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fetish

fetish (fĕtˈĭsh) [key], inanimate object believed to possess some magical power. The fetish may be a natural thing, such as a stone, a feather, a shell, or the claw of an animal, or it may be artificial, such as carvings in wood. The power of the fetish is thought to derive its efficacy from one of two sources. In some cases the object is said to have a will of its own; in others the source of power comes from the belief that a god dwells within the object and has transformed it into an instrument of his desires. Closely related to the idea of the power of a fetish is the notion of taboo. Here the power within the fetish is thought to be so strong that it is extremely dangerous and may be handled only by special individuals, if at all. Any object of irrational or superstitious devotion may be called a fetish.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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