Long ago, when the world was young, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain. On the mountain, he had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi – the great trickster and teacher of wisdom – appeared in the form of a spider.
Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language.
Only spiritual leaders of the Lakota could understand. As Iktomi spoke, he took the elder’s willow hoop – which had feathers, horse hair, beads and offerings on it – and began to spin a web.
He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life and how we begin our lives as infants. We then move on to childhood and in to adulthood. Finally, we go to old age where we must be taken care of as infants, thus, 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 will hurt you and steer you in the wrong direction.”
He continued, “There are many forces and different directions that can help or interfere with the harmony of nature and also with the Great Spirit and all of his wonderful teachings.”
All while the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web … starting from the outside and working toward the center. When Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the Lakota elder the web and said, “See, the web is a perfect circle, but there is a hole in the center of the circle.”
“Use the web to help yourself and your people … to reach your goals and make use of your people’s ideas, dreams and visions. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will catch your good ideas, and the bad ones will go through the hole.” ]
The Lakota elder passed his vision on to his people. Now, the Sioux use the dreamcatchers as the web of their life. Traditionally, it is hung above their beds or in their homes to sift their dreams and visions. Good dreams are captured in the web of life and carried with them … but the evil dreams escape through the center’s hole and are no longer part of them. (Note: Some bands believe the bad ideas are caught in the web and the good ideas pass through to the individual. Either account is acceptable.)
Lakota believe the dreamcatcher holds the destiny of their future.
Today the dreamcatcher is associated with Native American culture in general, but dream catchers are often believed to have originated from the Ojibwa Chippewa tribe in particular. The Lakota tribe also has its own legend about the origins of the dreamcatcher, but most ethnographers believe the dreamcatchers were passed down from the Ojibwe through intermarriage and trade. The Ojibwe word for dreamcatcher asabikeshiinh actually means “spider,” referring to the web woven to loosely cover the hoop. The patterns of the dream catcher are similar to the webbing these Native Americans also used for making snowshoes.
While many cultures find spiders to be creepy crawlers, the Ojibwe people found them to be a symbol of protection and comfort. According to the Ojibwa story, a mystical and maternal “Spider Woman” served as the spiritual protector for the tribe, especially for young children, kids and babies. As the Ojibwe people continued to grow and spread out across the land, The Spider Woman found it difficult to continue to protect and watch over all the members of the tribe as they migrated farther and farther away. This is why she created the first dreamcatcher. Following her example, mothers and grandmothers would recreate the maternal keepsake as a means of mystically protecting their children and families from afar.
Sometimes referred to as “Sacred Hoops,” Ojibwe dreamcatchers were traditionally used as talismans to protect sleeping people, usually children, from bad dreams and nightmares. Native Americans believe that the night air is filled with dreams, both good and bad. When hung above the bed in a place where the morning sunlight can hit it, the dream catcher attracts and catches all sorts of dreams and thoughts into its webs. Good dreams pass through and gently slide down the feathers to comfort the sleeper below. Bad dreams, however, are caught up in its protective net and destroyed, burned up in the light of day.
The Legend Of the Dream Catcher
The Ojibwa (Chippewa) believe that night is full of both good and bad dreams. When a dream catcher is hung above the place where you sleep it moves freely in the night air and catches the dreams as they drift by. The good dreams, knowing their way, pass through the opening in the center of the webbing while the bad dreams, not knowing the way, are caught in the webbing and destroyed at the first light of the morning sun.
There are many variants to the dream catcher legend, some which say both the good and bad dreams are captured and some which say the good dreams slide down the feather to those sleeping below. Although the Ojibwa are credited as the first people to use Dream Catchers many other Tribes and Native peoples have adopted Dream Catchers into their culture. Even though the designs and legends of Dream Catchers differ slightly, the underlying meaning and symbolism is universal and is carried across cultures and language barriers.
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