(Latin: factitius, made by art)

A term first applied probably to the religion of idols and amulets made by hand and supposed to possess magic power. Basthold, 1805, claims as fetish "everything produced by nature or art, which receives divine honor, including sun, moon, earth, air, fire, water, mountains, rivers, trees, stones, images, animals, if considered as objects of divine worship." Thus the name became more general until Comte used it to designate only the lowest stage of religious development, a theory now practically abandoned. The spirit supposed to dwell in the fetish is not the vital power belonging to that object, but a spirit foreign to the object, in some way connected with and embodied in it. Within the limits of animism, Tiele and Hoffding distinguish between fetishism and spiritism; fetishism contents itself with particular objects in which it is supposed a spirit has for a certain time taken up its abode; in spiritism, spirits are not bound up with certain objects, but may change their mode of revelation. Also a fetish differs from an idol or amulet, though the distinction is sometimes difficult; an amulet is a pledge of protection of Divine power; a fetish is an object in which the Divine power is supposedly wholly incorporated, and idolatry in this sense is a higher form of fetishism.

New Catholic Dictionary

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