The Zuni Indians believe that for our lives to be truly blessed, we must maintain a good relationship with all the creatures of the natural world.
For at least 1000 years the Zuni people have carved fetishes from precious stones, turquoise considered one of the most powerful, in the shape of animals. These animals each lend a unique spirit to help guide, heal, and protect the owner.
Although, true fetishes can never be sold, and are always blessed by a holy man, the un-blessed ones created just for selling are called carvings.
Thus these tiny allies continue to benefit the Zuni people by supplementing the income of their remote nation.
Here are just a few fetishes, or carvings actually, that I’ve collected since I was a boy.
A badger carved from jet with turquoise eyes and offering. Badgers are the guardian of the south and have powers of healing because of their understanding of roots and plants. The offering strapped on his back is intended to protect, or feed, the fetish itself:
A wolf, guardian animal of the east, carved from turquoise. In stories, wolves sometimes serve as watchdogs for humans who have done them a favor:
A tiny little bat carved from jet. Jet is actually fossilized coal. Bats have excellent navigation and are known to help guide the Zuni in times of transition:
Rattle Snake carved from American turquoise. Because snakes travel above and below ground they are associated with life and death. Therefore they are considered to be powerful healers:
A jet bear with a turquoise inlaid “heart line”. This heart line starts at the mouth (where it breathes in life) and points towards the soul (where the inner strength resides):
Another bear, this one carved from American turquoise with a coral and mother of pearl offering. Bears are the guardians of the west, or the direction home. They are the strongest of all the guardians. There are several stories of bears who have broken their code of silence in emergencies to talk to humans:
A jet otter with turquoise inlaid eyes. The otter is a nontraditional fetish meant to convey a playful attitude:
A turquoise fox with a coral and mother of pearl offering. The fox is known for its stealth:
A horse carved from jet with a coral and mother of pearl arrow-head offering. The arrow-head is meant to protect the fetish. Horses are traditionally not Zuni animals, and usually just carved for trading:
A great bison, or American buffalo, carved from serpentine. Bison are associated with winter and are usually carved from white stones. They represent strength, warmth, and the ability to survive in a harsh environment:
A mole, Zuni guardian of the underground, carved from pipe stone with an offering of rose quartz, coral, and turquoise. Tradition says that moles once guided the Zuni from the previous world:
My most recent find is this red-winged blackbird carved from jet with coral inlaid wings and turquoise eyes. Birds travel in the vertical world, not just the horizontal world of all the other animals. They are considered messengers between the powers of nature, mankind, and all the Earth’s creatures:
When I travel to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and even Colorado…..I almost always find 1 or 2 to add to my collection.
Fetishes are available to buy all over the internet if you’re interested in purchasing one, or maybe several.
But not for me,
I have to hold one in my hand to know if it’s right for me.
But isn’t that obvious?………
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful collection-they are lovely!
Thanks Susie, I’m pretty proud of them…and wanted everyone to know that each has their own story
This just made my night after a hard days work. James, you are just amazing. I really want to find one too! I was just so touched by all that you wrote. It was just wonderful. I felt so sentimental and moved. Love, Mary Jo
Awwww Mary Jo, I’m glad that I could make your night. You should find one, they are pretty amazing.
See you in a few weeks!
These are fantastic! Thank you for sharing. I want a bat! My eyes are now peeled. I have learned so much from your blog. Love it!
Hi Brie, glad we have a thing or 2 to teach. That bat is the only one I ever got in Santa Fe (pretty magical place) so he means a lot to me…..I don’t see may bats, but I’m sure they are out there
The fetishes are lovely and hold such wonderful meanings! If I may ask, where do you keep this collection in your home? (Just wondering if I’ve seen it in pictures perhaps and never noticed?) I love soaking up all the information you throw out here : )
Hi Christina, there’s a glass box in our living room , on the pallet wood table that holds about a dozen, the rest are scattered around my desk and watch me write. Don’t think I’ve ever taken any good pics of them before …… So glad that I can teach you something new.
Thanks for posting, I read it to my daughter to teach her a little. Im In Colorado, where at do you find these?
Now, don’t make fun of me…… But the rattle snake and the red wing black bird were both bought at the Denver airport. LoL, I know that’s sad, but I love them both. In other cities, I find them at native shops
Trader stores, antique malls and galleries in the mountains tend to be a good bet. Definitely see carvings at stores in Estes Park, Breckinridge and Durango for example. There are Southwest themed and Native American collectible shops in Denver and Boulder. You can also see them at estate sales and sometimes you’ll even find them in random bags of rocks or toys at the thrift stores. Or rather… they find you !
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