Monday, April 4, 2011

Native American Legends: Dream Catchers

Over the years, I've kept a research log.... Okay, well, it isn't an actual log. It's atually a filing cabinet full of loose-leaf papers that isn't in the least bit organized. Still, whenever I come across something fascinating enough for that little voice in my brain to pop up and say, "Hey, you might write about that someday," I write it down or tear the page out of the magazine (yes, I'm one of those) and add it to what I call the "junk pile." Not too long ago, I was going through this filing cabinet and happened across one of my first research topics: Native American dream catchers....

Anything to do with Native American legend or history makes me sit up and take notice. Probably has something to do with my own NA heritage. And something that has always been present in my home are dream catchers. A few years back, I got curious about these cultural objects. What's the story behind them? First of all, dream catchers aren't just a Native American craft - they're a tradition set forth by the Lakota. Here's a bit of the original legend surrounding dream-catchers (as told by

Long ago when the world was sound, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language. As he spoke, Iktomi the spider picked up the elder's willow hoop which had feathers, horsehair, beads and offerings on it, and began to spin a web. He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life, how we begin our lives as infants, move on through childhood and on 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'll steer you in the wrong direction and may hurt you. So these forces can help, or can interfere with the harmony of Nature. While the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web. When Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the elder the web and said, The web is a perfect circle with a hole in the center. Use the web to help your people reach their goals, making good use of their ideas, dreams and visions. If you believe in the great spirit, the web will filter your good ideas and the bad ones will be trapped and will not pass.

In Ojibwa - or Chippewa - culture, the word "dreamcatcher" (asabikeshiinh) also means "spider." It is always a hoop with a hole in the center, decorated with personal or sacred items, like the above-mentioned elder's willow hoop. Before the dream catcher, the hoop was a symbol of strength and unity. Many NA legends, like the dream catcher, spring from the importance of the hoop. The strands tied through the web are much like the design Native Americans used for making snowshoes. To this day, Native American people as well as New Age groups and others hang dream catchers in their homes. NA people believe that dreams, both bad and good, exist in the air, waiting for someone to sleep. The dream catcher allows the good dreams to pass through the strands and traps bad dreams that don't know the way through.

"Williams has brought the romantic back to romance!" ~ LASR


  1. Amber, thank you for a great post! I never realized dream catchers originated with the Lakota, and found it fascinating how other NA tribes also embraced the tradition. I love dream catchers and have several in my home. When our boys were little, they loved having one in their rooms with the belief they kept bad dreamsa away.

  2. Amber Leigh, thank you so much for that story. I never knew exactly the story of the dreamcatcher, even though I am attracted to them and even have dreamcatcher earrings. Now I love the dreamcatcher even more!

  3. AMBER-oh, this brought back memories. We lived in the Sangre de Cristo Mtns. in New Mexico in 1970, one year, and our kids were in grade school. Right away, they learned about God's Eyes and DreamCatchers. They made them during crafts and drew them during art. We had them hanging on the wall and refrigerator.

    I loved reading the legend of the Lakota and the DreamCatchers. A lovely story, told in the fascinating way of the Native Americans.
    The husband of the family down the road is Pawnee, from Oklahoma. He makes beautiful furniture from mesquite and embeds pieces of turqoise in the corners. Beautiful.
    But he is a natural-born story teller, and knows all the old legends passed down generations. Now he has told all of them to his three grandsons..who look just like him...and he makes up stories, based of some of the old legends. I have begged him to publish them some way...but he refuses. He says it would destroy the spirit of the story.
    Thank you for sharing this lovely tradition with us....Ceia

  4. I misspelled my own name. Celia

  5. Ashley - Since I was a little girl I've had dreamcatchers in my room. My mother had a really beautiful pair she bought fifteen years ago, which she gave to my husband and me for our new master bedroom. The fact that they've been passed down to us, I think, makes them extra special and I love them dearly!

    Caroline - Oooh, dreamcatcher earrings! I'd love to have a pair of those, too :) So glad you enjoyed the post!

    Celia - As much as I would love to have a collection of Native American stories, I totally understand your friend's belief that publishing them would ruin the spirit. My favorite thing about Native Americans is their mysterious belief in the spiritual realm. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Amber, Fun information that I'd forgotten.

  7. Amber, I'm a fan of dream catchers. We bought a few when we vacationed in the Black Hills--small ones. Some of them were so beautiful and delicate-looking that I wish I could have bought more.


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