A fetish (from French fetiche; from Portuguese feitico; from Latin facticius, "to make") is a natural object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular an object created by people that has power over people.


The concept was coined by Charles de Brosses in 1757, while comparing West African religion to the magical aspects of Ancient Egyptian religion. He and other 18th century scholars used the concept to apply evolution theory to religion. In de Brosses' theory of the evolution of religion, he proposed that fetishism is the earliest (most primitive) stage, followed by the stages of polytheism and monotheism, representing a progressive abstraction in thought.

In the 19th century, philosophers such as Herbert Spencer repudiated de Brosses' theory that fetishism was the "original religion". In the same century, anthropologists and scholars of comparative religion such as E. B. Tylor and J. F. McLennan developed the theories of animism and totemism to account for fetishism.

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 its use in the study of religion is derived from studies of traditional West African religious beliefs, as well as Voodoo, which is derived from those beliefs.

Blood is often considered a particularly powerful fetish or ingredient in fetishes. In some parts of Africa, the hair of white people was also considered powerful.

Other uses of the term "fetishism":

  1. In the 19th century Karl Marx appropriated the term to describe commodity fetishism as an important component of capitalism.
  2. Later Sigmund Freud appropriated the concept to describe a form of paraphilia where the object of affection is an inanimate object or a specific part of a person; see sexual fetish.
  3. In the Werewolf: The Apocalypse roleplaying games, fetishes are weapons or other items with spirits bound to them, enabling said items to do extraordinary things. An example would be a pistol with a hawk-spirit that would always shoot the user's target between the eyes.