In Indian country -- Taos in Northern New Mexico where I live in fact is home to the oldest continuously inhabited Pueblo adobe structure in the US -- it's commonplace to come across so-called fetishes. Whether Kachina ghost dolls or tiny carved animals, Zuni specialties, they're more than just tourist tchachkes though often, they end up as exactly that - cutesy keepsakes from the Land of Enchantment (which our neighbors in Colorado refer to as the Land of Entrapment but that's a story for another day).

The dictionary tells us that fetishes are objects venerated for their magical powers. Most animist religions in which natural forces are associated with deities take refuge in symbols that connect the human to the higher realms. Trees, rocks, sculptures and statues become the focus of attention and veneration, animal totems are invoked for specific powers or to pray for a successful hunt. Indeed, one could argue that if the symbol per se contained zero power at the onset of it being chosen as a transformative focus, such power was bestowed upon it by those who contemplated and prayed in front of it on a regular basis or handled it.

Behind such a statement resides the belief that mental and emotional forms, through the process of focused attention and repetitiveness, can get attached to objects. Anyone who's ever had a teenage crush that remained unexpressed can relate. A complete stranger can suddenly assume a magical though utterly imaginary life while treating the crushie with utter neglect or even contempt in the visible world. Onlookers would argue that the one suffering the crush is "completely in his head" but his actual symptoms -- lovesickness, inspiration, absent-mindedness to so-called real life -- are very real indeed and cause for much consternation among those trying to talk sense into our besotted boy.

Fetishism then is the belief in magical objects and the practice of using them for specific purposes. In the common lingo of our materialistic societies today, it's also understood as "excessive, obsessive or irrational attachment or devotion to an object". The magical aspect of course cannot be separated from actual practice. It's not just a convenient belief and lip-service prayer. It's something a true fetishist does. It's a psycho-physical preparation or ritual to create the context or space in which the magic is supposed to arise - either directly and right on the spot or later, at an opportune moment left to chance and belief in the higher powers.

Anyone who's attended places of worship -- say a mosque, a meditation hall in a monastery, a cathedral -- knows that irrespective of personal beliefs, such places contain power. There's an energy and atmosphere that resonates with the ongoing spirit of those who practice their devotion there. Sacred space isn't sacred per se but made so by those who tend to it.

Some audiophiles approach their gear from a fetishist angle. Audio fetishism? You bet - in the modern meaning of the word: as irrational obsession with inanimate objects. Doing the same thing over and over again in the hopes for different results is one definition of irrational. What would you call approaching a material object in the hopes of magic as though pushing a button could set it free? Doesn't that forget the practice any magical discipline demands? Anyone engaged in such practices is used to sacrifice. At its most basic level, that means you give up something valuable or take on a task in exchange for being granted a favor. The power of the magic is often a direct function of the severity or value of the sacrifice. If you commit to doing something that's actual penance; or difficult and demanding on yourself but beneficial to others; you've "turned up the heat" on the potential magical power. After all, it's gotta come from somewhere. If you don't put it out, you're not gonna get.

Does passivity and laziness -- expecting great results from little or no effort -- connect with audio if you park yourself in the sweet spot, hit play and expect to be magically transported into some deep, heart-wrenching emotional experience? That's hoping for magic without paying the piper. Upgrading to more expensive hardware hoping for better results then becomes the archetype of completely irrational behavior. Does the endless buy'n'sale parade on AudiogoN not pay tribute to this very behavior? Some such obsessives even recognize their own silliness. "I've got the itch again. What I have is fine but I'm curious about something new."

This is the shadow side of fetishism. It's divorced from the vital act of empowering the magical object in the first place. Soulless machines don't do magic. People do. Audio machines can, however, help to erect sacred space, especially when approached through ritual. That mandates that the participant prepare himself and arrive with a sacrifice. This sacrifice is one of attention and emotional receptivity. Leave behind the mundane worries. Approach your listening session like a lover approaches his beloved - with anticipation and gifts. Expose your trigger points. Don't say "do me" and aim a remote. If you come prepared, a system can do magic, no doubt about it. Then it becomes a portal. But no discipline, no ritual, no sacrifice, no magic. It's as simple as that. Anyone seriously considering the implications will instantly understand that if you do strong juju, the equipment can be truly modest. The more the magical burden shifts on the equipment, the less of the magic happens - but the more it will cost you financially. Higher expense, less satisfaction. What a trade. It's a very simple matter, really. Incidentally, it also translates into all avenues of life. Understanding it is no magic at all. But the results are when one begins to act on this understanding...