Dream catchers are the most recognizable Native American symbol in the country today. For many Native Americans, they represent tradition and the dream catcher legends that have been handed down for generations. For some, they are the symbol of Native American unity. But for others, dream catchers are simply tacky tourist souvenirs that are made in China and shipped to this country to be sold as authentic Native American crafts. Several Native American tribes have tried to bring their meaning back by crafting dream catchers from traditional materials. By learning the meanings behind these beautiful, woven circles, you can gain a deeper appreciation of the craft and the beliefs behind their creation.
Dream catchers became widely popular during the 1980s and have become a very common crafts item, jewelry piece, and image on home decor items. They are made from a wooden hoop, usually willow, onto which a net or web is woven with natural fibers. They typically have feathers and beads hanging from the hoop as well.
While modern dream catchers come in various forms, authentic ones are generally only a few inches in size and are handmade from all natural materials with a leather-wrapped frame.
There are many stories behind the meaning and tradition of the dream catcher. The most common meaning of the dream catcher, originating from the Native American Ojibwe tribe, is that it filters the bad dreams away, protecting you from evil and negativity.
Traditionally, Native American dream catchers were a few inches in diameter, finished with leather webbing, and a feather hanging from the ring of the dream catcher. Ojibwe people believe that the night air is full of dreams good and bad. The dream catcher was created to capture all the dreams and filter out the bad ones. The legend of the dream catcher is to only let the good in and protect ourselves from evil. The good dreams find their way through the center of the circle while the bad get caught and with the first sign of daylight they disappear.
Dream catchers were hung above baby’s cradles to protect them, and helping them sleep as they get mesmerized by the swaying of the feathers. Larger dreams catchers were hung at the head of the household to allow good dreams and thoughts throughout the family.
Each section of the dream catcher's form holds a specific meaning. The circular frame symbolizes Mother Earth and everything that sustains life. Its circular shape also represents the continuous flow of life as there is no beginning or end. In addition to representing the circle of life, it also symbolizes how the sun and moon move across the sky every day in a continuous loop.
The web or net of the dream catcher is intricately woven inside the frame to mimic the look of a spider's web. The circle in the center of the web is its heart and is where the good dreams and visions are filtered through.
There are some different meanings behind the beads on dream catchers. Some cultures believe the beads represent the spider, while others say the beads are the physical form of the good dreams that failed to pass through the web and become sacred charms.
The number of points on the woven web of the dream catcher is also significant and holds different meanings. A dream catcher with 13 points represents the 13 phases of the moon, 8 points symbolizes the spider woman in the Native American legends, 7 points refers to the seven prophesies, 6 points represents an eagle, and 5 points symbolize a star.
Some authentic dream catchers have a cross in the center of the web which symbolizes the Four Sacred Directions. These are known as medicine wheel dream catchers that provide protection from misfortune and bring good medicine into one's life by drawing from the universe.
However, these dream catchers are a far cry from the traditional dream catchers as they are often quite big, colorful, and are made with plastics and other artificial materials, whereas traditional dream catchers are usually quite small and made with wood, leather, string and real feathers. Many Native American cultures believe that they have become too commercialized, misused and their meaning has been lost.