Lifted directly from The National Institute of Health’s Native Voices site.
The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions
The Medicine Wheel, sometimes known as the Sacred Hoop, has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. It embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky, Mother Earth, and Spirit Tree—all of which symbolize dimensions of health and the cycles of life.
The Medicine Wheel can take many different forms. It can be an artwork such as artifact or painting, or it can be a physical construction on the land. Hundreds or even thousands of Medicine Wheels have been built on Native lands in North America over the last several centuries.
Movement in the Medicine Wheel and in Native American ceremonies is circular, and typically in a clockwise, or “sun-wise” direction. This helps to align with the forces of Nature, such as gravity and the rising and setting of the Sun.
Meanings of the Four Directions
Different tribes interpret the Medicine Wheel differently. Each of the Four Directions (East, South, West, and North) is typically represented by a distinctive color, such as black, red, yellow, and white, which for some stands for the human races. The Directions can also represent:
Stages of life: birth, youth, adult (or elder), death
Seasons of the year: spring, summer, winter, fall
Aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical
Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and earth
Animals: Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo and many others
Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage, cedar
From Ancient Symbols.com:
The Medicine Wheel is considered to symbolize peaceful interaction between the living beings inhabiting the Earth. Its circle shows everything as part of a cosmic whole and represents the balance between personal and natural powers. The wheel can be used for self-realization, finding your purpose in life and bringing fulfillment and enlightenment into it.
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!
From an article by Timothy C. Thomason at CGJungPage.org
The Medicine Wheel as a Symbol of Native American Psychology
The original medicine wheels were stone artifacts built by the aboriginal peoples who lived in what is now the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. They were first called “medicine wheels” in the 1800s. In Native American usage, medicine means anything that promotes harmony, and an illness is seen as disharmony within a person or between a person and his or her relations (Cohen, 2003). Medicine wheels took several forms, but most had a central stone cairn, one or more concentric stone circles, and several stone lines radiating outward from the center. The Ellis medicine wheel, built by the aboriginal Blackfoot Indians, was radiocarbon dated to about 1400 A. D. (Barnett, 2000). The central ring covered a burial lodge where skeletal remains were found. Many medicine wheels had small stone circles (tipi rings) in the area of the wheel (Barnett, 2000).
The Oglala Sioux Holy Man Black Elk said “You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.” Another Sioux elder, Lame Deer, said that the Indian’s symbol is the circle, the sacred hoop; the circle is timeless and flowing and teaches the meaning of life, which is that new life emerges from death . Thus, the medicine wheel can be seen as a model of aboriginal Native American cosmology. For many Native Americas, the medicine wheel is an ancient symbol that can help people understand how to live a healthy life, and see that they are related to all creation.
There is a LOT more information on this at the Jung site if you are interested!
Do you know anything about medicine wheels? Please share if you do!