Native Americans looked to their dreams with great reverence and respect. Dreams from spirit and guidance messages acquired through dreams shaped and influenced their culture in so many ways that it’s impossible to do justice to Native American culture in just one article. While we will certainly go over Native American culture and dreams in as many ways possible, today we will be talking of one of the most fascinating and prevalent effects of Native American culture today: the dream catcher. It is so prevalent that it has wound up in homes across America and other Countries and become a widely-accepted decoration in the bedroom. But where did these come from? And, more importantly, why are they used?
History of the Dream Catcher
In Native American culture, dreams are thought to be spirits moving through the night sky. In some tribes, the “Great Dream” or life path of the dreamer is forgotten at birth and thus needs to be remembered to carry out their spiritual gifts. Children are encouraged to explore their dreams to carry out their life’s mission. The hoop is thought to have originated from the sacred circle. In ceremonies, Native Americans make a sacred circle around one person, to capture the messages from the dream spirits and focus these messages to the center of the circle where a young man awaits to receive important guidance for his life or for the tribe.
But, it all really started with children and nightmares. Well, sort of. A mobile created by a “Sacred Hoop” was hung above the cradle or bed of a baby or child. A baby would watch the dancing feathers and adornments and be charmed into sleeping. Newborns had a charm or feather in the center of their sacred hoop to focus their dreams and so that their innocence would be preserved rather than fall into the hands of the “trickster” of the night. One feature of a child dream catcher is the feather or charm in the center which is removed in the adult version. The feather, meaning “breath” or “life” is replaced by other adornments special to the adult’s life path to aid in wisdom and understanding. The basic principle of a dream catcher is that good dreams pass through the hoop, while the bad dreams become caught in it to evaporate at morning’s light.
Dream Catcher Legends
The Legend of the Dream Catcher varies from tribe to tribe (dream catchers were passed to different tribes with trading). Through extensive studies, Anthropologists believe that the dream catcher was first used by the Ojibwe or Chippewa tribe. The dream catcher legend, according to this tribe, is as follows:
“Beside the sleeping space of Nokomis, the grandmother, a spider was quietly spinning a web. Each day, Nokomis marveled at the spider’s work. One day as she was watching him, her grandson came in and saw the spider. Thinking his grandmother was in trouble, he picked up a shoe and started towards the spider to hit it. The grandmother said to the boy, “don’t hurt it!” The boy was confused and asked why she protected the spider, but the grandmother gave no answer. When the boy left, the spider thanked the woman her for saving its life and said to her, “For many days you have watched me spin and weave my web. You have admired my work. In return for saving my life, I will give you a gift.” The spider went to work, “see how I spin? Learn, for each web will snare bad dreams. Only good dreams will go through the small hole. This is my gift to you. Use it so that only good dreams will be remembered. The bad dreams will become hopelessly entangled in the web and perish at the beginning of each new day.”
The Lakota dream catcher legend is a bit different, but also involves a spider:
Long ago when the world was young an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In this vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and teacher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. 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 onto adulthood. Finally, we go to the 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, make good use of their ideas, dreams and visions. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will catch your good ideas and the bad ones will go through the hole.”
The elder passed on his vision to the people, and now many Indian people hang a dream catcher above their bed to sift their dreams and visions. The good is captured in the web of life and carried with the people, but the evil in their dreams drops through the hole in the center of the web and are no longer a part of their lives. (courtesy of snowwowl.com)
Dream Catchers in Modern Culture
Today, the dream catcher is appealing to parents of children with nightmares or are afraid during the night. It is a very common way to solve this seemingly universal problem and it is also effective. It is recommended to tell the child the dream catcher legend and, upon waking, to encourage the child to physically shake out the bad dreams either into the wastebasket or outside. The ideal placement for dream catchers for the act of protection is to place them above the bed, or in the window. Adults also use dream catchers to enhance dream recall, gain more empowering messages, to affect the landscape and directions of the dreams or in the same way that they were traditionally used: to help achieve a higher understanding of self and to find one’s journey in this life. Whatever purpose one might use to catch a dream, the dream catcher is a fashionable and intimate way to connect with the dream world. A person’s dream catcher should be unique to the dreamer and should involve colors and symbols meaningful to them.
Available on our outside resources page, the Catch A Dream shop is an ideal place to shop for custom made dream catchers, “adapted to any style and taste” at a perfect price.
- K. Kennedy