The Dream Catcher
You see them everywhere, intricately knotted spider-like webs tied onto rounded hoops with various symbolic charms and feathers dangling from the center of the web or the hoop frame. They are artfully created and beautiful. They are Native American dream catchers. What is the dream catcher meant to do and how did it first come to be?
If you research the origin of the dream catcher, you will find as many individual tales of origin as there are individual tribal nations. The Sioux Nation of the plains region is thought to be the first to use the dream catcher, but the dream catcher is now widely made and used throughout Canada and all regions of America.
The First Dream CatcherThe most prevalent dream catcher legend tells of a shaman suffering from nightmarish dreams that began to plague his health. In an effort to heal himself, he hung a medicine wheel above his head where he slept hoping it would relieve him. After many days of no relief, a benevolent Grandmother Spider and a wise Grandfather Owl, seeing the medicine wheel hanging there above the shaman, devised a plan to trap the nightmare dreams that were making him ill. Grandmother Spider toiled, using her silk to spin an intricate web within the wheel, leaving a small hole in the very center. Then, Grandfather Owl flew by and dropped a large feather. The feather floated down and gently landed at center of the web, catching beside the tiny center hole.
As the shaman slept that first night, the nightmare dreams that came again to inflict him were ensnared in Grandmother Spider's webbing. They struggled and thrashed to escape in vain, becoming hopelessly entangled in the web, yet the peaceful dreams were easily able to find their way through the small center hole and floated down the feather to the sleeping shaman. When the sun rose that next morning, the nightmare dreams evaporated away like dew. The shaman awoke from a restful sleep feeling surprisingly at peace and well. When he stretched a big morning stretch, he glanced up and was astonished to see the medicine wheel he had hung above him transformed into a dream catcher by Grandmother Spider and Grandfather Owl. Saying a word of appreciation for the healing he knew he had received, he shared wisdom of the dream catcher with his people. The dream catcher has ever been used from that day to filter dreams and protect those who slumber from menace.
The Symbols of a Dream Catcher
The materials used to make each dream catcher are symbolically important and specific to the age and personality of the owner. For instance, a child's dream catcher is made using a fresh cut willow branch that is looped and tied into a teardrop shape and then knotted with an intricate web and the smallest center hole possible. This tiny hole ensures that only the best of dreams can travel down the feather. A child's dream catcher is meant to represent the fleeting years of youth because as the willow branch dries, the webbing becomes loose and the dream catcher eventually collapses.
It is also traditional to put a feather in the center of a child's dream catcher to represent the living breath that is considered essential for life. The feather has multiple functions, from entertaining a child with delightful movement in the breeze to teaching the wisdom and importance of having good air. Four owl or eagle feathers were often used to represent the four winds. Since the use of eagle and owl feathers is restricted, the use of other bird feathers from more common, large-feathered birds and gemstones with metaphysical properties are now used.
An adult dream catcher is made with a rigid ring and woven materials that reflect the personality and nature of the owner. Adult dream catchers don't always have feathers, and often include metal feather fetish charms and fringed beads in lieu of real feathers.
Make Your OwnAll dream catchers begin with a round or teardrop frame that can be made of branches, metal, bone or willow boughs with a web that is hand-knotted. The web can be of sinew or other various stringing material as preference and availability dictate.
Various beads and feathers, although not required, can be dangled from the edges of the ring or from the center hole. It is thought that adding beads and feathers to accent the center hole helped camouflage the center hole and confuse nightmares as well as add decorative interest.
Sinew is a primitive thread that is made by drying and separating the tendons of deer, elk or other large game animals. Once it is completely dry, the tendon looks like a twig and it is pounded to break it up into very small fibrous threads. This very strong material was traditionally used by Native Americans as thread for sewing, binding and other things. Woven grasses and bark twines have also been used to web dream catchers.
You can make beautiful and meaningful frames from looped tree branches, metal hoops or anything else that is sturdy and can be lashed onto. For the webbing, synthetic sinew, hemp cord, silk thread, leather laces or wire can be used.
Personalize your dream catcher using pressed and fire-polished glass, Swarovski crystal and designer gemstone beads in beautiful natural and dyed colors. The shape is your choice as long as it is rounded. For instance a round, teardrop, fish, octagon, marquise, oval or any other shape you imagine. There have even been innovators who have created double-circle dream catchers, also known as figure eight dream catchers, which are intensely web-knotted around two overlapping round frames.
Recently, dream catcher-styled jewelry has become more prominent in everyday fashion. Seen in miniature proportions dangling from earwires, as charms from purses and bracelets and as necklace pendants, these versions are often made with metal hoops tied with fine sterling silver wire webbing and tiny turquoise chips beads or metal feather fetish charms. However you choose to personalize and use your dream catcher, incorporating quality materials that hold a special or symbolic meaning to you will give your dream catcher a deeper and more powerful meaning. Once completed, enjoy displaying your example of this beautiful Native American remedy.
We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article, "The Dream Catcher," featured in the a newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.
"This is one of the best descriptions of Dream Catcher lore that I have seen in quite some time. Thank you for that. Now, if we could get people to recognize that there are First Nations all over the country and not just in the southwest! Perhaps you could find Seminole designs or Mohawk. We always hope for more recognition...."
"This article did everything but tell us how to weave a dreamcatcher. I lost one of a pair of earrings years ago and have kept the remaining one hoping I could reconstruct it someday. I'd love to have directions for how to weave the ''web.''"
"I was intrigued with the details of the Dream Catcher, I had made a large one making all the circles in the middle with a wooden tool and stitching with Perle crochet thread so tightly the circles were almost rigid, it is in shades of midnight blue to aqua and beaded around each large circle with a fishing line spinner between each dropping circle and a tassel of beads at the base. (sorry no feather). It is about 5ft in length and made with circumference of metal rings with the hand-made circles joined up filling the centre. Thanks for the story of the origin and will try to replicate the earrings."
"As per the dreamcatchers, for one thing, we NEVER use the word 'shaman'. It's a medicine person. We fight against this all the time, such words are used by new age fluffy bunnies who are stealing our ways."