Zuni Philosophy

The Á-shi-wi, or Zuñis, 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.
— Orly

The Á-shi-wi, or Zuñis, 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 degrees of relationship seem 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 as an organism, actual or imaginary, resembles his, is it believed to be related to him and correspondingly 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 of 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 personality analogous to that of the animal whose operations most resemble its manifestation. 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 Wí-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 concerning "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 personalities 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 therefore are considered immortal.

To the above descriptions of the supernatural beings of Zuñi 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 Zuñi, no general name is equivalent to "the gods," unless it be the two expressions which relate only to the higher or creating and controlling beings—the "causes," Creators and Masters, "Pí-kwain=á-hâ-i" (Surpassing Beings), and "Á-tä-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. Í-shothl-ti-mon=á-hâ-i, from í-shothl-ti-mo-na=ever recurring, immortal, and á-hâ-i=beings.

Likewise, the animals and animal gods, and sometimes even the supernatural beings, having animal or combined animal and human personalities, are designated by one term only—

b. K'ia-pin=á-hâ-i, from k'ia-pin-na=raw, and á-hâ-i=beings. Of these, however, three divisions are made:

(1.) K'ia-pin-á-hâ-i=game animals, specifically applied to those animals furnishing flesh to man.

(2.) K'iä-shem-á-hâ-i, from k'iä-we=water, she-man=wanting, and á-hâ-i=beings, the water animals, specially applied not only to them, but also to all animals and animal gods supposed to be associated sacredly with water, and through which water is supplicated.

(3.) Wé-ma-á-hâ-i, from we-ma=prey, and á-hâ-i=beings, "Prey Beings," applied alike to the prey animals and their representatives among the gods. Finally we have the terms—

c. Ak-na=á-hâ-i, from ák-na=done, cooked, or baked, ripe, and á-hâ-i=beings, the "Done Beings," referring to mankind; and

d. Äsh-i-k'ia=á-hâ-i, from ä′sh-k'ia=made, finished, and á-hâ-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 be indicated by the absence from the entire language of any general term for God. True, there are many beings in Zuñi Mythology godlike in attributes, anthropomorphic, monstrous, and elemental, which are known as the "Finishers or makers of the paths of life," while the most superior of all is called the "Holder of the paths (of our lives)," Hâ′-no-o-na wí-la-po-na. Not only these gods, but all supernatural beings, men, animals, plants, and many objects in nature, are regarded as personal existences, and are included in the one term á-hâ-i, from á, the plural particle signifying "all," and hâ-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 Fathers."


It naturally follows from the Zuñi's philosophy of life, that his worship, 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 subjective, 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 resemblances as his motives, and thus developing a conventionality in all art connected with his worship. 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 characteristics and powers, to meet these requirements. This, too, we find to be the case, for, preeminently a man of war and the chase, like all savages, the Zuñi 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 (Wé-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 supply 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 Zuñis relate mostly to the animal gods, and principally to the prey gods.

Zuni Fetish

Zuni Fetish

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 Zuñis should be either natural concretions or objects in which the evident original resemblance to animals 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 Zuñis 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 (Á-shi-wa-ni) of Zuñi that not only these, but all true fetiches, are either actual petrifactions of the animals they represent, or were such originally. 


Source:  F. H. C. [1]

Culture:  Zuni (Ashiwi)

Language Group:  Zuni or Zuñi is a language isolate spoken mainly in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, and in parts of Arizona. Zuni has been influenced to some extent by other languages in the areas where its spoken, in particular Hopi, Keresan, Tanoan, and also Navajo.

Spiro Mounds

New England: the Marshpee Protest