Friday, July 9, 2010

Research Log: 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." I thought I'd put some of this information to use here at Cozy in what I call my new Research Log. My first research topic? 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 is the legend as told by

Long ago when the word 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 American 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 trap bad dreams that don't know the way through.

Visit for instructions on how to fashion your own dream-catcher.

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