Dream catchers were first crafted to protect children from bad dreams. While several tales exist to explain the origin of the dream catcher, the legend of the Ojibwe tribe, also known as the Chippewa tribe, was the first to describe its use. Although primarily designed to protect children, dream catchers have also been used to protect adults from bad thoughts as well. The traditional dream catcher circle was made from willow branches and sinew or bloodroot was used for the central web. Grapevine, however, is an acceptable natural fiber commonly used in dream catchers today.
The Legend of the Dream Catcher
Two common legends exist to explain the origin of the dream catcher. In one legend, an elder of the Ojibwe tribe had a vision in which Iktomi, the trickster, took the form of a spider and spun a web in the center of the elder’s willow hoop. Iktomi explained that the dream catcher would allow good ideas to pass through, while catching the bad ideas in the web. A second legend describes how Spider Woman made a promise to the Ojibwe nation to bring the sun back to the people by capturing its rays in her sparkling web. When the Ojibwe had grown as a nation and dispersed, however, she was unable to visit each child in his or her cradleboard. For that reason, the women of the tribe duplicated Spider Woman’s web and hung the decorated hoops over the cradle boards themselves. As with the other legend, the web caught the bad dreams, which were destroyed in the morning light.
Willow Branches vs. Grapevine
According to author Lyn Dearborn, quoted on the NativeTech.org site, “dream catchers made of willow and sinew are for children, and they are not meant to last . . . Adults should use dream catchers of woven fiber which is made up to reflect their adult ‘dreams.’” Because grapevine is a sturdy fiber, it would be more suited for an adult’s dream catcher, rather than for a dream catcher meant for a child.
Traditional Dream Catcher Design
A dream catcher is formed either in a circle or in the shape of a teardrop. The grapevine or willow twigs are often wrapped in red yarn or in leather. The central dream catcher web is constructed of sinew or nettle-stalk fiber dyed with bloodroot (traditional) or synthetic sinew (modern). The web is attached to the hoop using seven points (the Seven Prophecies) or using eight points (Spider Woman’s legs). Traditional dream catchers were designed with a single feather in the center: a “woman’s” owl feather intended to impart the gift of wisdom or a “man’s” eagle feather intended to impart the gift of courage. No feathers are used in the adult dream catcher design.
Making a Dream Catcher
Traditional dream catchers are small, usually measuring about 3 inches in diameter, so only a few feet of vine should be needed. Soak the vine in water until it is pliable. Bend the vine into a small hoop, twisting the free end of the vine around the vine circle. Secure the free end of the vine under one of the twists. The traditional dream catcher design uses a spider web-style design in the center. Some modern dream catchers use a different stitch in the center, which gives the central web a floral appearance. Decorate as desired with feathers, twigs or even a single semiprecious gemstone.
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