Dreamcatchers are more than just delicate, whimsical décor accessories. They are rooted in legend and folklore and rich in history and meaning. Learning about the legends and meanings associated with dreamcatchers can reveal some interesting insights.
Legends Surrounding Dreamcatchers
The dreamcatcher concept originated from Native American cultures. These cultures believe that the air at night is filled with good and bad dreams. The dreamcatcher was first created as a kind of protective talisman. The Native Americans hung these creations above the cradles or beds of their young children to protect them from bad dreams and night.
There are two main legends surrounding the origin of dreamcatchers. One legend attributes their inception to the Ojibwe tribe. The second says they originated from the Lakota tribe. Although both legends are similar, there is a slight difference in the way each of these cultures interpret the role and significance of dreamcatchers.
The Ojibwe tribe considered Asibikaashi, the spider women, as their spiritual protector who protected their children from harm. As the Ojibwe people traveled further across the land, it became increasing difficult for Asibikaashi to protect them all so she created the first dreamcatcher. According to the Ojibwe legend, the dreamcatcher is designed to trap bad dreams in the web while allowing the good dreams to filter through the hole, bead or gem in the center of the web. The good dreams would then flutter gently down the feathers to the sleeping child while the trapped bad dreams would get destroyed in the morning when the first rays of the sun touched them. There are of course, different interpretations of this legend but they are all variations of the same basic idea.
According to the Lakota legend, the dreamcatcher was created to catch good ideas and trap them in the web so that they don’t get lost. Bad ideas on the other hand pass through the central hole and drift away without causing any harm.
Meanings of the Various Parts of a Dream Catcher
Dreamcatchers are not just round hoops decorated with feathers, beads, and other trinkets. Every aspect of a dreamcatcher, from its shape to the various décor accessories, have a specific meaning. Traditional authentic dreamcatchers are made using only organic, natural materials, from the wooden hoop and thread webbing to handmade beads.
Let’s take a look at the features of a dreamcatcher and what each one represents.
The Hoop: The round hoop that serves as the frame is the first identifiable characteristic of dreamcatchers. The round shape represents the circle of life, which was a very important concept to the Ojibwe people. It signifies that life is constantly going round in a circle, without any real beginning or end. Circles are also the center of everything. Dreamcatchers were originally made from red willow wood, which was extremely pliable. Modern versions may be made from other pliable materials.
The Web: The web created within the frame is the second identifiable feature of dreamcatchers. The web is designed in the same pattern as a spider’s web. This has great significance for two reasons. First, it is a tribute to Asibikaashi, the spider women who is also the spiritual protector of the Ojibwe tribe. Secondly, it is intended to serve the same purpose as a spider web, which is to trap unwanted things – in this case, bad dreams. The circle in the center of the web is considered as its heart. It serves the purpose of allowing good dreams and visions to filter through. This web is intricately designed using either thread or wool.
Beads: Every dreamcatcher has one or more beads woven into the web pattern. There are various interpretations about what these beads signify. Most cultures believe that when a single bead is used it represents the spider that spun the web. Several beads woven into the web represent the number of dreams captured during the night that have transformed into sacred charms.
Feathers: The light, airy feathers add a touch of whimsy to any dreamcatcher but they are not there merely to add a decorative touch. The feathers hanging from the lower sides of the circle serve an important purpose. They help the trapped dreams from the web glide gently down to the person sleeping below.
Gem stones: Gem stones are added for a couple of different reasons. Some artists use them instead of beads. Others use them to replace feathers as it is against the law to obtain feathers in some parts. The type and number of gems used and their placement depends entirely on the artist’s vision of how they want their dreamcatcher to look.
Arrowheads: Some dreamcatchers known as medicine wheel dreamcatchers feature a cross made up of arrowheads in the center of the web. This symbolizes the four corners of the Earth or the Four Sacred Directions from which the wind blows. This arrowhead cross is said to protect a person from misfortune by drawing strength and good fortune from the four corners of the universe.
Number of Points on the Woven Web: It’s not immediately noticeable but the web woven inside the hoop doesn’t just have a random number of points. Every dreamcatcher creator uses a specific number of points to signify something specific:
- 5 points represent a star in the sky
- 6 points symbolizes an eagle
- 7 points are a call out to the seven prophesies
- 8 points represent the spider women who is held sacred in Native American culture
- 13 points denote the thirteen moon phases
Understanding the meanings and legends associated with dreamcatchers is sure to enrich your experience when shopping for one for yourself or for a loved one.
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Author: Diana D'Souza