Dreamcatchers are often decorated with personal or sacred items such as feathers, stones, crystals, animal totems, and beads. They can be made as simple or as elaborate as the maker chooses, from single hoop to multiple hoops. When I worked in a Native American gift shop, I was told that the center hole should not be covered by decoration as it is this hole that the good dreams flow through, but I have seen dreamcatchers made both ways.
A Dreamcatcher with the center hole open
While children sleep evil spirits may come visit to terrify them, then the Medicine Woman said to each Mother in fear to protect their children from evil spirits, they must weave a spiders web with love froma willow hoop, using nettle stalk cord dyed red with sacred herbs and say sacred words as they weave their web, with each weave thinking only happy thoughts and playful things. Leave in the center an opening, as your open heart, to let only good things pass. Hang from the loop the sacred feathers, in this way the Good Spirit dreams will find their way through the center hole and float down the feathers onto the sleeping ones. The Bad Spirit dreams will get caught in the web and disappear with the morning light, and so the mothers hung their dreamcatchers over the baby's cradleboard.
a more elaborate dreamcatcher with the center hole covered
A long time ago when the world was young, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a mountain and had a vision. In this vision Iktomi, the great trickster and teacher of wisdom appeared in the form of a spider and spoke to the elder in the sacred language that only spiritual leaders of the Lakota understood. As he spoke he took the elder's willow hoop which had feathers, horse hair, beads and offerings on it and began to spin a web. While spinning he spoke of the cycle of life... how the people begin as infants, move to childhood, then to adulthood, and finally to old age where they must once again be taken care of like an infant, completing the life cycle. Iktomi said that in each time of life there are many forces and choices to be made that can affect the harmony of nature and interfere with the Great Spirit and all of his teachings. Giving the hoop with the web back to the elder he said the web is a perfect circle but there is a hole in the middle. If you believe in the Great Spirit the web will catch your good dreams and ideas, and the bad ones will fall through the hole. He instructed the elder to use the web to help himself and his people to reach his goals and make good use of his people's ideas, dreams. and visions. The elder passed the dreamcatcher onto his people and the Sioux now use the dreamcatcher as the web of life. It is hung above beds or in homes to sift through dreams and visions. They believe the dreamcatcher holds the destiny of their future.
The dreamcatcher is not to be confused with the Medicine Wheel and Medicine Shield; these three items are totally different, which I will explain...
The Medicine Wheel is a circle divided by a cross to create the Four Cardinal Directions, the Four Sacred Colors representing the four Elements, and the Circle of Life. Each Nation's Medicine Wheel may very slightly, for example the Cherokee's Medicine Wheel symbolism is as follows:
East- Red, success and triumph
North- Blue, defeat and trouble
West- Black, death
South-White, peace and happiness
In addition to the directions listed above , there are three more sacred directions:
Up Above- Yellow
Down Below- Brown
Here in the Center- Green
Each directions has its corresponding as shown in the diagram below (Nation unknown)....
Another representation of a Medicine Wheel... note the variation and location of the colors:
Comanche Medicine Wheel:
Apache Medicine Wheel:
A Medicine Shield is a symbol of spiritual health and traditionally was a method of protection in battle as well as spiritually... it protects the user from evil spirits. Medicine Shields will vary for each Tribe or Nation, and the material of its construction will vary and correspond with the Tribe's location, etc. Painting and decorations have special meanings and qualities which are imparted to its owner. The symbols used on the shield represent the owner's power and/or animal totem, and/or spirit dream/vision, etc. It is a prized possession and is hung in a place of honor in a home, personal sanctuary, or in an office, etc.
Here a a few photos of different Medicine Shields:
A decorative Medicine Shield:
Here is a combination a Medicine Shield and Dreamcatcher:
Here is a combination Dreamcatcher and Medicine Wheel: