I have a Fetish

Zuni FetishNo, it is not a phallic symbol.  It is a rattle snake fetish. A Zuni fetish to be exact, carved by an artist from a well-known Zuni family.

Zuni fetishes are small figurines carved from stone, representing animals with healing and protective powers.

Zuni mythology divides the earth into six sides – the east, west, north and south, as well as up and down. Each direction is represented by color and an animal. Each animal has a personality, and purpose. Some give health, others luck in the hunt, others a fertile harvest. White is the color for up, while black is the color for down, not that down is considered evil as we generally understand it.

In Zuni myth, humans dwelt in the underworld, devoid of light. The earth was populated by animals, but not people. The sun, the creator, took pity and sent his sons to enter the underworld and give humans the path out.

The people emerged and at first feared the light. They soon came to love the light, but were preyed upon by the beasts, the wild animals. The Sun then took action and turned the wild animals into stone so that the humans could survive.

Fetishes are, according to folklore, those animals. Zunis will take stones found in nature, in their natural surroundings, and if the stone looks like an animal, it is believed to be one of the original animals that was turned to stone. So unlike a Michaelangelo who took a block of granite and turned it into a sculpture, the Zuni artists work with the natural form of the stone and tweak it, fine tune it, and add accents.  It is believed these fetishes still have the power of the original animals that ruled the earth.

The snake was not one of these animals, and is a more modern addition to Zuni fetishes which now incude dinosaurs and sea creatures. The Zunis are native to New Mexico, having migrated from what is now Utah, and have passed through Arizona. Zuni families continue the tradition of carving fetishes. Some are very primitive, which are more authentic. Others have intense detail.  They are all carved by hand, with precious stones such as turquoise inlaid. The designs are etched by hand, each is a unique creation, and no two are alike.

Liz bought this fetish for me – I have known since I was a child that the snake is my totem, if you will. I have no fear of snakes, although I do have a healthy respect for venomous ones. While Christians most often associate snakes with the devil, the ancient Greeks and other older cultures associated snakes with protection – for instance the staff of Hermes which is similar to the Caduceus (the symbol of medicine) represented protection for merchants, shepherds, thieves and liars. Great company?!

The rod of Asclepius which was one snake entwined around a staff represented healing and medicine. In the late 19th century in America, the Caduceus and the rod of Asclepius were confused, hence our use of the caduceus to repesent the health fields.

Snakes have always had a calming effect on me. I don’t understand why, but I have always felt a kinship. I have always been fascinated and drawn to them. If not for my mom’s phobia, I would likely have had them as pets growing up.  I would have one now if not for my girlfriend’s phobia.  Although she is overcoming her intense fear dealing with them on a daily basis at her place of employment, where they are plentiful.

This was the ideal birthday present. So my birthday will be spent admiring my new gift, and then sleeping for the rest of the day – I have to go into work tonight. Liz, Mike and I will go out Saturday night to celebrate.

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