Monthly Archives: November 2013

“A Short Introduction to the Long History of the Tibetan Singing Bowl” by Cathy Douglas

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Category: Meditation
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An ancient Buddhist prophecy says, “When the iron bird flies, the Dharma will be spread to the west.” Most people who come into Mimosa and try their hand with Tibetan singing bowls are very much attracted to the sound, whether they’ve got any use for Buddhism or not. The funny thing is, this fits perfectly with Buddhist understanding of the singing bowls’ purpose.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond the use of singing bowls to signal the beginning and end of meditation, devout Buddhists use them in what they call “sound teaching.” This nonverbal teaching also incorporates conch shells, tingshas, and drums, each of these instruments having its own teaching. According to Lama Lobsang Leshe, the bowl’s message is “about broadness and emptiness” — not a mantra so much as an “emptiness teaching,” a transmission said to come from directly from the Buddha without needing words. Some monks even hold to a custom of never talking about the bowls, lest words themselves distort the essence of the teaching. It’s the purity of sound itself, they say, that allows the seeds of Dharma to sprout.

A few ancient bowls are revered as holy relics. One, purported to be the begging bowl of an earlier incarnation of the Buddha, resides at the Drepung Monastery. When someone plays it, it’s said you can hear the quality of that person’s karma through the quality of sound the bowl allows them to produce.

The most traditional singing bowls are hand-hammered, made of seven metals that correspond to the seven visible heavenly bodies: gold for the Sun, silver for the Moon, mercury for Mercury (duh), copper for Venus, iron for Mars, tin for Jupiter, and lead for Saturn.

But the prophecy mentioned above talks about “iron.” And truly, it’s the iron in Tibetan singing bowls that separates them from any other kind. They use meteorites–chunks of iron that fall to earth from outer space, which they quite naturally refer to as “metal from the heavens.” Since Tibet is at a higher altitude than anywhere else on Earth, larger, more intact meteorites fall there. Less atmosphere and thinner air brings Tibet, literally, “closer to the Heavens.”

In the course of time people, have invented other types of bowls, such as crystal bowls and the Japanese rin gongs. Nowadays, their use may or may not be connected to Buddhist traditions. People in the west use them to mark transitions, not necessarily in a religious context. Singing bowls have found a place in classrooms, yoga studios, therapy offices, and even corporations. The lamas mostly seem to think this is a positive thing–a sign that the Dharma is coming into its own, spout in all places and among all peoples.
Here’s the link to a fascinating short film about the hand-crafting of singing bowls in a village in Bengal, India: Watch Video (Youtube)

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“Happy Postures: Some Guidance for Choosing a Meditation Cushion or Bench” by Cathy Douglas

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Category: Meditation
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The Buddha said that meditation flows through four postures: walking, standing, sitting and lying down. But most of the time when we think of meditation, it’s sitting meditation that comes to mind. And for those of us who are less experienced, seated postures are the usual way to start. Some young people may need little in the way of support, but in our culture very few people spend much time sitting on the ground or floor; by the time we’re in our thirties (if not sooner) support can be very helpful for meditators who are ready to sit for a long period of time. That’s where a cushion or bench can help. cushiond


Cushions we carry at Mimosa come with three fillings: buckwheat hulls, kapok fiber, and air. Inflatable cushions are most useful for travel, because they take up little space when deflated. For your main cushion, though, you’ll probably want to choose between kapok and buckwheat.

Kapok has a similar feel to cotton batting, but comes from a more sustainable source. Kapok-filled cushions are more stable and softer than buckwheat, but do not fit to the body in the same way. They hold their shape well over time. Kapok is also hypoallergenic.

Buckwheat hulls are a byproduct of agriculture. This filling forms to your contours, though to some extent this depends on how full the cushion is; a well-stuffed cushion will be firmer, while one that’s less densely packed will have more give to it. Since the buckwheat cushions we sell zip open, you have the option of adding or removing hulls for a custom fit. If you want your cushion more stuffed, or need to re-stuff one that’s flattened out with time, we sell bags of loose hulls.

Cushion Styles

Zabuton: A zabuton is sort of like a mini-futon. Most people use a zabuton underneath another meditation cushion. They can be handy if you’re meditating on a hard and/or cold floor, but are probably not necessary if the room has carpeting. Or, if you’re flexible and just want a soft surface to sit on, you could use a zabuton without a cushion on top. All our zabutons have kapok filling.

