Fetishes & Carvings

All the Native American tribes in the Southwest make and use fetishes. Fetishes have been used by the Indians for over a thousand years.

Fetishes are, or have been, used for any unusual or unknown occurrence, or to help improve their welfare. Their uses have included diagnosing or curing diseases, help in the hunt, initiation into groups or societies, propagation, war, games of chance or skill, and for protection.


In the Indian culture, a fetish may belong to an entire tribe, a clan, a society, or an individual. The Navajo and Zuni have always made their own fetishes and carvings, but all the Southwestern tribes make and/or barter for fetishes for their own use.

The Native Americans believe the spirit is in a stone or shell before a fetish can be carved. Fetishes are carvings and most frequently are made from rocks or fossils. The most commonly used are: turquoise, jet, alabaster, serpentine, marble, travertine and malachite. Fetishes can also be made out of shells such as: mother of pearl, abalone, cowry, conch, melon, olive and mussel. Antler, wood and pottery are other materials sometimes used.

Hunting fetishes are some of the most frequently found styles of fetish. The Indians use them to bring them luck in the hunt. A hunting fetish is an animal of prey or an animal that has a desired skill. It has a “prayer bundle” tied to its back or side. This bundle consists of some or all of the following: stones, arrow heads, beads, feathers, sinew, twigs and fur.

Some other types of more commonly sought after fetishes (by Indian and non-Indians as well) are the ones that represent the six directions. They are as follows:

Animal(s) Direction Represented
Mountain Lion North
Coyote or Bear West
Badger or Wild Cat South
Wolf East
Eagle Zenith (Up)
Mole Nadir (Down)

Fetish necklaces are another well-known item, with necklaces having been found that date back more than 1000 years.

The Indians consider a fetish necklace a prestigious item of personal adornment. Fetish necklaces are made with from a few, to more than a hundred miniature fetish animals of stone or shell. They might be all the same type of animal and made from the same type of shell or stone, or they might be an assortment of animals of different shells and stones.

Fetish carving has, for some of the more imaginative carvers, evolved into a purely artistic expression, devoid of spiritual implications. This leaves the artist free to make more detailed and creative carvings of animals of all kinds.