Native American Medicine Wheels
History and Meaning

Native American Medicine Wheels

You can pattern and use your own medicine wheel...
You can learn how to use one...
Yes, you can even purchase one...

Medicine wheels appear all over the northern United States and southern
Canada, specifically South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Info Snippet: Did you know... There have been between 70 to possibly 150 medicine wheels discovered, with most of them being found in Alberta.

One of the prototypical medicine wheels is on a ridge of Medicine Mountain, part of northern Wyoming's Big Horn Range. It is approximately 200 years old, 80' across with 28 rows of stones radiating from the middle.

The Native American Medicine Wheel was used for various spiritual and ritual purposes, especially for healing almost any illness. Since it was believed that illness sprang from spiritual imbalance, the focus of the healing was on treating the source of the problem, not the symptoms. As the medicine wheel focuses on balance of all things, it was thought this balance would help the spiritual in balance in the person who was sick.

Most medicine wheels have a basic pattern - a center of stone (cairn) then having an outer ring of stone with "spokes" of stone radiating out from the center.

Being a wheel, it is round depicting the circle of life, the shape of the sun and the moon, etc. The medicine wheel consists of the four cardinal directions and four sacred colors representing certain properties:

blue (north) ... defeat; trouble ... winter - a season for survival and waiting
Wisdom, intellect, the adult self, MIND
Element = Wind/Breath

yellow (east) ... success; triumph ... spring - a re-awakening, the power of new life
Illumination, creation, the wonder child self, SPIRIT
Element = Fire/Life Source

black (west) ... death ... autumn - the final harvest, the end of life's cycle
Introspection and intuition, the physical body, MANIFESTATION
Element = Earth

white (south) ... peace; happiness ... summer - a time of plenty
Trust and Innocence, EMOTIONS
Element = Water

Center ... learning, SELF
Balance, beauty, harmony
The symbolism may vary from tribe to tribe.

Info Snippet: Did you know... One of the oldest Native American medicine wheels is said to be 4,500 years old. It is said that it was built and added on to by successive generations.

Medicine wheels are still used today in the Native American spirituality, however most of the meaning behind them is not shared among non-Native people.

For non-Indians, medicine wheels are believed to create a roadmap to sacred's a mapping of the sacred landscape we live's's rotating like the earth...the things in your life are spinning and you are the center.

Native American medicine wheels can also be made by hand and it can be as small or as big as desired. Some are stone formations on the ground, some are shields, some are held in the hand.


The Spiritual Network has a page of instructions if you want to build your own medicine wheel.

Workbook Page for Sun Bear Medicine Wheel. This is NOT the Medicine Wheel of any Native Nation (Tribe), but comes from a Vision given to Sun Bear by Grandfather.

A Cherokee Woman’s Medicine Wheel. The Cherokee generally don’t have the Medicine Wheel tradition in their culture.

Nice depiction of the Medicine Wheel and powerful Animal Symbols.

If Native American Medicine Wheel replicas are an art form you're interest in for collecting or either buying for yourself or giving as an Indian gift, become familiar with it. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have for sale, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask.

You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, anything being marketed as genuine Native American art must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their basket weaving art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

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Although Native American Medicine Wheels are traditionally made of stone, they are not a "collectible". However, there are Native American artisans making smaller ones to accompany you on your daily path. Let me know if you're interested in Medicine Wheels or sites promoting its spirituality. Use my contact form and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.