Zafu: This is the classic, round meditation cushion. It provides good back support, and puts you high enough off the ground to reduce stress on your knees. Zafus come in a variety of styles, with your choice of buckwheat or kapok stuffing. One great advantage of the zafu is its versatility: you can sit on the flattened side cross-legged, semi-kneeling, or with legs bent to one side, and you can also straddle the cushion turned on its side. If you’re going to sit for long periods of time, changing posture occasionally can help you stay comfortable, and thus keep your attention focused on your practice–not on your legs falling asleep!

Crescent: The crescent, or “cosmic cushion,” is shaped sort of like a chubby mustache. It supports the upper legs as well as the bottom–an extra level of support that can be helpful for those with knee issues. It’s angled to tilt the body forward slightly, making the back slightly rounded instead of stiff. Crescent cushions work only for the lotus position.

Meditation benches

These wood or fiberboard benches sit about six to ten inches off the floor, to provide back support and reduce strain on the knees. Some have a rounded, rocking bottom, while others sit flat on the floor. With most styles, you have the option of adding a tie-on cushion.

Peace Bench: With this bench, you have the choice of sitting in lotus position or putting your legs directly under your body. The Peace Bench sits flat on the floor. It can be easily folded down for storage or transport, and is made from 100% recycled wood fiberboard, with straps made from cotton webbing.

Straddle Meditation Bench: This new addition to our selection of meditation support combines the stable support of a bench with the comfort of a cushion. It’s angled to provide proper alignment of back, hips and legs. You sit with your legs to the sides of the bench, and find the right height by sitting higher or lower on the cushion — an elegantly simple way to create a comfortable place to help you focus on your meditation. You can also use it in a cross-legged position, by sitting at the lower end.

Pi bench: The supports for these benches are nearer the middle, and they’re rounded to make them rock slightly underneath you, so that your back position isn’t totally fixed. They’re best to use for a semi-kneeling position, with legs folded under the bench, but they’ll also support a modified lotus position.

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“Yoga Meditation” by Beth Wortzel

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Category: Meditation
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There are probably as many reasons to learn meditation as there are people who take up this practice. Thankfully, there are also a multitude of approaches and techniques so each of us may find a practice that suits us best.

I will not try to speak of all of these possibilities, but simply share the essential elements of that practice which I myself know best both as a practitioner for over 35 years and as a teacher in the tantra yoga tradition. I came to the practice of meditation seeking a way out of the confines of my everyday mind, which I knew were limiting my understanding of life and my purpose here. I surely found this and more. That ‘more’ turned out to be the path to self-realization.

Yoga as a spiritual science incorporates a wide range of practices from yoga postures to chanting, dietary and ethical guidelines and more. All of these provide a foundation and support for the core practice of yoga meditation itself. In fact, the eight “limbs” of yoga practice begin with ethical principles by which to live one’s daily life and which were often, in ancient times, the focus of years of practice in order to perfect one’s character and lifestyle in preparation for the other “limbs”. The next include the preparation of the body and mind through asana and pranayama or yoga postures and breathing techniques. All of these supporting practices then facilitate the silent meditation practice which the final four limbs indicate.

The first of these is withdrawal. In order to ‘go beyond’, yoga meditation teaches us to go beyond the distractions of our day to day life by pulling back the field of awareness from the body, the realm of the senses , and also from the realm of the day to day mind comprised of memories and mundane thoughts.

Achieving this enables the next stage—concentration or the ability to focus the mind at will on our object of concentration. Yogis use mantra for this purpose. Not only is a yoga mantra an ancient Sanskrit word or phrase on which to focus the mind, but it also has a meaning and subtle vibration that uplifts consciousness by bringing it into harmony with the mantra and its meaning. So we use mantras with expansive, spiritual meaning.

The next limb is meditation itself. Through the process of concentration on a suitable mantra, we arrive at that unbroken flow of awareness of the ultimate Goal. We are very near in our experience of Ultimate Reality or Supreme Self.

