Lakota Artist Mitchell Zephier and his Plains Indian Jewelry

Mitchell Charles Zephier

Cétan Ho Wasté (Pretty Voice Hawk)

Four Color Medicine Whee Turtle

Mitchell Zephier grew up on the Cheyenne River and Rosebud Indian reservations. After marrying on Roxanne Apple Rosebud he gave re-birth to Plains Indian Jewelry, particularly Lakota metal adornment. He has mentored over 34 apprentices in the arts of metal-smithing and marketing.

Mitchell Zephier says – “These earrings are miniature shields. The four horses are intended to represent the four horses that the very famous man Black Elk saw in his vision. The four horses came to him from the four directions and symbolized the four directions, the four races, the four seasons and the four Lakota virtues of generosity, bravery, fortitude, and wisdom.”

Mitch collaborates with fellow Lakota artists. Mitch has won numerous awards including first place at Red Earth Show, several awards at the internationally prestigious Sante Fe Indian Market as well as presented his work at far off Native American venues like Schimutzun Celebration in Connecticut. He has also earned the South Dakota Governor’s award.

The four colors of this Medicine Wheel Shield pendant are inlaid with black pipestone, red pipestone, sandstone and alabaster.

Mitch has other forms of artistic expression. His album Cherish the Children won a National Native Music Award for Best Children’s Album. Mitchell Zephier’s latest venture is to team up with fellow artists to explore, on film this time, the issues that affect the lives of Native Young People in Cloud Horse Production’s Lakota 4 Life, a Zephier inspired look at the issues, decisions, responsibilities and opportunities facing Native Youth today.

These earrings are real Buffalo Indian Head Nickels from which the artist has cut away the background leaving the silhouettes.

Other family members and friends that work on the jewelry include his son Wakinyan Luta Zephier , Belle Starboy, Webster Two Hawk Jr., and Roger Dale Herron.

Sterling Silver Animal Fetish Necklace – Information Please?

Hi Paula

I have a sterling animal fetish necklace that I would like to know more about it’s origin’s. There are 6 animals about 1/2 long each, hooked together, with a different colored stone in each one. On the back of each animal is a word associated with that animal spirit. A bear – healing,phoenix happiness, a fish – change, a dove – vision, a turtle – wisdom and a fox – swift. It is signed (initials can’t read) and marked ster. Any help? Jacquie

Hi Jacquie,

You have a very nice necklace here ! I’ve not seen one like it but it certainly does have characteristics of being Native American made (Navajo I’d guess). I’ve not seen a necklace with words on the back like this one. Because each piece is stamped Sterling, I’d guess it was from the late 70’s or early 80’s or later.  Let me know if you can ever read the hallmark initials – that would be helpful.

Perhaps someone else reading this blog will have seen a necklace like this and will post some more information.

You said you’d “love to know what it is worth”.  I don’t do appraisals from photos and with something like this, I’d say its worth whatever someone is willing to pay ! Because the fetishes are 1/2″ long, I am assuming this is not a very heavy necklace. But it is cute, unique and colorful !  Enjoy !

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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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Native American Symbols – Turtle and Tortoise

The turtle is an old, sacred figure in Native American symbolism as it represents Mother Earth, and after all, where would we be without her?

Is it turtle or tortoise? See the section at the end of this article to learn the difference. I’m going to use the word turtle to represent both.

To each tribe, the turtle might depict something slightly different but with a recurring theme of creation, protection, longevity.

Carnelian Turtle Totem on Apache Dreamcatcher by Cynthia Whitehawk

According to the Woodland tribes (those in the New England and Great Lakes areas), the turtle dove into the primeval waters to retrieve mud to make the earth. In Iroquois lore, the turtle is a part of the creation myth.

Iroquois Creation Myth

What is a Woodland Tribe? There are many – you might recognize some of the tribal names: Iroquois, Mohawk, Sac, Fox, Mohegan – For a complete listing of the Northeast Woodland Tribes.

The turtle’s hard shell represents perseverance and protection. It has been and can be used as a calendar. The 13 large patterned squares in the center of the shell represent the 13 full moons of the year. The 28 smaller squares around the perimeter of the shell represent the 28 days of each lunar month.

Zuni Turtle Fetish by Adrian Cachini

To the Lakota, the turtle (ke-ya) spirit brings health and longevity. In the past, a beaded turtle was put on the umbilicus or the crib of new born girls for protection and a long life.

Lakota Turtle Spirit by Alan Monroe

Lakota Turtle Dreamcatcher by Tony Monroe

To the Southwest Native American peoples (Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Santo Domingo Pueblo and others), the turtle represents precious water and is revered in that way. Turtles are popular fetish figures and especially in the southwest where water is a true gift.

Pipestone Turtle Fetish by Daphne Neha, Zuni

In certain Navajo ceremonies, medicines must be dispensed from a turtle shell or an abalone shell – no other container will suffice.

 

Sterling Silver and Gold Turtle Pendant by Tommy Singer, Navajo

In Zuni legend, turtles bring fertility and longevity. Medicine bags with turtles associated with them ask similar longevity for their owners and are considered by some to have the ability to defy death.

Apache Turtle Medicine Bag by Cynthia Whitehawk

Tortoise shell was used for inlay but has been illegal in the U.S. since 1973.

Turtle shells have also been used in the formation of dance rattles.

Turtle or Tortoise

What is the difference between turtle and tortoise? Are they synonymous?

They are similar but not the same. Both are egg laying reptiles with hard shells and scaly skin. They are slow moving so rely on their shell as protection – they can retract their head and legs into their shell to various degrees. Both are cold blooded so require external sources to warm themselves and shade to cool themselves.

A turtle lives in the water (oceans, lakes, rivers) primarily so has webbed front feet and streamlined legs for swimming. The only time a turtle comes on land is to lay eggs. Once hatched, baby turtles are on their own. A turtle has a flat shell. Turtles eat plants and bugs. They tend to migrate in the ocean and other waters.

 

Mother Earth Turtle Rattle by Cynthia Whitehawk, Apache

A tortoise lives on the land primarily so has feet with long claws for digging and no webbing between the toes. Tortoise legs are more like short, strong stumps, good for dessert walking. A tortoise has a rounded or domed shell and since they are usually found in hot climates, they stay underground during the heat of the day. The tortoise is herbivorous, preferring succulents. Tortoise eggs are laid in a nest and when they hatch, the baby turtles move to the mother’s burrow. Tortoises tend to say in one area for life.

Russell Shack, Zuni

Both turtles and tortoises have very long life spans in comparison to humans, some tortoises living as long as 150 years.

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