Long ago when the world was young, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and 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 that only the spiritual leaders of the Lakota could understand. As he spoke Iktomi, the spider, 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 and we move on to childhood, and then 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 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 the while the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web starting from the outside and working towards 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.” He said, “Use the web to help yourself and your people to reach your goals and make good 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 on his vision to his people and now the Sioux Indians use the Dream catcher as the web of their life. It is hung above their beds or in their home to sift their dreams and visions. The good in their dreams are captured in the web of life and carried with them, but the evil in their dreams escapes through the hole in the center of the web and are no longer a part of them. They believe that the dream catcher holds the destiny of their future.
Ojibwe Dream Catcher History
Long ago in the ancient world of the Ojibwe Nation, the Clans were all located in one general area of that place known as Turtle Island. This is the way that the old Ojibwe storytellers say how Asibikaashi (Spider Woman) helped Wanabozhoo bring giizis (sun) back to the people. To this day, Asibikaashi will build her special lodge before dawn. If you are awake at dawn, as you should be, look for her lodge and you will see this miracle of how she captured the sunrise as the light sparkles on the dew which is gathered there.
Asibikaasi took care of her children, the people of the land, and she continues to do so to this day. When the Ojibwe Nation dispersed to the four corners of North America, to fill a prophecy, Asibikaashi had a difficult time making her journey to all those cradle boards, so the mothers, sisters, & Nokomis (grandmothers) took up the practice of weaving the magical webs for the new babies using willow hoops and sinew or cordage made from plants. It is in the shape of a circle to represent how giizis travels each day across the sky. The dream catcher will filter out all the bad bawedjigewin (dreams) & allow only good thoughts to enter into our minds when we are just abinooji. You will see a small hole in the center of each dream catcher where those good bawadjige may come through. With the first rays of sunlight, the bad dreams would perish. When we see little asibikaashi, we should not fear her, but instead respect and protect her. In honor of their origin, the number of points where the web connected to the hoop numbered 8 for Spider Woman’s eight legs or 7 for the Seven Prophecies.
It was traditional to put a feather in the center of the dream catcher; it means breath, or air. It is essential for life. A baby watching the air playing with the feather on her cradleboard was entertained while also being given a lesson on the importance of good air. This lesson comes forward in the way that the feather of the owl is kept for wisdom (a woman’s feather) & the eagle feather is kept for courage (a man’s feather). This is not to say that the use of each is restricted by gender, but that to use the feather each is aware of the gender properties she/he is invoking. (Indian people, in general, are very specific about gender roles and identity.) The use of gemstones, as we do in the ones we make for sale, is not something that was done by the old ones. Government laws have forbidden the sale of feathers from our sacred birds, so using four gemstones, to represent the four directions. The stones used by western nations, were substituted by us. The woven dream catchers of adults do not use feathers.
Dream catchers made of willow and sinew are for children, and they are not meant to last. Eventually the willow dries out and the tension of the sinew collapses the dream catcher. That’s supposed to happen. It belies the temporary-ness of youth. Adults should use dream catchers of woven fiber, which is made up to reflect their adult “dreams.” It is also customary in many parts of Canada and the Northeastern U.S. to have the dream catchers be a tear-drop/snow shoe shape.