Native American Dreamcatchers
Where does the legend of the Native American Dreamcatcher originate? What materials are they made of and what meaning is behind them?
You see them everywhere. Hanging in cars, your friends’ living rooms, every craft show you attend. Each school year elementary and high school classes across the country make them. They are standard on almost every camp counselor’s list of crafts to do. What are they?
Dreamcatchers have so many legends attached to them; it is almost impossible to decide what is fact or fiction. While many Native American tribes make them today for sale throughout various outlets, the Ojibway, or Ojibwe, are believed to be the true ancestral makers of these fascinating objects.
Ojibway legend tells of a time when all their people lived in a place called Turtle Island. When the land became too small to hold all their people the tribe dispersed to other lands, to the four winds. Asibikaashi, Spider Woman, had to find a way to help Wanabozhoo, Sun, travel far enough to be with all their people. Thus, together they created the suncatcher, known today as the Dreamcatchers. Asibikaashi spun a web, as spiders’ do, to catch Wanabozhoo’s rays. By doing this, the sun could be carried everywhere, even where her light could not reach. Through time, mothers and grandmothers took over the task, making small ones and attaching them to each newborn’s cradleboard. No matter where that child would travel, this would accompany him or her. In this way, the sun would be carried everywhere, continuing to light and give warmth to all the members of the original tribe.
Repeatedly throughout many of the different legends a central story has formed. The web hung on a cradleboard or by a bed, ‘catching’ dreams. As the dreams travel through the web, good dreams are permitted to pass through and flow to the feather's tip, to the owner of the web. Bad dreams become so lost among the maze, that when the morning sun comes up, still lost in the web, they are destroyed by the strongest of the early morning light.
Each part of the Dreamcatcher has an important role in the legends. The circle shape represents the circle of life itself. When each of us is born, we come from the earth, travel our whole life throughout the earth, and upon our death, are returned once again from the earth we were born from, thus completing a ‘circle’ of life. The web represents the roads we all travel throughout a lifetime as an infant, child, adult, and finally elder. Traditionally, the web was colored red to represent the ‘blood’ of life. The feather is a sign of breath. No one can survive without air thus; the feather was a reminder that along with sun, air is also needed to sustain life.
Dreamcatchers are made of many different materials. Central to all is a ring, the material for the web itself, and a feather. The ring today can be anything from a manufactured wood or metal ring, to a more traditional willow branch. Willow is a sign of strength. The webs themselves can be imitation sinew, yarn, and even craft-wire. Traditionally, the inner web was strung of nettle-stalk twine colored red with bloodroot or red yarn if available. Feathers would have been selected according to what was available. If there were a choice, the feathers of the bird that was believed to be the stronger one would be chosen.
Today, Dreamcatchers not only hang by beds, but also appear everywhere, in every form imaginable. Necklaces and earrings are common. Small ones hang on purses and key-chains. Their image adorns posters and signs, note-cards and book covers. Cross-stitch patterns, quilt covers, clothing designs, and rubber stamps. Some companies have taken this all one step further and have the image as their trademark. It has become a universal symbol of good luck.
Whatever legend you believe to be the true one, the Dreamcatcher has been around for thousands of years and does not appear to be going anywhere.