The Medicine Wheel

August 6, 2022

Depending on the tribes and the parts of North America, the medicine wheel has different meanings behind it and different colours. Some have no colours and are referred to as the Sacred Hoop. For example, according to a female Elder from the Standing Buffalo First Nation, she said that for the Dakota-Sioux, the medicine wheel does not have the four quadrants seen in many medicine wheels. Instead, the Sacred Hoop holds the belief in equality. In that everybody and everything has equal value, and nothing and nobody is worth more or less than another.

Medicine Wheel

This belief is common among indigenous people of North America, though some break the medicine wheel into four quadrants. Four is a significant number for Natives. The number four stands for four states of being (physical health, spiritual well-being, emotional health, and mental health.) It also stands for the four directions (East, South, West, and North), the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter), and the cycle of life (infants, youth, adults, elders or birth, youth, adult, death). Some natives also believe it signifies the four nations of humans (white, yellow, red, and black.) While others have wheels for the four sacred plants (cedar, sage, tobacco, and sweetgrass.)

But what was most remarking is how they turn the circle into a sphere by signifying the sky above, the earth below, and Spirit as the centre of it all. Some tribes also depict the medicine wheel as something a turtle carries on its back. While other bands also associate animals with specific quadrants. But this, too, varies depending on which First Nation group you are speaking with.

The Medicine Wheel is a Path to Enlightenment

In essence, each person must find their own medicine wheels. What colours do you see in each direction, and what animals? The medicine wheel is a personalized spiritual tool to help you find your purpose and to help you find your way when you get lost. It also acts as a reminder that we are all one and are interconnected in ways that we can’t fathom. When the indigenous people look at the medicine wheel, they are reminded that everything flows in a circle and that our spirits live forever, cycling us from life to death to the spiritual realm and rebirth.

The medicine wheel is also a circle of self-awareness. In order to be happy and healthy, the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional states need balance. When we live according to the medicine wheel, we are aware of our balance, which can guide us back on course to have a more balanced life. It is also a circle of knowledge representing the personal power we each possess to learn and then pass on the knowledge to the next generations.

Thoughts from Elders

A male Elder from the Standing Buffalo First Nation said that the most crucial aspect is the hoop itself. You see the circle in all of nature, from the trunk of a tree to the shape of a nest. The world keeps flowing and building momentum. Energy flows around the circle forever.

When sitting in a circle, they would sometimes put a sick person in the centre. Each person sat at an equal distance from the person in the middle, and the energy would focus itself on the centre. The Elder said that we all have a spirit and a power that is transferrable. We also take in energy from nature because all things are alive. He stated that even rocks have energy to depart because they were here much longer than we were.

So, even the lines that divide the quadrants have significance. Their interconnectedness in the centre is due to this energy that flows through all creation. And it can be honed on the centre for benefit. This belief in the importance of the circle can be found in pagan cultures all over the world.

Applying the Medicine Wheel to Everyday Life

“The traditions give the guidance and support that is necessary for ongoing healing and change. They convey a core understanding of a spiritual life. Without Spirit and personal commitment, it is unlikely that any teaching or any strategy, from whichever direction, will help people attain and maintain balance. The Sacred Circle of the Medicine Wheel, and the Sacred Teachings, encapsulate all the spiritual wisdom required to guide the healing journey, sustain healing relationships, and promote positive change.”

Nabigon et al., 2014

There is a way to use the medicine wheel as a self-assessment to learn how balanced one is. Because we cannot be called healers, the term helpers are often used to describe people trying to pass on the knowledge of our Indigenous Elders. In order to become a helper, you need to be aware of your balance with all four aspects of yourself. These aspects are our emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health. When we are out of balance, we experience disease and hardship, and by looking toward the medicine wheel, we can determine a way to become balanced again. Once we have seen where we are unbalanced, we can find harmony with ourselves and be better helpers.

Final Thoughts

You must genuinely be able to listen to your own heart before you can hear the heart of another. But it is an ongoing process that never truly ends. You need to be constantly striving for a balanced life. There will always be a duality that goes on between light and dark, night and day, rain and sunshine, women and men, sun and moon.

And that goes for the duality within us when we experience positive emotions, good health, connectedness with nature and the world, and happiness, versus negative emotions, physical pains, spiritual blindness, and emotional trauma. There will always be ups and downs, but knowing we are all connected lets you see the world from a different perspective.

If we apply the lessons of the Medicine Wheel in our lives, we will learn the art of working from the heart and genuinely making changes for the better in ourselves and the lives of those we choose to help.