Sleepless in America

Healthy rest, problem sleep, and the dreams and nightmares therein

Dream Catcher

The dream catcher reminds us of the importance of dreams.

A dream catcher is a type of mobile made by Native Americans of the Great Plains. It is a beautiful object and is associated with an interesting legend.

The idea of the dream catcher originated within the Ojibwa Nation and was later adopted by other Native American Nations during the 1960's and 1970's. A dream catcher is a handmade object based on a hoop with a woven web of sinew strands in it that has feathers, beads and crystals attached. It is hung in the tipi or lodge. Dream catchers are often used to keep children from having nightmares and are intended to gradually dry out and fall apart as the child gets older.

The belief is that the air is filled with dreams. These dreams are full of meaning and may be either good or bad. There are different versions of the dream catcher legend and how it works. Some say that good dreams pass through the hole in the center of the web while bad dreams are caught in the web. The good dreams will flow down the feathers to the person while the bad dreams dissolve in the day light. Another version says that only good dreams can filter through the net. Yet another says that good dreams are caught in the web while bad dreams flow away thorough the hole in the center.

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Because dream catchers are beautiful and also because the idea of protection from nightmares is compelling, dream catchers have become very popular. You may have even received one in the mail as part of a fund raiser for an Indian school. In addition to those made by Native Americans, you may find others made by New Age groups or by craftspeople who produce them to sell at markets and fairs. This is not accepted by traditional Native Americans as a legitimate use of the dream catcher. While many appreciate the idea of the dream catcher, some forget to respect the Native American culture from which it came.

The dream catcher reminds us how important the dream world has been to people throughout time. Dreams have provided medicine men, shamans and prophets a portal to another realm. Even though today most of us tend to focus on the physiology of the dream state, we can still appreciate the power of our nightly visits to that other world.

 

John Cline, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, Diplomate of the the American Board of Sleep Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a clinical professor at Yale University.

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