It took me quite some time to put all this information together. The stories are interesting and the culture is rich. So let’s begin!
When you hear “Dream Catcher” you feel you got to get one so you can catch all your dreams and keep them safe! But is that how the dream catchers work?
When you see a dream catcher you think, how beautiful! Should I get one?
But what are they? Do they catch dreams? How do they work?
Dream catchers are often believed to have originated from the Ojibwa Chippewa tribe in particular.
The Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa, or Saulteaux are an Anishinaabe people of Canada and the United States. They are one of the most numerous indigenous peoples north of the Rio Grande. In Canada, they are the second-largest First Nations population, surpassed only by the Cree.
The Ojibwe word for dream catcher “asabikeshiinh” actually means “spider,” referring to the web woven to loosely cover the hoop.
“It is believed that dream catchers originated with Asibaikaashi who was known as the Spider Woman. She was a custodian of all the infants and the adults. It became a difficult task for her to take enough care of all the Ojibwe people as they started spreading geographically even to the hooks and crannies of North America.
The women were in charge of weaving the magical webs for the infants. The women made this possible by using willow hoops and sinew to weave the webs. The children were provided with charms as a medium of protection. These charms were idealized to catch any sort of harm that might be present around that place or time.”
Lakota story tells of how Iktomi (spider) came and spoke to an old Lakota spiritual leader who was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language. As he spoke, Iktomi the spider picked up the elder's willow hoop which had feathers, horsehair, beads and offerings on it, and began to spin a web. He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life, how we begin our lives as infants, move on through childhood and on to adulthood. Finally we go to old age where we must be taken care of as infants, completing the cycle.
But Iktomi said as he continued to spin his web, “in each time of life there are many forces, some good and some bad. If you listen to the good forces, they will steer you in the right direction. But, if you listen to the bad forces, they'll steer you in the wrong direction and may hurt you. So these forces can help, or can interfere with the harmony of Nature.” While the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web.
When Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the elder the web and said, The web is a perfect circle with a hole in the center. Use the web to help your people reach their goals, making good use of their ideas, dreams and visions. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will filter your good ideas and the bad ones will be trapped and will not pass.
Siberian shamans who lived in Russia also made dream catchers, but no child’s amulet were they: rather, they were a magic tool wielded by the shaman. The shaman hung a dream catcher over his headboard, and the dream catcher helped the shaman to control his dreams: prevent evil spirits who send nightmares from entering them, and also help him see the future in the dreams, give him hints about what to do in difficult situations, talk with good spirits and ask them for advice about important decisions. The shaman’s dreamcatcher wasn’t just there to ensure sweet dreams – it was a guide to the spirit world, a portal to secret knowledge, to wisdom on how to separate truth from lies.
Evil spirits and negative energy entangled in the talisman's web would be vanquished by the rays of the sun, which is why the dreamcatcher was hung where it was sunny in the afternoon. A string with feathers and beads hanging from an amulet served as a conductor of knowledge from the “antenna” to the shaman himself. Prophetic dreams would slide over the soft feathers to the sleeper, bringing him long-awaited answers to questions.
The Indians believed that bad dreams would be ensnared in the web, while good dreams would slip through the hole in the center, and from there be channeled into the sleeper.
“This charm was made of threads and deer tendons which were attached to a willow branch bent into a circle; several feathers were likely also attached, as well as beads made of wood, bone and stone. The dream catcher would be hung over the sleeper, close to his head. And it fostered not only good, but also prophetic dreams, protecting him from negative magic. Dark, evil dreams were dissipated, entangled in the web, while good, important knowledge freely fell upon the person.”
“When morning comes and the dream catcher is exposed to light, the bad dreams dissolve and disappear. They cannot survive in daylight. As the person wakes up he or she feels refreshed after a pleasant and peaceful sleep.”
The shape of the dream catcher is a circle because it represents the circle of life and how forces like the sun and moon travel each day and night across the sky.
There is some contention when it comes to the meaning of the beads that often decorate the dream catcher. According to some American Indians, the beads symbolize the spider—the web weaver itself. Others believe the beads symbolize the good dreams that could not pass through the web, immortalized in the form of sacred charms.
Sandra Laframboise has also interesting information:
“All the parts of the dream catcher has meaning.
To begin, the web represent the spider our brother of life forever repairing the eternal web of life. Thus weaving your life dreams and energy in the universe when you dream.
The ring represents the earth mother and the humble walk we do upon her. The ring was also covered with multi-colored wool representing in my mind and spirit aspects of your personality, moods and emotions. The beads on the web are of the 7 directions thus calling upon them to bless you.
As we believe that we are related to all things and that all things are part of us then the Dream Catcher and medicine wheel is a representation of such sacred belief."
Dream catchers were adopted in the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and gained popularity as a widely marketed “Native crafts items” in the 1980s, and many Native Americans still consider the dream catcher to be a symbol of unity and identification among the many Indian Nations and First Nations cultures.
Nowadays, dream catchers are made from different materials, has different colours and are often used for decoration. Whether you have received, or bought, a dream catcher for decorative or other purposes, you have certainly purchased an exquisite piece that carries deep meanings and tells the story of a great people.
I wish this information answered some of your questions. I greatly appreciate the First Nation culture and I’ll do my best to continue to create pieces that reflect this beautiful and rich culture.