Unlike the pop culture definition, the technical psychological definition is an object/idea/situation without which a person is literally unable to achieve sexual arousal or satisfaction. Really not the same as a turn-on, though that's certainly the common usage.

No, I'm not obsessed--my mother is a psychologist. :p

Fetishes are an animal, bird or figure hand carved from stone, shell, antler, wood or other natural materials, found in Zuni culture. Zuni fetishes were first carved as "hunting" fetishes. When taken on a hunting expedition they would ensure a plentiful and successful hunt. Each fetish is believed to have a spirit within. If treated and taken care of properly, it is believed that Zuni fetishes will help guide you on the right path of life. Supposedly certain Zuni fetishes have special powers. The bear fetish represents strength, the turtle fetish long life and the horse fetish has innate healing powers. When you purchase or are given Zuni fetishes it is your responsibility to care for them with the proper respect they deserve. Fetishes are believed to feed on corn meal. "Offerings" are often attached to the fetish by the artist, but some people make their own "offerings" to their Zuni fetishes by attaching a small stone or feather adornment. Some fetishes are thought to be magical in themselves; others get their magic from some divinity. Some fetishes are believed to be so powerful that only special individuals are allowed to handle them. For all others, the fetish is taboo. The line (called a heartline, considered to hold the power of the fetish) of coral or turquoise seen on some fetishes represents the living essence within the stone body, while the backpack, mentioned above as being added by the artist or buyer of the fetish, is placed as an "offering" to the animal spirits from which it draws its power. Common materials used by Zuni fetish carvers include serpentine, jet, turquoise, coral, travertine onyx, green snail shell and Picasso marble. The bear or "medicine bear" is one of the most popular and commonly made Zuni fetishes, representing strength, courage, power, good luck, and healing.

Thank you to the Penfield Gallery of Indian Arts in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the background information regarding Zuni fetishes.

The history of sexual fetish is one that is tricky to pin down. Most people look back to Freud- as his interpretations were some of the first to really address the issue. However, the real origins of fetish date back a lot farther. When European travelers were first starting to colonize Africa they would take many pictures of the “natives.” (implicating photography as a quite colonial practise) These pictures were seen by Europeans as being highly sexual in nature and served to create a homogenized look that combined many different tribes to create the “African Woman.” Since sexuality was fairly repressed at home, the European men tended to eroticize the African woman. The pictures that went home of the often bare-breasted African women were found to be extremely erotic. People in Europe thought that the women were naked, when according to their culture they were fully dressed. Anthony Shelton says, “…it was European men who explored, invaded, administered, and worked Africa. Some historians have even argued that the propelling force of colonialism was a redirected sexual energy, away from the hearth, home, and country to the impenetrable and dark heat of distant continents.”

Around this time people started making black masks, bustles, and other so-called fashion accessories for European women. The black masks were used only in private, mostly by prostitutes. It was thought that with the right technology, the European woman could be as erotic as the African woman(!)

One must also note that the tribal African art of this time period was heavily invested in what Europeans call “fetish dolls.” This is where the name “fetish,” came from to begin with. These dolls were very important to many tribe’s beliefs in the supernatural. The Europeans gave them this name in a condescending way, due to their belief in the superiority of their own beliefs. The Europeans could not believe the attention that the African’s gave to these little objects. (I can’t believe the hypocrisy of this when I think about European’s obsession with art about the suffering of Christ. And actually- it has been hypothisized that the original image of nails being driven into the body came from African people co-opting the power of the Christ story from missionaries... but I'm not sure about my history here.) It is also interesting to note that these objects were formed in likeness of the human body and often had many nails driven through them. This lines up with piercing and metal studs that so often adorn fetish gear these days. The combination all these things are at the root of the contemporary fetish scene.

Fe"tich, Fe"tish (?), n. [F. fétiche, from Pg. feitiço, adj., n., sorcery, charm, fr. L. facticius made by art, artifical, factitious. See Factitious.]


A material object supposed among certain African tribes to represent in such a way, or to be so connected with, a supernatural being, that the possession of it gives to the possessor power to control that being.


Any object to which one is excessively devoted.


© Webster 1913

Fe"tish (?), n., Fe"tish*ism (&?; or &?;; 277), n., Fe`tish*is"tic (&?;), a.

See Fetich, n., Fetichism, n., Fetichistic, a.


© Webster 1913

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