Dream Catchers have become a recognizable symbol associated by Non-Natives with the Native American culture. It has become a décor craze and a roadside tourist stand common commodity. In the Southwest you can find them for sale even in the local gas stations. They can be purchased as key chains, jewelry, large pieces for your home, or small rearview mirror ornaments for you cars. They have become associated by many Native Americans as an egregious cultural misappropriation. Yet, they are often sold at road side stands or other places where authentic Native American goods are available for purchase. There is a market for them, and they do add to the Native tourist revenues that support many Native families.
Some Native Americans held the hoop in good esteem, symbolizing strength and unity. I can think of other uses of the hoop, such as the Hoop Dance, and hoops used in basket designs.
Traditional dream catchers were made to protect the sleeping from negative dreams, allowing positive ones through. The positive dreams would be allowed to pass through the hole in the center of the catcher, and glide down the feathers to the sleeping person below. The negative dreams would get trapped in the web of sinew, and disintegrate when the first rays of the sun struck them.
I thought that perhaps the best way to approach this is to give some background as well as instructions.
Here is one story of the Dream Catcher:
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.
In Ojibwe people’s legends, the dream catcher originated with them. They wove magical webs from willow hoops and sinew. The hoop represents the travel of giizis, the sun, through the sky. At night, the hole in the center only lets bawedjige, good dreams, pass. Bawedjigewin, bad dreams, are trapped in the web, and dispelled at the first light of morning.
The Ojibwe people have an ancient legend about the origin of the dream catcher. Storytellers speak of the Spider Woman, known as Asibikaashi; she took care of the children and the people on the land. Eventually, the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America and it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children. So the mothers and grandmothers would weave magical webs for the children, using willow hoops and sinew, or cordage made from plants. The dream catchers would filter out all bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to enter our mind. Once the sun rises, all bad dreams just disappear. American ethnographer Frances Densmore writes in her book Chippewa Customs (1929, republished 1979, pg. 113)
Even infants were provided with protective charms. Examples of these are the “spider webs” hung on the hoop of a cradle board. These articles consisted of wooden hoops about 3½ inches in diameter filled with an imitation of a spider’s web made of fine yarn, usually dyed red. In old times this netting was made of nettle fiber. Two spider webs were usually hung on the hoop, and it was said that they “caught any harm that might be in the air as a spider’s web catches and holds whatever comes in contact with it.”
Traditionally, the Ojibwe construct dream catchers by tying sinew strands in a web around a small round or tear-shaped frame of willow (in a way roughly similar to their method for making snowshoe webbing). The resulting “dream-catcher”, hung above the bed, is used as a charm to protect sleeping people, usually children, from nightmares.
The Ojibwe believe that a dream catcher changes a person’s dreams. According to Konrad J. Kaweczynski, “Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through… Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day.” Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper.
So there some legends, and a little history to help you appreciate the dream catcher more than a touristy item from the Native culture; I hope that you can connect with it on a different level of appreciation now.
When I think about the function and intent of the dream catcher I think that this is another layer of personal protection at a time when you are most vulnerable. The use of read thread or yarn calls to some of the teachings I received during my year and a day to always use red for your knotting when concerning protection that was the strongest energy for protection. The web calls to the web of life and the traditions of the fates as well as Grandmother Spider. It is also reminiscent of karmic ties. I think whenever we hear of some sort of cording or ties, we must pull together all of our collective knowledge on the subject. In there lies the universal truths.
Additionally, for me the use of feathers is very powerful. I am connected in many ways to birds and bird energies and I understand that. When you consider the possibility of the layering and just the entire dream catcher as a whole, you can see how the elements are layered, earth, willow, fire, the sunlight destroying the dreams, air, the dreams themselves, the hanging of the catcher and the feathers, and water is found in the sinew and he hide used to wrap the hoop. It is the life force of moisture, but additionally if shells are added that is another layer of the water element. The element of spirit is also in the sacrifice of the animal for the hide in sinew, as well as its meat to feed families and all of the other things used in every day life from that sacrifice, the dreams as spiritual emanations, the spirit of the web and the fates or Grandmother Spider.
I find that when a spiritual object is most powerful and effective is when it has all of the elements some how layered or embedded into it. It calls all of the forces of the universe to work its magic. This is equally true for the dream catcher.
So now perhaps you will have a greater appreciation of the dream catcher, as a Native American symbol, a magical protection tool, and as a work of great beauty and function.
Here are some simple instructions so that you can make your own:
Find a hoop or make one of wood, willow is traditionally used.
Cover the hoop with a hide, (deer, elk, and moose are often used,) or you can wrap it in yarn or other substance.
Weave the first row by tying one end of the string in a knot at the base of the hanging loop. Working counterclockwise, stretch the string to a spot a few inches down the hoop and loop it around the hoop. Stretch the string a few inches to the right and loop it around the hoop again.
Continue making loops that are evenly spaced apart until you reach the beginning.
Continue weaving the web. Take the end of the string and weave it under the loop created between the first and second looped peaks.
Make a “hitch” by using the thread to make a loop over the loose string. After making the first hitch, make another hitch at the thread between the second and third knots.
Continue weaving the thread in this manner until you have made a hitch at the thread between every knot.
Each hitch should fall at the exact midpoint of the thread between the knots.
As you weave, pull the thread snug, but not too tight.
After making the first row of hitches, continue weaving the thread between the new segments you have created.
Make a hitch in the middle of each one.
The net you weave will decrease, becoming smaller each time, pull the thread tighter.
If you want, add beads, shells, or stones to the dream catcher as you weave. Space them out randomly or create a pattern.
When you have woven the web down to a tiny circle in the middle, tie the end of the thread over the place where you would have made the final hitch.
Make a double knot so it won’t come undone.
Pull it tightly and snip off the end.
You can add feathers or other decorations as you please to hang from the bottom.
Once you get good at it, the shapes and designs are limited only by your imagination.
2016 copyright by Katie Pifer available at http://www.witchpetals.wordpress.com