Medicine Wheel: Comparison In Life

Medicine Wheel: Comparison In Life

Posted By Jamie K Oxendine April 8th, 2014 Last Updated on: February 23rd, 2021

Note: this article is about the Native American Medicine Wheel symbol, color and design as opposed to the physical structure known as the Medicine Wheel that is visible as architecture across North America.

Universal truths can be found in this paper of information that is shared and accepted in not being overly protected or sacred.  The paper does not attempt to discuss or explain the many concepts of spirituality behind the Medicine Wheel as that is very specific, sacred and rather personal to Native American nations, tribes, clans, bands, families and individuals.

Always know that the symbolism varies greatly from nation to nation.

Medicine Wheel Design

The term “Medicine Wheel” is not a Native American expression.  It is of course of European and American origin.  What the symbol has been called in Native America depends on the language of each particular Nation.  This is protected among some Native American Nations and therefore will not be discussed here.  For some this has often been lost and “Medicine Wheel” is the common used phrase.


The main characteristic design of the Native American Medicine Wheel is the most basic yet most perfect form – the circle.  This is one absolute not only in Native America for sacred hoops but also for most cultures that have some kind of Circle of Life symbol.  The second aspect of the Native American Medicine Wheel are the two intersecting lines that create a cross in the middle of the circle.  The lines separate the circle into four equal sector parts.

Now that involves what can be seen. The Medicine Wheel must be thought of as floating in space and its cardinal points as well as other points that cannot be seen create a perfect sphere.  Thus creating other points for directions up and down and of course perfect center.


Medicine Wheel Color

Color Explanation and Color Placement on the Medicine Wheel can vary based on various customs by: Nations, Tribe, Clan, Band, Family and Individual.

While it is true that the most common colors of the Medicine Wheel in Native America are Red, Yellow Black and White, these are not the absolute colors for all Native American Nations.  Some Nations use, Blue in wake of Black, others have Purple instead of Black.  Yet some other Nations have used Green in lieu of Black.

Medicine Wheel                                                                                               Medicine Wheel

So the four colors of Red, White, Black and Yellow are not set in stone as being for just one People.

Medicine Wheel Meaning

It is widely accepted that the Medicine Wheel is a symbol of life and specifically the Circle of Life.  As well known the circle represents perfection as well as infinites since the circle has no beginning or end.  There can many reasons behind the meaning of the circle itself among Nations. This can range from representing the Sun, Moon, Earth, and the Stars to representing concepts of life, continuity, consciousness, energy, and so much more.

It should be stressed that this is not the same from Nation to Nation and there can be some representation that is very secret.  The point at which the lines cross in the middle is extensively accepted as Center.  Like color, which point and which sector represents what can be debated and broadly contested instead of discussed and understood from one person to another.

The part points as well as the four sectors have been attributed to representing the following:

The Four Directions:  East, South, West, North

The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

The Four Stages of Life: Birth, Youth, Adult, Death

The Four Times of Day: Sunrise, Noon, Sunset, Midnight

The Four Elements of Life: Earth, Fire, Water, Wind

The Four Races of Man: Red, Yellow, Black, White

The Four Trials of Man: Success, Defeat, Peace, War

The Heavenly Beings: Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars

And there are many more!

The four points as well as the four sectors may also have animal, plant and celestial representations.  These also differ greatly from nation to nation and varies vastly also due to geographical location.  For example, the Buffalo used for some of the Plains Tribes Medicine Wheel does not have any representation among the Medicine Wheel of the deep South East as that animal was rare among them.

However, the Alligator that may represent in a sector among the South East Nations did not have any representation among the Plains Tribes as it was not among them.


No one Medicine Wheel works for all Native Americans.  The differences as mentioned are extremely wide.   One must also remember that the Medicine Wheel is exceptionally individual.  A person can develop their own Medicine Wheel that has their own Animal/Spirit Helpers. This knowledge may happen in ceremony, visions, or dreams and other.  This type of Medicine Wheel can be so private that only the person and The Creator are aware of its existence.

Medicine Wheel

Home » Native American Articles » Medicine Wheel: Comparison In Life

About Jamie K Oxendine

Jamie K. Oxendine, of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is the Native American Liaison and Education Consultant for Ohio University in Athens. Ohio. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo teaching “Indians of North America” and at Lourdes University teaching “Native American Culture” for the Lifelong Learning Center. A frequent speaker on Native American topics, he serves as the director of the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation in Ohio. As a recording artist, he was three times been nominated for a NAMMY (Native American Music Award).

