Medicine Wheel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Medicine Wheel is representative of American Indian Spirituality. The Medicine Wheel symbolizes the individual journey that each must take to find their own path. Within the Medicine Wheel are The Four Cardinal Directions and the Four Sacred Colors. The Circle represents the Circle of Life and the Center of the Circle, the Eternal Fire. The Eagle, flying toward the East, is a symbol of strength, endurance and vision. East signifies the renewal of life and the rebirth of Sioux unity.

RED was symbolic of success. It was the color of the War Club used to strike an enemy in battle as well as the other club used by the warrior to shield himself. Red Beads were used to conjure the Red Spirit to insure long life, recovery from sickness, success in love and ball play or any other undertaking where the benefit of the magic spell was wrought. The red spirits lived in the West.

BLACK was always typical of death. The soul of the enemy was continually beaten about by black war clubs and enveloped in a black fog. In conjuring to destroy an enemy, the priest used black beads and invoked the black spirits-which always lived in the West,-bidding them to tear out the man's soul and carry it to the South, and put it into the Black Coffin deep in the Black Mud, with a Black Serpent coiled above it.

BLUE symbolized failure, disappointment, or unsatisfied desire. To say "they shall never become blue" expressed the belief that they would never fail in anything they undertook. In love charms, the lover figuratively covered himself with red and prayed that his rival would become entirely blue and walk in a blue path. "He is entirely blue, " approximates meaning of the common English phrase, "He feels blue. "The blue spirits lived Within.

WHITE denoted peace and happiness. In ceremonial addresses, as the Green Corn Dance and ball play, the people symbolically partook of white food and, after the dance or game, returned along the white trail to their white houses. In love charms, the man, to induce the woman to cast her lost with his, boasted, "I am a white man," implying that all was happiness where he was. White beads had the same meaning in bead conjuring, and white was the color of the stone pipe anciently used in ratifying peace treaties. The White spirits lived in the North.

East = Yellow = failure
North = White = peace; happiness
West = Red = success; triumph
South = Black = death

There are three additional sacred directions:
Up Above = Blue
Down Below = Brown
Here in the Center = Green

Two numbers are sacred to the Native American. The number Four is one number, it represented the four primary directions. At the center of their paths lays the sacred fire. Seven is the other number and it is the most sacred. Seven is represented in the seven directions: north, south, east, west, above, bellow, and "here in the center" the place of the sacred fire. Seven also represented the seven ancient ceremonies that formed the yearly Native American religious cycle.

The medicine wheel is symbolic for the wheel of life which is forever evolving and bringing new lessons and truths to the walking of the path. The Earthwalk is based on the understanding that each one of us must stand on every spoke, of the great wheel of life many times, and that every direction is to be honored. Until you have walked in others' moccasins, or stood on their spokes of the wheel, you will never truly know their hearts.

The medicine wheel teaches us that all lessons are equal, as are all talents and abilities.
Every living creature will one day see and experience each spoke of the wheel, and know those truths.
It is a pathway to truth, peace and harmony. The circle is never ending, life without end.

In experiencing the Good Red Road, one learns the lessons of physical life, or of being human. This road runs South to North in the circle of the medicine wheel. After the graduation experience of death, one enters the Blue or Black Road, that is the world of the grandfathers and grandmothers. In spirit, one will continue to learn by counseling those remaining on the Good Red Road.
The Blue Road of the spirit runs East to West.
The medicine wheel is life, afterlife, rebirth and the honoring of each step along the way.

The medicine wheel is sacred, the native people believe, because the Great Spirit caused everything in nature to be round. The Sun, Sky, Earth and Moon are round. Thus, man should look upon the Medicine Wheel (circle of life) as sacred. It is the symbol of the circle that marks the edge of the world and therefore, the Four Winds that travel there. It is also the symbol of the year. The Sky, the Night, and the Moon go in a circle above the Sky, therefore, the Circle is symbolic of these divisions of time. It is the symbol of all times throughout creation.

Man Made Structures

But The Medicine wheels are also stone structures built by the natives of North America for various spiritual and ritual purposes.

Appearing mostly in The Northern United States and Southern Canada, medicine wheels were built by laying out stones in a circular pattern that often looked like a wagon wheel lying on its side. The wheels could be large, reaching diameters of 75 feet. Although archeologists aren't exactly sure what each one was used for, it is thought that they probably had ceremonial or astronomical significance. Medicine wheels are still used today in the Native American spirituality, however most of the meaning behind them is not shared among non-Native peoples.


Erecting massive stone structures is a well-documented activity of ancient man, from the Egyptian pyramids to Stonehenge, and the natives of Northern America are no different in this regard. What does separate them from the rest is how non-intrusive their structures were. Unlike the usual towering stone monoliths, the natives simply laid down lots of stones on the earth in certain arrangements. One of the more obscure arrangements is the medicine wheel.

