Animal fetishes are some of the Zuni's most imaginative arts. Each is based on an artist's perception of the animal in the stone, according to beliefs of the origins of the Zuni people.

Other tribes also carve animals, although without the deep spirituality of Zuni carvings. Other tribal carvers nevertheless demonstrate great skill, sensitivity and beauty make them highly collectible.

For Zuni people, imagine a universe where all things interconnect, sharing a common spirit. From the center of the earth to the outer reaches of the cosmos, everything human and animal connects. 

In this Zuni (A:shiwi) inter-relationship a hierarchy of being is established. Humans are both the smartest and the most distant from the Creator and, therefore, the most vulnerable to danger. Animals, are the most natural and, therefore, closest to the Creator, with immediate access to the power of the Creator. 

As might be expected in a culture with a history that is primarily oral, there are variations on the Zuni creation story. Common to most appears to be the belief that the Creator placed the Zuni on a land that was swampy and dangerous, filled with animals that were more adept at survival than humans and threatening to the Zuni. Zuni cosmology believes the two sons of the Creator made the land dry and habitable and, through the casting down of lightning bolts, turned many of the animals to stone.

The spirit of the animal remained in the stone, in the same way the life force remains in a seed. Stones that resembled animals, found on the ground, were believed to retain the power and character-istics of the animals they resembled. When a Zuni priest or medicine man consecrates these stones, they are believed to be formidable mediums for contacting the Spirit world and powerful allies for the hunter or individual or collective protection.In the sweep of time, Zuni carvers came first to modify the stones to better resemble the animal and then to carve distinguishable animal shapes in stones that were shapeless.

As carving was refined and the available materials expanded, the carving of "fetishes" grew into an art form. Such carvings still can become formal fetish objects if blessed by a sacred tribal leader or informal fetish objects if invested with power by the owner of the carving. The power and protection of the carving largely depends on the faith and belief of the person who owns it, and the respect with which it is treated. Traditional fetish carvings were kept in fetish bowls with a hole in the side so that they could be "fed." Ground corn or corn pollen and pulverized turquoise would be placed in front of the fetish. After a suitable interval, during which the fetish was able to absorb the spirit of the meal, the meal would be taken away and buried.

Today, owners of fetish carvings are expected to provide safe care for them, including occasional feeding. "If you take care of the fetish, it will take care of you."


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