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49 thoughts on “Medicine Wheel: Comparison In Life

  1. Sylvia Elrod says:

    So much to learn AND unlearn !!!!………I am just learning about my real “mexica” roots. Yes I can say I have spainish in me BUT I also have indigenous peoples running thru me and that part of me is trying to teach me so much. I am 64 years old and was raised in CA. Was taught that Columbus was the end all,be all and that 1st, being Mexican was not a good thing, raised in white, English only schools and 2ndly, no one, not even my parents talked about our uto-Azteca side………I am slowly but surely letting my mind absorb all this new info and am SO glad and Proud to have native blood running thru me!

  2. Miigwech!
    Your well written information is wonderful. l’m very grateful for myself and for my family.
    We are Anishinabe and Cherokee.
    White Dove Woman

  3. Daryl Stangl says:

    Thank you for sharing and helping me in my journey in the Rainbow Warrior Nation. Now is time of discovery of brothers and sisters in this portion of my rainbow journey. Too has come the time to reawaken our awareness of our earthwalk of years ago and return to some of our former beliefs and lifestyle that will honor and heal Mother Earth.

  4. nancy says:

    Can anybody tell me why my husband has been seeing…whether awake or alseep, a Native American spirit. He knows when there is something related to Native Americans coming into our view, life seconds to weeks before we actually encounter it. He tells me he sees a ‘medicine wheel’ but it is not quartered. It used to just have a bird, buffalo, turtle, and bear, now it has those same 4 animals but with trees and grass and a forked stream and he is told to enter and ‘walk amongst us’. In his mind he walks through the wheel into a village. This is a small example of what I refer to as visions, but he can’t explain what they are. He hears language that he can’t speak but he knows what it means. So many things have happened that are both amazing and unbelievable. It’s been happening for the last several years.

  5. Odile Jain says:

    Thank You for this very informative article ! Thanks also to those who commented on it ! Some of those comments were also quite interesting !
    I shared it on the Australian Facebook page “Indigenous Rise”, which often posts Native American news, as well as news from the Maori, and other relations across the globe.

  6. Cee Cee says:

    WoW, Enlightening, but as I read more & more I felt much separation & even a bit animosity in whites vs … But what then does that make me, my dna has so many bloodlines it would be impossible to decipher, yet still I am alive & created by God, the Great Spirit that created all of us. Truth, we are much more alike than we care to admit! Yes being raised in cultures with traditions have their influences, but we are all still born with nothing & die with nothing, & all breath & have essential needs to survive the time we are here upon this earth alive. its that simple! Therefore – Do unto others as u want them to do to u, no matter who they are or what color, religion, ethnic or race. God Bless in Jesus my Savior!

  7. AJ Boudreaux says:

    Thank you for sharing J. Oxendine (my 2nd great grandmother is also an Oxendine). I learned from you and others in response to your information. David Lake’s posted response resonated with me most, demonstrating a spiritual understanding beyond the vessels we reside in – That true compassion and love comes from our divine character (if we choose to move towards it and leave fear behind) not from our physical, cultural accouterments. Love, light and blessings!

  8. Quinn O'Connor says:

    I had no idea the wheel could mean so many different things. These tribes seemed to have a great understanding of their own lives and showed that in the form of these wheels.

  9. Alyssandra Schwind says:

    Very informative read professor!!! I was not very familiar with the concept of the Medicine Wheel prior to being in your class or reading this article. I found it interesting that the Medicine Wheel is individualized and sometimes that only oneself and the Creator know about it.

  10. laurie wind says:

    As a non Native American, I sometimes am sad that I read and feel such segregation in your culture. If you truly believed in the great creator and acknowledged we all came from this great spirit then you would say we are truly all brothers and sisters and racism and secrets of your ways would not exist..Just because I was born to a different mother or tribe does not make me any less or any better. If one has knowledge given by Great Spirit it is a responsibility of each individual to share them as he is able. No picking and choosing who can receive and esteeming one higher than another.
    We should love everyone and share all information to anyone seeking.Red,yellow,black or white.. I wish to walk the Red Road and learn as it feels like home to my soul but get tired of the secrets and feeling of unworthyness or having to pay big money to be able to learn your ways or be blamed for the past actions of people before me.

