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Have you ever gazed upon a dreamcatcher and wondered about the legends that birthed it? Or how this ancient Native American symbol found its way into modern bedrooms and jewelry boxes? Dreamcatchers are more than just decorative pieces. They have history, significance, and a world of stories behind them. Let’s take a look at what a dreamcatcher does and what it symbolizes.
Where Do Dreamcatchers Come From?
The dreamcatcher is a handmade object rooted in Native American culture, particularly among the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, people. Their purpose is to keep nightmares away from a sleeper and to allow only the good dreams to get to them.
While many Native American tribes use dreamcatchers and have origin stories for them, they’re typically associated with the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. The Ojibwe word for dreamcatcher means “spider,”. This reflects the web-like structure of the dreamcatcher, and comes from a popular Ojibwe legend.
Ojibway Spider Woman Legend
The Ojibwe have a story about the Spider Woman or Asibikaashi, who took care of the children and the people on the land. As the Ojibwe Nation spread, it became challenging for Asibikaashi to reach all the children.
To help Asibikaashi, the women of the tribe wove magic webs to symbolize the spider woman and her protection. Just as she trapped insects and bad omens in her sticky web, the dreamcatcher webs trap negative dreams and thoughts overnight. When the sun comes up, these nightmares fade away.
Lakota Dreamcatcher Legend
The Lakota tribe has a different tale regarding the dreamcatcher. In their story, a spiritual leader had a vision where the great Iktomi, a trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared as a spider. Iktomi took the elder’s willow hoop and spun a web, speaking of the circle of life. He explained how forces, both good and bad, can influence the path we walk, and how the dreamcatcher can serve as a tool to capture the good forces.
Meaning and Symbolism of Dreamcatchers
The primary purpose of a dreamcatcher is to protect the sleeper from bad dreams. It’s believed that the dreamcatcher filters dreams, allowing only positive dreams to pass through while trapping the negative dreams or nightmares in its web. But the symbolism of dreamcatchers goes beyond this.
Components of a Dreamcatcher
A dreamcatcher has four main components. Each of these components of a traditional dreamcatcher contains meaning.
- The Circle: Dreamcatchers typically consists of a round or tear-shaped frame, with a frame made of flexible wood and wrapped in leather or thread. This circle represents the circle of life, and that there is no end or beginning. The natural materials used for the dreamcatcher reflects the close bond Indigenous cultures share with nature.
- The Web: Within this frame is a woven net or web. The web’s purpose is to catch bad dreams and keep them away from the sleeper, while allowing good dreams to get to the sleeper. It acts like a spider’s web, filtering out negativity.
- Beads and Stones: Dreamcatchers are decorated with sacred items such as beads or gems. these represent the spider as well as the good dreams that might be trapped in the web.
- Feathers: The feathers allow good dreams to reach the sleeper. Feathers are sacred to Native Americans, and symbolize protection, healing, and connection with the divine.
Points of a Dreamcatcher
In addition to the parts of the dreamcatcher, the number of points created by the interlocking of strings or sinews in dreamcatchers can also hold special meaning.
- 5 Points – Typically associated with the star, representing the five points of a star and possibly the elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit.
- 6 Points – This is sometimes interpreted to symbolize an eagle, a powerful bird in many Native American cultures, representing courage and strength.
- 7 Points – Often said to symbolize the “Seven Grandfathers” or the seven ancestral spirits in some Native traditions, and their teachings.
- 8 Points – Reflects the spider itself, which is central to the dreamcatcher’s origin story, symbolizing the spider’s eight legs.
- 13 Points – Can represent the 13 phases of the moon, tying the dreamcatcher to the cycles of nature and the protective power associated with the moon’s phases.
Apart from the above specific meanings, dreamcatchers also hold a variety of general meanings. These include the following:
- Good Energy: Native Americans believed the air contains both good and bad energy. Dreamcatchers can act as some sort of ‘filter’ to boost the good energy and hamper the bad.
- Protection: Dreamcatchers originated to provide protection to those whose bed it hangs over.
- Mother Earth’s Good Graces: Native Americans have an incredible affinity with nature, so owning a dreamcatcher is thought to put you on the good side of the Earth, especially with one that directly came from the hands of a Native.
