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Legends of the Native American Dreamcatcher

As Americans across the United States prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, it is natural to direct our thoughts to Native American history, culture and art. One such example of Native American art is the dreamcatcher, a circular hoop to which is attached a fiber “web” and often feathers and beads. The popular notion is that the dreamcatcher can “catch” your dreams in its web, allowing the good dreams to slip through the center hole while the bad dreams get caught in the web and perish with the coming of daylight.

Before dreamcatchers became popular novelty items in modern-day stores, they were typically made of a willow hoop filled with a web made of nettle stalk that has been fashioned into cord. The cord was died red using bloodroot or wild plum bark. The dreamcatcher was often hung over a baby’s cradleboard.

Because much of the history of Native American tribes was lost, forgotten or changed during their initial contact with Western peoples, the origin of the dreamcatcher is unknown. However, many legends surrounding the dreamcatcher exist for tribes all across North America. Most of the legends have to do with spirits, spiders, and dreams.

The Ojibwe people tell of how, many moons ago, Spider Woman brought the sun back to the sky each day. But when the Ojibwe nation spread to the ends of the world, she began to find it difficult to make the journey for all of her people. Instead, she directed the mothers, sisters and grandmothers to weave a magical web for new babies using willow hoops. These dreamcatchers would allow only good dreams to enter the babies’ minds when they were asleep. The circle of the hoop was a symbol of the sun. The web was to connect to the hoop in eight places to represent Spider Woman’s eight legs or in seven places to represent The Seven Prophecies. A feather in the center of a baby’s dreamcatcher represented breath and life. Adults did not have a feather in the center of their dreamcatchers but instead kept a feather in their possession.

The Chippewa believed that the dreamcatcher was first made when the wise medicine woman of the tribe told the tribe mothers to weave a spider’s web with love from a willow hoop to chase away the evil spirits that came to terrify their children in the night. She told them to leave an opening in the center like an open heart so that good things could pass through onto those that sleep and bad things could get caught in the web and vanish with the morning light.

The Lakota tell of the tribe elder who long, long ago had a vision on a mountaintop. Iktomi, the great teacher, appeared to him in the form of a spider and spoke to him. As he spoke, he spun a web on a hoop of feathers, horse hairs and beads. Iktomi spoke of the cycles of life and how human choices could affect the harmony of nature. He gave the elder the hoop and pointed out how the web was a perfect circle with a hole in its center. He explained how belief in the Great Spirit would allow the hoop to catch good dreams, letting the bad dreams go through the hole in the center of the hoop. Iktomi told how the web would help his people make good use of their ideas and visions.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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