A Medicine Wheel is a ceremonial tool used by many spiritual people all over the world to perform rituals that honor the four directions, the sacred hoop of life, the animals, the sun, moon, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and many more aspects of the natural world.
“Medicine” is anything that deepens your relationship with the Creator and the Great Spirit and brings you closer to harmony and balance.
The wheel is made up of a circle divided into four directions, the east, south, west and north. Also a symbol of astrology, each person is represented somewhere within that circle depending upon their birth month and day. That placement is associated with a special moon, power animal, totem clan, healing plant, color and mineral.
The medicine wheel dates back thousands of years originating from the Northern Plains. Today, Medicine Wheel ceremonies are becoming more popular and can be found all over the world. As the teachings spread to different cultures, it is a bit modified, therefore not every ceremony will be alike. Each will be a bit different and that’s okay.
The medicine wheel represents the many cycles of life. The circle is representative of life’s never ending cycle (birth, death, rebirth). Each stone or spoke placement in the wheel focuses on a different aspect of living.
The term “medicine wheel” was first applied to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, the most southern and one of the largest in existence. That site consists of a central circle of piled rock surrounded by a circle of stone; “Rays” of stones travel out from the central core of rock and its surrounding circle. The structure looks like the wheel of a bicycle.
The Medicine Wheel can take many different forms. It can be an artwork such as artifact or painting, or it can be a physical construction on the land. Hundreds or even thousands of Medicine Wheels have been built in North America over the last several centuries.
Movement in the Medicine Wheel is typically in a clockwise, or “sun-wise” direction. This helps to align with the forces of Nature, such as gravity and the rising and setting of the Sun.
These are all different teaching from all corners of the earth, and as you can see they each slightly differ from one another. Therefore in creating and performing a Medicine Wheel Ceremony, there is no wrong way to do it. So dance, sing, shake the rattles and beat the drum as it all will help you on your personal medicine path.
In other practices, the Northern direction corresponds to Adulthood (the White Buffalo), the South represents Childhood (the Serpent), the West represents Adolescence (the Bear) and the Eastern direction represents Death and Re-birth (Eagle). In terms of social dynamics, community building and the use of Circles in Restorative Justice work, the four quadrants of the circle correspond to Introductions.
According to Native American astrology we were all born into a particular direction of the wheel and given an animal totem and animal clan.
The concept of the medicine wheel symbolically represents a nonlinear model of human development. Each compass direction on the wheel offers lessons and gifts that support the development of a balanced individual. The idea is to remain balanced at the center of the wheel while developing equally the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of one’s personality. The concept of the medicine wheel varies: different groups attribute different gifts to positions on the wheel. But the following offers a generalized overview of some lessons and gifts connected with the development process.
THE FOUR DIRECTIONS
There are many different interpretations of the Medicine Wheel. Each of the Four Directions (East, South, West, and North) are represented by the colors black, red, yellow, and white, which also represent the four colors of man or the four colors of corn. The Directions can also represent:
- Stages of life: birth, youth, adult, and elder.
- Seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall and winter
- Aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical
- Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and earth
- Animals: Eagle, Bear, Coyote, Buffalo
- Ceremonial plants: Tobacco, Sweet grass, Sage, Cedar
The East is held to represent the mind, air, the color yellow and ‘yellow skinned peoples’, learning the groups to which people belong and the infant.
Lessons and gifts from the EAST, the place of first light, spring, and birth, include:
Warmth of the spirit
Purity, trust, and hope
Guidance and leadership
Capacity to remain in the present moment
The South holds the heart, fire, the color red and ‘red skinned peoples’, and the child.
Lessons and gifts from the SOUTH, the place of summer and youth, include:
Generosity, sensitivity, and loyalty
Testing of the physical body/self-control
Gifts of music and art
Capacity to express feelings openly in ways respectful to others
The West holds the spirit, water, the color blue or black, and ‘black-skinned peoples’ and Adulthood.
Lessons and gifts from the WEST, the place of autumn and adulthood, include:
Dreams, prayers, and meditation
Perseverance when challenged
Balance between passionate loyalty and spiritual insight
Use of personal objects, sacred of life’s meaning
Fasting, ceremony, self-knowledge, and vision
The North represents the final life stage in the wheel, being an elder and passing on knowledge to the next generation so that the wheel may start again just like the circle it takes after. It is also associated with the color white, representing the white hair of the elders and the white skinned people.
Lessons and gifts from the NORTH, the place of winter and elders, include:
Ability to complete tasks that began as a vision
Detachment from hate, jealousy, desire, anger, and fear
Ability to see the past, present, and future as interrelated
MOON CYCLES OF THE WHEEL
The waxing moon is represented by the east. New beginnings. A fresh cycle is occurring in your life. Wipe the slate clean, it’s time to release the old and start again.
The full moon is represented by the south. Abundance and prosperity in all forms. Expansion. Surging energy. Activity. Movement. Rapid growth. Be open to receiving the bounty of the universe.
The waning moon is represented by the west. Transformation. Letting go of the old. Initiation. Illumination. Harvest. Gather inner resources. Trust. Chaos brings positive change.
The new moon is represented by the north. Take time for contemplation. Look within. Connect with your ancestors. Dream up ideas. Meditate. Forgiveness.
At the wheel, we say a prayer for releasing, forgiveness, gratitude and abundance. When we speak out loud to the universe we are stating our intentions and this is very powerful. I’ve seen miraculous things happen, some of which most people won’t believe or even understand.
