How Much Do You Know About the Medicine Wheel?

Photo Credit: U.S. Forestry Service

1. What is the medicine wheel?

a. A circle divided into four parts, each of a different color representing Earth’s four races.

b. A large circular structure oriented with the four cardinal directions defined by stones that was used anciently as a calendar.

c. A complex philosophy that promotes self-reflection, personal growth, and spiritual progression.

d. All of the above.

2. Where can you find ancient medicine wheels?

a. Lovell, Wyoming

b. South Dakota and Wyoming

c. Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

d. All of the above

3. How old is the medicine wheel?

a. 20,000 years

b. 7,000 years

c. 300 – 800 years

d. Unknown

4. What are medicine wheels used for?

a. A calendar.

b. Institute peace and understanding.

c. Personal introspection, meditation, and personal growth.

d. All of the above.


ANSWERS

1. What is the medicine wheel?

Answer: d – All of the above.

a. Many tribes define it as a circle equally divided into four sections of different colors, i.e. black, white, yellow, and red, which represent the four races of man.

b. Pictured above, the most famous physical medicine wheel and type site for such configurations in North America is at an elevation of 9,642 feet in the Bighorn Mountains in Lovell, Wyoming. It’s 75 feet in diameter and comprises a roughly circular alignment of rocks and cairns. Within the primary circle lie 28 rows of stones that extend out radially from a central cairn.

c. The medicine wheel is both an archaeo-astronomical entity with ancient roots supported by archeological evidence and a philosophical one for personal growth and spirituality intended to strengthen a community, one individual at a time.

2. Where can you find ancient medicine wheels?

Answer: d – All of the above.

Between 70 – 150 ancient medicine wheels have been identified in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

3.  How old is the Medicine Wheel?

Answer: d – Unknown

Some sources indicate that the Lovell Medicine Wheel is part of a much larger complex of archeological sites and traditional use areas that indicate 7000 years of Native American occupation. Others estimate it was built between 300 – 800 years ago.

The modern medicine wheel philosophy proclaimed by Sun Bear and Wabun Wind (see references below) originated in the early 1970s.

4. What is the Medicine Wheel used for?

Answer: d – All of the above.

a. Calendar

There are 28 “spokes” in the Medicine Wheel, which coincide with the Moon’s cycle of approximately 28 days. Some stones align with the Sun’s rising and setting on the equinoxes and solstices, marking the seasons.

At different times in the 20th Century archaeoastronomer, Jack Eddy and astronomer, Jack Robinson, independently determined that some of the stones aligned with the heliacal rise of certain stars. These served to divide the seasons into months.

The dawn or heliacal rising of a specific star pinpoints a date exactly. This is the day a star is first seen, just before its extinguished by dawn, after it has been hidden by the Sun’s light for an entire season. If you’re familiar with astronomy, you know that certain stars are only visible specific times of the years. Others never set, such as Polaris, a.k.a. the North Star, and the constellations such as Ursa Major and Minor which include the Big and Little Dipper, that surround it. They are always visible, but they rotate around Polaris and thus change positions during the year.

b. Institute peace and understanding.

The estimate of the medicine wheels’ age of between 300 – 800 years old coincides with the 15th Century AD when Native American nations were in a state of constant war with each other.

At that time a great Iroquois Chief later known as Hiawatha urged the tribes to cease killing their brothers and formed a great alliance known as the Confederation of Nations, which proclaimed Indian peoples were more alike than different, in spite of speaking different dialects. Their basic belief systems and traditions were similar.

The Medicine Wheel became part of this commonality and was decorated in special symbols, colors, and stones, to let people entering the tribe know about its tribal members. The wheel instructed individuals on their strengths and weaknesses as well as what they needed to learn and share with others. Each was expected to work on themselves, or leave the tribe. Within a few generations, people lost the concept of blame and anger which resulted in the longest peace in modern history of 150 – 200 years.

c. Personal introspection, meditation, and personal growth.

The medicine wheel has interpretations that are similar to those espoused by Western Astrology. Sun Bear (Ojibwa), whose visions revitalized the medicine wheel for this purpose, claimed, “We attribute any similarities between the Medicine Wheel and astrology or any other way of self-knowledge to the fact that all truths come from the same source.” (The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology, p. xix).

Similar to an astrological natal chart, a person’s birth date determines their location within the medicine wheel. That placement is associated with a special moon, power animal, healing plant, color and mineral. As a person progresses through life and experiences challenges, answers and inspiration can come from “visiting” other locations on the wheel and meditating upon the qualities they need to learn and grow.

Sources

http://www.native-americans-online.com/native-american-medicine-wheel.html

http://solar-center.stanford.edu/AO/bighorn.html

http://solar-center.stanford.edu/AO/dawn-rising.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_wheel

Sun Bear and Wabun, “The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology,” Simon & Schuster, © 1980.

Sun Bear, Wabun, and Crysalis Mulligan, “Dancing with the Wheel: Medicine Wheel Workbook,” Simon & Schuster, ©1991.