Dream catchers are arts and crafts of the Native American people. The original web dream catcher of the Ojibwa was intended to teach natural wisdom. Nature is a profound teacher. Dream catchers of twigs, sinew, and feathers have been woven since ancient times by Ojibwa people. They were woven by the grandfathers and grandmothers for newborn children and hung above the cradle board to give the infants peaceful, beautiful dreams. The night air is filled with dreams. Good dreams are clear and know the way to the dreamer, descending through the feathers. The slightest movement of the feathers indicated the passage of yet another beautiful dream. Bad dreams, however, are confused and confusing. They cannot find their way through the web and are trapped there until the sun rises and evaporates them like the morning dew.
History of Dream Catchers
Long ago when the word was sound, an old Lakota spiritual leader 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.
The elder passed on his vision onto the people and now many Indian people have a dream catcher above their bed to sift their dreams and visions. The good will pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. The evil in their dreams are captured in the web, where they perish in the light of the morning sun. It is said the dream catcher holds the destiny of the future
What are Dreams?
Dreams, remembered, are an experience all on their own. They may bring on the sense of images, sounds, smells, and many other sensations. During sleep, the mind may often bring reality into your dreams. Dreams bring on emotions that can be light or strong, upsetting or exciting. Some dreams we never want to end and some dreams we are just wishing we could wake up, “It was only a dream”.
Most of the time we do not have control over our dreams, but there are dreams that we are capable of controlling or changing. These dreams are considered Lucid Dreams. Lucid dreams are when we are aware of our dream and can change the reality of it and various aspects of it.
It is believed that dreams are connected with REM sleep, that state in which we are asleep, but at the most wakefulness. During this time, dreams are more likely to be remembered. It is said that a typical human will dream on average, 2 hours a night, 6 total years of a life.
Two Dreamcatcher Legends
Dream catchers have two legends about their beginnings; one told by the Ojibwe and another told later by the Lakota after they learned about them through trade and intermarriage with the Ojibwe people.
A grandmother watched patiently each day as a spider spun his web above her sleeping place until one day her grandson noticed the spider and tried to kill it.
“Don’t hurt him,” she told the boy in a soft tone, surprising him.
“But grandmother, you should not protect this spider.”
When the grandson left, the spider thanked the woman for her protection and offered her a gift. “I will spin you a web that hangs between you and the moon so that when you dream, it will snare the bad thoughts and keep them from you.”
At this, grandmother smiled and continued to watch the spider spin his web.
While receiving a spiritual vision high on a mountain, a Lakota leader met Iktomi, a trickster who also held great wisdom. Appearing to the leader in the form of a spider, Iktomi made a hoop of willow and spun a web inside of it.
He told the aged Lakota man that many forces, both bright and dark would attempt to enter peoples’ dreams and that the dream catcher he was making would catch the bright forces and allow the dark ones to slip away and burn up. Iktomi instructed the old man to make dream catchers for his people so they could all achieve a bright future by capturing the good dreams that are blown about by the winds of the night.
As you can see, in the Lakota version, dream catchers trap good dreams, just the opposite of the Ojibwe belief.
Dreams have always been a fundamental part of Ojibwe culture and have many purposes.
- Prophecies: Dreams can show future events that will affect a tribe or individual person.
- Names: Spiritual leaders can receive the name of a newborn child through dreams.
- Spiritual Strength: Many Ojibwe people pray, meditate, and fast in order to bring on dreams that will give them spiritual guidance during difficult times.
- Symbolism: Dreamers will often see a symbol that has personal meaning to them throughout their lives. Many Ojibwe make a charm to keep with them to remind them of the symbol. Some even take them to the grave when they die for strength in the afterlife.
The Ojibwe people, often referred to by their anglicized name, “Chippewa”, so insightfully understood the importance of dreams, especially in children, that they attempted to assist a child’s ability to receive good dreams and filter out dark or negative dreams with the use of a dream catcher.