Many spiritual and cultural objects originated from specific ethnicity have become misappropriated and over-commercialized, including dream catchers. 

Coming from a tribe in South America, dream catchers have been carried around the world and used as decoration, fashion accessories, or protection. However, many worldwide users have no idea of their originality and its role to the people from that tribe. 

As consumers start to make ethical questions about their using habits and attitudes towards sacred items like this, they come up with the question like: Are dream catchers cultural appropriation? Are dream catchers bad? Do dream catchers work?

The good news is that having these kinds of questions is the first step to avoiding cultural appropriation. Understanding well a spiritual and cultural item that is not from your country helps you appreciate its sacredness and decide whether to afford it or not. 

Now, ethical users, what’s fun about the dream catchers? 

The Legends Of Dream Catchers 

Sometimes referred to as “Sacred Hoops, the dream catcher is widely believed to originate from a Native American tribe named Ojibwa Chippewa. They tied strands of sinew around a bentwood frame in a round shape or sometimes a teardrop shape. The native people applied the same techniques in the webbing for their snowshoes.

Legends tell another story about Lakota tribes where appeared a spider could talk to the leader there. He suspected Iktomi, a wisdom searcher who came in the form of the spider and made a hoop with beads, horsehair, feathers, and small offerings. 

The spider wove in stories of the cycles of life from childhood to death. It told the Lakota leader that good and evil forces could frequently try to distract you in their directions, but as long as he used the web, he could help his people fulfill their wishes and sweep the bad lucks away.

The Legends Of Dream Catchers

   Legends of dream catchers. Source: Wikipedia 

The Benefits Of Dream Catchers 

Sometimes referred to as “Sacred Hoops,” dreamcatchers were traditionally used to protect sleeping people, usually children, from bad dreams and nightmares. Native Americans believe that the night air is filled with dreams, both good and bad. When hung above the bed in a place where the morning sunlight can hit it, the dream catcher attracts and catches all sorts of dreams and thoughts into its webs. Good dreams pass through and gently slide down the feathers to comfort the sleeper below. Bad dreams, however, are caught up in their protective net and destroyed, burned up in the light of day.

This dream catcher helps to protect from bad dreams. It helps in giving peaceful sleep.

Many believe that dream catchers have a broader meaning than just filtering sweet dreams. For these people, dream catchers are good luck charms that represent good energy and help to neutralize bad energy — whether you’re awake or asleep.

So if you still wonder ”Are dream catchers bad?”, the answer is No, it is totally opposite. 

The Benefits Of Dream Catchers

The benefits of dream catchers. Source: Nazym Jumadilova

What Does Each Part Of The Dream Catcher Represent?

Dream catchers are not simply a bunch of round hoops and beads. Every angle of this sacred item contains a significant meaning. 

Understanding the meanings attached to dreamcatchers will help to enrich your experience when you get one for yourself or your beloved. 

 Let’s zoom in on their features and see what each one symbolizes. 

The Hoop

This is the most identifiable characteristic of dream catchers. It represents the circle of life – an essential concept to the Ojibwe tribe. To them, our life is constantly moving around in a circle; there is no exact beginning or end.

The Web

The web weaved by thread or wool within the hoop frame is the second significant identity of dream catchers. It is designed like a spider’s web for two reasons. First, to tribute to Asibikaashi, the spider woman who is the spiritual protector of the Ojibwe tribe.

Second, it is intended to trap unwanted things like a spider web. In this case, they are bad dreams and bad lucks. The smaller circle in the center of the web is the heart. It allows good dreams and lucks to filter through.

Beads

There is at least one bead woven into the web of every dream catcher. They are believed to represent the spiders spinning on the web—the more beads, the more dreams caught during the night that have transformed into good charms.

Beads

What does each part of the dream catcher mean? Source: Daniel G 

Feathers

Their softness can give the dreamcatcher a touch of whimsy, but actually, they do not just serve a decorative purpose. They caught good dreams from the web slide down to the sleeping person sleeping. 

Gemstones

Some crafters replace gemstones for beads or feathers as it is not legal to obtain feathers from animals in some parts. They choose the type and number of gems based on how they want their dreamcatchers to look like.

