Made of an intricately woven web and decorated with delicate feathers as well as glittering beads, dream catchers have spurred imaginations for decades. Today, you can see them in all shapes and sizes. Known to keep away bad dreams, people of all ages are still enamored with them. If you’re lucky, you may even receive one as a gift from a family member or friend.
But how did dream catchers originate exactly? And what is their connection with dreams?
Dream Catchers: a Brief History
It’s common knowledge that dream catchers came from the Native American culture. However, it was American anthropologist and ethnographer, Frances Densmore, who recorded the legend of dream catchers from the Ojibwe tribe. A ‘dream catcher’ or asabikeshiinh in Ojibwe language means spider. Surprisingly, its origins had very little to do with dreams at all.
According to the story, there is a Spider Woman, also called as Asibikaashi, who takes care and protects her people. Back then everyone was gathered into a single place, called Turtle Island. But as the tribe grew and its people spread across the four corners of the land – as the prophecies intended – it became harder for her to travel to all of them.
Thus, she inspired mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and other females to weave little ‘spider web charms’. These shall serve to watch over the people, especially children, so no harm will come their way. It is said that if you are awake during the dawn, look for the lodge of Asibikaashi on the rays of the sparkling dew. This is the miracle of how she brought the sun back to the people.
Traditionally, these charms were hung above cradles. The netting would be made from nettle fiber, and two spider webs were hung on a hoop. Much like a real spider’s web, they are meant to catch any evil that are believed to be mixed with the night air.
Eventually, the legend of these spider web charms extended to other tribes like the Lakota, through intermarriages and trade. During the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, it also became a symbol of unity or identification for many Native American cultures. But it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that it truly became a popular native crafts item.
More Stories about the Dream Catcher
The story from the Lakota tribe about dream catchers is just as beautiful.
A long time ago, an elderly Lakota spiritual leader had a vision while on top of a mountain. Iktomi, the teacher of wisdom and also quite the trickster, showed himself in the form of a spider. He spoke in sacred language only spiritual leaders understood. And as he did so, he took the old man’s willow hoop that had feathers, beads, horse hair, and offerings on it to spin a web.
Iktomi explained about the cycle of life, and how as humans go through life, they encounter both good and bad forces. Listening to good forces will lead you in the right direction, to happiness and success. But following bad forces will hurt you. As he spoke, he kept weaving; first outside, working his way inside towards the center.
Finally, Iktomi finished talking and handed the elder his willow hoop. It had a web but with a hole in the middle. He instructs the spiritual leader to use this vision to teach the people to believe in the Great Spirit. If they do, good ideas, dreams, and visions will be caught in the web as bad ones pass through the hole. The old spiritual leader does exactly this.
Today, dream catchers adorn homes to sift through bad dreams and visions. For the people of Lakota, dream catchers represent destiny and their future.
There is a version wherein dream catchers trap bad dreams within its net, and good dreams pass through the feathers onto the sleeper. A second account states that bad dreams are captured on the web and good dreams pass through the hole at the center. Once sunlight hits the dream catcher, so the bad dreams will perish. But whichever version is in fact, acceptable.
Another story tells of how an elderly woman watched as a spider spun its web above her bed every day. Until one day, when her grandson attempted to kill it. She pleaded with the boy to let it be. Though surprised and baffled at his grandmother’s request, the boy nonetheless, left the spider alone.
Grateful, the spider thanks her and promised to spin a web ‘between her and the moon’ to snare bad thoughts from her as she slept. And so the spider does as promised, and the old woman slept peacefully.
Symbolisms Behind The Dream Catcher
Despite the breakthroughs in science and technology, people nowadays still believe in the power of dreams. That’s why dream catchers are still popular. This is not only thanks to their beauty, but because of the symbolisms they hold.
The hoop of the dream catcher, traditionally made of willow wood, embodies the circle of life. But it also represents how the sun travels across the sky each day.
Meanwhile the net, should be woven like the spider’s web to represent the Spider Woman. Native tribes used nettle stalk cord dyed with bloodroot and wild plum inner bark to achieve a bright red hue. But modern times have called for the use of red yarn as a good substitute. The points of the web should number eight for the number of a spider’s legs, or seven, to stand for the Seven Prophecies.
The addition of feathers has many meanings. But the accepted belief is that it symbolizes breath or air, and its importance in life. The type of feather is just as essential: an owl’s meant wisdom, while that of eagle meant courage.
Adult dream catchers should not contain feathers. Instead, it can use gem stones. Four gem stones stand for the four corners or four directions. The use of precious stones has replaced feathers in modern dream catchers due to new government regulations.
Traditional dream catchers are usually smaller (typically 3 and a half inches in diameter), and created from natural materials. However, as demand for them increased, more and more people started selling them. If you see bigger, flashier dream catchers, these are usually no longer made from conventional materials and are frowned upon by Native American cultures.
It’s natural for traditional dream catchers for children to be made of willow and sinew because they are meant to break down as the child grows older. This represents the temporary nature of youth. For adults, use stronger woven fibers that will reflect your dreams or visions. You may have them in a tear or snow shoe shape as well.
Do Dream Catchers Work
Do you believe that they work? Things don’t necessarily need proof or evidence to be believed in.
If you loved its story and want to carry on the tradition of dream catchers to help you with visions for success, then it should help along the way. Hang a dream catcher above your bed to remind you to dream of good things. So you when you wake up in the morning, you will be refreshed enough to tackle on the day’s challenges.
As in the legend of Asibikaashi, wait for the dawn and look for the sun in the dew. Tell yourself that you too, can one day have your place in the sun.
When you’re purchasing dream catchers, keep their origins and legends in mind. Don’t forget its rich history and intended purpose. Behind its glittering beads and intricate woven patterns is a connection to the past, now only whispered in the wind. Keep its magic alive by gifting friends and family with the valuable knowledge of what dream catchers truly stand for.