Medicine wheel

Discussion in 'Animism' started by Mezz, Jul 26, 2010.

  1. Mezz

    Mezz Member

    Was wondering if anyone had some info on this, or a url that can take me to some info. I love the idea of it and would like to understand it a bit more. I see a lot of different variations of it, most follow the same basic sybologies. But how do you go about the rituals? Are there traditional rituals that go along with the medicine wheel?

    Auxiliary question. If you have any experience with Native American healers/wisemen.... Since I am interested in the culture and values, how are outsiders (white people) perceived? Are they welcome to view rituals/participate? Was hoping to become involved but don't want to be shunned away.

  2. BlackBillBlake

    BlackBillBlake Hip Forums Supporter HipForums Supporter

    This is some very good basic stuff about the medicine wheel. Main thing though is to use it in you day to day life.

    The symbol is one of the most universal we humans have. It's worth looking into celtic use of it. They made the celtic cross by simply extending the dividing lines. Hence, unlike other christians they kept the crossed circle.
    The Hopis say that when the white man came he only had the cross, having lost somewhere along the way the circle. Rambling here - but the vid is worth a view."]YouTube - The Medicine Wheel - 1 of 3
  3. Mountain Valley Wolf

    Mountain Valley Wolf Senior Member

    The Celtic Cross is related to the Medicine Wheel, but I would disagree that the cross simply represents lines extended. Both symbols are part of the universal and archaic symbolism connected to the Axis Mundi, or the World Tree, the Tree of Life, Celestial Axis, World Mountain, the World Cave, and on and on---symbolism which the Christian cross also represents in ways many Christians don't even know. I have written much in this forum about this concept, but I would be happy to share more under this post if you are interested.

    The Celtic Cross represents the phallus of the Sky God, as it is thrust into Mother Earth. The symbolism of the axis mundi is filled with sacred sexuality. The circle part may have been handed down from the archaic symbol of the sun, and the earth's motion/4 winds/4 season symbolism embodied in the medicine wheel, swastika, and other swastika like designs which go back into the Paleolithic. Even the labyrinth is part of this same symbolism and represents the same portal to and from the other world (though it is also a symbol of the womb of Mother Earth and is therefore connected to the axis mundi as the World Cave). The Hopi have a labyrinth symbol that is surprisingly like the ones in Europe.

    So I don't disagree entirely with the connection to the Celtic Cross, but I would argue that they are part of the same complex of symbolism, but the sybolism of the Celtic Cross makes its connection to the medicine wheel more distant than say the Mayan Cross.

    The medicine wheel represents the 4 directions, and is closely related to the swastika, as well as similar archaic swirl-designs with even more than 4 lines radiating out from the center. At its very center is the Tree of Life, or World Tree. Like the swastika, it is a picture as if we were looking down from on top of the World Tree and we could see the world spinning on its axis---because the World Tree always represents the center of the universe.

    I have a very good website written by, I believe an Ojibway, but I will have to find it before I can share it with you (it is in a rolodex somewhere).

    As far as your question about the Native Americans---I spend a lot of time with Native Americans and participate in ceremony. In my experience, there are those tribes that are very welcoming, and those that aren't. In the Southwest, for example, among the Dine' (Navajo), and many of the Pueblos--where the ceremony has been paraded around white people, because of white people, like a circus act, I think you would find less acceptance as a white person to participate or even show interest. And you can't blame them--it is a disgrace how we've turned sacred ceremonies into tourist attractions. The Lakota (Sioux) are often different however. They say that their traditions are for everyone, not just for the Lakota. I have found that they are very receptive to people who want to participate and learn to walk the Red Road with them. But you must be humble, and sensitive to the right way of participating.

    Don't go in thinking that you can learn a little bit and then imitate. Don't go in and take their ceremonies and incorporate them into your own things. Don't add to their ceremonies. And if some New Age plastic shaman tries to teach you the ways, I would run away as fast as you can. You should never ever have to pay for a sweat lodge, for example.

    Just to be able to pour a sweat lodge for example, you have to undergo 4 years of piercing at a sundance. Then you have to be taught by a medicine man. Someone who goes to a bunch of sweat lodges and then decides to do it himself is very dangerous to himself and anyone who participates. Medicine people go through very powerful and difficult, even life threatening, things to become medicine people. Spirit has chosen them to do those things. People who vainly think they are chosen, and then try to go through some of the ceremony to become healers have died in the process.

