What Is a Medicine Wheel?
Answering the question of what is the medicine wheel is difficult because it can be many different things to many different people. Each person will find their own unique message if they take the time to become quiet and listen.
The term medicine wheel came from Europeans and not Native Americans. The Native Americans consider the medicine wheel to be sacred ground. They would travel to this spot to seek answers, or find comfort, fulfill a vision quest or as a meeting ground at various times of the year. This is a place to be quiet and connect with the Great Spirit. The Medicine Wheel is a circle that can represent the circle of life, no beginning and no end. The medicine wheel is an important element from the past and has a definite place in the future.
The Significance of Four
The Medicine Wheel also points to the significance of the number four. Four seasons, four directions, four colors, four elements, four stages of life, four grandmothers and four grandfathers. Our life journey is present in the fours.
Four Famous Medicine Wheels
Four famous medicine wheels are:
What does the medicine wheel look like?
To begin with, the medicine wheel is a circular section of land that is divided into four main sections, East, South, West and North. There can be 36 stones placed strategically in and around the circle which can represent different pieces of our life journey.
There is one stone in the center of the circle that represents the Great Spirit. This stone is surrounded by 7 more stones which can be called the 7 Grandfathers. Each Grandfather brings a gift for that period of life. The last period only has one gift but that is the greatest gift of all, Truth.
Each of the four sections have a pathway of 3 stones between the Great Spirit stone and the Direction stone. The outer perimeter of the circle has 4 stones to represent the four directions and another 12 stones to represent the 12 moons or months of the year, or time.
Charactoristics of Each Section of the Medicine Wheel
Each section has its own characteristics, color, spirit animal, gifts, plants, season, moons and purpose and all of these can vary amongst different people. Since each representation of the Medicine Wheel is somewhat personal, what follows can be considered my representation of this important space.
East Section of the Medicine Wheel
The entrance to the Medicine Wheel is in this section. The East section represents: Earth, birth; the rising sun; a new day and a new beginning; springtime; and childhood. The color is yellow, fire and light. The spirit animal can be the eagle or the mouse. The gifts from the Grandfathers are Wisdom and Love. Plants for this section can include: sage; tobacco; spring blooms; teas. The season for the East section is Spring. The moons in this section are Old Moon (January), Snow Moon (February), Sap Moon (March). This is the time of great learning, a freedom of spirit, creativity and growth, children and grandchildren. This is the new life phase of our journey. This pathway brings us to the South and young adulthood.
South Section of the Medicine Wheel
The South section represents fire, growth, acceptance, self assurance, relationships and matters of the heart. You enter as a child and leave as a young adult. The color is Red, intensity, love and life. The Spirit Animal can be deer, moose, turtle, cougar or horse. The gifts from the Grandfathers are Respect and Bravery. Plants to grow in this section can include; cedar, vegetables, legumes, herbs, blueberries, ground covers or creeping plants. The season is Summer. The moons are; Sproating Grass Moon (April), Milk Moon (May), and Strawberry Moon (June). You leave this section as a young adult. Childhood is behind you. This leads you to the West.
West Section of the Medicine Wheel
You enter the West section as a young adult and leave as an older adult. This is the season of health and vitality, maturity, power and experience. The West can have an element of water. Water takes many forms and shapes and reflects us back to our true selves. The growth of wisdom begins here. The color of the west section is black. Black suggests self-control and discipline, independence and a strong will. Black absorbs all light and colors. The spirit animal can be the black bear or buffalo. The gifts from the Grandfathers are Humility and Honesty. Plants to grow in the West section are: edible roots, succulents, sage and fall blooms, herbs. The West is the season of Fall and harvest. The moons are: Thunder Moon (July), Sturgeon Moon (August), and Harvest Moon (September). This leads you to full growth and the North.
North Section of the Medicine Wheel
The North section is where you grow into your elderly form. This is the full circle of life. This section represents mental growth, wisdom. Physical growth is over but mental growth continues. The color in this section is white. White reflects all the colors of the rainbow back into the world. This is the section of the wind. The wind comes and goes. You can’t see it but you know it’s there because you can feel it and you can see the fruits of it. You can’t see the wind but you can see the leaves moving and know the wind is there. The spirit animal can be the Polar Bear or the Spirit Buffalo. The gifts of the Grandfathers is Truth, the greatest gift of all. Plants for this section can include; sweetgrass, nuts, seeds and berries, airy flowing plants such as ferns.
Create Your Own Medicine Wheel
Everyone should have their own medicine wheel. A place big or small to reflect and listen, dream and create, give back and begin again. The world would become a better place because of it.
“The elders teach us about the four directions. If we learn about direction, we also learn about attention, about focus and about power. Each direction has spiritual power. In the morning, go outside, face the east and get still, then listen to your thoughts. After you have done this for awhile, turn and face the west. Get quiet once again and listen to your thoughts. Did your thinking change when you changed directions?”
Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin