Fetichism-Or Fetishism a term recently introduced to denote the lowest forms of human worship, "in which the shapeless stone, the meanest reptile, or any object however worthless or insignificant, is consecrated by a vague and mysterious reverence" (Milman). It is derived from Feitico. a term borrowed from the Portuguese fetisso, and used by the negroes of Senegal to denote an instrument of witchcraft. It was first brought into use-in Europe by De Brosses, in his Du Culte des Dieux Fitiches (Dijon, 1760). Fetichism is practised in Greenland, Africa, Australia, and Liberia. The fetiches in use in Africa are either natural (as a tiger, serpent, etc.) or artificial (as skins or claws of beasts, stones, etc.). Sometimes a single fetich is made the object of worship for a whole tribe, e.g. the tiger in Dahomey, the serpent by the Whydahs. The negroes of Benin make a fetich of their own shadows. But, besides these, each individual almost has his own particular fetich or fetiches. Any object may become one by the merest accident; e.g. by having been the subject of a dream. When any one has a fetich supposed to possess extraordinary powers of injuring others, no efforts are spared to get it from the owner. Collections of them are highly prized, and a traveller on the coast of Guinea saw as many as 20,000 fetiches in the possession of one negro. Sometimes they are purely imaginary, and are fantastic form's, such as are never found in nature, and generally contrived 'for the purpose of producing fear. At Cape Coast there is a public guardian fetich, supreme in power and dignity. This is a rock which projects into the sea from the bottom of the cliff on which the castle is built. To this rock annual sacrifices are presented, and the responses given through the priests are rewarded by the blinded devotees.
With regard to the religious relation between the fetiches and their worshippers, we find that, although undoubtedly sinking often to the rank of mere instruments of sorcery in practice, fetiches are yet essentially idols. They receive, every morning and evening, offerings of spices, milk, tobacco, etc., and are always approached with marks of respect and of fear. They are resorted to for protection against lightning, beasts of prey, murder, etc. They also serve to protect property, to attest oaths, and the negroes have even a vague idea that after death they will have to render an account to their fetiches. Yet the moral hold of the fetich over its worshipper is, after all, very weak; the object of worship is discarded or broken as soon as its efficacy is distrusted.
Substantially, fetishism is a rude form of pantheism. Its root is to be found in the fear generated in the rude nature of the savage by the unknown forces of the universe.-Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 4:395; Scholten, Geschichte der Relig. und Philosophie (Elberfeld, 1868); Lecky, Rationasism, i, 208 sq.; Hardwick, Christ and other Masters, ii, 127.