Dreamcatcher tattoos not only look amazing, but also have a deep and fascinating history and background. As with many other common symbols and tattoo designs, it’s good to get to know the meaning behind the art before having it inked.
Dreamcatchers come from the Native American culture. They take the form of hoops with a light woven pattern inside, and often feathers or other adornments attached to the bottom.
Origins of the dreamcatcher
Although dreamcatchers are usually associated with the Native American culture as a whole, they actually originated from the Ojibwa Chippewa tribe of Canada and the United States. The Ojibwa word for ‘dreamcatcher’ asabikeshiinh, literally means ‘spider’.
The Ojibwa legends spoke of a mystical character known as ‘Spider Woman’, who was a spiritual protector for the tribe – particularly the children. Though from an outsider’s perspective this might make little sense – spiders hardly invoke positive thoughts in most modern cultures – for the Ojibwa people, spiders were associated with protection and safety.
When the tribe grew and its members began to spread further and further across the land, the legend claims that the Spider Woman became unable to protect every individual – there were too many of them, too far away. As a tool or token of her protection, she created the first dreamcatcher. Following her example, mothers and grandmothers began to make dreamcatchers as maternal keepsakes for their children. Dreamcatchers, then, were a kind of talisman meant to provide protection.
Dreamcatcher tattoo meaning
What dreamcatchers were actually made to protect from were bad dreams – as the name suggests. Native Americans believe that at night, the air is filled with dreams. The dreamcatcher would be hung above a person’s bed or in the doorway to the bedroom, ideally in a spot where the morning sun will hit it. As the person sleeps, the bad dreams pass through the the dreamcatcher, while the good ones are ‘caught’ in the web and slide down the feathers and into the person’s mind.
As a tattoo, the dreamcatcher retains its original function – most people understand it to be a symbol of protection, a talisman meant to guard against bad thoughts or bad experiences. Dreamcatcher tattoos are supposed to filter out negativity – the ‘nightmares’ – and leave only positive thoughts – ‘good dreams’.
The meaning of individual parts
Within the structure of a dreamcatcher, each individual component plays an important symbolic or metaphorical role and adds further depth to the meaning.
- Hoop – in its circular shape, the hoop represents the circle of life, as well as the Sun and the Moon travelling across the sky. Though the hoops of traditional, authentic Native American dreamcatchers tend to be quite small, in a tattoo they come in every size. Depending on the design, a single dreamcatcher can have one hoop or multiple ones. In the case of multiple hoops, a common choice is one large hoop and three smaller ones ‘hanging’ from its bottom.
- Web – The pattern woven inside the hoop is a representation of a spider’s web – referring to the legend of the Spider Woman and the notion of the spider as a symbol of protection.
- Bead – Some dreamcatchers incorporate one or more beads. There is no single answer as to what the beads are meant to represent, but the most popular view is that a bead is a spider in the ‘web’ of the dreamcatcher. Another proposed meaning of the beads is that they are good dreams that didn’t enter the sleeping person’s mind and instead became sacred charms on the surface of the dreamcatcher.
- Feather – One or more feathers usually hang from the bottom of the hoop. As mentioned above, these are meant to act as a path for good dreams, leading from the dreamcatcher to the sleeping person’s mind.
Depending on the complexity of your chosen dreamcatcher design, it’s possible to have it tattooed on most areas of the body. The only places where it might be impossible to fit it are the extremely small areas, like the side of your finger.
Larger tattoos will look great on the back, stomach, arms, chest, thighs – just about anywhere with enough space to contain them. If you’re looking to have a smaller dreamcatcher tattoo done though, consider these placements:
- Wrist – wrist tattoos are both elegant and easy to display. If your design is elongated – for example, due to long feathers at the bottom of the dreamcatcher – it may need to partly extend onto your forearm.
- Back of the neck – though seemingly a small space, the back of your neck is relatively flat – which makes it a great placement for a circular tattoo, as the design won’t be distorted by wrapping the edges. As with the wrist, if it’s a long design, it may need to extend downwards towards the top of your back. This is not a bad thing – the elongated design can look great stretching from the back of your neck along the line of your spine.
- Behind the ear – subtle and very discrete, the back of the ear is not one of the obvious tattoo placements. Opting for this area for a dreamcatcher tattoo could create a challenge for you tattoo artist – the design will need to be quite small. Consult a trusted tattooist before deciding.