And finally, we merge with that upon which we meditate. This final limb goes beyond practice. It is the final attainment of yoga which means “union”, union with the Self as that which we have always been and which is the heart and soul of the entire creation.

Thus yoga meditation is a journey home to our true self, to our Source which is the same in all beings. Once we know that oneness from our own experience, service to the Supreme is service to the whole world and we continue meditation as a service while we reach out with love and compassion to all others.

Tantra yoga, in particular, does not encourage us to withdraw from daily life in order to attain or preserve spiritual awareness and growth but rather to attain realization in the midst of life. For all of life is Divine and not to be shunned, but to be seen and served as a manifestation of that divine Reality itself.

About Beth Wortzel u78Ah9rSuf-ardo6TFMf1qHdO8oja4JPH0sMRHIicPnHY4iV7zQNcf5Q7aYR2QQjjkRMmpDQkEzB9LllToxS-qonMCm5rLB0EMraiB610IdQoFdmpDs

Beth Wortzel is a yoga acharya or teacher offering individual mantra initiation and other teachings in the tantra yoga tradition. In addition to being a meditation teacher, she is a musician who, along with other members of Jaya, leads spiritual chanting or kiirtan regularly. In her other life, she is a psychotherapist at Harmonia Madison Center for Psychotherapy and has practiced there for almost 30 years.

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“Your Basic Multicultural, Metaphysical Dragon” by Cathy Douglas

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Dragons are universal. This may be a strange thing to say, since if there are any real dragons in our world they’re doing a pretty good job of hiding. Yet creatures identifiable as dragons figure into mythologies everywhere, and nobody knows why. There are theories: that flying reptiles represent a composite of beasts dangerous to humans; that farmers found dinosaur bones when digging their fields, and invented dragons to explain them; or that dragons represent a psychological force that is part of the human psyche.

Aboriginal Australians saw the Rainbow Serpent in the night sky. Looks like a dragon to me!

Aboriginal Australians saw the Rainbow Serpent in the night sky. Looks like a dragon to me!

That’s not what I think. I think dragons are real.

I’m not saying we have any lurking around Earth. But I think something of the force that links humans to our universe must involve huge, scaly, winged reptilian monsters who spew fire and ice–and, more importantly, who possess a dangerous kind of wisdom. Because unlike most scary predators, dragons speak. In fact, according to many traditions, they were the ones who taught us to use language.

It’s interesting to compare a few of the dragon legends that have developed independently in a wide variety of times, places and cultures:

DAMBALLAH WEDO–Damballah, the most important of all Vodou loas, is the African sky god who created the world from his coils. His wife is Ayida Wedo, the rainbow serpent. He’s associated with water and rain, through which he sustains the life he created. He can also appear in fire form. A god of peace and purity, he is able to grant wishes.

SHEN: Dragons have a huge tradition in China. One variant is the Shen, an aquatic creature who can not only shapeshift, but may change the appearance of things around it, creating mirages. This type of dragon is associated with shellfish, as so is often seen holding a pearl. All these details–water, shapeshifting, mirages, and the pearl that forms around a tiny speck of sand–point toward the idea of the dragon’s traditional symbolism as a creature of transformation.

QUETZLCOATL–Myths regarding a feathered serpent deity existed throughout ancient times in what is now Latin America. To us, the most familiar name for this deity is Quetzlcoatl. Older versions show him as a snake with feathers, though later on he’s often shown with some human-like features. He was a god of knowledge, crafts & learning, and of sky and air. As a leader of the priesthood, as he provides a shamanic connection to the underworld. Large temples and pyramids were dedicated to the worship of this flying serpent, the creator who defines the boundary between earth and sky.

RAINBOW SERPENT–Another primeval serpent is the Rainbow Serpent of aboriginal Australia, another creator god. According to myth, he lives in a pool of water, and from there heaves up the earth to create hills, valleys and other landforms. Rainbow serpent is the descendent of the celestial being visible as the dark streak through the milky way. In dry times he lives in a deep water hole, but he can move about through rain and other moving water, and especially the rainbow. As Rainbow Serpent travels about, he rewards good people with knowledge and punishes bad people through natural disasters.

