A fetish is an inanimate object into which a spirit1 has been bound for the purpose of granting it magical properties2 - this is traditionally done by a shaman but other sorts of worker may create fetishes as well. The bound spirit may be forced to perform a task on release or may provide some kind of continuous service to the possessor of the fetish (which is much harder to achieve).
As usual, with any spirit powered magic, a fetish may need to be dominated before it can be used and/or may retain some degree of autonomy making it unreliable or dangerous for unskilled or exhausted users - a large degree of caution is advised when dealing with any unfamiliar fetish. It is even possible -if rare - for a spirit to be bound into an object in such a way that it is free to attack anyone that touches it, making a potent booby trap, but this stretches the normal bounds of what constitutes a fetish.
In some shamanistic practice the fetish may not be a prison for a spirit, but rather some kind of voluntary residence which grants it a limited form of physical body in which to receive worship and/or sacrifices. Technically a fetish that receives worship also qualifies as an idol.
Traditionally a fetish will be constructed of spiritually significant materials - what these will be varies from culture to culture3 - but a skilled enough worker could theoretically bind a spirit into anything. In extreme cases a fetish may actually consist of a spirit forced into a material form (say, one that is able to manifest a body for itself out of ectoplasm) without being bound into anything … but this should not be a common occurrence and would likely require extremely high end work4. Particularly hubristic workers - or those working with entirely friendly and consenting spirits - have been known to bind them into tattoos … turning a living creature into a fetish would be another level altogether, whilst binding a spirit to a fresh corpse is a recognised method of animating undead.
The tupilak may qualify as a fetish by some definitions, but this could also be regarded as overstretching the bounds of the definition.
False Face Society - fetish masks containing spirits used for healing.
Game and Story Use
- In the right kind of campaign, these may be the main (or only) source of magic items. This may make magic items a lot less attractive to casual users.
- Since a fetish is both magic item and NPC5, the GM can treat it as a character. A mistreated fetish might curse its wielder or refuse to work, while a well-treated one, or one whose wielder serves its goals, might act on its own to help.
- And the fetish in question may relate to the PC as anything from pet to deity.
- Having fetish-tattoos has the obvious drawback of leaving the wearer very vulnerable to attack if he falls out with the bound spirit and, having been part of the tattoo, the spirit may be very hard to exorcise and harder than usual to prevent from returning.
- Of course, if installing the spirit in someone else, this may be a feature, not a bug.
- Consider a spirit attached to someone that generally rides shotgun on them - and maybe even provides assistance - but has a secondary set of orders (secret or otherwise) to attack their host if they do something the binder doesn't approve of. Very useful for enforcing employee loyalty.
- Easily recycled for sci-fi with a wetware AI assistant.
- Possibly a risk for PCs that buy magic tattoos from the lowest bidder (and/or without doing their due diligence checks).