    • little deer says:

      It is true that we contrast culture sometimes with derogatory remarks about “white” culture. It is also true that you may be able to make a transition to our symbolic symbol system and become native mind, good life. But you must realize how very far that path is. Even though, as someone pointed out, race is actually a “white” concept. You also must understand that there may be differences in the way your brain works and can symbolize. Perhaps even I inwardly suspect that white people actually lack certain emotions being symbolized. Like the way , but not as extreme, as some people are genetic sociopaths without any emotions at all. It may sadly be possible that some europeans through adaptation may have lost something they will never get back. Something has to explain the extremely bad way the dominant culture lives out of harmony with the rest of natural life. Who knows. We hold no personal animosity. but also secretly wish you didn’t exist. It’s not exactly easy for us either.It just is what it is.

      • Dave Lake says:

        Laurie Wind, I’m sure you read enough history to understand Little Deer’s comments and the feelings behind them. But also understand if a spirit calls you toward a path you do not need to go through Little Deer or any other Native American. It’s your compassion and pureness of spirit that makes you worthy, not your bloodline or color of your skin. Unfortunately venom exists in all cultures and among the Native Americans there is even hatred between rival nations to this day. Just take a trip to Chaco Canyon to see how the Pueblo protected themselves from rivals. Unfortunately many modern day Native Americans “play Indian” and have very little understanding of their own ancestral culture. There is nothing you can learn by paying because ancestral beliefs that still exist are not for sale and we will never be welcomed to learn them. My father spent 40 years of his life learning what he could and even was invited to a sacred ceremony in a Pueblo Kiva. There was an uproar from many but my dad was allowed in because their “Medicine Man” felt he had more native spirit than many of his biological peers and even told them so. What my father witnessed he would not share with me but he did say that he could not scientifically or otherwise explain some of the things he saw. Follow your heart Laurie Wind and be compassionate even if you’re hated by some for the evils of others who only shared our skin color. Keep your heart pure by never expecting anything in return for the goodness you give others. But please do give because there is certainly a need among nearly every tribe throughout North America.

  11. Douglas Spirit Bear Neely says:

    As always clear concise and thorough!! Powerful reading thanks to Jamie Oxendine

  12. Digadatlvda Ayanuli "Swift Arrow" says:

    Siyo “Greetings” Nvwatohiyadv “Peace” To All Our Relations, first I must say that you cannot remove spiritual aspects from life, for life is continuous, and belief is connected to spirit,……interpretation also has to do with belief or way of life as you know it,…this is very important. The Four Direction symbol is only part of the directions one looks to in ceremony, and in everyday way of life, and I have been told by elders who have passed on that when this four direction symbol is turned sideways it is in motion so the edges are curved this is the “Whirlwind” and the middle is the four whirling logs which represent the four elements and are part of the creation of all living things as well as can be destroyed by the whirlwind or tornado “oldtimers” and many of our people know this and the many stories that have been handed down to forewarn the youth as a guide to keep them in line and to live life in a good manner as they might walk the red road. The symbol alone and without your spiritual belief and intent in what it means to you,…is then rendered meaningless, therefore it must have not only personal meaning but in how it connects you to all your relations like the enter-woveness of life like a basket. And of course the Circle “hoop” is the main symbol that is most synonymous with all Nations of peoples of the world and is a continuous life cycle that brings us all together like in the “Hoop Dance” the celebration of this dance of life, I call “Life Ceremony”. Osdv dv “Very Good” keep writing and sharing in a good spirit way with a positive attitude to hopefully lift the spirits of others, to make them happy and to brighten their day in some way. Sgi Wado Aho Nvwatohiyadv Peace To All Our Relations


    The Medicine Wheel is based on something older from India (possibly the birthplace of all religions.) The Europeans just brought it along with them.

    “Saṃsāra is a Sanskrit word, the literal meaning of which is “a wandering through” – in reference to the passage through many states of existence that is involved in the endless cycle of death and rebirth.”

  14. thundernlightening says:

    I would like to know the Native title is for our medicine. I believe it is a curse to continue calling it what the Caucasians named it. i believe for myself that allowing other races to set definitions and titles for OUR NATIVE NATIONS will continue to harm and curse us.

  15. Noah York says:

    I find it interesting that many diverse cultures use similar symbols, and they have similar meanings.

