What Are The Rules For Dreamcatchers: Origins, Symbolism, Designs, Controversies and more

The dreamcatcher has become a widely recognized symbol of Native American culture and spirituality. But what are the rules for dreamcatchers? Their origins and traditional uses hold deeper significance than many realize. To truly understand dreamcatchers, one must understand the cultural rules and protocols surrounding them.

Dreamcatchers were an integral part of indigenous belief systems for tribes like the Ojibwe and Dakota for centuries. They followed specific rules regarding dreamcatcher creation, materials, use and more. However, as dreamcatchers grew in popularity globally, their cultural rules and meanings were not always respected.

This raises questions around what are the appropriate rules for crafting, displaying and interpreting dreamcatchers in both traditional and modern contexts.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dreamcatchers originated as sacred spiritual objects within Native American tribes like the Ojibwe, with specific traditional rules governing their creation, materials, use and meaning.
  • Indigenous communities followed cultural protocols around dreamcatcher symbolism, design, and placement that respected their spiritual purpose and significance. Traditional rules ensured proper use.
  • As dreamcatchers became more widely known, debates emerged around what rules should guide non-Native adoption and commercialization of their cultural imagery and meaning.
  • Respecting indigenous voices and perspectives is important when discussing modern interpretations and uses of dreamcatchers outside Native communities.
  • Learning about the original cultural rules illuminates why aspects like appropriation, misuse of designs, and lack of context are controversial to some Native peoples.
  • Honoring traditional indigenous rules and seeing dreamcatchers as living spiritual traditions helps integrate their legacy thoughtfully across cultures with appreciation for their origins and significance.

My aim is to clearly outline what the rules for dreamcatchers have been, and continue striving to be, according to indigenous perspectives. In doing so, we can appreciate dreamcatchers in a culturally informed manner that honors their deep significance.

Origins Of Dream Catchers

What Are The Rules For Dreamcatchers

Dreamcatchers originated from Ojibwe Native American tradition. The Ojibwe people, also known as the Chippewa, are a group of related Anishinaabe-speaking First Nations located in Canada and the United States. According to one source, the Ojibwe people started the trend of dreamcatchers and over time, other tribes adopted them as well.

The Ojibwe believed that dreams were messages or visits from the spirit world. They saw dreamcatchers as a way to “catch” good dreams and let them through to the dreamer, while trapping and filtering out bad dreams before they could disturb the sleeper. As another source describes it, a dreamcatcher would trap the bad dreams that blew freely in the night air and keep them from entering the mind of those it protected.

While dreamcatchers originated within Ojibwe culture, their use and popularity has since spread more widely. A third source notes that during the pan-Indian movement of the 1960s and 1970s, dreamcatchers were adopted by other Native American tribes and have become a globally recognized symbol of Native American spirituality and culture.

Symbolism and Meaning

Dreamcatchers have significant symbolic meaning within Native American traditions. As one source notes, the circular shape of the dreamcatcher represents the circle of life. The web also symbolizes a sacred hoop or cycle.

The materials used, like willow hoops, silk spinners, and feathers, each carry symbolic meaning as well. The willow hoop represents strength and flexibility. The silk spinners represent the rays of the sun and moon. And feathers, especially from the eagle, symbolize spiritual power and guidance.

The feathers and beads that hang in the center of the dreamcatcher are meant to represent dreams. The hanging feathers and beads are said to catch dreams in the woven web as one sleeps. Good dreams slip through the hole in the center and are received by the sleeper, while bad dreams are trapped in the web’s design.

Some tribes see dreamcatchers as representing the protective nature of a mother watching over her children as they sleep. A third source notes that dreamcatchers were traditionally hung above babies’ cradles and beds as talismans to protect the innocent and bring good dreams.

Design Elements

Traditional dreamcatcher designs incorporate several important symbolic elements. At the center is typically a sacred hoop, usually made of willow branches, ash wood, or another flexible woody material, representing the circle of life. One source notes that this hoop forms the frame of the dreamcatcher.

A web of thread or natural fiber such as plant fibers or horsehair is then woven in concentric circles within the hoop. As another source describes, this web symbolizes the concept of filtering or trapping negative thoughts and energies. Feathers, beads, and other sacred objects are often attached to this web.

Many dreamcatchers also feature tassels or ornamental strings hanging below the woven web. A third source notes that these dangling elements represent the captured dreams drifting or falling away. For some tribes, the number of dangling strands held special meanings as well.

Color is another important design element, with different hues and color combinations carrying their own symbolism within Native cultures. Natural dyes and locally sourced materials were traditionally used in dreamcatcher making.

Traditional Use and Significance

Dreamcatchers held important cultural significance and traditional uses for Native American tribes. As one source notes, they were commonly hung above beds or placed near sleeping areas to protect sleeping individuals as they dreamt. This was especially significant for children, who were seen as more vulnerable.

