By: Ric Carter
Re: Zuni Philosophy #1
From: The 2nd Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology; 1883.
Reproduced in ZUNI FETISHES and ZUNI by Frank Hamilton Cushing.
The A-shi-wi, or Zunis, suppose the sun, moon, and stars, the sky,
earth, and sea, in all their phenomena and elements, and all inanimate
objects, as well as plants, animals, and men, to belong to one great
system of all-conscious and interrelated life, in which the degree of
relationship seems to be determined largely, if not wholly, by the
degrees of resemblance.
In this system of life the starting point is man, the most finished,
yet the lowest organism; at least, the lowest because most dependent
and least mysterious. In just so far an an organism, actual or imag-
inary, resembles his, it is believed to be related to him and corres-
pondingly mortal; in just so far as it is mysterious, is it considered
removed from him, further advanced, powerful, and immortal.
It thus happens that the animals, because alike mortal and endowed
with similar physical functions and organs, are considered more nearly
related to man than are the gods; more nearly related to the gods than
is man, because more mysterious, and characterized by specific instincts
and powers which man does not himself possess. Again, the elements and
phenomena of nature, because more mysterious, powerful and immortal,
seem more closely related to the higher gods than are the animals;
more closely related to the animals than are the higher gods, because
their manifestations often resemble the operations of the former.
In consequence of this, and through the confusion of the subjective
with the objective, any element or phenomenon in nature, which is
believed to possess a personal existence, is endowed with a person-
ality analagous to that of the animal whose operations most resemble
For instance, lightning is often given the form of a serpent, with or
without an arrow-pointed tongue, because its course through the sky is
serpentine, its stroke instantaneous and destructive; yet it is named
Wi-lo-lo-a-ne, a word derived not from the name of the serpent itself,
but from that of its most obvious trait, its gliding, zigzag motion.
For this reason, the serpent is supposed to be more nearly related to
lightning than to man; more nearly related to man than is lightning,
because mortal and less mysterious.
As further illustrative of the interminable relationships which are
established on resemblances fancied or actual, the flint arrow-point
may be cited. Although fashioned by man, it is regarded as originally
the gift or "flesh" of lightning, as made by the power of lightning,
and rendered more effective by these connections with the dread element;
pursuant of which idea, the zigzag or lightning marks are added to the
shafts of arrows.
A chapter might be written concerning this idea, which may possibly
help to explain the Celtic, Scandinavian, and Japanese beliefs concer-
ning "elf-shafts", and "thunder-stones" and "bolts".
In like manner, the supernatural beings of man's fancy -- the "master
existences" -- are supposed to be more nearly related to the personal-
ities with which the elements and phenomena of nature are endowed than
to either animals or men; because, like those elements and phenomena,
and unlike men and animals, they are connected with remote tradition
in a manner identical with their supposed existence to-day, and there-
fore are considered immortal.
To the above descriptions of the supernatural beings of Zuni Theology
should be added the statement that all of these beings are given the
forms either of animals, of monsters compounded of man and beast, or
of man. The animal gods comprise by far the largest class.
In the Zuni, no general name is equivalent to "the gods," unless it be
the two expressions which relate only to the higher or creating or
controlling beings -- the "causes," Creators and Masters, "Pi-kwain=
a-ha-i" (Surpassing Beings), and "A-ta-tchu" (All-fathers), the beings
superior to all others in wonder and power, and the "Makers" as well
as the "Finishers" of existence. These last are classed with the
supernatural beings, personalities of nature, object beings, etc,
under one term --
a. I-shothl-ti-mon=a=ha-i, from i-shothl-ti-mo-na == ever recurring,
immortal, and a-ha-i == beings.
Likewise, the animals and animal gods, and sometimes even the superna-
tural beings, having animal or combined animal an human personalities,
are designated by one term only --
b. K'ia-pin=a-ha-i, from k'ia-pin-na == raw, and a-ha-i == beings.
Of these, however, three divisions are made:
(1.) K'ia-pin-a-ha-i == game animals, specifically applied to those
animals furnishing flesh to man.
(2.) K'ia-shem-a-ha-i, from k'ia-we == water, she-man == wanting,
and a-ha-i == beings, the water animals, specially applied not only
to them, but also to all animals and animal gods supposed to be asso-
ciated sacredly with water, and through which water is supplicated.
(3.) We--ma-a-ha-i, from we-ma == prey, and a-ha-i == beings.
"Prey Beings," applied alike to the prey animals and their
representatives among the gods. Finally, we have the terms--
c. Ak-na=a-ha-i, form ak-na == done, cooked or baked, ripe, and a-ha-i
== beings, the "Done Beings," referring to mankind; and
d. Ash-i-k'ia=a-ha-i, from a'sh-k'ia == made, finished, and a-ha-i ==
beings, "Finished Beings," including the *dead* of mankind.
That very little distinction is made between these orders of life, or
that they are at least closely related, seems to bee indicated by the
absence from the entire language of any general terms for God. True,
there are many beings in Zuni Mythology godlike in attributes, anthro-
pomorphic, monstrous, and elemental, which are known as the "Finishers
or Makers of the path of life," while the most superior of all is called
the "Holder of the paths (of our lives)," Ha-a-no-o-na wi-la-po-na.
Not only these gods, but all supernnatural beings, men, animals, plants,
and many objects in nature, are regarded as personal existences, and
are included in the one term a-ha-i, from a, the plural particle sig-
nifying "all," and ha-i, being or life, == "Life," "the Beings." This
again leads us to the important and interesting conclusion that all
beings, whether deistic and supernatural, or animistic and mortal, are
regarded as belonging to one system; and that they are likewise believed
to be related by blood seems to be indicated by the fact that human
beings are spoken of as the "children of men," while *all* other beings
are referred to as "the Fathers," the "All-fathers," and "Our
THE WORSHIP OF ANIMALS
It naturally follows from the Zuni's philosophy of life, that his wor-
ship, while directed to the more mysterious and remote powers of nature,
or, as he regards them, existences, should relate more especially to the
animals; that, in fact, the animals, as more nearly related to himself
than are these existences, more nearly related to these existences than
to himself, should be frequently made to serve as mediators between them
and him. We find this to be the case.
