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
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
What do the coral and turquoise inlay represent in the peyote (or water) bird? I have heard they refer to fire & ice, but I would like a better explanation if you happen to know. [Or if you know of a place to refer me to] I want to put a peyote bird on my fire place mantle in cut stone and emulate it, but would like to know why first..?? Why the two colors? Thank you for your time, your website has been most helpful!
To expand or clarify on my previous postings on this subject, the peyote bird is associated with the Plains Indians and the Native American Church and the water bird is associated with the Hohokam culture. And yet many people consider these symbols to be very similar or the same.
The Hohokam were the early inhabitants of south central Arizona.
Evidence of their life there dates between 100 B. C. and A. D. 1500. Today’s Pima Indians and Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) are said to be Hohokam descendants. The first known turquoise jewelry of the southwest was found in this location.
The peyote bird, AKA snake bird and water turkey, is associated with the Native American Church and the ritual use of peyote there by the church members. The expansion of the Native American Church to many regions has also brought about the widespread of the use of the peyote bird as a symbol by many Native American artists regardless of their tribal affiliation or geographical location.
The shape of portions of the peyote bird correspond to portions of the Native American Church ceremonies:
the head shaped like the rattle used in the ceremonies
the wings outspread like the ceremonial altar
the fan-like lower body like the tipi where the services are held.
Chip inlay is one of the most popular ways to depict the peyote bird. Chip inlay utilizes small pieces of stone chips left over from use in other projects. Therefore, since the most common stones used in Southwestern Native American jewelry are turquoise and coral, those are the traditional colors used in almost all chip inlay.
I am not familiar with any symbolism of the colors specifically but just that turquoise and coral were available, made a good contrast to each other (like fire and ice), so have been used that way for a long time.
Native American Symbols
Water Bird, Peyote Bird, Thunderbird
The Water Bird is a symbol of the renewal of life, rainy seasons, rivers, distant travel, distant vision & wisdom. It is often also referred to as the Peyote Bird because the Water Bird plays a significant part in the Native American Indian Church Peyote meetings and, in fact, since the early 1900’s has been the symbol of the NAC.
The Peyote/Water Bird is not a Southwest tradition, but one of the Plains Indians. The Peyote Bird is connected with lightning, thunder and visions. Those who dream of the thunder beings will become Heyokas, those who do things backwards, upside down, or opposite. This is a Lakota way of being. It is part of the medicine of the Heyoka to remind us that we should not take ourselves too seriously – that’s why Heyoka is often translated as the “sacred clown”.
The Thunderbird is a cross-cultural symbol of the Southwest, Plains and Pacific Northwest tribes as well as in the non-Native world. Much is written about the origin of the symbol and its significance. It has been suggested by some that the symbol was borrowed by Native American artisans from the white man’s medal dies. Others claim the Thunderbird has always lived in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. There, carved totem poles are often topped with a Thunderbird with outstretched wings. Looking at a Thunderbird, it is easy to see why it symbolizes power, strength and nobility.