“In Native American Spirituality, the medicine wheel represents harmony and connections and is considered a major symbol of peaceful interactions among all living beings on earth” (“Medicine Wheel”, 2013, p. 1). The medicine wheel has been used for many generations of various American native tribes and are still used today in the Native American spirituality. In an interview with an aboriginal woman B.C, B.C stated “the wheel has been passed down from generation from generation and the meaning of the wheel has never been altered and it’s very symbolic to the first nation’s people. The following is a picture of the medicine wheel;
The medicine wheel, otherwise known as sacred hope is a symbol of the indigenous North American culture and religion (Terpning, 2009). The Medicine wheel is a very deep and complex symbol that comes from prairie cultures but is has been very common to all Aboriginal communities. The following paper will discuss how this particular symbol was constructed and how it continues to be a huge sacred symbol in the first nations people.
The medicine wheel is very ancient and was originally constructed by laying stones in particular patterns and most wheels have a center cairn of stones. There would be spokes or lines of rocks coming out of the Cairns but there are many variations on the basic design and each wheel was unique and had its own styles and eccentricities. Almost all of the wheels would have two out of three elements, which are the center cairn, outer rings and the spokes. Some medicine wheels will have one particular spoke that’s significantly longer than the rest, suggesting something important about the direction it points. The wheels could be large, reaching diameters of 75 feet (“Medicine Wheel”, 2013). Medicine wheels are stone structures constructed by certain indigenous peoples of America for various astronomical, ritual, healing, and teaching purposes. It can also be made as artwork such as a painting or artifact (Terpning, 2011). Thousands of medicine wheels have been built on Native lands over the last several centuries.
Medicine wheels have been built and used for so long that each one has its own characteristics. Medicine wheels were originally used to mark the geographical directions and astronomical events of the sun, moon, some stars, and some planets in relation to the Earth’s horizon at that location. The wheel has also been used for various Native American tribes for health and healing and it embodies the four directions, as well as Father skies, Mother Earth and Spirit Tree. B.C also stated in an interview “that all of the 4 directions are all combined into a wheel of eternity which bring harmony for the First Nations People”. The wheels were constructed and used by indigenous peoples of American for various astronomical, ritual, healing and teaching purposes. It is thought that the wheel sites were used for ceremonies, teachings and as sacred places to give thanks to the creator, also known as the Great Spirit in the Ojibway language.
The movement in the medicine wheel and in ceremonies is circular and usually in a clockwise direction, which helps align all forces of nature (Terpning, 2011) the medicine wheel was used as a physical manifestation of their spiritual energy (Laframboise & Sherbina, 2008). The teachings that have been used for so long “are about walking the earth in a peaceful and good way, they assist in helping to seek; healthy minds (East), strong inner spirits (South), inner peace (West) and strong Healthy bodies (North)” (Laframboise & Shernbina, 2008), p. 1). The wheel consists of four areas and the number four is very important to the First Nations People. The four directions can also be known as East, South, West, and North and also typically represented by a distinctive color, such as black, red, yellow, and white, which for some stands for the human races (Terpning, 2011).
M.S. stated that “this symbol is widely used in First Nations populations and is very symbolic but can be symbolic in all cultures as we all share the same earth and by looking at the colors of the wheels it also represents the different cultures and the ethnicities our society has”(Sutherland, 2013). The wheel suggests that each aspect of the wheel must be equally developed in a healthy way and balance in each area puts us into balance. If there is part of the wheel not in balance it may greatly effect health decisions (uOttawa, 2009) First Nations people agree that emphasis needs to be given in each area of the wheel. “The medicine wheel symbolizes the interconnection of all life, the various cycles of nature, and how life represents a circular journey. The number four is sacred to the many Aboriginal peoples of North America and can represent many things: the four seasons, the four parts of a person (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual); the four kingdoms (animal, mineral, plant and human); the four sacred medicines (sweet grass, tobacco, cedar and sage).
Hence, you may see the medicine wheel presented in several different ways” (uOttawa, 2009, p. 1) Different tribes examine the medicine wheel differently (Terpning, 2011). They continue to use the wheel as a first nation symbol. The wheel continues to be sacred to them for various reasons, including teachings, health and healing, many traditional ceremonies, dances and ritual vision quest (Sutherland, 2013). It is important to First Nations People to continue to use this Medicine wheel and it is important to remember that if the focus is on one area of the medicine wheel, all four aspects of the wheel will be lacking. If focus is on all four directions of the wheel it will assist in achieving health, positive change and growth and will assist in wholeness and balance. (uOttawa, 2009). Archaeologists suspect the wheel has continued to change over time but the First Nation People continue to use this as a sacred symbol in their culture.
- Sutherland, M. 2013. Aboriginal Lady in Interview with the Medicine Wheel. Interviewed June 1, 2013. Medicine Wheel. GNU Free Documentation License, website, 2013. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from http://www.medicinewheel.com
- Laframboise, S & Sherbina, K. (2008). Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.dancingtoeaglespiritsociety.org/medwheel.php
- Terpning, H. Courtesy of the Greenwich Workshop. (2011). Native Noices: Native Peoples Concepts of Health and Illnesses. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/exhibition/healing-ways/index.html
- Ottawa. Society, the Inividual, and Medicine. (2009). Aboriginal Medicine and Healing Practices. Retrieved June 3, 2013 from http://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/Aboriginal_Medicine_e.htm