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A fetish (derived from the French fétiche; which comes from the Portuguese feitiço; and this in turn from Latin facticius, "artificial" and facere, "to make") is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.



Initially, the concept of fetishism was used by the Portuguese to refer to the objects used in religious cults by the West African natives.[citation needed]

The concept was made known in Europe by Charles de Brosses circa 1757, while comparing West African religion to the magical aspects of Ancient Egyptian religion. Later, Auguste Comte used the concept to apply an evolution theory to religion. In Comte's theory of the evolution of religion, he proposed that fetishism is the earliest (most primitive) stage, followed by the stages of polytheism and monotheism.

That said, some artifacts of monotheistic religions are fetishes according to ethnography and anthropology. For example in some forms of Christianity, which is a monotheistic religion, the Holy Cross and consecrated host are examples of fetishism. In the 19th-20th 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 the use of the concept in the study of religion derives from studies of traditional West African religious beliefs, as well as from Voodoo, which is derived from those beliefs.

Blood is often considered a particularly powerful fetish or ingredient in fetishes. In addition to blood, other objects and substances, such as bones, fur, claws, feathers, gemstones and crystals, water from certain places, certain types of plants and wood are common fetishes in the traditions of cultures worldwide.

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