Re: dream catchers

Susan L. Nielsen (snielsen@OREDNET.ORG)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 11:24:58 -0800

A while back Thomas Kavanagh wrote re:

>On Tue, 15 Oct 1996, Tania Hajjar wrote:

>> Is there a culture besides the Native American that makes dream
>> catchers, or produces a craft associated with good dreams?

>Three comments:
>First, there is no single "Native American" culture.

And, on reflection, and since no one else responded, I do feel
a reply is warranted.

Historically, it is true, there was no single "Native American"
culture. In the present, however, while certain local traditions
do survive and are significant, it is also worth noting that
there is a modern, pan-Native American movement which does look
more and more like a unifying cultural thread. Not to say that
Native Americans have become one undifferentiated group, but that
they are identifying themselves as members of one, larger group.
And there are certain traits which have become identified with
that larger group. "Dream catchers" seem to be one. What is happening
is that bits and pieces of traditions from all over North America
are adopted by Native Americans as a whole. Go to any pow-wow,
and you will see a marvelous mix of traditions from disparate areas,
all combined into an accepted whole. While I'm certain there are
still regional variations, the pan-Native ethos is eclectic in the
extreme, and does approach what one might think of as a single

>Second, it is not really possible to give a "tribal" identification to the
>recent spate of Dream Catchers.

My point exactly.

>While the basic mythology of the Dream
>Catchers (i.e. hang it on a cradle to intercept bad dreams) *MAY BE*
>(although I do not know of a specific reference) generically Great Lakes
>region, the production of netted hoops both with and without related
>mythology (both dream and non-dream related) ranges across the Great
>Plains (i.e. Hoop and Pole games).

But note that when such items as Dream Catchers are incorporated into
a larger group's tradition, their "mythology" as you call it is not
restricted to the original interpretation. Dream Catchers are not
used just to hang over a cradle to net bad dreams; they are used to
help confront all kinds of bad vibes in life. They are displayed when
individuals are working out difficulties; in rehab centers to impart
a little extra strength; over door jambs to keep out unwelcome
influences; tatooed on the skin to provide a buffer against the
bows and arrows of outrageous fortune.

>Thirdly, given the inherent variation in one and two above, the recent
>fascination with "dream catchers" is best considered as the '90s version
>of the yarn God's Eyes/mandalas popular in the late 60s. That is, it is
>not "traditional."

Maybe they are faddish, but don't forget that tradition starts
every day. When does a culture trait become "traditional?" We are not
speaking only of pre-contact traits when we discuss ethnicity and


Susan Nielsen              | "O! how horriable is the day..."       |       -- William Clark
                           |       Friday, Nov. 22nd 1805
                           |       Fort Clatsop