MI'KMAW SPIRITUALITY
- THE MEDICINE WHEEL

The Medicine Wheel is a very powerful symbol of Native American spirituality. Because it is a circle, it represents the many cycles that appear in the natural world: the cycle of night and day, of the seasons, and of birth, life, and death. However, it is important to note that each Nation has been given its own understanding of the Medicine Wheel, and the colours, order, and other details may differ. This does not mean that any one understanding is right or wrong; each Nation received teachings that work best for them. The description that follows is for the Mi'kmaw Medicine Wheel.

THE FOUR DIRECTIONS

As is true of many Native American traditions, the Mi'kmaw Medicine Wheel contains four colours: red, white, yellow and black. These colours represent the four races of man, of which Native Americans were aware long before the arrival of the Europeans. Also, each direction has an associated spirit helper, an element, and a sacred medicine.

 

DIRECTION

COLOUR

GUIDE

MEDICINE

ELEMENT

SEASON

LIFE STAGE

East

White

Eagle

Sweet
Grass

Water

Spring

Infant

South

Yellow

Thunder
Bird

Sage

Fire

Summer

Adult
Woman

West

Red

Black
Bear

Cedar

Earth

Fall

Elder

North

Black

White
Bear

Fungus

Air

Winter

Adult
Man

 

Because the circle represents the passage of the sun and the seasons, discussion of the Wheel usually starts in the East direction, where the sun rises, and travels in a clockwise direction*. This also applies to moving around any circle during a ceremony.

The East, then, is seen as a direction of beginnings, including infancy (the beginning of life) and spring (the beginning of a new year.) The West is seen as a direction of endings, and is the direction the spirit travels when it leaves this Earth.

THE SEVEN DIRECTIONS

The medicine wheel is the basis of the four directions, and to honour each of these directions is to honour all mankind. However, in some cases we go further, and honour seven directions. The additional directions are:

  • UP - the direction of Creator, the sky, Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon.

  • DOWN - the direction of Mother Earth

  • INWARD - to honour ourselves, and the spirit that exists within each of us.

When we have acknowledged each of the seven directions, we have acknowledged all that is.

 

*Obviously, the ancient Mi'kmaq had no clocks. Why, then, do we move clockwise around a circle? Consider the sundial: the shadow follows the motion of the sun, and describes a semi-circle during the day. Because people were used to sundials and the motion of the shadow, clocks were designed so the hands turned in the same direction - which we now call clockwise! In some cases, you may find this direction referred to as "sun-wise".

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Updated: 24 Feb 2013 Print Page Bookmark Page