Catch a Dream — or Not
Q: My son received a “dream catcher” as a gift — his girlfriend got it when she went on a family vacation. Is it wrong for him to hang it in his room? Deuteronomy 7:26 has been pointed out to me as a reason it should not be in the house. Thank you for your help.
A: How is your son going to use it? For most people, a dreamcatcher is nothing more than a piece of American folk art. Although they originated with the Ojibwa people as a means of filtering out nightmares, some other Native Americans adopted them as a general sign of unity. I imagine that most of them are made, purchased, and used merely as decorations.
The prohibition in Deuteronomy doesn’t overly trouble me. For one thing, it was directed toward Israel, not all people. For another, it involved artifacts they would capture in Canaan. Finally, the items in the end of Deuteronomy 7 were herem; i.e., “devoted” for ritual and complete “destruction.” Nothing in the New Testament demands a continuation of the practice.
Even if we still practiced such set-asides, would dream catchers qualify? I seriously doubt that they are major parts of false worship or idolatry among most people. If we really wanted to start looking for items to declare herem, I can nominate better candidates. Why don’t we start with televisions, sports stadiums, and other places where we learn to worship ourselves or other people, where our selfishness is fed, and where it’s all too easy to turn our eyes away from God?
Personally, I own Navajo art that includes pictures of their gods and spirits. I read Greek and Norse mythology. When I was younger, I even made my own versions of a similar native item, the Ojo de Dios (God’s Eye) of the Huichol people of Mexico. These yarn and stick constructions were, and remain, popular handicraft pieces.
Even though the God’s Eye originated as a means of communicating with the spirit world, Christian camps and vacation Bible schools have probably cranked out many thousands of times more than were ever constructed by the Huichol. I doubt that any of us worship through them any more than we do through dream catchers.
Bottom line: what were items of worship have “degenerated” into simple, sometimes attractive or interesting, works of art. If your son likes it because it looks good (and because he likes the girl who gave it to him), why worry?
Related articles include Crucifixes and Graven Images and Do Lutherans Use the Rosary.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
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Newspaper column #574:2