LAC LONG QUAN–The founders of Vietnamese culture were the dragon Lac Long Quan and his consort, Au Co, the fairy daughter of the Air God. She bore him 100 eggs, which hatched into 100 sons. Dragons bring rain, prosperity and protection from foreign invaders. Ha Long Bay means “bay of the descending dragons,” and in this bay dragons defending the coast came down to the water, the fire of their breath creating the islands you can still see rising from the water today.

DRAKON–Our word dragon comes from the Greek drakon, probably from the verb drakein, which means to see clearly, or to catch a glimpse of something which flashes or gleams. The ancient Greeks didn’t necessarily view dragons as mythical. Travellers reported news of elephant-consuming dragons in Africa and India.

Y DDRAIG GOCH–The Red Dragon of Wales is the good dragon depicted on the Welsh flag, which by legend is also the standard King Arthur carried into battle. Legends of Y Ddraig Goch show him protecting the small kingdom of Wales from invaders. On the advice of the young Merlin, he was freed by King Vortigern in time to defeat the White Dragon of the Saxons, ensuring freedom for Wales.

Sure, there’s plenty of cultural diversity here, but we also see a lot of similarity. Dragon stories the world over feature water, transformation, wisdom, protection, rainbows… Almost as if people throughout the world were looking at the same thing from different angles.

Strange, yes–but it would be stranger still if all those people were looking, and there was nothing to see.

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“Xocolātl: The Magic of Chocolate” by Cathy Douglas

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Chocolate is one of those foods that has an almost mystical, larger than life presence. Even though it’s a luxury, very few people have a take-it-or-leave-it feeling about the stuff. I’m a take-it girl, myself. So I decided to look at chocolate’s magical history, and see whether the lore of cacao is as rich as its flavor. chocolate

Chocolate originated in the tropical rainforests of Central America, where people have harvested it since a time before history. Archaeologists have found the Mayan civilization to be a chocolate-coated one, with cacao trees in the back yards of ancient houses, and remains of both beans and cocoa pulp in excavated cooking dishes. By the time of the Aztecs, cocoa beans were so highly valued that they were used for money. Ordinary citizens wouldn’t think of drinking it; it would be like shredding up hundred-dollar bills for salad greens! Only priests, honored warriors, and nobles would actually drink cocoa. Most people used the beans only for trade, or for offerings to emperors and gods. There’s even evidence that dishonest merchants tried to pass off counterfeit cocoa beans.

Originally, cacao was made into a paste, then mixed with water to make a drink. This wasn’t much like the drink we call “cocoa.” The Maya didn’t used sweetener, and to them, the idea of adults drinking milk would have been almost as foreign as text messaging. Instead, they often mixed their chocolate with vanilla, annatto, and chili peppers. The Aztecs also used with vanilla and chili peppers, and also cornmeal and black pepper.

Xocolātl is one name associated with chocolate, though there are others. (This is a topic of academic debate, and we’re definitely not going there!) However they pronounced the word, the Maya had their own glyph (picture/word) for chocolate. Artisans inscribed this glyph on ceremonial chocolate pots, alongside pictures of kings, gods and animals sipping cocoa.
What kind of magic did ancient people associate with chocolate? Healing magic, for one. Chocolate could help a person stay awake, though in the right cases it might also have a soothing effect. Both the Maya and the Aztecs associated chocolate with blood, so it was natural for them to use it to influence human energies.

Chocolate was then, and is to this day, considered an aphrodisiac. According to legend, Montezuma consumed 50 cups of chocolate per day–more if he was planning a romantic evening. How well did this work for him? Well, scientists have also turned up a brain stimulant in chocolate called phenylethylamine, which can produce emotional highs. The only problem is, you’ll get a heftier dose of it by eating pickled herring and sausage. There are 300 chemicals in chocolate, which gives scientists a lot to work with. Among them, they’ve found the ingredient theobromine has energizing and therapeutic properties. And research indicates that even the smell of chocolate produces theta waves, which help relax us. On the other side, chocolate contains caffeine and plenty of calories. Maybe that’s what helped keep Montezuma going.

Chocolate was used in ritual–as an offering, or as part of betrothal or wedding ceremonies. The ancients seem to have universally associated it with blood. They would drip the blood of sacrificial offerings onto cocoa beans, or sometimes burn the beans themselves. Blood-red colored cocoa was best for ritual, and they used annatto to give the beans a reddish tint. The Mayan god Ek Chuah was the patron of cocoa growers and merchants. Among the Aztecs, offerings of cocoa were holy to the god Quetzalcoatl, who got kicked out of paradise for giving chocolate to the human race. Before that, the gods kept it for themselves.

