For some of you , this novel will be your first introduction to the Medicine Wheel. So today I’m going to give you a very brief overview of the Wheel.
Caveats: the Medicine Wheel means different things to different people. So virtually NOTHING that I can say will be true for everyone. To those of you to whom the Wheel is a significant part of your spiritual practice I say, please be open-minded and gentle with me.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? The Medicine Wheel, as most of us experience it first, comes from Native American spirituality. There are many very old–even ancient–structures throughout the United States that were built by Native American people, as well as many thousands that are new, constructed by the current owners or users. Here is one of the best known, located at the summit of Medicine Mountain, nearly 10,000 feet above the Bighorn Range in Wyoming. This wheel is 80 feet across and with 28 spokes emanating from a central cairn, and was built by Plains Indians 300-800 years ago. This particular wheel is aligned with the movement of the sun. Other important medicine wheels include one at Moose Mountain in Saskatchewan and one in Majorville, Alberta that is believed to be 5000 years old, making it coeval with the pyramids in Egypt.
Note, however, that similar structures exist in Europe as well, although not nearly as popular as stone circles or standing stones. So it is not a uniquely American invention. The Wheel has also been adopted by Neo-Pagans and other New Age spiritual groups, so it can no longer be considered the unique property of Native Americans.
WHY A WHEEL? The compass points–north, south, east, and west–each have a particular spiritual meaning and are associated with a particular animal (but not the same animal for different tribes and cultures). In addition, the directions are associated with the elements Earth (North), Air (East), Fire (South), and Water (West), with the myriad of images and connotations of those as well.
SO WHAT IS IT FOR? Again, answers depend on the particular spiritual practice of those who built it. For some, it is a sacred locale where the power of the directions and the elements is focused. An outdoor temple, a place to pray or meditate or merely seek peace. To others, “walking the wheel” is an essential part of their practice.
MY FIRST ASSOCIATION WITH A MEDICINE WHEEL came at a retreat center in East Texas called Earthsprings, near Crockett, Texas. I spent 3 days there in solitude, gently guided by Glenda Little Hawk Taylor, one of the wisest women you’ll ever meet. A significant part of my weekend was spent walking a medicine wheel. And even though calling me an “open-minded Norman” is charitable, each time I was rewarded with some revelation or insight. I was the only visitor on the land that weekend, but the center is open for retreats and workshops as well. http://earthsprings.net/wp/
This picture is not from Earthsprings, but is very reminiscent of the Medicine Wheel there. Nothing fancy, but very much a part of the land and the nature around it.Here is an example of a Medicine Wheel built into an herb garden. This is from a beautiful website named World Wide Wheel, and includes instructions on how to walk the wheel. Their URL is:
- Purification before entering sacred space is done through smudging (burning sage, sweet grass, cedar, or tobacco) or using a rattle or drum.
- Centering: Breathe deeply and slowly – allowing thoughts to flow through. Become calm and peaceful. Merge with the balance of nature around you.
- Form an intention for your Medicine Wheel walk: PRAYER, CLARITY, OFFERINGS.
- Offering: a way to give thanks for life, for abundance – for all ones blessings. Given to the 6 directions, take a pinch of tobacco, cornmeal, a strand of hair, etc. – raise the offering to Father Sky, making a prayer of thanks to Creator.
Many tribes believe following the movement of the Sun is the Trail of Life. Walk from East to South – South to West – West to North – and finish the Sacred Circle at the beginning of the east. Envision your own Trail of Life. One offers a prayer at each directional stone and then acknowledges Eye of The Creator, Father Sky and Mother Earth.
- Ending your Ceremony: Think about the ceremony and the energy generated. Ask for the rebirth, clarity, peace, calmness, etc to follow you into your daily life. Give thanks for this process that is already happening. Send this energy out from your body into the space around you…and then become aware of a more beautiful world around you.
You can build a wheel in your backyard, much as George did in the woods behind his house. It only takes a small investment in a few rocks at the nearest landscaping supply store if, like I, you live in a place that has no rocks of its own (you can collect your own rocks on trips and carry them home in your airline baggage, but you’ll end up paying more than if you bought them locally).
One more picture, this of a very picturesque Medicine Wheel overlooking the sea.