A Short History of the Dreamcatcher

The exact origin of the Native American dream catcher is unclear.  A great deal of tribal-specific history has been lost, forgotten or changed as the First Americans were forced from their lands and  diminished in numbers. New nations formed as survivors of differing clans banded together and with them new traditions reflecting the melding of cultural elements.

feather

In 1929, ethnographer Frances Densmore produced the first documented account of the Native American dream catcher. She describes spider web-like cradle charms that were used by the Chippewa Indians to catch "everything evil, as a spider's web catches and holds everything that comes in contact with it." Evidence of similar beliefs has since been found throughout the Americas as well as Mexico.

Chippewa Dream Catcher Legend

"While our children sleep the evil spirits come to terrify even the youngest of them." Then said the Medicine Woman, to each mother in fear, should she lose her child to the evil ones, for they awoke and cried with the knowledge of terrible demons in their eyes.

dreamcatcher legends

You must weave a spiders web with love from a willow hoop, using nettle stalk cord dyed red with sacred herbs. As you say the sacred words, with each weave you shall weave with only happy thoughts and playful things. Leave in the center an opening, as your open heart, to let only good things pass. Hang from the loop the sacred feathers, in this way the Good Spirit dreams will find their way through the center hole and float down the feathers onto the sleeping ones. The Bad Spirit dreams will get caught in the web and disappear with the morning light. And so they hung this Dreamcatcher over the baby's cradle board.

Dreamcatcher Legends - A collection of Native American Lore

Ojibwe Dreamcatcher Legend

 This is the way the old Ojibwe storytellers say Asi-bi-kaa-shi (Spider Woman) helped Wa-na-boz-hoo bring Grandfather Giizis (Sun) back to the people. To this day, Asibikaashi will build her special lodge before dawn. If you are awake at dawn, as you should be, look for her lodge and you will see how she captured the sunrise as the light sparkles on the dew which is gathered there.

Asibikaashi took care of her children, the people of the land, and she continues to do so to this day. Long ago in the ancient world of the Ojibwe Nation, the Clans were all located in one general area of that place known as Turtle Island. When the Ojibwe Nation dispersed to the four corners of North America, to fulfill a prophecy, Asibikaashi had a difficult time making journeys to all those baby cradle boards, so the mothers, sisters and Nokomis (grandmothers) weaved magical webs for the new babies using willow hoops and sinew or cordage made from plants. The shape of a circle represents how Giizis travels across the sky.

The dream catcher filters out the bad ba-we-dji-ge-win (dreams) and allows only good thoughts to enter into our minds when we are abinooji (asleep). A small hole in the center of the dream catcher is where the good bawadjige may come through. With the first rays of sunlight, the bad dreams will perish.

When we see little Asibikaashi, we should not fear her but instead respect and protect her. In honor of their origin, the number of points where the web connects to the hoop are 8 for Spider Woman's eight legs or 7 for the Seven Prophecies. It is traditional to place a feather in the center of the dream catcher; it means breath, or air. It is essential for life. In the cradle board, a baby watched the air play with the feather and was happily entertained with the blowing feather.

Dream catchers used by adults do not use feathers in the center. The feather of the owl, keeper of wisdom, was kept by the woman; the feather of the eagle, keeper of courage, was kept by the man.

 

An Ancient Chippewa Tradition

The dream net has been made for many generations where spirit dreams have played. Hung above the cradle board or in the lodge up high. The dream net catches bad dreams while good dreams slip on by. Bad dreams become entangled among the sinew thread. Good dreams slip through the center hole while you dream upon your bed. This is an ancient legend, since dreams will never cease, hang this dream net above your bed. Dream on and be at peace.

 

Feeding the Wolf

An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth. The grandson thought about it and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed."

 

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