Before entering the wheel in the East we will offer some kind of herb or prayer. This is an offering to let the spirits know that we enter with pure hearts and leave any ego or negativity outside of the sacred wheel. Cornmeal, tobacco, sage, cedar, rose pedals and many other natural gifts may be offered before going into the wheel. I’ve also seen gold glitter and crystals. Offering something before we enter the wheel is a good practice. It is said that before we enter any sacred space or even just going out into nature for a vision quest, it is good practice to offer something at the “door.” Like some traditions, one would bring a gift when going to their home to visit. It’s also common practice to smudge yourself before going into ceremony.
I’ve worked with children from the age of three to the grandmothers and grandfathers, all seem to have something to pray about.
The prayer we hold is not associated to any religion, it includes all living things such as the Creator, the Great Spirit, the animals, the four directions of the universe, our ancestors, and other things that bring us closer to nature. It’s also like stating your intentions.
In the Medicine Wheel we drum and sing songs for forgiveness and gratitude. We offer our blessings and prayers to Mother Earth and Father Sky, to Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon, to the four directions and the animals that represent them. The sound of the drum and rattle is healing and have been used for thousands of years. Some receive healing from just the sound and some also receive a vision.
Most people experience a lightness and tingling sensation. Some don’t want to leave the wheel because they feel so connected a sense of true security that they are afraid to leave the wheel and loose it. This is a feeling and an experience that can be done at any time and in any place.
Over the years I’ve been assisting people from all over the world to heal past wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual. I never know what to expect with each one and they are all different. No matter what you want to do from heal physical pain to an old emotional wound, drumming in the medicine wheel can help. This can help release negativity that you have been carrying around for a long time, sometimes we don’t even realize we are carrying it.
FOUR DIRECTIONS PRAYER
Standing in the East
Thank you Thunkaslia (Creator), Wankan Tanka (Great Spirit), Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Ancestors, All of our Spirit Guides and our Animal Spirit Guides for bringing us Wanbli Galeshka (the Eagle) in the East. We ask that you lend us your strong eyes to be able to see our lives from above.
And where Grandfather Sun rises every day to warm our bodies, gives us light to see, and grow our crops. We thank you for the abundance that you bring us.
And the spring time that brings us new beginnings to express our unique talents and creativity.
The direction that represents the infant being born into this earth to begin a new earth walk.
Standing in the South
Thank you Thunkaslia (Creator), Wankan Tanka (Great Spirit), Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Ancestors, All of our Spirit Guides and our Animal Spirit Guides for bringing us Heyoka (the Coyote) in the South.
Help us learn to balance work and play, to awaken the child within and return to innocence. Show us how to laugh more and have more fun, and to not take life too seriously and to recognize this.
The direction that represents the youth and the children. Help us to be good examples and take care of the young ones.
Standing in the West
Thank you Thunkaslia (Creator), Wankan Tanka (Great Spirit), Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Ancestors, All of our Spirit Guides and our Animal Spirit Guides for bringing us Matho (the Bear) in the West.
We ask Bear for strength and courage in our adult lives to face our fears and difficult situations with ease. Help us to turn this fear into excitement so that we may live our lives to the fullest.
We also ask for the ability to know when to go within to seek answers and for spiritual guidance. And to trust that we can always find answers in ourselves and in nature.
The west representing adulthood when maturity and responsibility sets in and the ability to create new life and explore our world becomes our path.
Standing in the North
Thank you Thunkaslia (Creator), Wankan Tanka (Great Spirit), Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Ancestors, All of our Spirit Guides and our Animal Spirit Guides for bringing us Tatanka (the Buffalo) in the North.
We ask to remember the day when the buffalo roamed freely upon this land. And when the early people saw that and knew that all of their need would be met, and they would have everything that they need right when they needed it. They saw abundance in everything and did not know of lack. Help us return to that time.
Teach us to honor and respect our elders, the ones who came before us and have lived many years.
The direction that represent our elders, the white hair ones, the wise ones. Let their voices be heard so that we may learn the old ways and carry on the traditions of our ancestors.
Standing in the Center
Thank you Maka (Mother Earth) for being here for us two leggeds, and for all of our relations. Help us to respect you more and spend more time with you knowing that we can always find true security in you. Help us to walk lightly among your sacred body and appreciate all living things and all of creation that we share it with. Thank you for all our two legged brothers and sisters. Help us to all live in harmony and peace with each other. Thank you Mother Earth for our four legged friends, the finned ones, the furry ones, the winged ones, and the creepy crawly ones. Thank you for the stone people, and the plant people that share their fruit and medicine with us.
Thank you Father Sky for expanding our awareness of the unknown and for Grandfather Sun that gives us light to see, warmth and comfort, the nurturing you give to grow our crops and food from the earth.
Grandmother Moon for our night dreams and inner guidance and intuitive insights, all the planets, stars galaxies and things we can’t see out there. Thank you Father Sky for reminding us that we are all connected and all a very important part of this grand universe.
Thank you Self. Go within and say silent prayers to yourself. Send love to yourself. Thank yourself for always doing the best you can. Tell yourself you are doing a good job and that you will always be okay.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (All my relations) Hetchetu Welo! And so it is done!
CREATE A PERSONAL MEDICINE WHEEL
A personal medicine wheel can be made using items such as crystals, arrowheads, seashells, feathers, animal fur, bones, and so on. Take time to reflect on each aspect of your life (self, family, relationships, life purpose, community, finances, health, etc.) as you place objects within the circle.
The medicine wheel is a symbol of balance. During the process of creating a wheel you will begin to recognize what areas of your life are out of balance, and where your attention is lacking and requires focus. Continuing working with the wheel after you constructed it. Sit with your wheel in silent meditation. Allow the wheel to assist you in gaining new and different perspectives.