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Dreamcatchers became widely popular during the 1980s and have become a very common crafts item, jewelry piece, and image on home decor items. They are made from a wooden hoop, usually willow, onto which a net or web is woven with natural fibers. They typically have feathers and beads hanging from the hoop as well. While modern dreamcatchers come in various forms, authentic ones are generally only a few inches in size and are handmade from all natural materials with a leather-wrapped frame.
THE MEANING OF DREAMCATCHERS
The meaning of dreamcatchers and the beliefs surrounding their construction originate from Native American cultures. The dreamcatcher is a protective talisman that is used to protect people from nightmares and bad dreams. The charm was usually used for young children and hung above their cradles or beds.
Native American cultures believe that both good and bad dreams fill the air at night. The dreamcatcher acts like a spider’s web by trapping the bad dreams or visions while allowing the good ones to filter through. The bad dreams caught in the web get destroyed when the sunlight of morning hits the dreamcatcher, while the good dreams filter down through the feathers and gently reach the sleeping person below.
Dreamcatchers can also be considered as apotropaic charms that provide protection from any kind of evil influence, not just from bad dreams and nightmares. Some cultures, like the Lakota, believe that dreamcatchers work slightly differently as their legend states that the good dreams or ideas would become trapped in the web while the bad ones would pass right through the hole in the center and would be gone forever.
THE DREAMCATCHER’S FORM
Each section of the dreamcatcher’s form holds specific meaning.
The circular frame symbolizes Mother Earth and everything that sustains life. Its circular shape also represents the continuous flow of life as there is no beginning or end. In addition to representing the circle of life, it also symbolizes how the sun and moon move across the sky every day in a continuous loop.
The web or net of the dreamcatcher is intricately woven inside the frame to mimic the look of a spider’s web. The circle in the center of the web is its heart and is where the good dreams and visions are filtered through.
There are some different meanings behind the beads on dreamcatchers. Some cultures believe the beads represent the spider, while others say the beads are the physical form of the good dreams that failed to pass through the web and become sacred charms.
The number of points on the woven web of the dreamcatcher is also significant and holds different meanings. A dreamcatcher with 13 points represents the 13 phases of the moon, 8 points symbolizes the spider woman in the Native American legends, 7 points refers to the seven prophesies, 6 points represents an eagle, and 5 points symbolize a star.
Some authentic dreamcatchers have a cross in the center of the web which symbolizes the Four Sacred Directions. These are known as medicine wheel dreamcatchers that provide protection from misfortune and bring good medicine into one’s life by drawing from the universe.
THE HISTORY OF DREAMCATCHERS
ACCORDING TO THE OJIBWE TRIBE Dreamcatchers originated from Native American cultures, more specifically the Ojibwe tribe. The Ojibwe called dreamcatchers ‘asabikeshiinh’, which means ‘spider’. According to the Ojibwe dreamcatcher legend, a Spider Woman named Asibikaashi took care of all the people and children on their land but as the tribe spread further and further, it became harder for her to protect everyone.
Since she could not go to every single child at night and protect them from evil influences, she got help from the maternal figures of the tribe. Ojibwe mothers and grandmothers would make dreamcatchers by weaving webs over willow hoops and hanging them above every child’s bed to trap bad dreams and nightmares.
Traditionally, only one gemstone bead was used in the construction of a dreamcatcher as there is only one creator in life’s web.
ACCORDING TO THE LAKOTA TRIBE
The Lakota tribe have a different legend about the origin of dreamcatchers, but it is believed that the charms were passed on from the Ojibwe tribe in various ways. In the Lakota Legend, a spiritual leader had a vision of Iktomi, a great trickster and a teacher spirit, who took the form of a spider.
Iktomi took the spiritual leader’s willow hoop and began to weave a web over it as he spoke. He spoke about the circle of life and told the leader that there are both good and bad forces at play in a life cycle. If you should listen to the good ones, you will be steered in the right direction, but the bad forces would cause harm.
Once he had finished spinning his web, Iktomi showed the spiritual leader that it was a perfect circle with a hole in the middle. He stated that the good ideas would get caught in the web while the bad would go right through the hole. The spiritual leader brought this knowledge back to his people who began to use dreamcatchers to filter their dreams and capture all the good ones and let the bad ones go.
IN MODERN DAY
In the modern era, dreamcatchers were used by some Native American cultures as a symbol of unity throughout the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s-70s. Dreamcatchers then become known as ‘Native crafts items’ and become popular souvenirs.
People all around the world regard dreamcatchers as beautiful and interesting objects. New Age groups produce different types of dreamcatchers, made from various materials in different styles, which are very popular in the market today. Dreamcatcher imagery and jewelry is quite common and has become somewhat of a fashionable trend as they are beautiful to look at.
However, these dreamcatchers are a far cry from the traditional dreamcatchers as they are often quite big, colourful, and are made with plastics and other artificial materials, whereas traditional dreamcatchers are usually quite small and made with wood, leather, string and real feathers. Many Native American cultures believe that they have become too commercialized, misused and their meaning has been lost.