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The Symbolism of Dreamcatchers

a dreamcatcher with sunlight shining on it

I love dreamcatchers. Not only are they beautiful to look at. But, they also have fascinating symbolism. At one time, in the 80s’ when I was entering my twenties, dreamcatchers were considered the “cool” thing to have hanging in your bedroom.

Many people scorned them for being trademarks of aging hippies. But, dreamcatchers are more than feathers strung together on a wooden wheel.

Have you ever wondered what's the meaning of a dreamcatcher? I only explored the symbolism of the dreamcatcher when I studied shamanism eight years ago. Read on to discover what a dreamcatcher is and why they have a deeper meaning beyond simply being a pretty piece of home décor.

What is a Dreamcatcher?

A dreamcatcher is made using a wooden hoop normally constructed from pliable twigs of a tree. The willow is often used to craft the hoop of the dreamcatcher. A web is then woven onto the hoop, using natural fibers such as twine or thin strips of leather.

Feathers, beads, bones, shells, and other natural artifacts are used to adorn the hoop, normally hanging downwards from the bottom of the wheel.

Modern-day dreamcatchers are often made with artificial materials. They come in all sizes and various objects are used to decorate the dreamcatcher. Intricate designs can be seen on the web while macrame woven string is used to hang the feathers.

Dreamcatchers originated from the Native American culture. The tribe constructed their dreamcatchers with natural materials and used them as a talisman to protect them when sleeping.

They believed that dreamcatchers stopped the sleeper from experiencing nightmares or bad dreams. It wasn’t uncommon to find a dreamcatcher hanging over the crib of a baby.

How Does a Dreamcatcher Work?

According to Native Americans, the dreamcatcher "catches" nightmares, bad dreams, or disturbing visions by trapping them in the web, similar to a spider catching its prey. When dawn broke in the morning, the sunlight would destroy these bad dreams or visions, protecting the dreamer.

Good dreams were free to filter through the web, traveling down the feather to the person sleeping below the dreamcatcher. The Lakota tribe had a slightly different belief as to how a dreamcatcher would work. The good dreams would stick to the web while the bad dreams were chased away through the web.

Native Americans also believed the dreamcatcher worked like a charm, removing all evil spirits while protecting the person from bad influences. For the dreamcatcher to work properly, it must be hung over the bed of the person it’s protecting, close to a window. This way it can be cleaned with the first rays of sunshine.

People playing the drums

The Symbolism of the Dreamcatcher

While the dreamcatcher is beautiful to look at it, each part of it has a symbolic meaning:

  • The wooden hoop: This symbolizes Mother Earth. Being a circle, it also represents the cycles of life. There’s no end. And, there’s no beginning. It simply is the flow of life. The circular hoop also represents the sun and moon.

  • The web: Inside this circle lies the web. It resembles a spider’s web and at its center is another circle. This represents the Heart. It’s believed that good dreams are filtered through the Heart of the web before moving into the dreamer’s realm.

  • Beads: Beads are woven onto the web. Other objects such as shells can be used. These symbolize every good dream that didn't filter through and instead, stayed with the dreamcatcher. The beads are transformed into special charms representing all these good dreams and visions. In some cultures, these beads represent the spider.

  • Points: Each dreamcatcher has different points and these are significant. The 13 points refer to the 13 phases of the moon while the 7 points could refer to the seven prophecies. The eagle is symbolized by 6 points while a star is symbolized by 5 points.

  • A cross: If you see a dreamcatcher with a cross in the center know that it symbolizes the four sacred directions – East, South, West, and North. This type of dreamcatcher is often known as the Medicine or Healing Wheel and is used for healing work by shamans.

  • Feathers: The feathers symbolize the path and ladder down which the good dreams travel before gently entering the person sleeping.

Depending on what materials the dreamcatcher has been made with, there could be other spiritual meanings. Native Americans would often use the thin branches of the Red Willow tree which was believed to offer spiritual protection.

There’s also a significant meaning behind using the spider web as the central design of the dreamcatcher. According to the Ojibwa culture, the spider symbolizes protection of the home while bringing comfort to those who reside in the house

The tribe’s legend of the Spider Woman spoke of her role to protect children and babies. With the tribe moving far apart, it was believed that Spider-Woman crafted a dreamcatcher to be used as a protective talisman for when she could not be present herself.

The dreamcatcher became a keepsake for grandmothers and mothers wanting to spiritually protect their little ones.

While this video has very little to do with dreamcatchers I love how the speaker talks about Native Americans' connection with nature and how we're all interconnected.

Modern-Day Dreamcatchers: Do They Hold the Same Meaning?

Authentic dreamcatchers were made with natural materials such as wood, leather, wooden beads, and feathers. These dreamcatchers were way smaller than the ones you see hanging in souvenir shops today.

Modern-day dreamcatchers are rarely constructed with natural products so if you want to have a genuine dreamcatcher in your home, you could make your own.

Modern-day Native Americans still use the dreamcatcher but they also see it as symbolizing unity among the different cultures. They still strive to construct dreamcatchers with natural materials.

However, the modern-day ones are often made with plastic, glass beads, and commercially made feathers that have been dyed in a range of neon colors!

Despite dreamcatchers being commercialized, I do believe if you set the right intention, yours can be as powerful as the ones used by Native Americans to protect their people. Making your own dreamcatcher is a wonderful way to connect deeply with your intention while using natural products.

Both my husband and I have made our dreamcatchers using the pliable branches of a willow tree growing in one of our local parks. The web is woven with cotton twine and we were fortunate to have a collection of beautiful feathers from a bird park nearby.

I’ve used little seashells and wooden beads as well as porcupine quills to adorn the web and the strings from which the feathers hang.

Final Thoughts

Dreamcatchers are often used nowadays as a form of home décor. You can also find jewelry with the dreamcatcher design. The dreamcatcher has, unfortunately, become a commercialized object.

But, by setting the right intention and holding respect for its origin and symbolism, it can become a powerful healing tool in your home.

This post was updated on April 12th, 2024.

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