From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- This article concerns the concept of fetishism in anthropology. Separate articles are devoted to sexual fetishism and the Marxist concept of commodity fetishism.
A fetish (from French fétiche; from Portuguese feitiço; from Latin facticius, "artificial" and facere, "to make") is an cultural artifact believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular a man-made object that has power over others.
The concept was coined by Charles de Brosses in 1757, while comparing West African religion to the magical aspects of Ancient Egyptian religion. He and other 18th century scholars used the concept to apply evolution theory to religion. In de Brosses' theory of the evolution of religion, he proposed that fetishism is the earliest (most primitive) stage, followed by the stages of polytheism and monotheism and totemism to account for fetishism. Essentially, fetishism is attributing some kind of inherent value or powers to an object. For example, the person who sees magical or divine significance in a material object is mistakenly ascribing inherent value to some object which does not possess that value (hence Marx's commodity fetishism: belief that objects control us)
In the 19th 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.
In addition to blood, other objects and substances, such as bones, fur, claws, feathers, water from certain places, certain types of plants, and wood are common fetishes in the traditions of cultures worldwide.
Other uses of the term "fetishism"
- 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.