Traditionally, dreamcatchers were believed to work by catching dreams in their woven web as one slept underneath it. Another source describes how it was thought that good dreams would slip through the hole in the center to the dreamer, while bad dreams would get entangled and not disturb their sleep.

Dreamcatchers held spiritual protective powers according to Native beliefs. As a third source explains, they were seen as warding off illness-causing spirits or bad medicine that could infiltrate during sleep. This made them especially important for hanging near infants and children. Dreamcatchers embodied cultural traditions, spirituality, and a reverence for nature’s elements.

Modern Interpretations and Uses

While dreamcatchers originated within Native American traditions, they have since been widely adopted by many outside of these cultures. One source notes dreamcatchers became popular during the 1960s-70s pan-Indian movement and are now seen as representing Native spirituality.

  • Modern dreamcatchers often use different materials than traditional sacred ones like feathers. Designs may incorporate a variety of items.
  • Their purpose is interpreted more broadly today as promoting peaceful sleep, not just catching dreams.
  • Some Native artists feel commercialization has distorted dreamcatchers’ original cultural meaning and significance.
  • There has been debate around the appropriation of indigenous spiritual symbols.

While no longer serving only traditional protective functions:

  • Modern dreamcatchers still carry symbolic importance for many representing hope, guidance, strength and nature.
  • Their designs continue inspiring appreciation of Native American artistry and worldviews.

Dreamcatchers originated in Native cultures but are now widely adopted symbols outside of these communities. Debate remains around commercialization and adapting traditional spiritual objects across cultures.

Cultural Significance and Controversies

What Are The Rules For Dreamcatchers

Dreamcatchers hold deep cultural significance for Native American tribes as sacred spiritual objects. However, some feel that mass commercialization has distorted and appropriated their original meaning. One source notes there has been debate around the use of indigenous cultural symbols for profit without proper respect or understanding.

As another source describes, while dreamcatchers were intended for private spiritual use, some Native artists now purposefully share their traditions through teaching workshops or selling crafts to sustain their cultures. Others feel commercial production is disrespectful to sacred indigenous knowledge and practices.

There is also some controversy around non-Native people adopting dreamcatcher symbolism. As a third source explains, some indigenous groups argue this appropriates culturally significant religious and healing practices without proper understanding or consent. Supporters counter that appreciation and learning can still be respectfully shared across cultures.

However, dreamcatchers also remain an important part of cultural exchange and education. When made and shared respectfully, they can honor Native traditions and help educate others on indigenous worldviews according to one source.

Authentic Dream Catchers

When purchasing or making dreamcatchers, it is important to be mindful of cultural authenticity and respect traditions. As one source explains, dreamcatchers are sacred spiritual symbols for many Native tribes.

Authentic dreamcatchers are made using traditional natural materials like willow hoops, plant fibers, feathers, and sometimes beads or stones according to Native styles and designs. As another source describes, they are often made by Native artists who have been apprenticed in the cultural practices.

It is respectful to research the tribal origins of dreamcatcher styles to understand cultural contexts. As a third source notes, Navajo, Ojibwe, and Ho-Chunk designs each have distinct symbolic meanings derived from their traditions. Purchasing from artisans within these communities supports indigenous cultures.

When gifting or displaying dreamcatchers, including information on their origins and meanings can foster cultural appreciation according to one source. While modern adaptations have become popular, authentic traditionally-made dreamcatchers hold important spiritual and historical significance.

My Personal Rules

As someone writing about dreamcatchers, I feel it is important to establish some personal rules to guide my research and presentation of information. While dreamcatchers have been widely adopted in popular culture, their origins remain deeply meaningful spiritual symbols for Native peoples.

When exploring cultural controversies, I will do so respectfully and highlight Native views on appropriation. It is not my place as a non-Native person to say what is or is not appropriate use of symbols.

Any dreamcatchers or designs discussed will give proper credit and context regarding tribal origins. Mass-produced items lacking cultural ties will not be endorsed. When interpreting symbolism, I will rely primarily on Native sources and understanding, recognizing my limited perspective.

Commercialization is a sensitive topic, so I will avoid directly promoting the purchase of cultural crafts. Instead, my focus will be on education. If sharing photos, proper permissions will be obtained to respect artists’ rights to their work.


IThis exploration of the rules surrounding dreamcatchers, both traditional and modern, I have gained a deeper appreciation for their cultural significance. While dreamcatchers are now mainstream symbols, it is vital that we do not lose sight of their spiritual origins and the indigenous protocols that governed their proper use.

Through my research, I have striven to honor Native voices and perspectives on the sensitive issues of appropriation, commercialization, and adapting traditional symbols across communities. Overall, this experience has emphasized for me the importance of cultural education and respecting indigenous traditions from which dreamcatchers were born.

By understanding the original rules of dreamcatchers within Native societies, I believe we can thoughtfully carry their legacy today in a manner that maintains reverence for their deep cultural meaning. It is my hope that this examination of dreamcatcher rules and protocols has provided useful context for thoughtfully engaging with these sacred symbols of Native American spirituality.

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