What Is a Fetish? What Is Fetishism?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Fetish and fetishism have to do with magic. Keep this in mind when reading the definitions I provide for fetish and fetishism.

A fetish is a magical object, which may or may not be worshipped. An example of a fetish in the Germanic religious context is a wooden image of Freyr. While a good example is an image of a Deity, a Germanic fetish could also be a weapon or piece of jewelry.

Fetishism is the worship of a magical object. The worship of bogs, groves, cairns, howes, waterfalls, lakes, springs, and images of Gods may be provided as examples of fetishism in the Germanic religion context.

Alfred C. Haddon says on page 70 of his work on magic and fetishism: “All cases of Fetishism, when examined, show that the worship is paid to an intangible power or spirit incorporated in some visible form, and that the fetish is merely the link between the worshipper and the object of his worship.” So, when a Germanic polytheist worships a lake, for instance, he knows that he is worshipping a Deity; the lake is merely the link or medium between him and the Deity.

It is traditional for Germanic polytheists just to call a fetish a God; for it is not the object but the God behind the object that he is focused on.

In summary, a fetish is a worshippable magical object, fetishism is magical object worship. Ultimately, within the Germanic religious context, fetishism is just another way of saying polytheism, animism, or shamanism; there is undeniable overlap between these terms. So, one may regard Germanic fetishism as yet another synonym of Germanic folk religion.

Since Gods may be sticks, trees, stones, lakes, and so on, we may entertain the idea that the concept of magical object worship might potentially be a useful tool for our analysis of Germanic folk religion, although it should be borne in mind that not the fetish, but the Deity, is the actual object of worship; no doubt, identifying all objects that may serve as fetishes is quite practical for explaining Germanic folk religion, and enumerating such fetishes certainly gives an impression of the objects of Germanic worship.

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