A Medicine Wheel is a circle divided into parts (usually four), which relate with and counterbalance one another to form a whole, and is often used to represent Aboriginal wisdom in North America. Medicine Wheels are not necessarily a tradition belonging to all Aboriginal peoples. However, many cultures have some variation of the Wheel, and the Traditional Knowledge and views of the various first peoples of North America are more compatible with the circle concept than with linear, European-based forms of thought.
The Medicine Wheel represents and unites various aspects of the world, both seen and unseen, and emphasizes how all parts of the world and all levels of being are related and connected through a life force originating in the creation of the universe. Some wheels teach about the four cardinal directions, the seasons, times of day, or stages of life; others represent the races of people, animals, natural elements, aspects of being, and so on. All parts of the wheel are important, and depend on each other in the cycle of life; what affects one affects all, and the world cannot continue with missing parts. For this reason, the Medicine Wheel teaches that harmony, balance and respect for all parts are needed to sustain life.
The centre of the Medicine Wheel symbolizes the self in balance, and the perspective of traditional philosophy. The central perspective is a neutral place where it is possible to develop a holistic vision and understanding of creation and the connections between all things.
Medicine Wheels made of stones arranged on the Earth have been found in various places throughout North America, marking places of special significance, such as places of energy, ceremony, meeting, meditation, teaching, and celebration. Some estimate that there were about 20,000 medicine wheels in North America before European contact occurred. Some Medicine Wheels on the prairies have been found to be 5,000 years old or more.
Numbers have always played a significant part in traditional Aboriginal life. Four is one of the most sacred numbers used in Aboriginal culture. Many aspects are seen in terms of four. The Sacred Mystery, the source of all creation, reveals itself as the Powers of the Four Directions and these four powers provide the organizing principle for everything that exists in the world: The Seasons, The Races, The Elements of the Universe, The Stages of Life, The Emotions and Aspects of Human Behavior. The Medicine Wheel, which is symbolized by a cross within a circle, is a ceremonial tool and the basis for all teaching wheels. The Power of the Four Directions is implied when ever a wheel or circle is drawn. Since traditional Native American cultures view life as a continuous cycle, life mirrors the cycling of the seasons, the daily rising of the sun, and the phases of the moon. They also hold the view that all things are interrelated. The Medicine Wheel incorporates the Powers of the Four Directions and the interrelatedness of all things. The teachings of the Medicine Wheel were originally explained orally with the circle being drawn in the earth and a gradual overlaying of symbols, as meanings were explained by an elder. The elder would begin with an explanation of the Four Directions and the center of the wheel which represents the Sacred Mystery. He may have gone on to explain some of the following concepts: The Four Aspects of Human Personality-the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual; The Seasons-the changing from fall, winter, spring and summer, occurs in a cycle; The Four Stages of Life-childhood, adolescence, adulthood,and elders; The Races-red, white, black and yellow; The Four Elements-water, air, fire, and earth. The basic Medicine Wheel of the the Powers of the Four Directions, can be expanded to include other wheels, such as the emotions wheel, or the mind wheel. These wheels within wheels are used to explain and examine such concepts as those emotions that impede personal growth and the development process that involves leading a person to wholeness.
Four Sacred Medicines - 'Muskiiki'
Tobacco is the first medicine given from the Creator. It is in the East and represents the promise that the Creator is always willing to listen. Yellow is the colour, spring is the season and childhood is the stage of life.
Tobacco is the first plant that the Creator gave to the Anishinabe people. Three other plants: sage, cedar and sweetgrass are held sacred by the people. Together they are referred to as the four sacred medicines (Muskiiki). The four sacred medicines are used in everyday life and in all of our ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with, though sage, cedar and sweetgrass also have many other uses. It is said that tobacco sits in the eastern door, sweetgrass in the southern door, sage in the west and cedar in the north. Elders say that the spirits like the aroma produced when the other sacred medicines are burned.
Sacred tobacco was given to the Anishinabe so that we can communicate with the Spirit world. Tobacco is always offered before picking other medicines. When you offer tobacco to a plant and explain your reasons for being there, the plant will let all the plants in the area know your intentions and why you are picking them. Tobacco is used as an offering, a gift, and is an important part of Anishinabe ceremonies.
Sweetgrass is in the South and connected to Mother Earth. It has a shiny and beautiful side as well as a plain side, representative of youth. When sweetgrass is braided, it cannot be pulled apart. Likewise when your body, mind and spirit are solidly connected, you will be full and strong in your personal life. Red is the colour, summer is the season and youth is the stage of life.
Sweetgrass is the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Its sweet aroma reminds our people of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for the people. When sweetgrass is used in a healing circle it has a calming effect. Like sage and cedar, sweetgrass is used for smudging and purification.
Sage is in the West. As we move into the adult stage of our lives, we always exit through the West and sage assists in that journey. The smell of sage is intended to attract the spirits’ attention. Black is the colour, fall is the season and adulthood is the stage of life.
Sage is used to prepare our people for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than sweetgrass, sage is used more often in ceremonies. Sage is used for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy. It is also used for cleansing homes and sacred bundles carried by people. It also has other medicinal uses.
Cedar is placed in the North. While Mother Earth sleeps, cedar stays green, symbolizing that Mother Earth still watches over and protects us. White is the colour, winter is the season and Elderly is the stage of life.
Like Sage and Sweet grass, Cedar is used to purify the home, it also has many restorative medicinal use. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing. When cedar mixed with tobacco is put in the fire it crackles, this is said to call the attention of the Spirits (manitous) to the offering that is being made. Cedar is used in sweat lodge and fasting ceremonies for protection, cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting. It is a guardian spirit and chases away the bad spirits.