An object believed by certain primitive peoples to embody a spirit and exert magical powers; an object representing spirits that is used to create a bond between the human and supernatural world.
Fetishes are dolls, carved images, stones, or animal teeth, claws, or bones. They are often worn on the body to impart their magical powers, such as for protection, luck, love, curing, warding off evil, money, good hunting, gambling, or curses on enemies.
The term 'fetish' may derive from the Latin factitius, 'made by art', or the Portuguese feitiηo, 'charm' or 'sorcery'. Other terms associated with fetishes are 'juju' and 'gris-gris', both of which may have derived from a West African term, grou-grou, for sacred objects.
Early European traders commonly called the grou-grou they encountered juju, meaning dolls or playthings. The gris-gris evolved out of the African American slave culture in the American South, and refers to charm bags filled with magical powders, herbs, spices, roots, bones, stones, feathers, and so on.
Today the term is popularly used to refer to an object or idea that receives superstitious or unquestioning trust or reverence. The word is also used in psychiatry to refer to the inordinate or pathological fascination a person may have for an inanimate object.
Fetish can also be the centering of strong sexual emotion in objects, parts of the human body and unusual ways of sexual gratification.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Pickering, David, Cassell Dictionary of Witchcraft, Cassell Academic; (3) The Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition Handy Volume Edition, Oxford University Press.
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