- Date: 1613
- 1 a : an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence
- b : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion : prepossession
- c : an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression
A fetish (from the French fétiche; which comes from the Portuguese feitiço; and this in turn from Latin facticius, "artificial" and facere, "to make") is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.
The concept was made known in Europe by Charles de Brosses in 1757, while comparing West African religion to the magical aspects of Ancient Egyptian religion. Later, Auguste Comte used the concept to apply an evolution theory to religion. In Comte's theory of the evolution of religion, he proposed that fetishism is the earliest (most primitive) stage, followed by the stages of polytheism and monotheism
That said, some artifacts of monotheistic religions are fetishes according to ethnography and anthropology. For example in some forms of Christianity, which is a monotheistic religion, the Holy Cross and consecrated host are examples of fetishism. However, this characterization is denied by the monotheist practitioners.
In the 19th-20th century, Tylor and McLennan held that the concept of fetishism allowed historians of religion to shift attention from the relationship between people and God to the relationship between people and material objects. They also held that it established models of causal explanations of natural events which they considered false as a central problem in history and sociology.
Theoretically, fetishism is present in all religions, but its use in the study of religion is derived from studies of traditional West African religious beliefs, as well as Voodoo, which is derived from those beliefs.
Blood is often considered a particularly powerful fetish or ingredient in fetishes. In addition to blood, other objects and substances, such as bones, fur, claws, feathers, gemstones and crystals, water from certain places, certain types of plants and wood are common fetishes in traditions worldwide.
Fetishes were commonly used in Native American religion and practice. The bear represented the shaman, the buffalo was the provider, the mountain lion was the warrior, and the wolf was the pathfinder.
Theories of fetishism in the West
- In the 19th century Karl Marx appropriated the term to describe commodity fetishism as an important component of capitalism. Nowadays, (commodity and capital) fetishism is a central concept of Marxism.
- Later Sigmund Freud appropriated the concept to describe a form of paraphilia where the object of affection is an inanimate object or a specific part of a person; see sexual fetish.
- The Catholic Encyclopaedia: fetishism - The Catholic View.
- Andrew Lang, Fetishism and Spiritualism, The Making of Religion, (Chapter VIII), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 147–159.