Most people who engage in any Witch or Sorcerous Craft are familiar with the term ‘fetish’. But to say one is an animist does not necessarily denote a fetishism in one’s practice. Some would say that a fetish is strictly an inanimate, crafted object which is said to contain a spirit. Others are more relaxed suggesting anything that has spiritual significance, including items like Bibles and family / ancestral heirlooms can be described as fetish items. Places, temples, churches, can be considered fetishes if they are thought to be inhabited by powers. Icons, images and art can be used as fetish items. If one is a particularly good mood, the Catholic Encyclopedia actually has a useful entry regarding the origin and use of the word and demonstrates how it can mean slightly different things, depending on the overarching or underpinning practice of the individual/culture. For the sake of brevity, I’m particularly fond of the following:
fetish or fetich (ˈfɛtɪʃ, ˈfiːtɪʃ, ˈfɛtɪʃ, ˈfiːtɪʃ)
1. something, esp. an inanimate object, that is believed in certain cultures to be the embodiment or habitation of a spirit or magical powers
2. a. a form of behaviour involving fetishism
b. any object that is involved in fetishism
3. any object, activity, etc, to which one is excessively or irrationally devoted: to make a fetish of cleanliness
[C17: from French fétiche , from Portuguese feitiço (n) sorcery, from adj: artificial, from Latin factīcius made by art, factitious]
(from Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009, retrieved from www.dictionary.com)
Like ‘animism’ and ‘shamanism’ the word itself is mostly an anthropological one. Borrowed, re-used and re-imagined by contemporary Pagans to describe a practice for which European terms describing Indigenous practices might have long been lost. Particularly when used outside of the African Diaspora and the subsequent syncretic religions and practices of the Americas, for and in which other more specific ancestral African terms might be used, or words like ‘gris-gris’ or ‘ju-ju’ which (possibly) speak more directly to the French influences and experience of those practitioners.
For myself, and in my own Craft, the term speaks directly to the practice itself. A gum nut is a gum nut, and in my shoe, mostly an irritant. But items collected from nature for use as offerings, icons and talismans, are done so with a view of collecting spirit, in concert with my understanding of the spirit of the thing, of place, and a community of spirits, thus, the process is entirely different to an everyday sort of thing. That being said, a collection of raw materials does not a fetish item make. Indeed, if one wants to commune with the spirit of a gum, then it is perhaps best to go talk to a gumtree. However, where one is unable to go talk to a gumtree it helps to have access to raw materials collected for the purposes of fetishism, by someone working inside of, or from a similar worldview, or one understood and harmonious with your own.
The artful, meditative, and subtle crafting of items, from oils and incense through to ritual tools like rattles and staffs and iconography, from collecting and finding materials to their final dedication working with a community of spirits and dynamic powers, is. And yet, even then, the item itself is not the whole of the equation. The sustaining of spirit inside a living body is itself a complex task. Maintaining spirit and power within an inanimate object is harder. Fetish items are made first by the dynamic between the item and the practitioner/craftsperson. The importance of reddening, enlivening, dedication and using any object can not be overstated. There is no fetish that is not used or understood to be a fetish. Only fetishists have fetishes.
So it is, that in my own home, I am quite confident and happy with my fetish items, because of a daily practice of fetishism. I can be confident with items I make available to others, but their final nature as fetish items is in many ways something I can’t wholly know. Because it depends on the dynamic structure that exists between object, the owner and their own community of spirits.
There are copious examples of how the dynamic relationships between individuals and community serve to develop fetishes. Anything that has entered into the realm of “cultural norm” like sage smudge sticks, Oil of Abramelin, or red brick dust, as I discussed in a previous post, demonstrate not only the nature of the thing, but the synchronised relationship between many people, their shared practice, or fetishism, and the nature/spirit/magical power of the thing.
A fetish can exist on all levels. It can be an entirely idiosyncratic practice, an item used by one person; it can be a well reddened culturally understood item and practice. It can be something specific to a family, an heirloom or object link that in itself is singular but approached through a well-oiled practice of fetishism.
The creation of a fetish does not need to adhere to any rules. For myself, when I purchase items from others for the purposes of creating a fetish, I do like to engage with the artisan or crafter in order to understand the fetish better, or be sure that the one matches the other. I appreciate those Crafters who make their wares available online, and particularly those who detail their own practice, and the fetishes that go into the making of any single fetish item. Being able to bring one’s own approach into line with another’s makes for a powerful item and practice. I count my Drum as the perfect testament to that fact. And I could never recommend Tamás at http://www.magordrum.com enough. (And I do whenever I even mention it!)
My Drum, like my Stav serves not only as a ritual tool, but as a spirit house, the ultimate fetish item, and having someone craft it who has a view and understanding of that fact is a priceless, priceless thing.
It’s precisely that preference that has resulted in this blog. A fetish in itself, and part and parcel of the dynamic between my own practice, the practices and fetishism of others that inform mine, the honour of the community of spirits that inhabit my own practices and tools, and those I share mine with.
Header image: Detail of personal mini icon honouring Freyja.
‘Fetish Habits’, top image: L-R Land fetish (polished serpentine egg in hand woven willow nest with brass bells, white ribbons, coins and stones & sulphur-crested cockatoo comb feather); Stav (eucalyptus wood with sea shell, boar’s tusk rattling binding and garnet detail); personal oils & powders.
P.S. ‘F’ is for ‘Fetish’. This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project!