Know this. If your healing intention is pure, you can’t make any mistakes.
The use of the Medicine Wheel and its four compass points in the spiritual and healing practice of the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere of Earth stretches back at least 5000 years(1) – probably much longer. This is actually the traditional and original “Western medicine”—a knowledge and practice almost lost to those of us living today. Although some of the details of different tribes’ medicine wheels differ from North to Central to South America, the major concepts appear similar. For example, among some indigenous North American people, the Bear is the archetype for the West instead of the Jaguar found in South America, but both embody fearlessness as a core attribute.(2)
Each direction is associated with one of the four energetic bodies that make up the human energy field:
the particle or physical world (the body), the realm of emotions and thoughts (the mind), the realm of myth (the soul), and the world of spirit (energy). In North America, the Lakota Sioux also associate each direction with the time of day, the time of year, and the time of life.(2)
For many thousands of years, the shamans of the Americas have used each direction of the Medicine Wheel as an interdependent doorway to unique perceptual levels, or states, in order to recover an individual’s true essence, personal power, energy, and inner wisdom for healing.
The Laika people, isolated in the Peruvian Andes Mountains, seem to have a well-preserved and undistorted record of the use and meaning of their Medicine Wheel.(3) Thus we use their version in our personal energy medicine and integrative medicine practice.
The physical world (the body) is associated with the SOUTH direction and is represented by Serpent.(3) In North America, the Lakota Sioux word for the South direction is Iktokaga, and is associated with noon, summer, and adolescence.(2) This is the material level of perception where most of modern medicine resides—in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, surgery, and pharmacy. It is the realm where reality is 99% matter and only 1% spirit. This perspective is where everything is exactly as it seems or is measured without any judgment or emotions.
Serpent symbolizes knowledge, scientific method, and healing with physical solutions in order to treat diseases and injury. Serpent also sheds its skin and grows a new skin underneath, and so is continually both shedding its past and healing itself. The innate healing intelligence of the body that is gradual, incremental, and pulsed is the domain of the Serpent.
Operating from Serpent level is especially helpful for getting us through immediate trouble. Our reptilian brain is in charge and works from survival instincts, doing without over-analyzing or getting emotionally distraught about it.
The downside of this perspective it is that it is heavily biased toward the physical or particle aspect of reality, which is very comfortable for most of us. It is easy to get stuck here and lose track of the authentic essence of our soul. We can begin to believe that the roles we play in this life—mother, brother, care-giver, etc., are the true self. We can hang on to toxic beliefs and reflex patterns of thoughts that may have been useful to get us through a crisis in the past, but now no longer serve us. They now create suffering and have become destructive for us as well as others.
Each direction is accompanied by four essential teachings.
The Four Teachings of the South are: Non-Judgment, Non-Suffering, Non-Attachment, and The Beauty Way.(3) Look at everything with beginner’s eyes. Avoid indulging or projecting pain. Let go of the labels you have stuck on yourself. Perceive loveliness even in the midst of ugliness. Move upon the Earth in beauty. Bring beauty into every interaction.
Each direction also offers a unique perspective on any aspect of your life that you feel you are ready to change in order to affect personal healing: the South—things with which you strongly identify; West—things from which you are mentally differentiating yourself; North—things you newly integrate into your life; and East—transcendence and full integration into your luminous energy body.
Movement around the directions and perspectives of your Medicine Wheels over time possesses great power for spiritual growth. To have the most power, they should be done by you privately, electronic gadget-free, in a special natural setting, and accepting the Earth’s wild card role in the process. The days of a new or a full moon, or solstices and equinoxes are preferred. It is most important that your ceremony be within a sacred space.
You can create sacred space as a healing bubble around your chosen Medicine Wheel site by “calling” to the four direction master archetypes (S-Serpent, W–Bear, N–Hummingbird, E–Eagle, as well as down—Mother Earth and up—Father Sky). With humility and gratitude, ask for their power and assistance in your personal healing work.
We have found soft rattling or drumming and offering tobacco gifts to the “spirits of the site” greatly facilitate this “calling.” Use a compass if you’re not certain of directions. The creative and intimate process of constructing your Medicine Wheel in a natural setting, using natural items found at your chosen site, quiets the mind and creates a highly meditative state. In sacred space there is no time, and you can trust your instincts and synchronicity.
Healing work with the Medicine Wheel begins with honoring the South direction and creation of a mandala in the sand, snow, or grass. Find one or two sticks to represent roles with which you currently identify, and that you mentally are ready to let go. Choose two additional objects (stones, acorns, pine cones, etc.) representing two of the “Teachings of the South” that you feel you are ready to mentally accept.
Place these objects in the South portion of your Medicine Wheel and leave them overnight on your mandala. Return the following day. Powerfully blow the mental and emotional attachment of your roles into the chosen sticks, but retain the lessons the role has taught you. Put them into the West space of the mandala. Place one or both of the “South teachings” objects into the West space as you also move these teachings firmly into your awareness. Savor in stillness how this feels.
If you can’t honestly do this, leave one or both in the South space for future Medicine Wheel work.
Leave and return the next day. Feel if any further movement is possible (roles, teachings). Collect your role sticks and teaching objects. Destroy your Medicine Wheel. Leave no trace! Close sacred space by thanking and releasing the four archetypes as well as Mother Earth and Father Sky.
Within the next two weeks, build a fire safely somewhere in open sacred space, and ceremonially throw your role sticks into the fire as you stomp your foot, intending for your mental attachment to them to be destroyed. Retain the objects representing “teachings” as daily reminders, and to be used in the next Medicine Wheel.
Now take the time to see how these mental and emotional changes begin to work in your life until your next Medicine Wheel ceremony, honoring the West direction.
(1) Scherrer, D., Native American Medicine Wheels; Stanford University, 2015 & Medicine Wheel / Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark; Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO Website) 2017
(2) Oklevueha Native American Church
(3) Four Winds Society, Light Body School, Shamanic Energy Medicine Training
Jude Catallo and Scott Emerson, MD of Timelesshealing.org are both graduates of The Four Winds Society: Shamanic Energy Medicine Intensive Apprenticeship 2017 – ongoing; members of the Oklaweva Native American Church 2016 – ongoing; and Andean Cosmic Vision Apprenticeship, Don Theo Paredes 2003 – ongoing.
Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.