The Hand Symbol in Native American Art

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

The Hand

In Native American art, the hand usually represents the presence of man. From the earliest hand imprints on cave walls, the hand depicts a man’s work, achievements and his personal history.

When a hand had a swirl in the middle of it, that is said to be the “eye in hand” and represents a mystic, or all-seeing, hand, the presence of the Great Spirit in man.

Mystic Hand Pendant

Mystic Hand Pendant

A Native American’s horse was highly honored and often covered in symbols for various purposes. This would vary from tribe to tribe but hand prints were often used in various positions on a horse to mean different things.

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The most prized handprint was when preparing for battle, if it was a kill-or-be-killed mission, an upside-down hand would be placed on the warrior’s horse.

If a horse knocked down an enemy, right and left hand prints were put on the horse’s chest.

The Pat Hand Print was the left hand pressed onto the horse’s right hindquarters. It was put on a horse who had returned from a dangerous mission with his master unharmed.

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

Horse Fetish by Carol Martinez, Zuni

Paula

What do I have to do to break in my new catlinite pipe?

Hi Paula,

Really stupid question, but is there any pre-treatment, heating or whatever to do to the pipe bowl prior to smoking it? Just a little nervous of cracking the bowl with the heat from the tobacco and the kinnikinnick burning in there.

Kind regards

Phil

CEP65-horse-1Hi Phil,

Nothing is needed for breaking in the pipe. Catlinite (pipestone) is the perfect material to make pipes out of. It can be smoked quite a bit but still be just a bit warm on the outside. That’s because pipestone is a clay and it porous so it cools quick and has give. So it won’t break. It is natural pipe material and that is why it has been used for many many years by Lakota and other pipe makers.

Paula

How should I carry my new pipe ?

Hello Paula,

I had a dream encounter with a fierce red horse that the pipe closely resembles, so I was stunned when I found the horse effigy pipe on your website and purchased it.  Do you have any suggestions for a case I can carry the pipe and the 12″ stem in that would protect it?  Thanks again, Jan

Catlinite Horse Effigy Pipe

12" ash pipe stem

There is an article on this blog and our website The Sacred Pipe which describes use and storage of a pipe. Traditionally, once a pipe has been smoked and blessed, the pipe bowl is only joined to the stem for smoking. At all other times the bowl and stem are stored separately.

So for carrying your pipe, you can choose a bag big enough for your pipe bowl and smoking mixture and let the stem poke out the top of the bag. Some tie the stem along side the bag. There are also very long bags made just to carry the stem separately. It is all a matter of personal preference.

Here are some bags you might wish to consider for your pipe bowl.

Recommendation for Protection against Evil and Bad Luck

Hello,

My friend is interested in a native indian amulet or “charm” for protection against evil and bad luck.  Would these medicine bags be appropriate?  I specificially like the Crazy Horse bag with the gemstones, however, I am not sure about their spiritual powers or purpose.  Would you please be able to direct me to the proper item that I could buy for my friend.

Thank you. IJ

Hi IJ,

Every person has their own belief system when it comes to good spirits and good luck so it is not so important what is used, but what one believes. Picking up a special stone can do more to change one’s luck than purchasing a lottery ticket !!

With that said, you know your friend and his or her habits and propensity to ceremony and ritual. Here are some ideas.

The Crazy Horse bag is very nice.

Crazy Horse Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

I’d highly recommend any of the bags made by Apache artist, Cynthia Whitehawk as she makes each of her items in ceremony and with great attention to detail. They are filled with a wonderful spirit already !  She acknowledges that each of us tends to be drawn to certain animals, stones or other healing spirits, so she makes many bags and shares her thoughts on the protective and healing powers of each totem.  That is indicated at the bottom of each page describing the bag.

Eagle Spirit Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

Carved Zuni fetishes can also be very powerful talismans – many are suitable to carry in a pocket or purse making them handy to hold or rub.

Rainbow Calsilica Medicine Bear by Zuni artist Kenny Chavez

Some of these fetishes are available as pendants so they can be worn on a chain or leather choker.

Sacred White Buffalo Pendant by Zuni artist Cheryl Beyuka

A cross might be the perfect answer.

Sterling Silver and Turquoise Cross by Navajo artist Derrick Gordon

For those who are looking for good luck, such as would come from a finding a four leaf clover, there are Authentic Lucky Horseshoes.

Authentic Lucky Horseshoe

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to find the perfect item for your friend.

The Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing – Smudging

The “Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing” is a powerful Native American cleansing technique. It is a ritual to remove negativity. Smoke attaches itself to the negative energy and removes it to another space.

Cleansing is the word traditionally used, but you can think of it as a shift in energy from any bits of negativity to a more positive, peaceful state.

Smudging can be used to cleanse an object, a place, or your spirit, mind or body. Native Americans often use smudging in association with other ceremonies.

