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The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

medicine wheel

The Medicine Wheel, sometimes known as the Sacred Hoop, has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. It embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky, Mother Earth, and Spirit Tree—all of which symbolize dimensions of health and the cycles of life.

These are the elements and attributes of the Medicine Wheel:

EAST: Totem: Eagle Element: air Color: Red Kingdom: human Human aspect: spirit Manifestation: art and writing Time: momentary Heavenly body: sun Season: Spring The East is the farsighted place.

SOUTH: Totem: Bear Element : water Color: black Kingdom: plant Quality: strength and introspection Human aspect: physical body Manifestation: healing Time: present Heavenly body: stars Season: Fall The West is the looks-within place.

WEST: Totem: Wolf Element: fire Color: yellow Kingdom: animal Quality: finding out Human aspect: emotions Manifestation: journeying Time: past Heavenly body: moon Season: Summer The South is the close-by place.

NORTH: Totem: Buffalo Element: earth Color: White Kingdom: mineral Quality: knowledge and wisdom Human aspect: mind Manifestation: philosophy Time: future Heavenly body: earth Season: Winter The North is the place of knowledge.

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 on Native lands in North America over the last several centuries.

Movement in the Medicine Wheel and in Native American ceremonies is circular, and 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.

medicine wheel2

Meanings of the Four Directions

Different tribes interpret the Medicine Wheel differently. Each of the Four Directions (East, South, West, and North) is typically represented by a distinctive color, such as black, red, yellow, and white, which for some stands for the human races. The Directions can also represent:

  • Stages of life: birth, youth, adult (or elder), death
  • Seasons of the year: spring, summer, winter, fall
  • Aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical
  • Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and earth
  • Animals: Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo and many others
  • Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage, cedar

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