- Foot – the foot makes for a great dreamcatcher tattoo placement, and one that is increasingly popular. Particularly the flat area on the outside edge of the top of the foot is a good choice, as it offers a decent amount of space for a relatively small design.
Celebrities with dreamcatcher tattoos
Dreamcatcher tattoos are popular among celebrities, too. Examples of famous people with dreamcatcher tattoos include:
- Miley Cyrus – Miley Cyrus has a large dreamcatcher tattoo on her ribs, on the right side. The design includes four feathers, which allegedly represent the four siblings in her family.
- Vanessa Franco – Just like Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Franco has a dreamcatcher on the right side of her ribs.
- Vanessa White – Vanessa White has a dreamcatcher tattooed on her right forearm. On the same arm, in the wrist area, she has tattoos of a heart and a cross.
Dreamcatcher tattoo designs
Every dreamcatcher design will look slightly different. One of the big advantages of choosing a dreamcatcher for your tattoo is that it is easily customizable and suits a number of aesthetics.
Dreamcatcher tattoos often fall into one of two categories: minimalistic, with just a sketch of the outlines, and hyper-realistic. However, both can be combined with elements of other styles, for instance watercolor.
Color-wise, the possibilities are practically endless – dreamcatcher tattoos look awesome in any color scheme. Black dreamcatchers with lightweight outlines will have an elegant, toned-down look, while colorful ones will be more eye-catching. Dreamcatchers tattooed in white ink are also an option, and have a highly original look to them.
If you’re considering a colorful dreamcatcher tattoo, remember that you can add splashes of color outside of the dreamcatcher itself – such as watercolor marks around or behind it.
Other elements, such as animals, leaves, or beads, can be added to make the design more complex.
One thing that is important to remember when coming up with design ideas for your dreamcatcher tattoo is that it is a significant cultural and spiritual symbol for people who identify with the Native American culture. It’s advisable to take care not to appropriate the symbol in a way that could be insensitive or offensive.
If you want to make your dreamcatcher tattoo more complicated or if you’re looking for adding another layer of meaning, you can get creative with the elements of the design. Some ideas for more complex dreamcatcher tattoos include:
- Bird dreamcatcher – Since dreamcatcher images already incorporate feathers, adding a bird to the design is an interesting idea. The two elements fit well together and in terms of meaning, highlight the ties to nature that the dreamcatcher and the bird both represent. The owl is one of the most common choices – a bird representing wisdom in most Western cultures. It’s interesting to note that in many Native American tribes, owls are feared – they are considered to be ill omens and symbols of death.
- Elephant dreamcatcher – Elephant dreamcatchers are quite popular, likely because the symbolic significance of the elephant fits so well with the meaning of the dreamcatcher. An elephant generally symbolizes good luck and prosperity, as well as power and strength. Combined with the symbolic value of the dreamcatcher as a protection talisman, this design is a deeply positive symbol.
- Dreamcatcher with multiple hoops – As has been touched on above, your dreamcatcher design can be made bigger and more complex with the addition of smaller hoops. Typically, there will be one large hoop, and either one or three smaller ones underneath it. This is a great way of elongating the design.
- Deer dreamcatcher – An image of a deer is an interesting addition to a dreamcatcher. Usually, just the head of the deer is visible – typically in the middle of the dreamcatcher hoop. In Native American culture, the deer is seen as a messenger, an animal representing power, and a symbol of intuition, gentleness, and sensitivity. In Western cultures the stag is often seen as the king of the forest and the protector of all other animals.
- Eye dreamcatcher – It’s not uncommon to see the dreamcatcher combined with an eye, either as a symbol or as a hyper-realistic design. In both cases, the eye will typically be placed at the center of the hoop. As a symbol, eyes most commonly represent omniscience and knowledge, and are considered to be gateways into the soul.
- Heart dreamcatcher – In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of dreamcatcher designs with the hoop element shaped as a heart rather than a circle. Modifying the shape in this way does of course mean that it is no longer a ‘true’ dreamcatcher, but as artwork it looks very interesting.
Dreamcatchers make for fantastic tattoo designs that can be made unique and truly your own. Most dreamcatcher designs will involve symmetry and a fair amount of detail, so it’s particularly important to choose a tattoo artist who will be able to make sure your tattoo ends up looking exactly the way you imagined it would. Enjoy browsing the gallery and good luck finding the perfect dreamcatcher design for you!