    Here is an example, the medicine songs that are sung in the sweat lodge and for ceremony, are very powerful and old songs. Sometimes a new song is given by spirit, but there is a cost to that song. People who have composed songs, with the intention of using them for ceremony, have had close family members and relatives die, because the song was not given by spirit, so to use it, spirit had a cost---a loved one's life.

    I can tell you other stories of the dangers of misusing spirit or improperly doing ceremony---but the point is, to the Lakota it is not a game, it is serious stuff. If you want to play with it, there are plenty of organized religions you can play around with, make up stuff to, or whatever, without consequence.

    There are things you can do---you can always make tobacco ties and pray with them. You can always offer tobacco to the four directions, the sky, Mother Earth, and the Center, and make prayers. There are lots of things you can do, but if you work with a healer, understand there are many things that person can do, but you are not going to be able to. That is why the healer does them for you.

    If you are humble, gracious, and always willing to make sure you are doing things in a good way, and not overstepping your boundaries---you will be very well accepted. Also---whatever commitment you make to spirit---don't break it. If you commit to spirit that you will go up on the hill for 3 days of vision questing, you go up, under the guidance of the medicine man, and keep to your promise. Your promise is not to the medicine man, but to spirit, and you and spirit will know if you break that.
  4. BlackBillBlake

    BlackBillBlake Hip Forums Supporter HipForums Supporter

    Interesting. And I don't disagree. But as you say, the symbolism is complex, and actually in my view, open to personal interpretation.
    For instance, as you say, the medicine wheel is generally thought to symbolize the 4 directions, but again, some say 7 directions (to include up and down and inwards).
    Agree too about avoiding new-agey re-constructions of 'shamanism'.
  5. Mountain Valley Wolf

    Mountain Valley Wolf Senior Member

    Yes---actually you are very correct---in terms of the medicine wheel itself, 4 directions is a simplistic form of the symbolism---in truth it represents 7 directions. The 7 directions is a better incorporation of the tree at the center. This again relates to the upper, middle, and lower world(s). This is probably true of the other swastika and swirl symbols that appear around the world, though much of the definite meaning has been lost to time, and anthropologists simply identify the 4 directions.

    When one prays with the chanunpa, or sacred pipe, one prays to all 7 directions, which again is symbolic of the medicine wheel.

    I did watch the part 1 video that you posted and found it very good. One thing about the person who was teaching about the medicine wheel, is that he is a pejuta wichasha, which is a medicine man, however we could also translate that as an herbal man, or medicinal plant man. He is a healer who uses plants. This is usually different than a wichasha wakan, which is also medicine man in English, but we could also translate as a holy man---in other words a healer who uses spirits. However a pejuta wichasha learns about the medicinal plants from the spirits and a pejuta wichasha could also be a wichasha wakan. But there is some difference normally to a Lakota. Nonetheless they should both be able to speak about the medicine wheel, but one may have a slightly different perspective on it than the other. It makes sense that this guy is a doctor and that his teachings of the medicine wheel are more connected to the physical world aspects of the medicine wheel. It is a good video.

    I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to look for the website I referred to. I have been very busy because, as a matter of fact, Sunday---I will be going up on the hill.
  6. Mountain Valley Wolf

    Mountain Valley Wolf Senior Member

    Here is a little more info on the Medicine Wheel. The color scheme can vary. Different tribes do different colors and different medicine men will use different colors, though, generally it is black, white, red, and yellow.

    One common scheme that makes a lot of sense to me, is as follows: Black for the West as it is the place where the sun sets, and represents night. White for the North, for it is from the North that the snows come from. Red is for the East as it is the place of the rising sun, and Yellow is the color of the South, for it is from the South that the warmth of summer comes from.

    However, if you attend ceremony such as a sweat lodge, you would want to use the color scheme of the altar of the lodge's medicine man. The color scheme of the lodges I go to, all follow the sequence of, West-Black, North-Red, East-Yellow, and South-White. I believe this is the color scheme of many of the Lakota Medicine Men that you can find books about---since a number of them were related, and their direct relatives are associated with some of the lodge communities I am a part of---but I could be wrong.

    Then there is Green for Mother Earth and Blue for Father Sky. The center would follow a color that is specific to the altar. When praying to the center, for example---with the chanunpa, it can be referred to as 'taku shkan shkan.' This is the power that is found here, as the sun, or the thunderbird would represent the power found in the sky (though the thunderbirds live in the West, because storms generally come from the West, so you often also hear reference to the Thunderbirds and the West). 'Taku' means 'thing,' or 'something' and 'shkan' means 'to move.' So taku shkan shkan, means 'somethig moves moves.' It is the animating force of the universe. When you look at the sky, and you see the clouds moving accross it---it is taku shkan shkan. It is therefore an aspect of Wakan Tanka, or the Great Spirit.

