Friday, October 30, 2009

The Medicine Wheel

«The Medicine Wheel is an altar of stones of descending rings contained by four anchors and divided by a cross. The rings express different levels of consciousness whereas the anchors show that this awareness is earth bound or incarnated. The cross implies a challenge. Simply translated the Medicine Wheel is a life philosophy that invites us all to become more conscious of our story and the hardships, which bring forth learning and healing. It was a Jesuit in the late 1800’s that named these mysterious stone altars: Medicine Wheel.» (Lisa F. Tardiff)

When I asked a Passamaquoddy friend and elder of mine how our ancestors used to name these stone altars before the arrival of the white man she replied: « we didn’t name them anything because they were the word so to speak to experiences that reached beyond language. » Then, she asked me with the tone of a child seeking a bedtime story: « have you ever had an experience that you couldn’t put into words because it was so much bigger than you? » When I timidly nodded she added: «well each time you’ve lived a story that was full with spirit that left you with tools and lessons that you could apply in your life, you should have taken the time to build a wheel on your path. This would have informed others who came across it that someone along the way lived a moment of growth and gratitude; a moment of sacredness.» I imagined while EC talked how wonderful it would have been to find such wheels because each held stories of greatness and a sense of hope.

Definitely Medicine Wheels have been found in Native culture and an expression of Native Spirituality all across the American Continent; but they’ve also been discovered in Europe, Africa, Australia, China and even in Christian and Judaic tradition. Before we label this philosophy pagan, it may be interesting to research it within a religious context. In chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, John builds a Sacred Circle that is identical to the Medicine Wheels we find on Native American soil. John goes as far as to speak about totems, a concept that many people today attribute to First Nation People. He categorically places in the four directions the Lion, the Ox, Man and the Eagle. Ironically perhaps the origins of the Christian Church spiraled out of a stone altar that held sacred stories with learning and healing that reached beyond words…

What I find wonderful about the Wheel is that it doesn’t need to be built by magicians, priests or monks, or great shamans and sorcerers. These are altars that were left on our path by regular people just like us who reached moments of magic and mystery in their own daily living. The Medicine Wheel basically inspires us to be heroic. Stone by stone, this philosophy leads us onto a path of greatness if we dare reach for it. Whether we study the Kogis people of South America or the Malacetes of the Maritimes, in Canada – many Aboriginal People have devoted themselves to loving Mother Earth and leaving their wisdom to the next generation with simple rituals. Once you look closely at the Wheels that were left behind, you get an understanding that it is lots more complex than just about placing stones together. Some individuals have gone to great lengths to express how much their experience or their story reached beyond words.

Once you understand that your words, your emotions, your attitudes, your actions and your memories are stories, you can see that everything within and around you is a Wheel. Our planet, the cosmos, our family units etc… are Medicine Wheels. Every inhale and exhale contributes to the making of a Sacred Circle. Like birds or spiders we also create nests and webs that connect us together and bring forth situations that teach us and heal us. We each have our ways to pray and for me, it makes sense to build wheels along my path so that I may leave to the next generation a legacy of stories that reach beyond words.

I once gave a conference on the Medicine Wheel in the Maritimes and was approached by a woman who asked: «how do we even begin to apply this philosophy in our life? Do I walk around with pebbles and lay them down every time I touch something wonderful in my life?” I giggled at the thought of having everyone walking around with rocks and leaving circles of stones all over the sidewalk etc… I think it wouldn’t take very long for the city council to out law the practice. It would certainly be challenging for pedestrians.

“No!” I replied “it’s not about pebbles and representing your stories with this symbol of a circle and a cross although it was the way it was done traditionally. Today we have to adapt this philosophy to modern times. It’s about learning what’s behind each stone and applying the wisdom in our life.” I took the time to sit with the woman and go through the Wheel, stone by stone. I even took out a diagram from a binder that I carried with me and gave it to the lady.

