The History and Use of Dreamcatchers

Dreamcatchers were once a type of handmade Native American artifact. Individuals bended willow sticks into a rough circular shape, and covered the wood with leather straps, treated to remain soft and supple. Hand woven string was then passed through the circle to create a web, or catcher. The craftsman then followed up their work by adding different mementoes that meant something to their family. Beads and feathers were the most prevalent form of decoration added to the dreamcatcher.

Many would be surprised to learn that the dreamcatcher phenomenon has only existed for the past 40 years. It is generally assumed that dreamcatchers were created centuries ago, and passed down through family lines. In actuality, the first dreamcatchers were created during the 1960s by the Ojibwa Native American tribe. Their use then spread to other Native American tribes.

The Ojibwa tribe intended for dreamcatchers to be used by children. They chose materials that would slowly degrade over time, and not last into adulthood. The dreamcatcher was hung over the child’s bed, to “catch” the bad dreams, while the soft netting allowed the good dreams to slip through. As the child slowly aged, the dreamcatcher would fall apart. By the time the child turned sixteen or seventeen, the dreamcatcher would have disintegrate.

As dreamcatchers moved beyond Native American culture into mainstream society, they changed from handmade creations to those made in factories. Some tribes and areas still make dreamcatchers by hand, but the majority of those available of the market today are mass produced. There are a few ways to tell the difference between a handmade dreamcatcher, and one produced in a factory.

Dreamcatchers made by hand are seldom an exact circle. During the process of bending the willow limb, certain imperfections in the wood come out. Over time, what started as a circle can change into a tear drop, or oval shape. Factory produced dreamcatchers use plastic tubing rather than wood, which gives a perfectly round appearance to the piece. Some machine produced dreamcatchers are now being made in a rectangular shape, which never existed with the original dreamcatchers.

Handmade dreamcatchers incorporate glass beads, real bird feathers, and hand dried leather pieces, all things that are missing in the mass produced versions. Factories utilize easily made pieces, including faux leather, plastic beads, and even fake feathers. Its easy to spot those changes, if you know what you are looking for.

Dreamcatchers, both handmade and factory created, come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and colors. One of the newer models on the market includes a large image in the center of the dreamcatcher, in lieu of webbing. The picture almost always has a Native American or environmental slant. Some of the more popular images include horses, wolves, waterfalls, and deer. Others feature images of a Native American with a wolf, or a Native American in full headdress. The original style of dreamcatcher, with the netting or web in the middle, is still a popular design as well. The available sizes of these range from as little as 2 inches across, to as big as 2 feet across.

Dreamcatchers are frequently being used in home decoration, and are readily available to fit any decor.

To learn more visit Dreamcatchers: History and Spirituality

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