    The Center, as I said before, also represents the Axis Mundi or World Tree. The center is the portal to the divine and portal for the divine to enter this world. This is a universal concept that, as I mentioned above, goes back probably before the Paleolithic. Here is another example of the World Tree from my own research: the Christian Cross is a very Indo-European form of the World Tree---the Biblical Greek word for the cross is made from the root word for star, and we all know how the story goes where Jesus entered the world through the star of David, but he also left the world through the star (the cross). This is not an unusal axis mundi symbolism---for the axis mundi is usually connected to the North Star (hence: pole star), or the region of the sky near it (as the earth does wobble over a 26,000 year cycle). But there is a problem with this---connecting the World Tree to the North Star is a concept found in Northern lattitudes such as Europe. This was not the case in the Middle East, suggesting an Indo-European influence to this story.

    Anyway, back to the tree as the center of the Medicine Wheel. The center is probably the most important part of the medicine wheel. The center represents the World Tree as it is used in the sun dance. It represents the center of the sweat lodge, where the Grandfathers are placed (The hot stones are the grandfathers for they are some of the oldest living things on this earth, and have witnessed many ages---in indigenous traditions, everything is alive, even the rocks). The fire at the center of the tipi is another sacred center just as it is in the yurts of Siberia and Mongolia.

    When you attend a sweat lodge, you sit in a circle around the center where the grandfather's are placed. The very first 7 stones are placed in the most sacred way---the 4 directions starting with the West, then a stone for Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the Center. Lee Plenty Wolf, who leads one of the lodge communities I go to, explained one time as we sat in the lodge, that when you enter that lodge, you become a part of the circle. The Grandfathers are the center, and the Lodge is our circle. As we go out into the world this remains our center and the circle becomes bigger, and combines with other circles.

    When something happens to one part of the circle, it affects all of the circle, for the center connects everything. If we look at the colors of the medicine wheel as the races of man, and then if the black, or red race is attacked, it really affects everyone, for we are all part of the same circle, with the same center. We are only hurting ourselves.

    The Chanunpa is the same for the Lakota. When you pray with a chanunpa, it is connected directly to the one Chanunpa that White Buffalo Calf Woman brought to the Lakota---that is the center, and, yes---it still exists. The Chanunpa itself is a portable axis mundi. The stem represents the male, the bowl is the female, when combined they represent the combination of the masculine and feminine forces of the universe which is also connected universally to the axis mundi (except for the judeo-christian concept where the Tree of Knowledge (Feminine aspect) and the Tree of Life (Masculine aspect) were split and then the masculine aspect of the Tree was taken away from man according to the story the Garden of Eden). The sacred smoke of the chanunpa flows through the bowl and the shaft just as the divine passes through the axis mundi and then rises to the heavens where the prayers are received. The bowl is a circle, representing the universe, our world, and the medicine wheel.

    The same symbolism of the center, and the circle, and going out into bigger circles is conected to the Sun Dance. The Lakota Sun Dance is done in a circle, with a significance to all the directions. The east is especially important, and you cannot cross the opening of the arbor that faces to the East because it is where the sun rises. In the Center is the Tree, representing the World Tree. This tree is picked by the medicine man in a very important ceremony in the forest. The summer is a very important time for ceremony for the lakota. This is the time for Vision Quests, which are going on right now, and then Sun Dances, which are starting now. The Sun Dancers do not eat or drink for 4 days, while they engage in the Sun Dance. They then dance throughout the day for the 4 days, for what seems like a long time between breaks. During this time they will pierce one or more times: usually this means that there are slits cut into their chest and two wooden pegs are put through the slits to which a tether to the tree is tied. After dancing and moving to and from the tree, they then run from the tree and break free. In the arbor around the tree, stand all the supporters, singing and dancing themselves for the support of the dancers.

    Why do they suffer so much? They do gain visions and have prayers answered through that. But more importantly, they do it so that the people will live. To the Lakota, the people, the relatives, as embodied in the saying Mitakuye Oyasin (All my relatives) refers to every living thing---the two legged people (humans), 4-legged people, the flying people, the swimming people, the crawling people (in other words, all the animals), the standing people (all the plants and trees), Mother Earth, Father Sky, the sun and moon, stars, rocks, dirt, i.e. ALL OF CREATION. We are all related---as I learned in a college astronomy class, we are all nothing more than star dust, created from the first stars that grew out the big bang and exploded creating the elements of the universe.