It follows likewise that in his inability to differentiate the objective
from the objective, he should establish relationships between natural
objects which resemble animals and the animals themselves; that he should
even ultimately imitate these animals for the sake of establishing such
relationships, using such accidental resemblences as his *motives*, and
thus developing a conventionality in all art connected with his
It follows that the special requirements of his life or of the life of
his ancestors should influence him to select as his favored mediators or
aids those animals which seemed best fitted, through peculiar character-
istics and powers, to meet these requirements. This, too, we find to be
the case, for, preeminately a man of war and the chase, like all savages,
the Zuni has chosen above all other animals those which supply him with
food and useful material, together with the animals which prey on them,
giving preference to the latter.
Hence, while the name of the former class is applied preferably as a
*general* term to all animals and animal gods, as previously explained,
the name of the latter is used with equal preference as a term for all
fetiches (We-ma-we), whether of the prey animals themselves or of other
animals and beings. Of course it is equally natural, since they are
connected with man both in the scale of being and in the power to sup-
ply his physical wants more nearly than are the higher gods, that the
animals or animal gods should greatly outnumber and even give character
to all others. We find that the Fetiches of the Zunis relate mostly to
the animal gods, and principally to the prey gods.
ORIGIN OF ZUNI FETICHISM
This fetichism seems to have arisen from the relationships heretofore
alluded to, and to be founded on the myths which have been invented to
account for those relationships. IT is therefore not surprising that
those fetiches most valued by the Zunis should be either natural con-
cretions, or objects in which the evident original resemblance to ani-
mals has been only heightened by artificial means.
Another highly prized class of fetiches are, on the contrary, those
which are elaborately carved, but show evidence, in their polish and
dark patina, of great antiquity. They are either such as have been
found by the Zunis about pueblos formerly inhabited by their ancestors
or are tribal possessions which have been handed down from generation
to generation, until their makers, and even the fact that they were
made by any member of the tribe, have been forgotten.
It is supposed by the priests (A-shi-wa-ni) of Zuni that not only these,
but all true fetiches, are either actual petrifactions of the animals
they represent, or were such originally...
"... Thus was the surface of the earth hardened and scorched and many of
all kinds of beings changed to stone. Thus too, it happens that we find,
here and there throughout the world, their forms, sometimes large like
the beings themselves, sometimes shriveled and distorted. And we often
see among the rocks the forms of many beings that live no longer, which
shows us that all was different in the 'days of the new.'"
Of these petrifications, which are of course mere concretions or
strangely eroded rock-forms, the Zunis say, "Whomsoever of us may be
met with the light of such great good fortune may *see* (discover, find)
them and should treasure them for the sake of the sacred (magic) power
which was given them in the days of the new. For the spirits of the
We-ma-a-ha-i still live, and are pleased to receive from the Sacred
Plume (of the heart -- La-sho-a-ni), and sacred necklace of treasure
(Thla-thle-a); hence they turn their ears and the ears of their brothers
in our direction that they may hearken to our prayers (sacred talks)
and know our wants."
POWER OF THE FETICHES
This tradition not only furnishes additional evidence relative to the
preceeding statements, but also, taken in connection with the following
belief, shows quite clearly to the native wherein lies the power of his
fetiches. It is supposed that the hearts of the great animals of prey
are infused with a spirit or medicine of magic influence over the hearts
of the animals they prey upon, or the game animals (K'ia-pin-a-ha-i);
that their braeaths (the "Breath of Life" -- Ha-i-an-pi-nan-ne -- and
Soul are synonymous in Zuni Mythology), derived from their hearts, and
breathed upon their prey, whether near or far, never fail to overcome
them, piercing their hearts and causing their limbs to stiffen, and the
animals themselves to lose their strength.
Moreover, the roar or cry of a beast of prey is accounted its Sa-wa-ni-
ki'a, or magic medicine of destruction, which, heard by the game animals,
is fatal to them, because it charms their senses, as does the breath of
their hearts. Since the mountain lion, for example, lives by the blood
("life fluid") and flesh of the game animals, and by those alone, he is
endowed not only with the above powers, but with peculiar powers in the
senses of sight and smell. Moreover, these powers, as derived from his
heart, are preserved in his fetich, since his heart still lives, even
though his person be changed to stone.
Frank H. Cushing (1857-1900) was a member of an expedition to the pueblo
of Zuni in 1879 sent by Maj. John Wesley Powell, Director of the Bureau
of American Ethnology. Cushing remained with the Zunis for several years,
writing numerous and excellent accounts of many aspects of their culture.
He not only learned to speak the Zuni language but lived, as nearly as
possible, as a Zuni. So well was he accepted by these people that he was
given a Zuni name (Medicine Flower) and initiated into the Bow Priesthood
as a War Chief. Because of his habit of dressing in a dandified version
of a Zuni warrior the Zunis nicknamed him "Many Buttons", a reference to
his overuse of silver decorations. -- Tom Bahti
Poster's note: Cushing was a remarkable person, and a gifted observer
and reporter. Seek out his writings. Note that when he refers to Zunis
as "savages", he is ironically labeling himself also, since he nearly
BECAME Zuni, as much as possible. Cushing was the first anthropologist
EVER to become so involved with a people, and he greatly influenced the
future course of human studies. -- Ric Carter