Published on May 15, 2014 by Amy
It’s dark. The night air is filled with dreams…good and bad! A dream catcher is hanging close to the cradle or bed, swaying in the night breezes. Dreams must pass through it to get to the sleeper. Bad ones get tangled in the web, but the good ones know how to pass through the center hole and glide down the feathers. The morning sun shines on it and the bad dreams caught in its web “expire”.
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These “charms” of twigs, sinew, and feathers have been woven since ancient times by Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. They were woven by the parents or grandparents for newborn children and hung above the cradleboard to allow the infants peaceful, beautiful dreams. The Ojibway would tie either sinew or nettle-stalk cord dyed red in a web around a small, red willow round frame, decorated with feathers and beads, then hang it protect their sleeping children. There are eight (8) connections from the center to the hoop – a spider has 8 legs. There are also examples of catchers having seven (7) for the Seven Prophecies. The slightest movement of the feathers would indicate the passage of another beautiful dream.
It was traditional to put a feather in the center; it means breath or air – essential for life. The baby would be entertained watching the feather, but he/she would also learn that air is essential for life. The feathers used are different between boys and girls – the woman’s feather is from the owl, signifying wisdom. The eagle feather is for courage – a man’s feather. Native Americans are very specific about gender roles and identity.
Dreams catchers crafted today may have 4 stones/gems rather than the feathers – some species are protected. The four gem stones represent the four directions. Finally, adult dream catchers do not use feathers.
The earliest dream catchers were called Sacred Hoops. The circle is sacred to the Native Americans – it is the shape of the earth, the sun, the moon and life. It is a symbol of strength and unity. To carry that spiritual theme forward, the dream catcher’s basic shape is a circle or hoop the web is woven around.
Starting in the 1960′s and 1970′s, dream catchers became popular with other Native American tribes. They came to be seen by some as a symbol of unity and as a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations (Canadian) cultures.
Long ago when the world was young, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and teacher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language that only the spiritual leaders of the Lakota could understand. As he spoke Iktomi, the spider, took the elder’s willow hoop which had feathers, horse hair, beads and offerings on it and began to spin a web.
He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life . . . and how we begin our lives as infants and we move on to childhood, and then to adulthood. Finally, we go to 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 will hurt you and steer you in the wrong direction.” He continued, “There are many forces and different directions that can help or interfere with the harmony of nature, and also with the Great Spirit and all of his wonderful teachings.”
All the while the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web starting from the outside and working towards the center.
When Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the Lakota elder the web and said . . . “See, the web is a perfect circle but there is a hole in the center of the circle. Use the web to help yourself and your people to reach your goals and make good use of your people’s 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 Lakota elder passed on his vision to his people and now the Sioux Indians use the dream catcher as the web of their life. It is hung above their beds or in their home to sift their dreams and visions. The good in their dreams is captured in the web of life and carried with them . . . but the evil in their dreams escapes through the hole in the center of the web and is no longer a part of them. They believe that the dream catcher holds the destiny of their future. (From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press.)