter. He is believed to be helpful when hunting antelope because of a special predator/prey relationship. Bobcat is thought of as the older brother to wolf and the younger brother of mountain lion. Bobcat is the hunting animal of the South and is used by the Zuni when hunting antelope. Bobcat also represents clairvoyance and is a secret keeper.

Buffalo - Buffalo represents an endurance to overcome, great emotional courage, and a provider to all. Buffalo also represents a steadfast endurance to rise above one's weaknesses.

Butterfly- Butterfly represents beauty and transformation. Butterfly also represents rebirth and the ability to know or change the mind.

Corn Maiden - Corn Maiden represents strength, creation, and wisdom.

Coyote - Hunter God of the West. The coyote is respected for his knowledge and survival skills if not for his actions. The master trickster who often tricks himself. He represents laughter, foolishness, humor and the ability to laugh at one's own mistakes.

Crow - Crow is the keeper of the sacred law.

Deer - Deer represents grace and gratitude. Deer is gentle and has the ability to sacrifice for the greater good. He also represents agility and speed.

Dog - Dog represents a true friend and is very loyal.

Dolphin - Dolphin represents the spirit of trust and friendship. He is very loyal.

Duck - Duck represents the spirits of those who have passed on.

Eagle - Eagle is the guardian fetish of the Upper region. Eagle carries the power of intuition and creativeness, along with the powers of healing, teaching, and spirit. His spirit transcends personal problems and he symbolizes becoming one with the Greater Spirit. He represents vision, higher truths and connection with the divine.

Elk - Elk represents the ability to pace oneself and gain increasing stamina. He represents confidence and power.

Falcon- Falcon represents power and harmony. He is intuitive and has the ability to see the big picture.

Fish - Fish represents the ability to hide one's emotions. Fish is a purifier.

Fox - Fox is clever and observant. He has the ability to blend in with his surroundings and is very loyal to loved ones. He is known for camouflage and protection.

Frog - Frogs are associated with water and rain. He asks the spirits to bring abundant rain. Frog is also the fertility fetish. Women often keep a frog fetish by their bed when hoping to become pregnant. Frogs and tadpoles represent the cycle of life.

Hawk -  Hawk is the messenger of the gods. He represents energy and inspiration.

Horned Lizard - Horned Lizard represents longevity and self-reliance.

Horse - Horse represents partnerships and strength. He also represents power and expanding one's abilities. Horse has innate healing powers.

Hummingbird - Hummingbird is a messenger and represents the ability to stop time. He also represents joy and beauty.

Lizard - Lizard represents patience and wisdom. He also represents conversation and agility.

Mole - Hunter God of the lower regions. He protects crops from disease at their roots, destroys mice, rats and other small animals that threaten the harvest. He represents awareness and grounding and has the ability to look inward.

Moose - Moose is headstrong, unstoppable, and represents longevity.

Mountain Lion -  "Directional Guardian and prey god of the North. The mountain lion spirit is associated with personal power and resourcefulness, independence, leadership, spiritual intensity, intuition, fierce protectiveness and loyalty." Mountain lion is carried by travelers to protect them on their journey and also carried by hunters to help ensure a successful hunt.

Mouse - Mouse represents attention to detail and scrutiny.

Opossum - The opossum is a strategist.

Otter - Otter is playful and represents laughter, mischievousness and curiosity. He represents the balanced female side.

Owl - Owl is the protector of the home. He represents wisdom and truth and has the ability to see what others cannot.

Parrot -  Parrot is symbolic of the sun. Like a rainbow, he is made with rain, sun, and light.

Porcupine- Porcupine represents the power of faith and trust.

Quail - Quail represents holiness and the sacred spirit.

Rabbot - Rabbit represents gentleness, charm, and awareness of others. Rabbit is the special guardian of women in childbirth and is associated with safe childbirth and a long life for children. He also represents virtue and serenity.

Raccoon- Raccoon is shy and resourceful.

Ram - Ram is associated with strong sense of self worth and used to help increase the herds.

Raven - Raven is clever and represents magic and transformation. He is a messenger of great mystery and represents a change in consciousness. He helps guide us through the darkest of times.

Seal - Seal is family oriented and possesses power in numbers.

Skunk - Skunk represents inner strength, self-respect, intensity,and a good reputation.

Snake - Snake represents primitive energy and helps us connect with greater powers. He symbolizes life, death, and rebirth. He is believed to have curative powers and is also associated with lightning. Snake is very important in Zuni ceremonies.

Spider - Spider represents the creative patterns of life.

Squirrel - Squirrel represents the ability to plan ahead and is very industrious. He represents natural intelligence, a saver, and the protector of reserves.

Turkey - Turkey is smart, elusive, and festive.

Turtle - Turtle is the oldest symbol of Mother Earth. He represents self-reliance, tenacity, and longevity.

Wolf - Wolf is Guardian and Prey God of the East. Because of its pack behavior, the wolf spirit represents not just successful hunting, but also the ability to work together for the good of the group...these fetishes given to newlyweds, invoke in that couple the strong family bond exemplified in wolf pairs. Wolf represents loyalty and family values. A pair of wolves is often carved together, representing the wolf's characteristic of mating for life. Wolf is a teacher, pathfinder, and represents a sharing of knowledge. He teaches us inner guidance and clarity.



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