Most Native American tribes believed in the power dreams had in every aspect of our lives. One way to keep those good dreams and spirits were dreamcatchers. Getting a dreamcatcher tattoo can give you the best protection wherever you go.
There's probably no object that represents Native American cultures more than the dreamcatcher. The net adorned with feathers and beams has been one of the main symbols of these groups and, naturally, it has been used as symbol of pride and recognition. Being such an iconic image, it’s one of the favorite designs people choose for a tattoo, not only due to the beautiful and intricate patterns you can create, but also because it is a symbol of protection. But, did you know the story behind this traditional symbol?
These were protection tokens given especially to babies and children to guard their sleep and keep them from having bad dreams. Although we now associate these ornaments with all Native American tribes, this object was mostly used by the Ojibwa tribe, also known as the Chippewa (settled in North America and Canada). Later, due to commerce and communication between tribes, it was adopted by the Lakota, a group from the seven Sioux confederation. Even though the purpose of the dreamcatcher is basically the same in all the tribes that adopted it, each one has a legend of their own telling the creation of this ancient artifact.
For the Ojibwa, the legend says one old woman was rocking her grandchild to sleep when they saw a big spider right above the bedhead weaving a web. The boy, scared, suggested they should kill it so that it wouldn't bite them, but the wise old woman told him it was a living creature they should all respect. While the boy was asleep, the spider spoke to the woman and thanked her for not killing her and promised that she would make a web so long it would connect with the moon, so that it could trap all the bad dreams and protect their sleep.
Now, for the Lakota, the story is a bit different. One of the eldest spiritual leaders had a vision of Iktomi, the spiritual hero of this tribe, depicted in the shape of a spider. The spirit told him about the cycles of life and death, and to explain them even further, he took the leader’s willow loop, which was adorned with beautiful feathers and beams, and starting weaving a circular net to illustrate his teachings. Everything in the web was connected through its intricate design, only leaving a hole in the middle. Iktomi told him about the forces of good and evil in the world and said the artifact he had made would protect him from all evil. Contrary to the Ojibwa, the dreamcatcher would trap all the good and benevolent spirits so that they could stay with him, and the evil ones would go directly to the hole in the center. The old leader went to his town to reveal what the spirit had told him, and thus, everybody started creating their dreamcatchers and placing them over their beds.
Native American tribes based an important part of their beliefs and traditions on dreams. They believed they had a direct influence on life and, more importantly, on the mind and soul of individuals. They devoted a great part of their spiritual life to the analysis of these dreams and interpreted them to see the relationships they had with their conscious life (hello, origins of psychoanalysis). For them, dreams had four main purposes.
First, they could work as prophecies showing them the future ahead of each individual or even of the entire tribe. Second, they were also used to know the name of each newborn (the leaders would receive these names in their sleep and would pass it to the parents). Third, they worked as spiritual guidance, so dreams were seen as visions and omens. Finally, they were seen as symbols of their own lives. Dreams were so important that it was essential to keep babies and children from evil spirits or dreams and these catchers, for the tribes I mentioned, became the perfect artifacts to do so.
If you’re thinking about getting a dreamcatcher tattoo, it’s important for you to know the meaning behind each element so you can assemble it for your own purpose and beliefs. The hoop, for instance, is meant to symbolize the cycle of life and death, thus your own personal destiny. The web is the snare where the dreams are caught, whether good or bad, depending on your beliefs. Originally, the design of the web was quite simple but with time, artisans have mastered the technique and nowadays there are so many intricate and beautiful web designs you can choose from. The feathers hanging from the loop (and the other ornaments that you can find in many dreamcatchers) were meant to work as soft slides where the good dreams could enter the individual’s mind. And finally, the beads placed directly on the net represented the bad dreams that had been caught (this especially for the Ojibwa tribe).
Some of the elements of the dreamcatchers were introduced quite recently. During the sixties, the American Indian Movement, a group of remaining Native American Tribes, joined forces to protect their patrimony, and in that way, they took some elements from specific tribes and adapted them to represent their unity. That’s how dreamcatchers became a representative symbol of all the tribes. As a result, these now contain other elements that complement the purposes of these artifacts. For that reason you can now find some arrowheads attached to the web, symbolizing the four corners of the earth. You’ll find that other designs include eight beads as if they were a clock, which are meant to represent the eight legs of the sacred spider protecting your dreams.
Most of the people getting these tattoos do it for two main reasons. The first one, for protective and spiritual purposes. All the symbols included in the tattoo are meant to give protection from bad dreams and bad omens. Now, these also became a popular way to show support for the preservation of the remaining Native American tribes. So, if you’re looking for something ancestral to bring good fortune and protection to your life, these are a great option.
You can also take a look at how other cultures used symbols to give meaning to their lives, in these:
30 Hamsa Tattoos to Enlighten Your Soul
Zen Tattoos To Show The World You're Open To The Infinite
The 7 Tattoo Symbols That Show You Are Free Soul