Dream-catcher and the Spider Goddess

Niina Pekantytär

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Dreamcatchers are iconic, well-known symbols within Native American cultures. The tradition of dreamcatchers originates from the Ojibwa tribe. The Ojibwa dreamcatcher symbolizes natural wisdom. Ojibway is the name of the tribe in Canada, the name of the American tribe is Chippewa. Ojibwas reside in southern Canada in Manitoba and Ontario and in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Dreamcatchers were originally made of twigs of the willow tree. Twigs were gathered fresh and they were pulled into a spiral or a circle. The web was made of the thread stalk of stinging nettle. Ojibwas decorated their dreamcatchers with bird feathers found from the ground and gemstones. Bad dreams get caught into the web and when morning sun rays touch the web the bad dreams get destroyed and good dreams go through the holes. It is recommended to hang the dream catcher above one bed. Once the good dreams travel through the holes they gently fall down through the ribbons and feathers to the mind of the dreamer. Good dreams know their way in. Bad dreams get tangled and perish.

Spider-Woman

According to the myth the Ojibwa clans used to live in a place called Turtle Island. Their protector goddess was Asibikaashi, the spider woman. In the myth, Asibikaashi helped to bring the sun deity Giizis back to the people. She built a special lodge before dawn. It was completely made of a spider web. Asibikaashi catches the sunlight (Giizis) into the sparkling dew drops. Ojibwa nations grew larger and Asibikaashi had difficulties keeping track of everyone so Ojibwa women; mothers, sisters and Nokomi (the grandmothers) decided to help her. They started to weave magical webs into willow loops. First dream catchers were hanged above baby cradles. Air playing with the feathers was entertainment for the newborns.

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Symbolism

The round shape of the dream catcher represents the sun goddess Giizis who travels across the sky each day. Gemstone in the middle of the web is the symbol of the great spirit, whose energy flows in every living being. Gemstones have become so rare that the modern-day Ojibwas don´t tend to use them anymore in their dream catchers. Eight knots that tight the web into the hoop are the eight legs of the spider woman. Sometimes feather is added into the middle of the dream catcher. The feather symbolizes air. Owl´s feather is known as the woman´s feather and it stands for the ”keeper of wisdom”. Eagle´s feather is known as the man´s father and it symbolizes courage. Not all Ojibwa dream catchers are round, one can also find a tear-shaped dream catcher. The shape of the tear symbolizes the dew that Asibikaashi collected.

How to initiate your dream catcher

I am a big fan of dream catchers and I love making them. You can basically create a dream catcher from anything and they come in all shapes and forms. Ojibwas initiated their dream catchers in a ceremony and you can do the same. Lit a sage and let the smoke go through your dream catcher (you can cleanse your bedroom at the same time). While you are doing this visualize what kind of dreams you wish your dream catcher to bring to you. At the end of the ceremony thank the Spider woman for bringing you peaceful dreams.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN
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