“See,” I pointed to the first element, “it always starts with clarity.” I showed to her that just by approaching me and asking the question she bridged into the Wheel. By asking for clarity and knowledge she already understood the way of the Wheel. It’s not complicated. Actually, we intrinsically understand the way of the sacred circle. Our DNA works in this manner – spiraling and criss-crossing. The notion of the Wheel is to bring to consciousness what is hidden behind every stone (so to speak). If I had to summarize the way of the Wheel I would say that it is all about presence, listening and balance. Wholeness is created through the inter-relationship of many little details. The Medicine Wheel offers the path to wholeness and it’s attainable in our daily living.

In the end, I reached out under my blouse and pulled out a small bag with 36 pebbles which I picked up all over the world during my travels. I told the woman that I did build wheels when I felt called to do so but took them apart once I had connected to what I was seeking.

“If I leave a wheel behind,” I said, “I do so where it won’t disturb anyone and only when I know for a fact that a particular story needs to be told.” She nodded as if she understood intimately what I was sharing. We had connected beyond the language. A Wheel was completed.

It feels wonderful when a Wheel spins to completion. You feel useful and whole.

P.S. Photo: Golden, B.C. Workshop, Spring, 2009


Emily said...

Hi Lisa,
I like this post, Ive read it a few times.
I like what you said about everything being a Medicine Wheel...I see the Wheel a lot, every day.
I've only begun to understand..
Ive always been attracted to stones and circles before I even came across Shamanism.
I like holding stones in my hand..stones I've picked up from around the world..Ive always felt they carried so many stories..mysteries..
I used to carry them in my pockets as a child..
Ive always been attracted to circles.. I draw them.. walk in them lol.. talk in them!
When i was in Peru with my friend she was getting a tattoo. She decided she wanted something that represented friendship. She found a Native American symbol.. of two diagonal arrows, meaning two tribes.
I liked the idea.. but I decided I'd play around with the design..
As my friend was in the studio talking to the artist, i sat outside in the sun and doodled on a piece of paper.
I recreated the design, I made it into two interconnecting circles.. still two arrows but circular and interconnecting..
I liked this idea I showed it to my friend when she came out.
She liked it two and took it into the artist and he later tattooed it on her ankle..

I still have so much to learn and understand about the Medicine Wheel.. but I think I've always had a 'built in' understanding or relationship with it beyond words..
like you said Lisa... we all do.
Yet its not something we can put into words... i like that it doesnt need to be put into words.. it goes beyond that..
Ive had some moments in time where i've experienced growth, Ive sat somewhere in the world and felt IT... whatever IT is lol cos i cant put it into words, maybe its a deep 'knowing' a moment of something beyond happiness..gratitude.... and i should have left a stone circle..

Thank you


Wapeyit Malsom said...


I've often written about the unknown and the mysterious by using the word "it" to identify it somehow. I like the idea that Medicine Wheel means "it" -- the word is somewhat prettier... LOL
Thank you for sharing your story. I like the idea of keeping a BLOG only when it inspires others (people) to share in return.


Emily said...

I like Mystery..
Not everything needs to be defined in words..not everything can be..


Prismslight said...

Lisa this post resonates with so much it can not be put into words it has to be felt amazing...I do see the wheel more and more in my daily life you said once it's easy once you allow yourself to bring it back to the wheel....what I treasure about this is that there is no right or wrong it is about that sacred meaning that lesson...i am starting to see how it works in every part of my life where i once thought i couldnt bring it into my work now i believe it has to be a part of it....thank you so much for everything you do this one goes into my book of favorites :)

Wheelkeeper said...


Here on the prairies, when I go for walks, I see circles on the grass everywhere, even on people's lawns, mine included. Sometimes mushrooms grow on them. Some circles are semi-circles. They are circles mostly because the grass grows differently there and leaves a mark. Your post made me wonder if these are remnants of circles of stones left behind by our ancestors. Maybe the stones are still there underground? If not, what else could be making these circular designs?


Wapeyit Malsom said...

Thank you for the feedback. It's great. I think that plants like birds nest in sacred circles. Maybe there are stones underground that inspire clover, strawberries etc... to grow in circles but maybe it's something else altogether different too. One way or the other -- humans are not the only creatures on Earth who need Medicine Wheels.