  16. Mark Chase says:

    This was a great read, very informative. One thing that brings humans together is the use of symbols that represent ideas and core values shared across many cultures. These Medicine Wheels excel at giving meaning to universal aspects of life that we identify with on a daily basis. I hope to learn more about these fascinating symbols.

  17. Alvelia Farmer says:

    Before reading this article, I had never even heard of a Medicine Wheel. It can represent so many things in 1 small way. That’s intriguing. Thank you for informing and teaching me another interesting fact about Native Americans.

  18. Lee Slusher says:

    Interesting read on the way the medicine wheel has possibly been used and what it can represent I did not realize how varied the representation of the wheel can be.

  19. Douglas Spirit Bear Neely says:

    Very informative article, without offending the spiritual side of the Medicine Wheel. This has opened my eyes to the realization that I need to research my own Tribal, Clan, and family sources to see what was the traditional uses, colors etc.

  20. Ogle Sa says:

    The term medicine wheel is not what we Lakotas call it what this article favors is acceptance of the new agers. This symbol was not designed by an Native person in fact it was conjured up by some non-Native in the 1970’s and has been in over use since. What the real purpose of this so-called medicine wheel was that it held the feathers in place when you wore one. Now being that both natives and non-natives accept this ideology as truth tells me that their is a problem. The four colors do not represent any race if that were true then we would have stories of the Pecokanhanska, Ha Sapa, and the Wasicun. The four colors only represent the four directions and seasons nothing else.

    • wyndDancer says:

      Your comment has captured my spirit in seeking knowkedge of ones heritage and fir this i thank you. With so much informstion out here it is a practice for me to pray to The GREAT SPIRIT lead and guide me to the most pure and authentic truths.
      I refuse information from the whiteman in seeking knowledge of my heritage.
      Would you please assist me in the true name of circle they have named medicine wheel? Also , id like to locate via internet, places or contacts to educate myself of my Blackfeet Heritage if you can.. This journey i take extremely serious and desire to learn from AUTHENTIC NATIVES.

    • Olge Sa, Yes, the way I have usually heard it explained is the four directions, but the 4 seasons makes some sense to my intuition, too. I have a little Native American in my genes far back, mostly Central and South American, but perhaps more in my spirit. I appreciate your information, Thank you.

  21. Sandy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and understanding. I have learned much from this. I’m speaking from Isle of Wight, England! Blessings to you.

  22. Maria says:

    Thank you for the most excellent
    Info. Sometimes it is hard to know
    When to step and when not to when I’m in a different culture.

  23. Barbara Walter says:

    Thank you Jamie for this wonderful and informative writing.

  24. Barbara Walter says:

    Good morning Jamie. Thank you for writing this paper. I have always wondered about the different colors or the medicine wheel.How and why so many different uses of colors.
    Thank you again for explaining. Very easy to understand the color variance among the Nations people.
    Have always enjoyed and learned a lot from your writings. Tell our friends in Ohio hello from South Dakota.

  25. Beth Reitmire says:

    Thank you for sharing this. People often argue over the “correct” meanings and colors. Its good to bring a better understanding to light.

  26. Juanita Running Deer Greene says:

    Very well written, Thorough, but showing that many variations
    exist and are used. Jamie, everything you do is with excellence!

  27. Ellen Oxendine says:

    Thanks for sharing Jamie.. You did a very good job writing this and its an honor to learn from you again.. Thank you for all you do!

  28. Michelle Law says:

    Thanks for sharing, all knowledge shared will not be forgotten and can be passed on for generations.

  29. Rebecca Elliott says:

    Enjoyed the article. It is very educational, and explained so well. Thank you for sharing.

  30. Douglas Spirit Bear Neely says:

    This was beautifully written, cleared up a lot of questions I have had!! This was very thorough with staying true to traditions without going religious!! Jamie never fails to be a good source of knowledge on anything Native American!

  31. Martin Nagy says:

    Thanks for sharing Jamie… great writing and always something new to be learned from the true heart with experience.

  32. Tammy Woods says:

    Very well written. I have learned something new again from reading one of your papers. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge with others, so they may learn from it.

  33. Rebecca Hunt Locklear says:

    Another wonderful paper my friend. I learned a lot yet again and I do hope that our brothers and sistes of the Lumbee see the other colors and meanings behind the symbol.

  34. Tom Iron Eagle says:

    What a wonderful read my brother! Thanks for telling that other colors are used by other tribes.

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