    Right now the earth truly needs healing. The people, especially humans truly need prayers to continue living on this earth, especially considering how we are draining its resources---which we have become incredibly dependant on. The Sun Dancers are suffering to pray for all of us, and our Mother.

    I know of several that started this week. One of them will have the tree day tomorrow 6/21 (which is the day they will select and cut down the tree), and will start dancing the next day. But there will be Sun Dances continuing all through the summer.

    The dancers are suffering so that you and all your relatives will live. They will pray that Mother Earth can heal. So you might remember to say prayers for them too. Give them strength, pray that their dances will go smoothly, and they will be able to dance in a good way. And if you know or meet a sundancer, thank them for their sacrifice.

    Mitakuye Oyasin.
  7. jjjj1234

    jjjj1234 Member

  8. OceanStar

    OceanStar Member

    Mountain Valley Wolf, where did you find that information on the Celtic cross? It's very interesting indeed! :)
  9. Mountain Valley Wolf

    Mountain Valley Wolf Senior Member

    I did extensive research for several years on the axis mundi several years ago for a book I am writing. But the axis mundi has long been a passion of mine. I have a huge amount of books on the goddess cults, shamanism, sacred sexuality, you name it---almost all of them are academic in nature, or at least not too new-agey-made-up-and-was-taught-by-an-alien-spirit stuff. Unfortunately I can't recall where exactly I have read about the Celtic Cross, but I know that there are several sources that speak of it in these terms.

    I tried to go back and look at one of the chapters in my book that included the same information on the Celtic Cross, as it is well footnoted with notes and bibliography. Unfortunately, that particular part was not. But I did not quote anyone and wrote of it in passing along with other motifs----sorry---I can't give you a specific source. I know there are several references to it though.

    The other reason I did not footnote it is that it is a very common motif---the phallus of the Sky Father, impregnating the womb of the Mother Earth. Rain is a common motif of semen, and it was viewed in the early Goddess Cults as fertilizing mother earth so that the seeds would germinate in the womb of the mother earth. Joseph Campbell writes extensively, of the sacred sexuality of the axis mundi---for example, in his book, Primitive Mythology. I lived in the Philippines for about 5 years, and in some far provinces, young couples still have sex in the fields around planting time, in order to assure good crops. You can also find symbolism connected to the phallus and vulva in the ancient dolmens and menhirs that are scattered accross the British Isles, Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

    If you are talking about the broader aspect of the celtic cross and its connection to the axis mundi, then there is quite a bit more resources out there--any good piece of writing on the origins of the Celtic Cross should go into it.

    The axis mundi is one aspect of spirituality that truly ties all of us together. No matter where you go on this earth, man has a common concept of this extremely ancient thing. In fact, it is the tunnel of light in the Near Death Exprience. Most of the world traditions still have it connected to the serpent. The Old Testament turned the serpent into a demon, because it was connected to the Goddess--the Old Testament is really a document about the male's rise against the female---the male god rising against the female goddess (Asher, and her consort Baal). But it is not consistent---for example, Moses began carrying a serpent staff with him (an axis mundi). But most of the world still has this connection. Sometimes the serpent is a dragon, such as in the British Isles, and Europe, and then over in China. In the Pacific islands where snakes did not exist, the serpent became the giant lizard tale wrapped around the World Tree, and then the further into the ocean, and the less serpentine life that existed, it became the Eel. In Kansas there is a petroglyph of the World Tree rising up through the 3-layers of the universe (lower, middle, and upper worlds), and over that is a snake stretched diagonally accross it. You may have seen a somewhat common petroglyph of a spiral, with the snake rising up out of it, or the horned or feathered serpent, and there is the famous snake mound----made by the mound builders in the midwest. In South and Central America, sometimes the serpent is a crocodile, alligator, and even a turtle. The maya cross which is the double headed feathered serpent, rises up out of the broken carapace of a turtle. The turtle appears symbolically as the root of the world tree in many Native American myths, especially in the East, where you have the star child, or sky woman, fall from her realm in the Sky with the Sky Father, and lands on, and is saved by the back of the turtle in the primal sea. Hence in America we live on Turtle Island. In one myth for example, she hears noises under the tree (World Tree), and digs a hole under it, through which she falls through, and in some versions the tree goes with her.