Arrowheads

Certain dreamcatchers are called medicine wheel dream catchers. They have a cross made up of arrowheads in the center of the web. This represents the Four Sacred Directions – or the four corners of the Earth from which the wind blows. It is believed to protect the owner from bad luck by attracting strength and good force from the Earth’s four corners. 

Number of Points Woven on the Web

The web woven inside the hoop doesn’t just have an arbitrary number of points. Dreamcatcher crafters use a specific amount of points with particular purposes:

  • 5 points symbolize a star in the sky
  • 6 points represent an eagle
  • 7 points are the seven prophecies attributed to Asibikaashi – the Spider Goddess. 
  • 8 points represent the eight legs of the spider.
  • 13 points denote  13 phases of the moon. 

What Does The Color Of Dream Catchers Mean And Their Function? 

When it comes to spirituality, nothing is just for decorative purposes. 

Each color represents a different meaning and function. Don’t just choose a random one because it looks good. 

Let’s learn the different purposes of the colors in the dream catcher and get yourself a suitable one. 

What Does The Color Of Dream Catchers Mean And Their Function?

What does the color of dream catchers mean and their function?. Source: Ella Jardim

White

This color represents meditation, relaxation, order, and pureness.  Thus, it is best to hang a white dream catcher in your bedrooms, workrooms, and kitchen, any kind of place used for rest and chill, where the energy should flow in harmony.

Black

This color counteracts the effects of white, in other words, to balance the energy in a space.

You can combine it with other eye-catching dream catchers such as lilac, violet, or pink. But combining black and white in one dream catcher can create an energy balancing effect – which symbolizes yin and yang. 

Red

A red dream catcher is ideal for getting in environments where you hold parties, such as the kitchen, dining room, and terraces. Why? Because it can stimulate mood and appetite. Yum!

Plus, red is associated with passion, love, and high energy. Thus, it is believed to boost the desire for a couple in their room. 

Yellow

Yellow signifies vital energy, intellectual wisdom, and happiness. So when you buy a yellow dream catcher, it is best to hang it in places such as art studios, workshops, yoga classes. 

Also, yellow helps to heal the emotional pain and foster relationships, especially after having conflicts. You can put them in the dining room or living room where your whole family meets up every day. 

Blue

Blue is the color of strength, success, and determination. If you are a student, or someone aiming for something big,  hang them where you can see while studying and working.  

Green

What is the first thing comes to your mind about Green? Peace and nature, right? 

If you are a nature lover or frequently having nightmares and bad thoughts at night, get a green catcher can help to bring you a hopeful feeling and peace of mind. 

Orange

Stability and Coziness – these are what the orange color is about. We would suggest you put it in meeting rooms and dining rooms to foster closer connections. 

Brown

Brown reminds people of the earth’s color. It promotes a desire to stay simple, minimal, and calm in us. If you are someone who easily gets panicked, worried, or has to make lots of decisions, getting a brown dream catcher is a good choice. 

Do Dream Catchers Work?

So far science has not approved the effect of dream catchers yet. 

However, many people find dream catchers a relief to their anxiety and nightmares. So there might be 2 or 3 ways to answer the question ”do dream catchers work?”. 

Dream catchers can work on a subconscious level, thanks to the placebo effect. Just like homeopathy, when someone believes that a magical medicine or piece of agarwood incense can treat their illness, they at least feel more relieved when this stuff is around.

If you believe that dream catchers work, your brain will be triggered with the placebo effect that brings you more positivity and security. There is a proven scientific study about the placebo effect of dream catchers by Harvard University.  

Also, it is worth knowing that there has been no actual research into dream catchers from a scientific point of view. 

So far, only Philip Zimbardo from Stanford University had conducted one scientific study on dream catchers. 

However, the study focused more on the dreams and nightmares with or without dream catchers to see if they prevent bad terrors. 

He did record a decrease in bad dreams when his participant hung dream catchers in their beds. 

Are Dream Catchers Cultural Appropriation? 

Now let’s come to the most crucial question to answer. Nowadays, ethnical travelers or spiritual consumers also question the risk of culturally appropriating cultural items like artifacts, religious symbols, clothing, fashion, languages, food, music, dance, etc. 

Therefore, once you know the answer for dream catchers, you might get the idea of how to treat other rich-in-culture items that are not from your country. 