Contemporary uses includes purifying a new vehicle, your work area or a room or dwelling before moving in; purifying a sacred object such as stone, book or fetish; or for self-cleansing before meditation, prayer or sleep.

Certain plants are used for smudging. Smudging is done in a particular way. The herbs are burned in a small bowl or a shell, such as an abalone shell. The shell represents Water, a gift from the ocean. The smoke is distributed with a feather, a gift from our winged friends.

Catlinite Smudge Burner by Lakota artist, Alan Monroe

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

Paula,
I wondered why in your web store you describe some Indian animal carvings and jewelry pieces as fetishes and others amulets or totems. Are they all the same thing? – Stuart

Stuart,
The terms fetish, amulet, totem and talisman are often used interchangeably to describe an object that provides good fortune and protects from evil. The exact meaning of any of these terms depend on the culture and location in which it is used. Briefly, here is how I see them:

Talisman

Alaskan Thunderbird Talisman by David Audette from Sitka, Alaska

A talisman is an object that is considered to possess supernatural or magical powers and is used especially to avert evils, disease, or death. A talisman is typically engraved or cut with figures or characters, constellations, planets, or other heavenly signs. It is often worn as an amulet or charm. From the Greek word “telein”, which means “to initiate into the mysteries”. The word talisman is often used synonymous with amulet.

Amulet

Turquoise and Sterling Silver Lucky Horseshoe Amulet by Navajo artist Wilbur Muskett Jr.

An amulet is a protecting charm – any object worn to bring good luck and to ward off evil, illness, and harm from supernatural powers and from other people. Amulets are typically carvings, stones (especially with naturally occurring holes), plants (such as sage, 4-leaf clover, shamrock), coins, and jewelry (crosses, horseshoes, gemstones).

Totem

Horse Totem on Horse Spirit Medicine Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

A totem is an object that symbolizes a person’s or a tribe’s animal guide. This could be a totem pole, an emblem or a small figurine or carving. Native American tradition holds that different animal guides come in and out of a person’s life depending on the direction that person is headed and the challenges he faces. A totem animal is the one animal that acts as the main guardian spirit and is with a person for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Traditionally, it is the totem animal, such as an eagle, wolf, bear, horse or dragonfly, that finds the person, not the other way around.

Fetish

Bear Fetish by Zuni artist Emery Eriacho

A fetish is a sacred object used in religious ceremonies, for spiritual awakening and to communicate with and direct supernatural powers. A fetish can provide protection, promote healing and ensure success in ventures such as hunting or farming. A Native American fetish is most often a carving, usually of an animal, that has some sort of power, and is sometimes decorated with stones, shells, and feathers. A carving without power is merely a carving. A person’s own beliefs determine the difference between a fetish and a carving.

So, whether an object is a talisman, totem, amulet or fetish is up to you. Just as the beauty of an object is in the eye of the beholder, so the power of an object is in the belief of the seer or wearer.

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How Do I Display Zuni Native American Fetish Carvings?

 

Zuni Fetish Carvings - Corn Maiden and Butterfly Maiden Collection

 

 

Hi Paula,

What is the best way to store or display fetishes? I want to enjoy them but also want to protect them and keep them from getting damaged or dusty.

Beth

Hi Beth,

I can give you some ideas but fetish use and care is a matter of opinion and choice.

The traditional way of housing a Zuni fetish carving is in a clay pot or a bowl with a corn meal offering inside to sustain the fetish. Some fetishes are fed ground turquoise also. This means of fetish storage is based on Zuni legends that tell of fetish powers helping to sustain hunters in the mountains. A fetish pot always has a peep hole in the side so that the fetishes can see out which helps them remain content. A happy fetish makes for a happy person.

Fetish Pot with Peep Hole and Guardians

If a fetish is not delicate or does not have portions that could be rubbed off, a fetish can be stored in pocket – in this way, the fetish can be handled frequently something like a meditation stone. I’ve seen people jingle keys or coins in their pocket as a way of relieving stress perhaps or of connecting, calming or centering……so a small stone fetish certainly would make a quiet and most excellent pocket pal.

A small pipestone turtle that would make a perfect pocket fetish

Special fetishes are added to medicine bags. Usually if a person is drawn to a particular animal, that animal is that person’s totem and might be added to the bag, either attached to the bag or carried inside it.

Hummingbird Spirit Medicine Bag

For collectors, which it sounds like you might be, you might display au natural and lightly dust from time to time such as the maidens in the first photo in this article….

OR

use display cases, either for single fetishes or groups.


Most fetishes are quite sturdy, made of durable stones and are made to be used for years. I hope you enjoy your fetishes whether it is looking at them or carrying them or just having them in your home or office.

Six Directions Fetishes on a Home Water Fountain

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