Published on Jul 30, 2020

Dreamcatcher Background Images

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In some Native American cultures and First Nations cultures, a dreamcatcher or dream catcher (Ojibwe: asabikeshiinh, the inanimate form of the word for “spider”) is a handmade willow hoop, on which is woven a net or web. The dreamcatcher may also include sacred items such as certain feathers or beads. Traditionally they are often hung over a cradle as protection. It originates in Ojibwe culture as the “spider web charm” (Ojibwe: asubakacin “net-like”, White Earth Band; bwaajige ngwaagan “dream snare”, Curve Lake Band), a hoop with woven string or sinew meant to replicate a spider’s web, used as a protective charm for infants.

Ethnographer Frances Densmore in 1929 recorded an Ojibwe legend according to which the “spiderwebs” protective charms originate with Spider Woman, known as Asibikaashi; who takes care of the children and the people on the land. As the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children. So the mothers and grandmothers weave webs for the children, using willow hoops and sinew, or cordage made from plants. The purpose of these charms is apotropaic and not explicitly connected with dreams:

Even infants were provided with protective charms. Examples of these are the “spiderwebs” hung on the hoop of a cradle board. In old times this netting was made of nettle fiber. Two spider webs were usually hung on the hoop, and it was said that they “caught any harm that might be in the air as a spider’s web catches and holds whatever comes in contact with it.”

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Basil Johnston, an elder from Neyaashiinigmiing, in his Ojibway Heritage (1976) gives the story of Spider (Ojibwe: asabikeshiinh, “little net maker”) as a trickster figure catching Snake in his web.

While Dreamcatchers continue to be used in a traditional manner in their communities and cultures of origin, a derivative form of “dreamcatchers” were also adopted into the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s as a symbol of unity among the various Native American cultures, or a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures.
The name “dream catcher” was published in mainstream, non-Native media in the 1970s and became widely known as a “Native crafts item” by the 1980s, by the early 1990s “one of the most popular and marketable” ones.

In the course of becoming popular outside the Ojibwe Nation, and then outside the pan-Indian communities, various types of “dreamcatchers”, many of which bear little resemblance to the traditional styles, and that even incorporate materials that work against the intended purpose, are now made, exhibited, and sold by New age groups and individuals. Many Native Americans have come to see these “dreamcatchers” as over-commercialized, offensively misappropriated and misused by non-Natives.

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