A fetish is an object representing a god or spirit that is used to establish a bond between a human being and the supernatural. They are commonly employed in animialstic societies, and were prevalent in predynastic Egypt. They supposedly impart magical powers and are worn or possessed to assure protection, luck, love, curing, warding off evil, money, gambling, or curses on enemies. Typical fetishes range from dolls, carved images, stones, or animal hair, claws or bones. Sometimes they a small pouches or boxes of “medicine” that contain small parts of plants, fruits or vegetables, or animal hair, paws, dung or liver, spittle or urine. Usually it is belived that the spirit that originally resided in these objects is still present within the fetish.
The term “fetish’ is derived either from the Latin factitius, made by art, or the Portuguese, feitico, charm or sorcery. Other term such as “juju” and “gris-gris” both of which come from the West African term, grou-grou, for sacred objects, are associated with fetish. The early European explorers and traders called the grou-grou they discovered the juju, meaning dolls or playthings.
Many Western missionaries when Christianizing the natives often vigorously took their fetishes away, saying they should be praying to God and Jesus and not to some strange god or spirit. Seldom, if ever, did it enter these zealous missionaries’ minds that these “so called” strange gods or spirits were not strange at all to these natives, but the stranger’s God was. Many of these people who would eventually be transported to a strange had their comfort stripped from them.
The gris-gris developed among the African-American slave culture in the southern United States. Generally they were charm bags filled with magical powders, herbs, spiuces, bones, stone, feathers, or other ingredients. Also gris-gris are used in voodoo magic. Similar charm bags are called resguardos, or “protectors” in Santeria.
Fetish traditions exist among the various North American Native tribes. Some fetishes are for the individual while others are collective serving a clan, secret society, village or tribe. A.G.H.