Cherokee Morning Song

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Medicine Wheel

A Medicine Wheel is a physical manifestation of Spiritual energy. An outward expression of an internal dialogue. A mirror in which we can better SEE what is going on within us. It is a wheel of protection and enables us, and allows us, to gather surrounding energies into a focal point and to commune with Spirit, Self and Nature (ALL elemental forces)........Creation!

It helps us with our "Vision," to see exactly where we are and in which areas we need to develop in order to realize and become our potentials. That we are all connected to one another, and by showing us the intricacies of the interwoven threads of life, what our part in it all is. It helps us understand that without our part in the tapestry the "Bigger Picture" is not as it should be. We add colour, dimension and life to each other, to all of life. No matter what colour, race or creed we are, we need each of us to create a beautiful existence and expression of the Whole.

The medicine wheel demonstrates how all life is interconnected and embarked on in a circular journey. The four cardinal directions, each of which has a guiding spirit and unique attributes, symbolize the stages of the life journey. The East, direction of the daily birth of the sun, represents a child's birth and first few years of life. The South relates to childhood and intellectual growth. The West is symbolic of adulthood and introspection. And the North represents the elder phase of life and the spiritual aspects of it. The centre of the wheel is symbolic of Mother Earth and the Creator and their role in the beginning and continuation of life


Big Horn, South Dakota (largest), seventy meters across

(Age estimate: 2500-3000 years)

Scattered across the plains of Alberta are a number of stone Medicine Wheels. Some are extremely large, greater than 12 meters across. They are the remains of special ceremonial dance (called "Sun" or "Thirst" Dance) and celebrated by the Plains First Nations people.   The term "Medicine Wheel" was first applied to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, the most southern and the largest in existence. Big Horn 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. 
Alberta has about 66% of all known Medicine wheels (46) which suggests that Southern Alberta was a central meeting place for many Plains tribes who followed Medicine Wheel ceremonies (usually on and around the Summer Solstice - June 21st). 
Despite their physical existence, there is a lot of mystery that surrounds the Medicine Wheel, because without written records, so little is understood as to their true meaning. Many theories abound, including: (a) the wheels contain significant stellar and cosmological alignments, specifically designed in other words to point towards the rising sun or to certain star nation constellation(s); (b) the performance of specific rituals and ceremonies that have been lost to the mists of time.

 "If someone says to me, "I'm not spiritual", I'll say, you breathe, don’t you’? If you breathe you are spiritual for Spirituality is breath and breath is hope." As the beginning of the Great Spirit Prayer says, "Oh Great Spirit whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me...."

Medicine Wheel

To understand the significance of the medicine wheel, we need to go back to a time when most Indian nations were constantly at war with each other. Tribes were obsessed with wiping out their "enemies." Then a dramatic shift in perception occurred, and a peace was realized, which lasted for a period of 150 to 200 years. This long truce was the result of a great Iroquois chief, (sounds like Agonawila), later to become Hiawatha, who urged the tribes to cease the madness of brother killing brother, and formed an alliance, which came to be known as the Confederation of Nations.

The Confederation recognized that Indian peoples were more alike than different. Even though they spoke different dialects, they had the same basic belief systems and followed similar traditions.

An important part of this transformation was the medicine wheel, which was placed in front of every tepee, and decorated in special symbols, colors, and stones, to let people entering the tribe know about its inhabitants. The medicine wheel was a reflection of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and it gave people guidelines to follow for personal growth. It told people what they needed to learn and what they needed to teach. Everyone was ordered to work on themselves, or else leave the tribe. After several generations of this work, people lost the concept of blame and anger. This, in turn, resulted in the longest peace in modern history.

Brother Eagle Soaring, from Arizona, explains the powerful impact of the medicine wheel: "If I said to you, ‘Does anyone
ever make you angry?’ you would say yes. But in reality, this is totally impossible. You choose to be angry by the way you process the event. This is something you were taught to do as a child. If you could imagine not one person in all of New York City having the concept of anger, that’s what it was like during that time period of no wars before the white man came."

The medicine wheel is a circle divided by a cross to create four directions--the north, east, south, and west. A forerunner to astrology, each person is represented somewhere within that circle, depending upon their birth date. That placement is associated with a special moon, power animal, healing plant, color and mineral, as outlined below. Though more complex in actuality, here Brother Soaring Eagle gives an overview of the special meanings the medicine wheel can have for individuals:

North - Purity and Renewal

Spirit Keeper of the North: White Buffalo (Waboose)

December 22 to January 19

Moon: Earth renewal moon

Power Animal: Snow goose

Mineral: Quartz crystal

Color: White

Plant: Birch tree

Clan: Turtle

Element: Earth

Characteristics: The snow goose is at the top of the medicine wheel, and represents the chief. These people have an affinity for the earth, and might pick up rocks while vacationing. The bark of the birch tree helps their digestive tract, and the new leaves and new ends of twigs help deaden the pain in their knees and bones. Like the quartz crystal that is used in communications, these people can send messages over long distances. Often just thinking of someone will be enough to get the person to call them.

