Native American Medicine Wheels History and Meaning

Published on May 15, 2014 by Amy

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Native American Medicine Wheels History and Meaning
Native American Medicine Wheels History and Meaning

Medicine wheels appear all over the northern United States and southern Canada, specifically South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

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One of the prototypical medicine wheels is on a ridge of Medicine Mountain, part of northern Wyoming’s Big Horn Range. It is approximately 200 years old, 80′ across with 28 rows of stones radiating from the middle.

The Native American Medicine Wheel was used for various spiritual and ritual purposes, especially for healing almost any illness. Since it was believed that illness sprang from spiritual imbalance, the focus of the healing was on treating the source of the problem, not the symptoms. As the medicine wheel focuses on balance of all things, it was thought this balance would help the spiritual in balance in the person who was sick.

Most medicine wheels have a basic pattern – a center of stone (cairn) then having an outer ring of stone with “spokes” of stone radiating out from the center.

Being a wheel, it is round depicting the circle of life, the shape of the sun and the moon, etc. The medicine wheel consists of the four cardinal directions and four sacred colors representing certain properties:

blue (north)

… defeat; trouble … winter – a season for survival and waiting
Wisdom, intellect, the adult self, MIND
Element = Wind/Breath

yellow (east)

… success; triumph … spring – a re-awakening, the power of new life
Illumination, creation, the wonder child self, SPIRIT
Element = Fire/Life Source

black (west)

… death … autumn – the final harvest, the end of life’s cycle
Introspection and intuition, the physical body, MANIFESTATION
Element = Earth

white (south)

… peace; happiness … summer – a time of plenty
Trust and Innocence, EMOTIONS
Element = Water


… learning, SELF
Balance, beauty, harmony
The symbolism may vary from tribe to tribe.

Medicine wheels are still used today in the Native American spirituality, however most of the meaning behind them is not shared among non-Native people.

For non-Indians, medicine wheels are believed to create a roadmap to sacred spaces…it’s a mapping of the sacred landscape we live in…it’s spinning…it’s rotating like the earth…the things in your life are spinning and you are the center.

Native American medicine wheels can also be made by hand and it can be as small or as big as desired. Some are stone formations on the ground, some are shields, some are held in the hand.

Source: support-native-american-art Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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