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In some Native American cultures, a dreamcatcher or dream catcher (Ojibwe: asabikeshiinh, the inanimate form of the word for "spider"[1]) is a handmade willow hoop, on which is woven a net or web. The dreamcatcher may also include sacred items such as certain feathers or beads. Traditionally they are often hung over cradles as protection.[2] It originates in Ojibwe culture as the "spider web charm" (Ojibwe: asubakacin "net-like", White Earth Band; bwaajige ngwaagan "dream snare", Curve Lake Band[3]), a hoop with woven string or sinew meant to replicate a spider's web, used as a protective charm for infants.[2]

Dreamcatchers were adopted in the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and gained popularity as a widely marketed "Native crafts items" in the 1980s.[4]

Ojibwe origin[edit]

"Spider web" charm, hung on infant's cradle (shown alongside a "Mask used in game" and "Ghost leg, to frighten children", Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin (1929).

Ethnographer Frances Densmore in 1929 recorded an Ojibwe legend according to which the "spiderwebs" protective charms originate with Spider Woman, known as Asibikaashi; who takes care of the children and the people on the land. As the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children.[2] So the mothers and grandmothers weave webs for the children, using willow hoops and sinew, or cordage made from plants. The purpose of these charms is apotropaic and not explicitly connected with dreams:

Even infants were provided with protective charms. Examples of these are the "spiderwebs" hung on the hoop of a cradle board. These articles consisted of wooden hoops about 3½ inches in diameter filled with an imitation of a spider's web made of fine yarn, usually dyed red. In old times this netting was made of nettle fiber. Two spider webs were usually hung on the hoop, and it was said that they "caught any harm that might be in the air as a spider's web catches and holds whatever comes in contact with it."[2]

Basil Johnston, an elder from Neyaashiinigmiing, in his Ojibway Heritage (1976) gives the story of Spider (Ojibwe: asabikeshiinh, "little net maker") as a trickster figure catching Snake in his web.[5][clarification needed]

Modern reception[edit]

Contemporary "dreamcatcher" sold at a craft fair in El Quisco, Chile in 2006.

"Dreamcatchers" were adopted in the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s as a symbol of unity among the various Native American cultures, or a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures.[4]

The name "dream catcher" was published in mainstream, non-Native media in the 1970s[6] and became widely known as a "Native crafts item" by the 1980s,[7] by the early 1990s "one of the most popular and marketable" ones.[8]

The term "dream catchers" in the title of Philip Jenkins's 2004 book on "How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality" does not refer to the hoops; the "dream catchers" are rather the "consumers" of romanticized Native American spirituality.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Freelang Ojibwe Dictionary
  2. ^ a b c d Densmore, Frances (1929, 1979) Chippewa Customs. Minn. Hist. Soc. Press; pg. 113.
  3. ^ Jim Great Elk Waters, View from the Medicine Lodge (2002), p. 111.
  4. ^ a b "During the pan-Indian movement in the 60's and 70's, Ojibway dreamcatchers started to get popular in other Native American tribes, even those in disparate places like the Cherokee, Lakota, and Navajo." "Native American Dream catchers", Native-Languages[unreliable source?]
  5. ^ John Borrows, "Foreword" to Françoise Dussart, Sylvie Poirier, Entangled Territorialities: Negotiating Indigenous Lands in australia and Canada, University of Toronto Press, 2017.
  6. ^ "a hoop laced to resemble a cobweb is one of Andrea Petersen's prize possessions. It is a 'dream catcher'—hung over a Chippewa Indian infant's cradle to keep bad dreams from passing through. 'I hope I can help my students become dream catchers,' she says of the 16 children in her class. In a two-room log cabin elementary school on a Chippewa reservation in Grand Portage" The Ladies' Home Journal 94 (1977), p. 14.
  7. ^ "Audrey Speich will be showing Indian Beading, Birch Bark Work, and Quill Work. She will also demonstrate the making of Dream Catchers and Medicine Bags." The Society Newsletter (1985), p. 31.
  8. ^ Terry Lusty (2001). "Where did the Ojibwe dream catcher come from? | Windspeaker - AMMSA". www.ammsa.com. Sweetgrass; volume 8, issue 4: The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society. p. 19. 
  9. ^ Jenkins, Philip (September 2004). Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516115-7. 

External links[edit]