January 20 to February 18:

Moon: Rust cleansing moon otter

Power Animal: Otter

Mineral: Silver

Color: Silver

Plant: Quaking aspen

Clan: Butterfly

Element: Air

Characteristics: The otter sits on the right hand side of the chief in high counsel. Their job is to advise the chief and to dissolve disputes. Otter people assume that everyone is their friend. They are multifaceted and quick thinkers who are usually a step and a half ahead of everyone else.

February 19 to March 20:

Moon: Big wind’s moon cougar

Power Animal: Cougar

Mineral: Turquoise

Colors: Blue and green

Plant: Plantain

Clan: Frog

Element: Water

Characteristics: Cougar people also sit in high counsel, but on the left hand side hand of the chief. Their job is to give advice on running the tribe, as they are considered natural psychiatrists. All people come to cougar people for advice. Being frog clan members, they are natural healers. Cougar people do not jump into the center of the action. Rather, they are the elusive, shy ones that stay behind, and watch things unfold.

East - Illumination and Wisdom

Spirit keeper of the East - Eagle (Wabun)

March 21 to April 19:

Moon Phase: Budding tree’s moon red tail hawk

Power Animal: Red tail hawk

Mineral: Fire opal

Color: Yellow

Plant: Dandelion

Clan: Thunderbird

Element: Fire

Characteristics: Red tail hawk people look at the world with a sense of wonder. They have a great flair for life and adventure, and are always open to learning something new. Being of the element fire, these people are passionate about everything they do. They are also fearless, and often act without thinking, which causes them to bump their heads a lot. These people cannot lie, for if they do, they are either no good at it, or it makes them ill. So, they are straightforward and not very tactful. If you ask a redtail hawk whether or not he likes your new dress, you are going to hear an honest opinion.

April 20 to May 20:

Moon Phase: Frog’s return moon beaver; New waters moon beaver

Power Animal: Beaver

Mineral: Crysacola.

Color: Blue

Plant: Blue commis

Clan: Turtle

Element: Earth

Characteristics: These are the architects of the shields. Beaver people are usually workaholics who can focus on getting the job done. The results of their work can have great impact on people far away. Beaver people don’t like change in their lives, and must learn to embrace change and to be thankful for the opportunities it offers, even when this is difficult.

May 21 to June 20:

Moon Phase: Corn planting moon deer.

Power Animal: Deer

Mineral: Moss agate

Colors: Green and white

Plant: Yarrow

Clan: Butterfly

Element: Air

Characteristics: In Indian cultures, deer people are referred to as the Einsteins of the shield. They’re the ones with all the ideas. While most people are wondering what to do with their lives, deer people are wondering when are they going to have time to do everything they think of doing. The element air makes them multifacted and changeable. Deer people don’t necessarily finish what they start, but move from one thing to another. Often, they are artists and entertainers, and they frequently have two or three jobs at once.

South - Rapid growth and trust

Spirit Keeper of the South - Coyote (Shawnodese)

June 21 to July 22:

Moon: Strong sun moon; warning sun moon

Power animal: Flicker (large woodpecker)

Minerals: Rose quartz, Carnelian agate

Color: Pink

Plant: Wild rose

Clan: Frog

Element: Water

Characteristics: Deer people are good at working with their hands and make excellent massage therapists. As frog clan members, they find it soothing to sit by a stream. And as coyotes, they have an excellent sense of humor. It is good to invite these people to parties.

July 21 to August 22:

Moon phase: Ripe berries moon sturgeon

Power animal: Sturgeon

Minerals: Garnet, iron

Color: Red

Plant: Raspberry

Clan: Thunderbird

Element: Fire

Characteristics: In Indian cultures, the sturgeon represents royalty, therefore, these people are perceived as princes.

They come into the world as teachers, with strong leadership abilities. They are always reading and studying to search for the truth. The information they receive must be shared with others. They have a hard outer shell that can’t be broken by physical force, but which can be opened through peace, love, and harmony. These people are soft inside, and will allow you to know them completely when you come to them in this way. One way to get to sturgeon people is to praise them.

