In Zuni legend, as humans climbed up into this world from the world below they were hunted and preyed upon by the wild beasts that lived here. Two Warrior Twins, sons of the sun, sought to help humankind by striking the beasts that pursued them. Using bows of rainbow and arrows of lightning they struck down the attacking beasts, turning them to stone.
For centuries as a Zuni would find a stone resembling an animal it was believed to contain the spirit of an animal turned to stone by a Warrior Twin long before. Depending on the animal, blessings like power, protection, or a number of other blessings were bestowed on the carrier and perhaps an entire village. Because of this mythology stones which require little or no carving to resemble an animal are thought to be the most powerful of fetishes.
Today's fetishes may be more appropriately called carvings. Artists carve animals unknown to the prehistoric Zuni in poses more lifelike and difficult than seen before. Buyers often are tourists who know little of the Zuni mythology and may not care. However,
Zuni tradition maintains that fetishes originated in the “time of the beginning” when the humans climbed up from the netherworld into the sunshine of this one. The Zuni’s called the earliest fetishes Ahlashiwe. These were stones that naturally formed into the shape of a human or animal. Often the Ahlashiwe were thought to be a human or animal that had been turned into stone by The Warrior Twins, offspring of the Sun Father. Since the spirit of the animal's life force was believed to be in the stone, the stone was treated as a source of power not only for an individual possessing one but for the welfare of the entire tribe.
The power of the fetish comes from the ancient belief that we are spiritually connected to all life on our planet, including the stars, galaxies and beyond. Lakota Sioux a Zuni medicine man once said, “Everything is alive, and everything has a power." His words spoke of an understanding of the invisible spirit presence, which exists in humans, animals, trees, rocks, etc. This sense of connection to the spiritual presence within all life permeates the native people’s interpretation of the visible world. Their belief in utilizing the powers of the unseen reality in daily life distinguishes the native peoples from the present day American culture.
In Zuni tradition, all creatures-including us- were transformed as we arrived in this world. The Warrior Twins transformed those who had healing powers into the beasts of the Six Directions. Each animal is symbolic of a direction and has a specific color which is synonymous with that direction. The guardian fetish of the North (yellow) is the mountain lion. The South (red) is the badger. The West (blue) is the bear. The East (white) is the wolf. Additionally, the mole is the guardian of the nadir (inner earth - black) and Zepath (sky - any color) is the eagle.
When the Zuni Indians climbed from the netherworld into this one they were soon set upon and hunted by different beasts. In an effort to preserve the people, the Warrior Twins, offspring of the Sun, smote the attackers with arrows of lightning, turning them to stone. Thereafter when a Zuni found a stone resembling an animal it was thought to be the shrunken remains of an ancient and powerful foe. The spirit of the animal was believed to still reside in the stone, granting power or different blessings to the possessor or possessing tribe.
Mountain Lions - Protective and hunting animal of the North. They are believed to protect travelers on their journeys. They are used when hunters are after big game, especially deer, elk, buffalo and mountain sheep.
Bears - Protective animal of the West. Bears are one of the most important fetishes throughout the Southwest. Although Fetishes are used to represent various animals, Bear Fetishes are considered healers and provide special powerful curative abilities, a symbol of supreme power, solitude and introspection. Bears are considered the most powerful with the white bear the most powerful healing tool. Generally bears will be carved with little or no tails.
Badgers - Protective animal of the South. The badger helps the medicine men and shamans dig up the roots and herbs that are needed in healing.
Wolves - Protective and hunting animal of the East. Wolves have strong hunting powers and are sometimes carried while hunting large game.
Eagles - Protective and hunting animal of the sky. Eagles are sometimes carried when hunting small game. They are also called upon to carry a shaman in flight when his spirit leaves his body to search for the cause of a patient's illness.
Moles - Protective and hunting animal of the underground. The mole (or shrew) helps protect the crops by hunting rodents and other small game.
Coyotes - Hunting animal of the West. Coyotes are sometimes used while hunting rabbits. One story states that mountain sheep were originally the coyotes prey. When one was set free especially for him, and he failed to catch it, he was forced to give up his claim to the mt. lion. In turn, he was relegated to scavenging.
Bobcats - Hunting animal of the South. The bobcat has always been one of the rarest carved fetishes. He is used when antelope is the prey.
Frogs - Frogs are the major rain-bringing fetish, and are also associated with abundance and fertility.
Turtles - Turtles serve as a link to the Zuni ancestors. They also have a rain association and signify mother earth.
Snakes - Snakes are associated with lightning.
Owls and others birds - Most birds are believed to carry prayers to the clouds and sky, asking for rain and blessings. Owls are sometimes believed to guard over the village and home, hooting to warn of potential danger.
Game Animals (Buffalo, Mountain Sheep, Deer, Antelope, Elk and Rabbits) - Game animals help increase the numbers of each animal, so there will be plenty to eat.
Domesticated Animals ( Horse, Sheep, Goats and Cows) - Zuni carvers supply the Navajo (Dine) Tribe with these fetishes. They are used to protect their herds and flocks from disease, injury and death. Horse is power.
Local Animals ( Beavers, Lizards, and Horned Toads) - These animals are part of Zuni mythology, but are not carved to provide a specific benefit or blessing to the owner.
* Cornmaidens - "Grandmother of the Sun and The Grandmother of the Light"
In the Pueblo Indian culture, corn is to the people the very symbol of life. The Corn Maiden brought this gift. The Corn Maiden brings the power of life to the people. As the corn is given life by the sun, the Corn Maiden brings the fire of the sun into the human bodies, making them as the creator designed them to be. The Great Spirit has given man many representations of His love and power through nature. The Corn Maidens are said to have been created by the Great Spirit in the palm of his right hand. Each Maiden brings one seed of corn that is nurtured with love like that given to a child, that this one seed would sustain the entire tribe forever. With love and strength from the tribe, the tiny seeds mature and grow tall and strong, soon offering mature ears of corn for an abundance of crops for the people. The spirit of the Corn Maidens is forever present with the tribal people. The Corn maiden is the ' Grandmother of the Sun and The Grandmother of the Light".