The most common dream catcher legend tells of a grandmother who saved a spider's life. In exchange, the spider gave her a dream catcher, explaining that it allowed good dreams to slip through and caught bad dreams. There is also the Lakota legend that says Iktomi gave a dream catcher to a Lakota leader, explaining that it caught good dreams for the Lakota to use, but allowed bad dreams to pass through.
Historians think the Ojibwe legend of the dream catcher is the earliest legend. It tells of a grandmother who watched a spider spin a web above her sleeping place. One day her grandson noticed the spider and wanted to kill it, but the grandmother stopped him. After he left, the spider went to the grandmother and thanked her. In exchange for saving his life, he taught her the secret of the dream catcher. If she placed it between her and the moon, it would catch any bad dreams. The holes allowed good dreams to slip through.
The Lakota have their own legend. Iktomi, the trickster, appeared in the form of a spider to a Lakota leader. Iktomi spun a web in the man's willow hoop as he talked about the cycle of life. Iktomi then gave the resulting dream catcher to the leader, explaining that its web caught good dreams and bad dreams passed through the hole in the center.