Horton Journal of Canadian History [H.J.C.H.]
Dream Catchers by Jeremy Eye
Today Native American artists, from many nations make dream catchers. A great deal of people are under the impression that the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota (called Sioux by others) originated the dreamcatcher... There are many Native American stories and legends about spiders and webs, but the Ojibwe (called Chippewa by others) originated the dream catcher. A look at the long tradition of storytelling, oral histories, passed down parent to child, generation after generation, clears up any confusion about the origin of dream catchers. (www.Native tech dream catcher.com)
Frances Densmore conducted an extensive study of material culture of the Ojibwe/Chippewa living in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada in the early 1900's. This information is presented in the book, Chippewa Customs, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul) in 1979. Densmore describes that articles representing spider webs were usually hung from the hoop of a child's cradleboard, and it was believed that 'they catch and hold everything evil as a spider's web catches and holds everything that comes into contact with it'. These 'dream catchers' were wooden hoops with a 3 1/2 in. diameter, filled with a web made of nettle-stalk cord that was dyed red with bloodroot and wild plum inner bark. It is interesting to note that the 'weave' of the dream catcher photographed in Densmore's work is different from that usually done today. The early 1900's had substituted dark red yarn substituted for plant fiber in constructing the web by the Ojibwe. Densmore also mentions a similar netted-hoop made by the Pawnee to represent the Spider-Woman, a spirit who controlled the buffalo. (Native American dream catcher)
The Ojibwe, whose traditional homeland is around the Great Lakes region, have ancient stories about the dreamcatcher, how it 'came to be', why it is used, and how it should be made. A while back there was quite a discussion about the origin of the dream catcher on the soc.culture.native Newsgroups and on the Native-L Listserver.
Contemporary dreamcatchers with traditional Chippewa weave, are made by my friend Michael O'Neill (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) and his wife (Fond-du-lac band of Chippewa). "My girlfriend and I went out one evening and gathered up some red willow... the willow is wrapped with one continuous piece of yarn including the web... it takes about an hour to make.... I use a deep red yarn... like bloodroot".
Origin of the Dream Catcher
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.(interview)
Application and Purpose of the Dream Catcher
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 gem stones, 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 gem stones, to represent the four directions, and the stones used by western nations were substituted by us. The woven dream catchers of adults do not use feathers.
Structure of the Dream Catcher
Dream catchers made of willow and sinews 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.(interview)
The above story is a combination of information gathered by Lyn Dearborn, from California, and Mary Ritchie, of the Northern Woodlands, with assistance from Canadian elders. Miigwetch!
What We Can Interpret From This Story?
There is much to be learned here, more than simply the purpose and origin of the Dream Catcher. For example - one of the first things to leap out at us is the first line. Long ago when the word was young... Then it goes on to mention the elder. This implies that this cultures creation myth - like so many others - had humans wandering around a 'newly created' Earth. Very few origin myths consider evolution at all. For reasons we think are purely human pride, a majority of creation stories have humans being created, actually thought about and put together, by a superior power.
And look at the relationship between the god and the elder here! They have a respect for each other. The elder does not become groveling bundle of nerves and the god does not flaunt his powers, although he did choose to speak in a 'sacred language'. It is also worth noting that the tribe and this god get along to a degree rare in other cultures.
The religious elder is not shown as having to beg, pray or sacrifice things to the god in order to receive this vision. (Although we would love to know how high on the mountain he was when he received this vision. Was he at an altitude where the air was a little thin? Huh?) The god - the trickster god no less - not only explains things clearly, but also provides the elder with an item to help the people. Unlike so many other cultures where the god provides vague instructions or gives directions and tricksters hardly ever give reliable advice.
Which brings us to another point - look at the god's realms! Not just a trickster, not just the god of wisdom, both! Can you imagine what that says of the culture values? That perhaps pranks were encouraged maybe thought of as a way to prove oneself wise. The fact that the realms of the god were mentioned at all also indicates that this religion most likely had other gods with other realms.
Last, the god does not seem to be confined to any certain form, it mentions that he was a spider but it does not say that he was always one. This could mean any of the following: the gods had some freedom - in most cultures there is SOMETHING that holds power over even the gods. A lack of consistent form could indicate a lack of boundaries for the gods.
Interview (March,20,2000) Dale Cleveland
www..legend of the dream catcher.com
www.Native American dream catcher.com
www.navajo dream catcher.com
www.spirit island/dream catcher.com
www.Native tech dream catcher.cim
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