Later, the history of chocolate is mixed with European conquest and enslavement, as chocolate became a cash crop grown in plantations. When Cortez demanded Montezuma’s treasures, he receieved a lot of cocoa beans in with the gold he wanted. He didn’t like it much at first, but he understood the commercial potential. This is how he described it in his pitch it to people back in Spain: “The divine drink that builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink will enable a man to walk for a whole day without food.” Later on, the Catholic Church used it as a fasting beverage. Its use spread in Europe when history’s first recorded chocoholic, Queen Anne, a Spaniard by birth, married King Phillip III of Austria. As its use spread, so did its medicinal reputation; many believed chocolate would aid digestion, purify the blood, and induce sleep.

Nowadays, most cocoa beans are once again grown by hand by independent farmers in equatorial regions. Small-scale farmers tend the plants, harvest the beans, and ferment, dry and pack the crop by hand. In Mexico, chocolate is still used as an offering to ancestors during the Day of the Dead, in the form of a dish of cocoa beans or a bowl of cocoa. As far as medicinal benefits, pure cocoa has a good mixture of fats and won’t raise your cholesterol. It’s also got antioxidants and flavonoids, as well as several micronutrients–all good stuff.

Okay, so it’s still got a lot of caffeine and calories. But sometimes that pick-me-up is exactly the magic we need!

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“Routes Along the Pagan Path” by: Jared Hughes (Xerxes Obere)

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Many of the wiccans and neo/meso -pagans out there are, from what I see, mostly solitary. They have a private practice, one that they can morph and mold into the best practice for the self. They do this with the dedication that they feel to the craft and to the old gods. Being a solitary practitioner doesn’t mean that you must work by yourself, as might have been the case in the old days. You can work with others more often now, as an increasing number of people practice pagan faiths. Wicca1

However, you needn’t always work with a group, as some enjoy practicing alone, on their own terms. If you decide to work with others, you can always do this and still be solitary and work with a group. In this case you would be a celebratory or congregational member of a group instead of an initiated member. This means you celebrate and work with other members, but are not an initiated member of any tradition. Many people would prefer to stay out of the dogmatic or hierarchic aspects of traditions that are out there. This could mean working with a small family group or a larger temple/organized group from a tradition. This could include simple weekly meetings, devotionals, counseling or whatnot, as well as the sabbats/esbats and the like. Whatever it is that you are looking for is what you should set your mind to and look for within the local groups. Find out if they are well enough for you to be a part of in any aspect, even if the celebratory/congregation.

Now the last portion would be for those who want to be a part of either a national/world or regional group that has its set rituals and ceremonies and a full calendar of sabbats and esbats along with any other rites of passage. Most traditions have you start off your training as a dedicant, meaning that you have dedicated yourself to the path that you have chosen and opened your life up to the old gods. When you of start your training you are considered a neophyte, which is the lowest member of training. For all purposes, you would be considered a member while you are going through the training process for the first circle of the tradition or sect you plan to join. This training is standard, and you can use this training as information only, or go on to become a member of the coven/group. As I said, this is your own decision and you are the only one who will know if you are really ready for the path. Your training will usually take a year and a day. This isn’t always how it will go—while it will seldom be shorter, it can often be longer if your mentor/teacher thinks that you need more time. Some people already know much of the information, so your mentor/teacher will give you other assignments to make sure you understand and know the information that will be needed.

After your standard time you may go to the elders of the group and request that you get your initiation. Usually, at that point, they will give it some thought and either give you a final test and decided, or decline and have you train longer. I will not say anything on the actual process of initiation, as it is different for all people; the feeling you should get is one of rebirth and growth spiritually and any other aspects.

