With roots in the wisdom of the Ojiibwe, this arcane object is the subject of many tattoo and – besides protecting us during the night – has both ritual and philosophical significance.

The original name of what we know as the Dreamcatcher comes from the language of the Ojibwe (one of the oldest Native American peoples), and is Asabikeshiinh, which means “spider”.

Alexis Vaatete, Vatican Studios, Orange County, USA
Alexis Vaatete, Vatican Studios, Orange County, USA

Legend has it that the spider-woman protected all the children in the land by spinning a web around their cradle so that it could catch any nightmares they might have.

The spider web was traditionally embellished with coloured beads and feathers and would be hung from the sides according to the gender of the child it was to defend: eagle feathers (symbol of courage) for boys or owl feathers (symbolising wisdom) for little girls.

Mick Gore, Gore Tattoo, Taoyuan, Taiwan
Mick Gore, Gore Tattoo, Taoyuan, Taiwan

In this way any visions in dreams would be “filtered” by the action of the Dreamcatcher. Bad dreams would get tangled in the web and dissolve at the first light of dawn; good dreams would reach the child’s mind by simply sliding down the feathers.

The Dakota, unlike the Ojibwe and Cheyenne, have given the Dreamcatcher a decidedly more philosophical meaning.

Anthony Silva, The Speak Easy Tattoo, Tracy, USA
Anthony Silva, The Speak Easy Tattoo, Tracy, USA

One of their best-known legends tells how, once upon a time, a witchdoctor in a Dakota village happened upon the wise Iktomi who, on this occasion, had taken the form of a spider. During their conversation, Iktomi asked the witchdoctor to pass him a willow hoop which had beads and a number of feathers hanging from it.

Josh Walker, Black Anvil Tattoo Club, Cleethorpes, UK
Josh Walker, Black Anvil Tattoo Club, Cleethorpes, UK

Iktomi, struck by the strange shape of the object, spun his spider web inside it, and told the witchdoctor that he could use it to separate positive visions from negative ones. The spider web would in fact imprison benign forces while malignant forces would be swallowed up by the hole in the centre and disappear forever. This would allow the shaman to speak to his people armed with wisdom and foresight.

Xiso, Tattoo Letter
Xiso, Tattoo Letter

For Native Americans, each life is born, dies and is reborn: an endless process of transformation. This eternal cycle is symbolised by the hoop of the Dreamcatcher woven with the web which is the mesh of expectations and actions that fill our day to day lives. At the centre of this web, or of our lives, there is a hole, which stands for mystery, the infinite and the creator.

Loren, Eternal Ink, Beaugency, France
Loren, Eternal Ink, Beaugency, France

That is why a tattoo of a Dreamcatcher has a meaning which goes far beyond anything merely decorative. Above all it is a tribute to Native American cultures which have always been associated with a respect for nature, animals, the tribe, and spirits in general. And then it is still a sacred symbol: therefore it would only make sense to appropriate it (on our skin) if we are truly in harmony with the people from whom we are “borrowing” our own personal Dreamcatcher.

So has that made it clearer? Enjoy the gallery special dreamcatcher tattoos – and sweet dreams too!