Posted By Jamie K Oxendine April 8th, 2014 Blog

This article is about the Native American Medicine Wheel symbol and 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 personable to Native American Nations, Tribes, Clans, Bands, Families and most important Individuals.

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


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.



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.

3                                                                                               5

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


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 is the Medicine Wheel for all of Native America.  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.


While there are many sources of information on the Native American Medicine Wheel from books and pamphlets to DVDs and the internet, none have been listed or used for this paper.  Instead the author drew for his own knowledge and experience gained from many years of study, discipline and fellowship among The People.


Again this is not a spiritual paper by any means. The author wishes to express to all that true learning about the Native American Medicine Wheel needs to come from respectable people.  Use non-human resources carefully.  This is mentioned because there are many false, bogus, and faux sites and people on all kinds of information including that on Native America and the symbol seen all across Native America.


Home » Native American Articles » NATIVE AMERICAN 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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45 thoughts on “NATIVE AMERICAN 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. 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.

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