We’ve written about Zuni fetishes here before, carvings that embody an animal or supernatural spirit. Each fetish symbolizes a different special power, ability, or natural force. Many artists include a medicine bundle tied to the back of the fetish. These bundles are meant as a gift offering to the animal spirit. The bundles provide the animal spirit with energy, enhancing its powers and allowing its prayers to be heard more easily.
The materials in the bundle are traditionally tied together with sinew, muscle fiber from an animal. Sinew is used because of its immense strength; it is also used for binding points on arrow shafts and spears and as backing material for bows. Other materials used in place of sinew, especially in modern Zuni fetishes, include strong beading thread and leather.
The actual contents of the medicine bundle vary. Often, gemstones of varying colors are included, but the color of the material is most important. In medicine bundles, the color blue symbolizes birds; black represents creatures of the night; and white symbolizes winter. Brown-colored penn shell heishi, ground up bits of shell rolled into beads, provide the fetish with powers of earth. Bits of coral and turquoise represent aquatic plants and animals as well as the sky, and are considered to be the heart of the fetish they are attached to. Six colors used together – white, yellow, red, blue, black, and speckled – can also represent the six directions.
Many times, an arrowhead is included in the bundle as protection for the animal fetish. Pointing forward, the arrowhead defends the fetish from obstacles in its future, while an arrowhead in reverse guards the fetish from threats coming up behind it. In addition to the physical protection of the arrowheads, which are often carved from shell, a feather is a special inclusion that can provide very powerful medicine for the fetish.
Animal spirits are seen as a great provider for the Zuni people. The relationship is considered to be one of give-and-take, as the spirits themselves need power and protection to help them on their journey. At Kachina House, some of our authentic Zuni fetishes include medicine bundles to strengthen and enhance the powerful prayers of their caretakers.