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Dreamcatcher Today and in the Past

Dreamcatchers today come in a variety of different sizes and styles. They usually consist of a small wooden hoop covered with a net or web of natural fibres, with meaningful sacred items like feathers and beads attached, hanging down from the bottom of the hoop. Real authentic, traditional dream catchers are handmade and crafted only from all natural materials, measuring just a few small inches across in size. The hoops are usually constructed of a bent Red Willow branch covered in stretched sinews. Wrapping the frame in leather is another common finishing touch for “real” dream catchers.

History of the Dreamcatcher

Today the dreamcatcher is associated with Native American culture in general, but dream catchers are believed to have originated from the Ojibwa Chippewa tribe in particular. The Lakota tribe also has its own legend about the origins of the dreamcatcher, but most researchers believe the dreamcatchers were passed down from the Ojibwe through intermarriage and trade. It wasn’t until the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, that they were adopted by Native Americans of a number of different nations. Some consider the dreamcatcher a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations and a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures. However, many other Native Americans have come to see dreamcatchers as over-commercialized, offensively misappropriated and misused by non-Natives.

The Ojibwe word for dreamcatcher asabikeshiinh actually means “spider”, referring to the web woven to loosely cover the hoop. The patterns of the dream catcher are similar to the webbing these Native Americans also used for making snowshoes.Authentic Symbol or Cultural Appropriation?Though dreamcatchers are quite prolific, finding real authentic dreamcatchers is not that easy. Real handmade dream catchers are usually small in size and feature sacred charms like feathers and beads. Many dreamcatchers for sale today, however, are much more American than Native American, often oversized and made of cheap plastic materials. Many Native Americans still consider the dreamcatcher to be a symbol of unity and identification among the many Indian Nations and First Nations cultures. Still, many other Native Americans have come to see dream catchers as a symbol of cultural appropriation, over-commercialized and offensively misappropriated and misused by non-Natives.

Purpose & Meaning of the Dreamcatcher

What do they do?Sometimes referred to as “Sacred Hoops”, Ojibwe dreamcatchers were traditionally used as talismans to protect sleeping people, usually children, from bad dreams and nightmares. Native Americans believe that the night air is filled with dreams, both good and bad. When hung above the bed in a place where the morning sunlight can hit it, the dream catcher attracts and catches all sorts of dreams and thoughts into its webs. Good dreams pass through and gently slide down the feathers to comfort the sleeper below. Bad dreams, however, are caught up in its protective net and destroyed, burned up in the light of day.Story of the DreamcatcherAncient legends about the history and origin of the dreamcatcher exist among several Native American tribes, but chiefly through the Ojibwe and Lakota nations. While many cultures find spiders to be creepy crawlers, the Ojibwe people found them to be a symbol of protection and comfort. The Ojibwe word for dreamcatcher asabikeshiinh actually means “spider”, referring to the web woven to loosely cover the hoop.

Also, according to the Ojibwa story, a mystical and maternal “Spider Woman” served as the spiritual protector of the tribe, especially for young children, kids and babies. As the Ojibwe people continued to grow and spread out across the land, The Spider Woman found it difficult to continue to protect and watch over all the members of the tribe as they migrated farther and farther away. This is why she created the first dreamcatcher. She believed that it would help her with her job. Following her example, mothers and grandmothers as the years went on, would recreate the maternal keepsake as a means protecting their children and families from afar.

Dream Catcher Meaning: Web, Feathers & Beads

All parts of the authentic Native American dreamcatcher have meaning tied to the natural world. The shape of the dreamcatcher is a circle because it represents the circle of life and how forces like the sun and moon travel each day and night across the sky. The dream catcher web catches the bad dreams during the night and disposes of them when the day comes. As for the good dreams, the feathers act as a fluffy, pillow-like ladder that allows them to gently descend upon the sleeping person undisturbed. There is some contention when it comes to the meaning of the beads that often decorate the dreamcatcher. According to some American Indians, the beads symbolize the spider—the web weaver itself. Others believe the beads symbolize the good dreams that could not pass through the web, immortalized in the form of sacred charms.

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