The first degree is only the starting portion of the clergy/priestly aspects, not the end but the beginning–that is, if you wish to go further within the process of the priesthood. The second degree within most traditions is the full-priest aspect. The one who is more adept and knowledgeable within the craft will now to be able to lead groups and help mentor take more active role within the temple and start leading more so then the first degrees. The second degree I find to be more of a calling, and many do not have the call to become more leaders and teachers within the craft, and also within the wider pagan community. This aspect of the craft can take anywhere from another year and a day to five years of additional training, depending on the structure of learning that your mentor and tradition call for. With the second degree you are more able to begin gathering students and others who may wish to hive off from the original coven and start a new one within the original group, of course with the blessing of your high priestess and council of elders.

The last of the degrees is the third degree. This is for the people who have the calling to really be the face of the neopagan community as a whole, and to be out in the wider community helping others and guiding pagans and non pagans together. The third degrees are the high priesthood, the ones that are looked up to and regarded as the ones who all others within the groups should look up too.

Third degree is definitely not for everyone. This is the priestly path for people who have the calling to go above and beyond just the normal grouping of pagans, to do anything and everything to help teach and guide, and to promote the acceptance of the community to the worldwide community. If this is your vocation, be ready for a long haul of learning and growth. In all, the standard learning process can take three years and three days or longer, depending on how you learn as well if the teachers/mentors or high priest/ess give the consent going up the ranks in the group.

This is not, by any means, for everyone within the neopagan community. Many are happy staying solitary, or working with a home group with close friends and family. Many out there may be quite fine with combining all three together, or be happy doing private work. You may want to work with a group privately, or a tradition’s group and go through initiation, to help the community along with your spiritual growth yourself. The decision is always yours and should never be a decision that has been made because of opinions of others.

Anyone can self-initiate, as there are many books out there with appropriate ceremonies. A private self initiation giving your life over to the old gods and celebrating them is how the original pagans did it, and it works/worked for the new pagan elders that started the re-emergence of the pagan way.

Blessed be!

Click Here to Visit Jared Hughes’ (Xerxes Obere) Website.

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Web of Dreams: The Origin of Dreamcatchers

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Dreamcatchers come to us from Ojibwe (possibly mixed with Lakota) tradition, originating long ago in the Great Lakes region. There are a couple variations on their Ojibwe name: asabikeshiinh, is the inanimate form of the word for “spider”; or asubakasin, which means “looks like a net”; or bwaajige ngwaagan, meaning “dream snare.” The most basic dreamcatcher is a small willow hoop connected with spider web-like threads. The dangling beads, feathers, shells, and other ornamentation combine small sacred items and personal tokens.

Originally they were hung on the loop of a baby’s cradle board, to catch any harm that might pass in the baby’s direction overnight. The nettle stalk cord or sinew that formed the web would gradually dry out after a few years, and crumble away by the time the child was old enough to handle his or her own dreams. Traditionally they were dyed red, either with bloodroot or with the inner bark of a wild plum tree. The design of early photographs shows a spiral radiating from the center of a multi-spoked wheel, somewhat different from the more random pattern of modern ones–and much more like a real spiderweb.

One tradition says that dreamcatchers originated in the days when the people still lived on Turtle Island. Grandmother Spider showed them the pattern of her web at dawn, when the rising sun picks up the dew on the slender strands. Grandmother explained that she captures the sunrise on the tiny points of light that gather in the dew on her web. As a spider’s web catches insects that fly into it, so could the people make a web to hold on to spiteful spirits or nightmares until the sunlight came. Good dreams, meanwhile, would find their way through the maze-like web and slide down the feathers to the sleeper. This idea from Grandmother Spider inspired the first dreamcatchers.

It was traditional to include a feather on each one, because feathers represent air, and thus the baby would be reminded to keep breathing as it slept. Girls would get an owl feather, boys an eagle feather–symbolizing wisdom and courage, respectively. Because these feathers are now protected, gemstones are sometimes used instead, chosen to symbolize the four directions. Feathers of non-protected species decorate the hanging cords.

Dreamcatchers became a symbol of Indian unity in the ’60s and ’70s. Indeed, the dreamcatcher has become interwoven with the understanding of many tribes. For example, Lakota tradition holds that the night itself is full of dreams, both good and bad. People may use our creative powers to engineer filters, keeping a balance between these forces.

These more philosophical ideas give a rationale for using a physical object to control something as ephemeral as dreams. In the store, though, we notice that children intuitively grasp this idea. Even the word “dreamcatcher” seems to speak to something deep within us.

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