Medicine wheels appear all over northern United States and southern Canada, specifically North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Most of the wheels have been found in Alberta and Wyoming. In all over 180 medicine wheels have been found. One of the prototypical medicine wheels is in within the Bighorn National Forest in Big Horn County, Wyoming. This 75 foot diameter wheel has 28 spokes, and is part of a vast set of old Native American sites that document 17,000 years of their history in that area.


Medicine wheels were constructed by laying stones in a particular pattern on the ground. Most medicine wheels follow the basic pattern of having a center cairn of stones, and surrounding that would be an outer ring of stones, then there would be "spokes", or lines of rocks, coming out the cairn. Almost all medicine wheels would have at least two of the three elements mentioned above (the center cairn, the outer ring, and the spokes), but beyond that there were many variations on this basic design, and every wheel found has been unique and has had its own style and eccentricities.


The most common deviation between different wheels are the spokes. There is no set number of spokes for a medicine wheel to have. The spokes within each wheel are rarely evenly spaced out, or even all the same length. Some medicine wheels will have one particular spoke that's significantly longer than the rest, suggesting something important about the direction it points. Another variation is whether the spokes start from the center cairn and go out only to the outer ring, or whether they go past the outer ring, or whether they start at the outer ring and go out from there. An odd variation sometimes found in medicine wheels is the presence of a passageway, or a doorway, in the circles. The outer ring of stones will be broken, and there will be a stone path leading up to the center of the wheel. Also many medicine wheels have various other circles around the outside of the wheel, sometimes attached to spokes or the outer ring, and sometimes just seemingly floating free of the main structure.

Personal Medicine Wheel

Sun Bear Medicine Man ~ Circle of Life
Shamanism Working With Animal Spirits

A 'standard' Medicine Wheel (if there is such a thing!) consists of between twelve and thirty-six stones.
It all depends on the depth of knowledge of the person for whom the Wheel is constructed.

The breakdown of a thirty-five stone Medicine Wheel is as follows:

The Central Feature is the Sacred Fire.
This is where the Flame of Life burns.
It is the 'Many worlds' Gateway..
It contains the Embers of the Essential Person - the deepest inner soul.
Thus The Sacred Fire can also be called The Portal.

The Four Direction Stones (stones 1-4)
North (Warrior), East (Teacher), South (Healer), West (Visionary)
(within these stones are the four colors of the Human Race; These stones sit at the four corners of the Sacred Fire.

The Legend of Spirit Keepers

North ~ Waboose ~ White Buffalo ~ (stone 1)
East ~ Wabun ~ Golden Eagle ~ (stone 2)
South ~ Shawnodese ~ Coyote ~ (stone 3)
West ~ Mudjekeewis ~ Great Bear ~ (stone 4)

Seven stones surround the Sacred Fire. (stones 5-11)
Element of Air ~ (stone 5)
Element of Water ~ (stone 6)
Father Sun ~ (stone 7)
Mother Earth ~ (stone 8)
Grandmother Moon ~ (stone 9)
Element of Fire ~ (stone 10)
Element of Earth ~ (stone 11)

Three stones exist between each Direction on the outer perimeter of the circle:

Spirit-Keepers of the North: (stones 12-14)
The first moon of Waboose ~ The Powerhouse ~ The Snow Goose
The second moon of Waboose ~ The Humanitarian ~ The Otter
The third moon of Waboose ~ The Mystic ~ The Cougar

Spirit-Keepers of the East: (stones 15-17)
The first moon of Wabun ~ The Pioneer ~ The Red-tailed Hawk
The second moon of Wabun ~ The Builder ~ The Beaver
The third moon of Wabun ~ The Dancer ~ The Deer

Spirit-Keepers of the South: (stones 18-20)
The first moon of Shawnodese ~ The Homemaker ~ The Flicker
The second moon of Shawnodese ~ The Lover ~ The Sturgeon
The third moon of Shawnodese ~ The Analyst ~ The Brown Bear

Spirit-Keepers of the West: (stones 21-23)
The first moon of Mudjekeewis ~ The Negotiator ~ The Duck
The second moon of Mudjekeewis ~ The Prophet ~ The Snake
The third moon of Mudjekeewis ~ The Teacher ~ The Elk

And Finally The Three Spirit Pathways between each direction and the Sacred Fire.

Waboose: And The Northern Path, The Gifts and Totems (stones 24-26)
1: Cleansing and The Raccoon
2: Renewal and The Earthworm
3: Purity and The Dolphin

Wabun: And The Eastern Path, The Gifts and Totems (stones 27-29)
1: Clarity and The Hummingbird
2: Wisdom and The Owl
3: Illumination and The Firefly

Shawnodese: And The Southern Path, The Gifts and Totems (stones 30-32)
1: Growth and The Rabbit
2: Trust and The Salmon
3: Love and The Wolf

Mudjekeewis: And The Western Path, The Gifts and Totems (stones 33-35)
1: Experience and The Whale
2: Introspection and The Mouse
3: Strength and The Ant

The Legend of The Sacred Bird
Stories and Legends of The Thunderbird
The Giant Bird of Thunder

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