- Unconditional Love: Dreamcatchers are usually made and given by someone who deeply cares about another. They’re a symbol of someone caring enough to pray and wish for your protection. This symbolism is quite popular. For example, in Game of Thrones, Lady Catelyn Stark wove her own version of the dreamcatcher to hang over the sickbed of her youngest child, Bran Stark.
Dreamcatchers spread to other Native American tribes and eventually became a symbol of unity and identification for various indigenous cultures in the Americas.
Today, dreamcatchers are popular worldwide, used for decoration, jewelry, and art, sometimes irrespective of their original cultural and spiritual significance. This global popularity has also sparked discussions on cultural appropriation and the importance of respecting the cultural origins of such symbols.
Even though dreamcatchers have become commercialized and many don’t know its significance, Native Americans have worked hard to preserve what it really means in their culture.
Dreamcatchers in Jewelry
Because of its fascinating history and magnificent symbolism, dreamcatchers have made their way not just into homes, but even to people’s jewelry and fashion. Dreamcatchers make meaningful gifts, especially if the receiver understands the significance of the symbol.
Necklaces with dreamcatcher pendants are a staple in most souvenir shops in the U.S. and the rest of the world, and so are dreamcatcher earrings. Some are made from precious metal like silver or even stainless steel, while others are more traditional, using actual threads and amulets. These tend to have a bohemian, rustic look and are ideal if you want to dress down.
Making a Dreamcatcher
If you’re somewhat artsy, making your own dreamcatcher is a nice way to create a symbolic and meaningful object that’s also highly decorative. This video is a step-by-step guide on how to make a dreamcatcher. Turns out it’s much easier than it looks.
Where Do You Hang a Dreamcatcher?
A dreamcatcher is traditionally hung above a sleeping area to protect the sleeper from negative dreams and energies. Here’s where you can consider hanging a dreamcatcher:
- Above the Bed: The most common and traditional place. By hanging it above the bed, it’s believed to catch negative dreams, ensuring only good dreams pass through to the sleeper.
- Windows: Some people hang dreamcatchers near a window. The morning light is believed to purify the dreamcatcher, neutralizing any bad dreams caught in its web.
- Children’s Room: To protect children from nightmares and to ensure they have peaceful sleep.
- Car: Some people hang a small dreamcatcher in their car as a protective talisman during travel.
- Workspaces: To filter out negative energies and bring positivity to one’s working environment.
- Entryways: Some believe hanging a dreamcatcher near the entrance of a home can protect from negative energies entering.
- Meditation or Spiritual Space: If you have a dedicated area for meditation or spiritual practices, a dreamcatcher can enhance the energy of that space.
Is It Bad to Throw an Old Dreamcatcher Away?
Throwing away a dreamcatcher will bring bad luck and release the bad dreams that have been caught in the dreamcatcher. They believe its best to dispose of the dreamcatcher in a respectful way.
A Clogged Dreamcatcher
The idea that a dreamcatcher can become “clogged” with bad dreams is more of a symbolic or folkloric notion rather than a literal belief. Traditionally, dreamcatchers were believed to filter dreams, allowing only the positive ones to pass through, while the negative dreams would get caught in the web. Come morning, the sunlight would neutralize and dissipate any trapped negative dreams or energies.
Over time, as the dreamcatcher has been popularized and commercialized, various interpretations, stories, and beliefs have arisen. Some people have adopted the idea that a dreamcatcher might become “full” or “clogged” with bad dreams over time and may need to be “cleared” or replaced. This is more of a modern interpretation and not a traditional belief.
If someone feels that their dreamcatcher needs to be cleared, methods might include exposing it to sunlight, smudging it with sage, or other cleansing rituals. However, the most important thing is to respect the cultural origins and significance of the dreamcatcher and to use it thoughtfully and with understanding.
Native American legends have consistently depicted dreamcatchers as a symbol of good, positive energy. To this day, elders are known to weave their young ones a dreamcatcher or two to protect them from bad dreams and negative energies in the air while they sleep. Needless to say, anyone who receives a dreamcatcher is considered lucky for having someone care about them so much to actively hope they are protected all the time, even when they’re asleep.