I am a vivid dreamer. More like a wild, crazy dreamer. I used to keep a journal beside my bed to write down the things I could remember from my nightime mental antics. But then I would read them the following day or so and I thought I was channeling M. Night Shyamalan. So I bought a dreamcatcher and hung it over my comfortable queen. If anything, the dreams got even more wild. I guess my subconscience is supposed to be a raving lunatic.
The dreamcatcher, or “dream snare,” is an arts and crafts creation of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) culture that dates back centuries. The word “asabikeshiinh” is an inanimate form of the Ojibwe term for “spider.” Tribal stories tell of an elder who had a vision of Iktomi, or the searcher for wisdom. Iktomi appeared to the spiritual elder as a spider. As he spoke of the cycle of life and how each stage is filled with both good and evil forces, Iktomi took from the elder an offering … a wooden hoop adorned with feathers, beads, and horsehair … and began to spin a web. When his story was finished, Iktomi returned the hoop to the elder and advised him to use the web to help his people make good use of their ideas, dreams, and visions. “If you believe in the Great Spirit,” Iktomi said in the scared language, “the web will focus your dreams but trap the bad dreams like a spider traps its prey.”
From this vision, it is believed that the elder tribesman shared his vision and soon it was tradition for grandparents to craft and present dreamcatchers to newborn grandchildren. The basic belief was that a dreamcatcher placed above or near the bed of a young person would sift their dreams and visions. Good dreams would pass through the strands of the web and slide down the feathers to the sleeper. Bad dreams … known to be “both confusing and confused” … would get lost in the net, perishing in the light of dawn.
The Ojibwe peoples … like most Native American tribes … held strong beliefs in the power of nature and the importance of dreams. Vision quests and sweatlodge events were commonplace. Members of the tribes kept representations of visions (drawings, weavings, jewelry, beadwork, etc.) close at hand, believing that these items secured the protection, guidance, and assistance of various spirits throughout their lives. As part of this dream culture, other tribes like the Cherokee, Lakota, and Navajo adopted the crafting and use of the dreamcatcher. Today, many New Age mystics and practitioners have culturally appropriated the dreamcatcher and its believed powers.
Typically, a dreamcatcher is made from a willow hoop … a shape associated with strength and unity … on which is woven a loose net or web. The hoop is bent into a circle or tear shape usually about 3 ½ inches in diameter or smaller. The webbing … usually leather, sinew, nettle fiber, or fine yarn dyed red … is attached to the frame in a manner similar to snowshoe webbing, but in the approximation of a spider’s web. Additional personal and sacred items are often incorporated into the web design including beads, arrowheads, and semi-precious gemstones … only one gem per dreamcatcher because there is only one Creator in the web of life. Feathers hanging from the frame or lattice lines themselves act as conduits for the dreams to travel from the ether to the sleeping individual. Traditional dreamcatchers are made from natural elements and are not meant to last forever, collapsing as the infants on which they are bestowed enter the “Age of Wonderment.”
I have three dreamcatchers, all purchased at the Great Mohican PowWow. It’s an annual event in Ohio that mixes wonderful storytelling and music and dancing from various tribes with a healthy dose of awesome food and revenue-generating arts and crafts. The day I attended, the weather was flawless and the people were out in droves. I had the best time and actually learned a bit about several beautiful and diverse cultures that reside right here within my own regional borders. I also got in like four months worth of peoplewatching. There were scantily clad people of all ages and kids running rampant. There were hucksters selling all manner of things. There was crazy chanting and wild dancing. And the tattoos ... it was like a parade of the most intricate artwork I have ever seen.
My dreamcatchers are very simple but do incorporate some synthetic elements … I’m hoping they and their “powers” last a while. One dreamcatcher … adorned with a glittery brown agate … hangs above my headboard. Two smaller ones … one that actually has stunning blue jay feathers … hang above my apartment door and large living room window respectively. I figured if those pesky bad dreams were gonna try and get to me, I might as well lay multiple traps.
Now, don’t go thinking I’m a hippie or anything. My overall being is very rational. I know that dreams are the results of an involuntary biological combination of chemicals and neural processes that occur during sleep. Since 1952, science has associated dreaming with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a time when our sleeping brains send out signals extremely close to when we are awake. Also, during REM sleep our bodies secrete certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to prevent dreams from generating dangerous body movements. Most people dream about two hours per night.
Honestly, my feet are planted in several camps. The biology of dreams makes perfect sense to me … stress relief, expression of the subconscience, etc. But why can’t other forces use our sleeping state as an opportunity to interact, imparting visions or moments of divinity? There’s room for both.
POINT OF RANT: I hate spiders and cobwebs, so why am I surprised that I still have bad dreams when I basically have a “spiderweb” talisman hanging over my head?