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Do you know what dream catchers do?


Photo by Alexandra Ventura licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 

You’ve probably heard about dream catchers. You may even have one or seen one hanging from a tree branch or on a wall. But I bet there’s a lot about dream catchers that you probably don’t know. Let's explore their origins, legends and how they're used today.

What is a dream catcher?

a dream catcher against a blue sky

People mostly use them for decoration today but dream catchers have a long history among First Nations people. They were given to children to hang over their beds to ward off bad dreams.

Where did dream catchers come from?

Explorers reported that the Ojibwa people were using dream catchers to protect children while they slept — they were sometimes called "Sacred Hoops." Dream catchers have also been used by Cree and other First Nations people.

Catcher of bad dreams

dream catcher against a yellow sky

One legend tells the story of a chief whose child becomes sick with a fever that causes terrible nightmares. A medicine woman makes a dream catcher by copying the pattern of a spider web. Instead of catching flies, the dream catcher will catch bad dreams. When nightmares came for the child, they were caught in the strands of sinew. But good dreams were able to pass through the web and follow the feather down to the child. In the morning, the sun would hit the dream catcher and burn away the bad dreams.

The spider in the window

a spiderweb in a window

Photo by francesmis licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Another legend tells the tale of a spider weaving its web in a window while a grandmother watched from her bed. When her grandson tried to squash the spider, the woman stopped him. The spider, grateful that her life was spared, gifted the grandmother with the web and told her that it would catch all of her bad dreams but let the good dreams through.

What are they made of?

dream catcher hanging off trees

Photo (cropped) by Chris Kealy licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Dream catchers were made with a willow branch that was bent into a hoop or teardrop shape. The artist would use animal sinew — the strong tissue or tendon that connects muscle to bone — to weave a web-like pattern. Feathers — usually from a hawk — would be used for decoration and trailed down the bottom. There's a lot of meaning in the dream catcher: their shape is the circle of life and according to some legends, the beads represent the spider who wove the dream catcher.

a modern fancy dream catcher with glitter feathers

Today, dream catchers are much fancier and use different materials. They can be decorated with beads, shells and coloured threads. 

Want to make one?

If you don't have a dream catcher in your room to help trap any bad dreams you might have, you can make your own with the help of your older siblings, parents, or caregivers. They're fun and easy to make if you follow the simple steps from CBC Parents (the full instructions are here if your parents want to make one too).

Step 1: Decorate the paper plate

child painting a paper plate

(Photo from CBC Parents/Jackie Currie)

Get your parents to cut the middle out of a paper plate for you, so that only the outside circle, or rim, is left. You can then paint the plate with your favourite colours and decorate it however you want like glitter or stickers. When everything is dry, punch holes around the rim using a hole punch (get your parents to help you if you need it.)

Step 2: Weave the web

decorated paper plate with yarn woven through it

(Photo from CBC Parents/Jackie Currie)

Choose some colourful yarn for your parents to cut for you and tape to the back of the plate. Weave the yarn through the holes in the plate, back and forth across the plate to make your web. If you like, you can thread beads onto the yarn as you criss-cross the plate. When you're happy with how your yarn looks, get your parents to tape the end to the back of the plate to secure it.

Step 3: Add the feathers

finished paper plate dream catcher

(Photo from CBC Parents/Jackie Currie)

To finish off your dream catcher, use several pieces of yarn in different lengths. These should be tape to the back of the plate and left to dangle at the bottom. You can string some beads on these pieces and then add a knot so the beads don't fall off. Then glue some feathers onto the yarn to decorate. Add a loop of yarn at the top for hanging.

Congratulations! Your dream catcher is finished. Put it up in your bedroom and have sweet dreams!