    On the very tip of South America there lives a tribe where the axis mundi is a serpent itself. In Ancient Egypt, you have the Serpent Aap---I believe---I'll have to look in Budge's Dictionary of Hierglyphics. but I believe that is the serpent---that the sun travels through at night before re-emerging in the morning from the vulva of the earth. It then travels along the body, and by some myths, within the body of Nut, before coming out of her mouth, and back into the serpent.

    What does this have to do with the Medicine Wheel? Because once again, as the teachings of the medicine wheel go---we are all connected---all one family---and one day, we are to all come back together again in a closing of the sacred hoop. The fact that this motif, even in all of its variations and symbols, is so consistent in meaning and content, is proof that no matter how different each of our beliefs are---we all came from that same point of origin----we are all brothers and sisters. Mitakuye oyasiŋ.
  10. Mountain Valley Wolf

    Mountain Valley Wolf Senior Member

    I re-read my older posts on this thread, and thought I would share one more thing with you. This is something I wrote not long ago on the concept of táku škaŋškaŋ. This is important, because the design of the medicine wheel itself, just like the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol and the Bagua, implies movement:

    Have you ever laid on your back and looked up at the clouds moving by and were struck with a sense that there is something mystical behind the clouds’ movement—something very powerful, indescribable and imperceptible, beyond our reality. The Lakota called this táku škaŋ škaŋ (taku shkan shkan), which using the words, táku, something, and, škaŋ, to move, literally means, ‘something moves moves.’ This is the animating force of the universe. It is an aspect of Wakaŋ Taŋka, the Great Spirit or Great Mystery. But empirical science, the Age of Reason, and the Age of Modernism took this enchanting sense away from us. The movement of those clouds, for example, was all explained by a lifeless mechanistic understanding that, first, the clouds were formed by varying layers of temperature in our atmosphere that force the moisture in our air to condense into cloud at those specific points where the right temperature exists. And second, the interaction of different air masses of warmer and cooler air, and heavier and lighter masses of air, cause the air to move as wind, pushing the clouds. We are left with an explanation that is cold, precise, and dead. Science and reason have left us with a void in modern culture, and it is experienced in part by a loss of this enchantment.

    And so, Modern man, with all his education, looks at the concept of táku škaŋškaŋ and sees a quaint superstition. But the Great Spirit is a multiplicity of forces: the thunderbirds, the four winds (or four directions), Mother Earth, Father Sky (represented by the sun), táku škaŋškaŋ, or if we put these forces into a different manner of speaking: interaction between the earth and the sun create varied layers of temperature in the atmosphere (some levels of which therefore create clouds from water moisture), as well as interacting masses of colder and warmer, and heavier and lighter air creating wind which causes everything to move through time (and time, in essence, is movement). In other words, the Lakota understood this in an enchanted way, long before science ever tried to label the process and turn everything mechanistic.

    But the Lakota have a deeper, more profound, understanding of this process, something that science has always tried to work around: in nature all of this multiplicity of the forces of the Great Spirit are in harmony. It is man, through his self-interest and arrogance that affects this harmony. We have the choice to walk in harmony or not.

    Unlike the Lakota, Western man has long seen his universe as a duality, rather than a multiplicity, therefore it was easy for science to define the world between a duality of animate versus inanimate, or to see everything from the perspective of subject versus object. Therefore the forces of nature became simply objects for man to manipulate. But quantum physics is altering that perception. Today we are faced with a reality of a universe where a single electron can be at infinite points of location, or suddenly, at one point of location; where particles can instantly appear or disappear from our universe, or at least our dimensions of reality; where each of the individual particles that make up the universe are found to retain information and meet the other definitions that scientists tell us defines life. We are beginning to once again rediscover the enchantment of the universe. And one fact that we can not escape: at least since the big bang explosively pushed every bit of every single future particle out into that expanding envelope of reality we call our universe, or whatever event first animated all that is, undeniably there is movement—or as the Lakota would say, táku škaŋškaŋ.
  11. LoneDeranger

    LoneDeranger Trying to pay attention.

    I appreciate your posts, Mountain Valley Wolf.
  12. Mountain Valley Wolf

    Mountain Valley Wolf Senior Member

    Thank you very much! ---And I love your picture!

    (I was referring to the Raven in the badlands-----but your other picture of the baby is great too---I have a couple of grandkids----and they can't be beat!)

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