For at least a few thousand years, dreamcatchers captured our hearts and minds. They inspire hope for the future, along with thoughts of safety. As one of the most common Native American symbols, a worldwide audience easily recognizes them. Today, let’s check out a huge gallery of amazing dreamcatcher tattoos!
The diversity of their wooden bases, intricate nets, and feathered strings means dreamcatcher tattoos appear in thousands of variations. Despite this, they follow a pretty standard format. The wooden base appears round, tear-shaped, or even bears a strange shape, like that of a heart. Built from the outside to the inside, the central net needs a hole in the center. The strings on the end usually hold feathers and beads, but replacements exist—as long as the material is soft and hangs below the dreamcatcher. In today’s article, let’s talk more about the history of dreamcatchers, their role among different tribes, and the neat dreamcatcher tattoo designs out there.
Dreamcatcher Tattoo Meaning and History
Let’s start off by saying many terms, all with varied meanings, refer to indigenous peoples of North America. I grew up with ‘Native American,’ which appears to refer mainly to those living in the United States. The term American Indian contains far more people, since it includes the residents of Canada and Mexico. The First Nations reside in Canada and reject the names placed upon them by European settlers. They chose a name that better reflects their collective political power, rather than their race.
Since these terms aren’t exactly switch around, you might see me use them all. While some people may not like a certain phrase, very few would be offended if you called them one or the other. I realize that the words ‘native,’ and ‘indigenous,’ have a derogatory meaning in some countries, but that is just not the case in North America.
History of Dreamcatchers
Now that we have all that out of the way, let’s talk about the cool stuff. Dreamcatchers. While popular, dreamcatchers do not feature in all Native American cultures. They are very common across the nations, but their origin lies somewhere with the Lakota, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Sioux, and their neighboring tribes. Obviously, this huge swath of different cultures and locations barely narrows it down, so determining exactly where they originated proves impossible.
In the 60s and 70s, the Pan-Indian movement sought to unify many different American Indian tribes across the nations to better coordinate their protest of some shady government claims. While many tribes already formed a coalition of nations—even before the Europeans landed on the continent—this surge represented the largest movement to fight back for their land.
During the Pan-Indian movement, many different tribes shared the unique quirks of their particular tribes and bands. During this time, the dreamcatcher became a popular symbol for many different tribes across a huge swath of North America. People easily recognized it, and it looked awesome. To this day, dreamcatchers appear in traditional shops far away from their original location.
Story of the Dreamcatcher
But why do dreamcatchers hold such popularity? What purpose do they serve, what do dreamcatchers mean, and what kind of history do they have? To answer those questions, let’s look back at the legends of the Lakota tribe. A variant is found in many other tribes, with different names and meanings, but this one is the first I could find in the public domain.
A long time ago, a Lakota spiritual leader received a vision on a mountain. He saw the spider trickster Iktomi appear and speak to him in a language that only the spiritual leaders can hear. The spider took the feathered willow hoop of the spiritual leader and began to spin a web while he spoke. He spoke of the cycle of life—we begin as an infant, grow into adulthood, and return to infanthood as a fragile old person who must be cared for.
He went on to say that the world was filled with forces that would move this cycle in unexpected ways. Some of these forces were good, and some where bad. As Iktomi finished his web, he left a hole in the middle. He explained that the web would help the elder and his people by catching good ideas while people slept and allowing bad ones to pass through unharmed. The good ideas slide down the feathers and land on the sleeper as a good dream. Sometimes, they land so softly that the dream didn’t realize, and people simply wake up refreshed.
Purpose of the Dreamcatcher
The main difference between these stories is whether the dreamcatcher catches bad ideas or good ideas. In my family (or perhaps just my region), the dreamcatcher catches bad dreams like a fly trap, and allows good dreams to pass through to the sleeper. This belief differs even within a tribe and from family to family.
No matter what legend you believe in, the purpose and dreamcatcher meaning remain clear: they stop bad dreams and allow good dreams. Originally, people used themj for decorations near an infant’s crib, but people use them in all sorts of ways today. After all, just because someone becomes older, they can still use a dreamcatcher!
Dreamcatcher Tattoo Designs
Now that you know all about the dreamcatcher, let’s discuss dreamcatcher tattoo designs! Like the dreamcatchers themselves, dreamcatcher tattoos protect a person during the day. They prevent evil forces from arriving and allow good forces to reach the tattooed person. They also look absolutely lovely.
You modify dreamcatcher tattoo designs in several ways to suit your personality and individuality. First, people make traditional dreamcatchers from the branch of a willow tree. Willow trees bend easily, but other materials work as well. As it can hold a curved shape that is ideal for weaving a web, it works for dreamcatchers. Along with that, any branch shape will do—tear drop shapes, hearts, and even stars work, as long as you weave the traditional net. This means that dreamcatcher tattoos appear in all kinds of shapes.
For the actual threads, use untreated leather. Yarns and string work rarely, since they break quickly—which isn’t a problem for tattoos! You pick the color of the string and shape of the web, as long as a hole is left in the middle. Without a hole, the dreamcatcher fails to catch anything. Thanks to the efficiency of tattoo designs, your web doesn’t have to be practical, and the hole can be any shape. Hearts, stars, flowers, and the moon make an excellent center for dreamcatchers. They’re a little difficult to incorporate in actual dreamcatchers, but that’s not a problem for tattoos.
The feathers usually drop from eagles or similar birds. Considered spiritually powerful beings, eagles represent the strongest of the birds, and their strength transfers through their feathers. The beads are used mainly to create sound during ceremonies. You decorate the strings with any decorations you prefer, and even omit the beads and feathers, if you want. While not exactly traditional, you can actually attach mini-dreamcatchers to the start off the strands. I really doubt the effect multiplies, but hey, the more the merrier. It also looks pretty cute.
Dreamcatcher Tattoos with Quotes
Many people remain unfamiliar with the actual role that dreamcatchers play. Dreamcatcher tattoos with quotes to share the meaning of your tattoo with others. Thanks to the characteristic shape of dreamcatchers, the design itself incorporates well into a word or quote. Letters can be hung from the strands, or the dreamcatcher’s ring can be converted to a D, O, Q, and so on—as long as the designer gets creative with it. Placing a quote within or beside a dreamcatcher might make the quote more legible. Dreams are the source of inspiration for many people, so adding a quote beside your tattoo only multiplies that effect.
When selecting quotes, you don’t have to focus on dreams. While the dreamcatcher is mainly associated with good dreams and bad dreams, it also represents the hope for a good future. Inspiration, aspiration, commitment, duty, legacy, and the cycle of life are all integral parts of the legend of the dreamcatcher. Dreamcatcher tattoos with quotes can focus on any of these things. If you need assistance finding good quotes for a tattoo, we have an article dedicated to just that! As long as your heart is in the quote, you can rest assured that it would make a good complement to a dreamcatcher tattoo.
Cute & Small Dreamcatcher Tattoos
Many dreamcatchers take up large areas of the body—the ribs, back, arms, and chest are the normal places for these large dreamcatcher tattoos. If you’re looking for a smaller one, there are ways to get one that exchanges the detail of the design with the complexity of the design. Multiple strands of feathers for the willow ring are optional, and just one with a small feather can suffice. In fact, now that I mention that, you don’t even need a string—you can just attach the feathers and beads directly to the dreamcatcher! These smaller tattoos can be placed in many more locations. The wrist and foot are excellent ones, and they make the design a little more subtle. The dreamcatcher’s function doesn’t change in regards to the size of the design, so you don’t have to worry about that.