So First, What Is Cultural Appropriation? 

We quote the definition given by Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, the author of “Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law,” as follows:

“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a ​minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

For example, while Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner promoted their business images with pictures of them wearing cornrows – a braided hairstyle that originated with Black women – Black women get discriminated against because of wearing that hairstyle. 

During the 2012 Victoria Secret show, the model Karlie Kloss wore a feather headdress, turquoise jewelry, suede fringe, and leopard-print accents. It was meant to represent Thanksgiving, however, glamorizing the genocide that Native Americans experienced at the hands of European settlers and American colonists. 

So First, What Is Cultural Appropriation?

Examples Of Cultural Appropriation. Source: Theworld.com 

Now Back To The Question, Are Dream Catchers Cultural Appropriation? 

First, we should admit that cultural appropriation is a problem. Because it turns symbols and beliefs that people from a tribe, a country have died for, have suffered, into cute accessories to wear because they look cool. That reflects lots of ignorance and insensitivity that consumers might have. 

However, that is not to say we can’t have them if we are not Native Americans. As humans are becoming more global, exchanging cultural products can help them learn, maintain multiple long-rooted cultures, and support native crafters. 

Before getting a dream catcher, buyers need to be aware that this keepsake of  Native American culture is more than just a fashion item. It is a holy symbol, a mom’s blessing to her children for peace and positive force.

Therefore, they should treat them with appreciation, knowledge, honor, and deeply connect to Native American culture and ancient traditions. Poorly understood when owning a dream catcher can take you down the path of disrespectful cultural appropriation. 

Is There An Inoffensive Way For Non-Natives To Own A Dreamcatcher?

There is a quote posted by New York City hairstylist Tenisha F. Sweet that said, “If you don’t understand cultural appropriation, imagine working on a project and getting an F and then somebody copies you and gets an A and credit for your work.”

So when you purchase a dream catcher or anything cultural — be very conscious about it.

We provide some tips below to help you identify in case you still wonder, are dream catchers cultural appropriation?

Is There An Inoffensive Way For Non-Natives To Own A Dreamcatcher?

Are dream catchers cultural appropriation? Source: Pexels 

Are You Halloween-ing The Dream Catchers?

When you wear cultural items head to toe or decorate your house with lots of dream catchers without understanding the purpose of each of them, it can seem like you are turning yourself and your home to a Halloween party. 

We recommend you mix them with other elements and learn carefully about, let’s say, the meaning of dream catchers’ colors, so you know how to make things harmonious. 

Keep Educating Yourself

You don’t have to read the whole book about the history of dream catchers unless you want to. However, you should at least do a little research into its cultural history. Research questions like: ”Is it historically sensitive?” ”Can non-natives wear this?”, ”Are dream catchers cultural appropriation?”. Make sure you don’t walk around inadvertently rename or disrespect it like Kim Kadarshian renamed the cornrow braids to the ”KKW braids”. 

Be Respectful

If you are wearing a dream catcher accessory or hanging a dream catcher around the house when you are not a Native American, don’t behave in a way that’s antithetical to the culture’s values, customs, and history. 

For example, you can show some sensitivity and knowledge by not combining dream catcher earrings with a classic British dress or hanging dream catchers in a room with many pictures of British aristocrats. Wanna know why? We recommend you research the brutality of British colonists to the Native Americans.     

Final Thoughts

Don’t just simply follow a trend because it seems to look cool on you or your room. As you are showing insensitivity to the people for whom that trend reflects their life and cultural property. 

 We hope this article has given you fruitful information and helps you decide whether to purchase a   dream catcher, what type you should get, and the right attitudes when using something, not from your culture. 

We encourage you to ask the question ‘Are Dream Catchers Cultural Appropriation?’ and ask the same question to every item you are about to purchase. We believe that this habit will help you become an ethical and educational user.  

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By Rose Marry

Rose Marry is a full-time writer for JobandEdu, and also a sorority member and leader since 2020. As a dedicated leader and helper to others, she has written hundreds of articles about deciding your career path, types of jobs, job hunting process, and self-improvement. Although having many achievements, Marry understands the difficulties of finding your place in the job market as a newcomer. Hence, she wants to share her knowledge and experience through her articles.

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