August 23 to September 22:

Moon phase: Harvest moon brown bear

Spirit animal: Brown bear

Mineral: Amethyst

Color: Purple

Plant: Violet

Clan: Turtle

Element: Earth

Characteristics: Science shows that brown bear people have a high level of neuropeptides in their stomach. Neuropeptides are a substrate of thought, which tells us that thinking is not all in our heads. These people tend to take their gut feelings up into their head to analyze it. As a result, they sometimes lose a sense of what they should do. But if they go with their first feelings, they are usually right. They’re good in business if they don’t overanalyze. As turtle clan members, they are of the element earth, and enjoy picking up rocks and minerals.

West - Strength and Introspection

Spirit Animal of the West

September 23 to October 23:

Moon: Ducks flying moon; cooling sun moon

Power animal: Raven

Mineral: Jasper

Color: Brown

Plant: Mullein

Clan: Butterfly

Element: Air

Character: Like ravens, who fly together, these people tend to stay with the flock. They need to separate themselves from the group, and follow their own convictions. Then they can be the leaders they came here to be. Ravens are attracted to things that shine, and can get trapped into situations that look appealing but are not all they seem to be. and their stone is jasper. They vibrate to 9.2 megacycles.

October 24 to November 21:

Moon: Freeze up moon snake; Cooling sun moon snake

Power animal: Snake

Mineral: Malachite, copper

Color: Orange

Plant: Thistle

Clan: Frog

Element: Water

Characteristic: Snake people are powerful healers. In Indian cultures, they are considered the true medicine women and men, and are trained from an early age for this purpose. These people can sometimes heal through touch. Being of the element water, they are often involved in flushing, healing, and cleansing of the the body.

November 22 to December 21

Moon phase: Long snows moon elk

Animal: Elk

Mineral: Obsidian

Color: Black

Plant: Black spruce

Clan: Thunderbird

Element: Fire

Characteristics: These people see the truth where others can’t. They are concerned citizens who won’t stop fighting for their cause until it is set right. Whatever they focus on, they will get. They can’t survive in an unjust situation, whether it be at work, at home, or in a relationship. That only makes them ill. These people can be clairvoyant, especially with the help of their stone, the obsidian. Ruled by fire, they are passionate at what they do. But they can get burnt out easily if they don’t pace themselves. Elk people tend to be impatient with other people who don’t want to do things their way. They need to learn that there are many paths to the mountain top. Also, if they look at what people are doing right, they will see more good in what a person is doing, rather than to look for what’s wrong and to criticize.

Native American ethnographer, Robert Vetter, says the medicine wheel can also teach us how to approach life. This is done in four stages, with each stage relating to one of the four directions: The first step is sacrifice. A sacrifice is necessary to overcome a crisis. Contrary to western thought, where we try to get something for nothing, Native American spiritual teachings stress that when we want something in our lives, we must pay for it deeply. In former days, sacrifices involved cutting off strips of skin or fingers, while today they usually consist of fasting, and going out alone on vision quests to confront one’s fears.

The second step is prayer. In the Native American spiritual traditions, people pray deeply for what they need. During a sun dance, for example, a person may fast, pierce their skin, and dance for days for someone in their family who is sick.

The third stage is transformation. Vetter notes that there are many stories of miraculous healings that take place spontaneously as a result of prayer.

The four step is most important and least known. This is the stage of thanksgiving. When a person is healed, there is an obligation to give back to the community. "In the case of Vetter’s adopted grandfather, Pahdopony," he says, "Whatever it was that healed him would become the power that he would use in healing other people for the remainder of his days."

Brother Soaring Eagle reminds us that the medicine wheel is a powerful object that has inspired noble acts in the United States. The U.S. Constitution was founded on its principles. And towards the end of the Second World War, Roosevelt based the United Nations on its doctrine. Basically, the medicine wheel says, ‘I respect your views; you respect my views. I would never do anything to hurt you because, in fact, if I were to hurt you, I would be hurting myself.’

Unlike Indians who were able to attain full peace during the time of the alliance of nations, the world today is constantly at war.

Brother Soaring Eagle believes that embracing the principles of the medicine wheel, and teaching them to our children at an early age, will prevent arguments and wars. "Instead, we will have a way of understanding each other, just like the Indians did for 150 to 200 years. We will know how to take responsibility for what’s happening to us, instead of blaming it on outside circumstances."


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  2. Be happy to. Please check out other pages we have here on Native topics.

  3. Thank you so much for a detail understanding of the medicine wheel what it is and how it works..... I found this very enlightening on how the "medicine wheel" is to be used and it' purpose!