Press: Sacred Power

January/February 1997
by Lesley S. King
in Santa Fean Magazine

Tales of the City Different

According to Zuni lore, in the early years the Sun sent down his two children in order to help humans. From their shields shot lightning bolts which destroyed predators that were killing people. Since then, as Zunis have traveled across their lands in Western New Mexico, when they’ve come across a stone shaped like a particular animal, they’ve taken it up, believing it to be one of those long lost predators, still containing its soul or breath.

By taking up the fetish, the person takes the strength of that creature, whatever it may be. Many such fetishes were used for protection and for success in the hunt. Today people own fetishes for many reasons. They may carry a bear for health and strength or an eagle for perspective. A mole may be placed in a home’s foundation for protection from underneath, a frog buried with crops for fertility and rain and a ram carried in the purse for prosperity. For Valentine’s Day some recommend fetish pairs.

“Foxes, they believed in the old days – they chose their mates for life,” says Jayne Quam, by marriage part of the noted Zuni fetish carving family, the Quandelacys. From jet she carves creeping fox pairs, long and sleek, held together with sinew and adorned with coral and turquoise. Some believe the bundles on top of fetishes are an offering to the animal spirit that resides within.
When Quam selects the stones to carve her paired foxes, she chooses the “ones with nice patterns,” making sure they’re the “same stone.” Some carvers carry this unity principle even further by carving the pairs from one stone. Two wolves, for example, may share the same tail and legs, while their bodies and heads are still distinct, except that there are three eyes instead of four. This combination creates a formidable creature.

Paired fetishes can also be wolves, coyotes, and other animals. The pairing represents a strong lesson about mating. Says Robin Dunlap, owner of Keshi, a Santa Fe store specializing in Zuni art, “Wolves are loyal to a clan, while retaining their individuality.”