A delicate hoop, made of plastic or willow wood, woven with a web of yarn, adorned with colourful beads or feathers, is commonplace these days. Often found hanging on a wall or from tree branches, these intricate things are now part of contemporary cultures, and not just confined to closed tribal communities. Ever since I saw a dreamcatcher in a trinket store, I dug deep into its origin and legends only to become fascinated by the mystical tradition they represent. Here’s how the legends unfolded in my curious mind.
Many moons ago, before the Europeans colonised America, the native American tribes Ojibwe and Lakota were fascinated with spiders. They believed that spiders protected them from bad omens. Ojibwe people often spoke of a spider woman called Asibikaashi, who possessed mystical powers. She was believed to be the protector of people, especially children.
Over time, as the tribe migrated to far off lands, Asibikaashi found it difficult to cast her protective spell on her children. She, then, created a talisman—the first dreamcatcher. Called asabikeshiinh by the natives, the word literally means ‘spider’ in English. And soon after, grandmothers and mothers started making dreamcatchers to keep their young ones safe.
Also called ‘Sacred Hoops’, dreamcatchers were known to protect people from bad dreams and evil forces, while asleep. Ojibwe people believed, at night air is laden with dreams—both good and bad. When a dreamcatcher is hung above a bed, dreams get trapped in its web. The good dreams pass through its feathers and descend upon the sleeper. Bad dreams remain entangled in the net, only to evaporate the next morning like dew drops on the grass.
When Iktomi was done weaving, it handed the hoop to the old man, explaining to him that the web was a perfect circle with a hole in the centre, which could help him and his people fulfil their dreams.