Handmade dreamcatchers originated in the Ojibwa Nation, but were later adopted by the Lakota and other American Indian tribes. Dreamcatchers can be made in a variety of sizes, and are typically decorated with beads, feathers, fabric and leather. Many Native Americans believe the dreamcatcher will filter a person's dreams and prevent nightmares.


The dreamcatcher is rich in symbolism, with almost every part having meaning. The circular shape of the dreamcatcher represents the circle of life, with no beginning and no end. This is significant to many Native Americans because they believe that death is a part of life and that the spirit lives on. The dreamcatcher is woven to resemble a spider's web, and a single bead represents the spider. Multiple beads represent trapped dreams.


Some Native American mothers strapped their infants to a cradleboard while they worked, and dreamcatcher charms suspended from a hoop helped entertain the babies. Native Americans also believed the charms would protect the children by catching and trapping evil. It was customary for children to keep their dreamcatchers throughout their lifetimes.


In the Ojibwe culture dreams have many purposes. The Ojibwe people believe that dreams can provide strength and spiritual guidance to aid them in their personal lives. They believe that dreams can show them future events that will affect tribes or individuals. The Ojibwe often make charms to represent symbols shown to them in their dreams that have personal meaning in their lives. They carry those charms with them through their lifetimes and into the afterlife.


Various tribes have adopted the tradition of the dreamcatcher. However, they have different interpretations. The Ojibwe people believe that the dreamcatcher will trap bad dreams and allow good dreams to pass through the small hole in the center and enter into a child or adult's dream state. According to Lakota legend, however, the dreamcatcher does the opposite. The legend states that in a spiritual vision, a Lakota leader met a trickster with great wisdom named Iktomi, who appeared to him in the form of a spider. Iktomi told the man that light and dark forces would try to enter the dreams of people. Iktomi instructed the man to make dreamcatchers to catch the light forces and let the dark ones slip away. Whether dreamcatchers catch the good dreams or the bad, many Native Americans hold to the belief that the charms dispel nightmares and help protect them from negative forces.