April 8th, 2014 Last Updated on: May 19th, 2022
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.
Native American 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.
Native American Medicine Wheel Color Explanation
Color Explanation and Color Placement on the Medicine Wheel can vary based on various customs by: Nations, Tribe, Clan, Band, Family and individuals.
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.
So the four colors of Red, White, Black and Yellow are not set in stone as being for just one People.
Native American 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.
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