Dream Catchers: Legends, History & Origin

Ever wondered what a dream catcher actually is? There are two legends concerning its inception; one comes from the Ojibwe people, where the dream catcher first originated among the Native Americans, and the second from the Lakota, who learned about it through trade and intermarriage with the Ojibwe people.

Lakota Legend

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.”

He said, “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 are 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 are no longer a part of them.

They believe that the dream catcher holds the destiny of their future.

The Lakota Tribe is just one group that incorporated the Dream Catcher into their heritage. Their story is a little different than others on how the Dream Catcher came about. Here is their version. As written in the book titled: American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings (Penguin Classics) by Zitkala-Sa, Cathy N. Davidson, Ada Norris Published by: Penguin Books; (February 25, 2003)

 

Ojibwe Legend

A spider was quietly spinning his web in his own space. It was beside the sleeping space of Nokomis, the grandmother.

Each day, Nokomis watched the spider at work, quietly spinning away. One day as she was watching him, her grandson came in. “Nokomis-iya!” he shouted, glancing at the spider. He stomped over to the spider, picked up a shoe and went to hit it.

“No-keegwa,” the old lady whispered, “don’t hurt him.”

“Nokomis, why do you protect the spider?” asked the little boy.

The old lady smiled, but did not answer. When the boy left, the spider went to the old woman and thanked her for saving his life.

He said to her, “For many days you have watched me spin and weave my web. You have admired my work. In return for saving my life, I will give you a gift.” He smiled his special spider smile and moved away, spinning as he went.

Soon the moon glistened on a magical silvery web moving gently in the window. “See how I spin?” he said. “See and learn, for each web will snare bad dreams. Only good dreams will go through the small hole. This is my gift to you. Use it so that only good dreams will be remembered. The bad dreams will become hopelessly entangled in the web.”

Note: One of the old Ojibway traditions was to hang a dream catcher in their homes. They believe that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The dream catcher, when hung, moves freely in the air and catches the dreams as they float by. The good dreams know the way and slip through the center hole and slide down off the soft feather so gently the sleeper below sometimes hardly knows he is dreaming. The bad dreams, not knowing the way, get entangled in the webbing and perish with the first light of the new day.

Small dream catchers were hung on cradle boards so infants would have good dreams. Other sizes were hung in lodges for all to have good dreams.

The originals were made of night whispering willow and night seeing owl’s feathers by grandmothers in the tribe and given to new babies and newly married couples for their lodges. Todays dream catchers are made with a variety of materials but are still hand crafted with the same loving care as the Ojibway made theirs.

Chippewa Legend

A spider was quietly spinning his web in his own space. It was beside the sleeping space of Nokomis, the grandmother. Each day, Nokomis watched the spider at work, quietly spinning away. One day as she was watching him, her grandson came in. “Nokomis-iya!” he shouted, glancing at the spider. He stomped over to the spider, picked up a shoe and went to hit it.

“No-keegwa,” the old lady whispered, “don’t hurt him.”

“Nokomis, why do you protect the spider?” asked the little boy.

The old lady smiled, but did not answer. When the boy left, the spider went to the old woman and thanked her for saving his life. He said to her, “For many days you have watched me spin and weave my web. You have admired my work. In return for saving my life, I will give you a gift.”

He smiled his special spider smile and moved away, spinning as he went.

Soon the moon glistened on a magical silvery web moving gently in the window. “See how I spin?” he said. “See and learn, for each web will snare bad dreams. Only good dreams will go through the small hole. This is my gift to you. Use it so that only good dreams will be remembered. The bad dreams will become hopelessly entangled in the web.”

Sleep well sweet child
Don’t worry your head
Your Dream Catcher is humming
Above your bed

Listen so softly
I know you can hear
The tone of beyond
Close to your ear

Love is alive
And living in you
Beyond all your troubles
Where good dreams are true

Meaning & Symbolism

Hoop: Originally made from willow wood and either in the shape of a circle or a teardrop, the hoop serves mainly as the frame of the dream catcher, while some believe it represents the circle of life.

Web: Traditionally patterned after a spider’s web, its purpose is to trap the bad dreams, preventing them from entering the dreamer’s head (opposite in the Lakota tradition).

Feathers: One of the many beliefs about the use of a feather is that it allows the good dream to glide down to the dreamer’s head, acting as a smooth ladder.

Beads: A single bead usually represents the spider that spun the web, while several of them may represent the number of dreams captured during the night.

Gem stones: They replace feathers, as in some parts it is illegal to obtain them.

Arrowheads: For some, the arrowheads represent the four corners of the Earth, directions from which the wind blows, while other makers add them for extra strength and increased protection.

Whichever version you choose, my brave reader, be it the Ojibwe or the Lakota legend, go get yourself a dream catcher, or make one, even -just browse the web and you’ll find plenty of DIY craft sites that can show you how to make your own dream catcher- tuck yourself in, start counting your sheep and immerse into Morpheus’s world fearless of bad dreams.

http://art-sheep.com/dream-catchers-legends-and-meanings/

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