Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Medicine Wheel : A Sacred Hoop of Learning & Living

Original Design - 'The Great Shield'- By: Kurt Shoopman

Perhaps the most easily recognizable symbol of shamanism in America today. The Medicine Wheel, has been used by many modern shamanic pracititioners as a symbol of the four directions, the seasons, and a representation of countless other forces in nature. While this definition serves a basic function, the true nature of the medicine wheel is far deeper than the average diagram. At its heart, the medicine wheel is a living map, and like all maps it is an invaluable tool to those who know how to properly use it.

The Medicine Wheel, also called 'The Sacred Round', has been used by shamans across the American continents as a means to understand and actively engage in the primal processes and cycles of nature. These cycles not only pertain to the material (outer) world but also allows the individual to explore the rich depths of their inner (spiritual) landscape. But in order to pick up this ancient tool and invite its ageless wisdom into our lives, we first have to understand how to approach such a formidable force.

An assumption that many people make when they first begin to study the Sacred Round, is that it exists seperately from the shaman. This outlook is not only limiting to the partnership, but it does a great disservice to the actual nature of the Wheel. Unlike the road maps we pick up at a gas station, the Medicine Wheel is a powerful construct that we live our lives in. Although it performs innumerable functions, perhaps the greatest gift it gives us, is the ability to see and participate in the movement of energy in our world, both seen and unseen.

When we approach the Medicine Wheel, it must be done from a place of openness and a true desire to understand ourselves and the world. In adopting this attitude, we allow ourselves to pierce the veil that shrouds these teachings. The medicine wheel has been referred to as 'The Great Shield' or 'The People's Shield', because it is the shield that all People can choose to pick up. Not so long ago, it was a rite of passage for a shaman or warrior to create their Medicine Shield. It was their spirit face and it contained their power. The medicine wheel is the only shield that contains the power, the essence, of all things. And so, it is with this knowledge in mind that we should not only be honored to carry such a precious gift, but it would behoove us to truly understand what we have chosen to pick up.

Now that we understand what the Medicine Wheel is and the general idea of what it does. We can begin to dicuss the parts that make up the Sacred Round. At first glance, the medicine wheel is a circle that is divided into four equal parts by a equal-armed cross. Simple, right? Each of these parts has a purpose and a meaning:

-The Cross -

At the center of the medicine wheel is an equal-armed cross, each point of which is aligned with a cardinal direction (South, West, North and East.). Depending upon what culture or what kind of wheel one is working with, each of these cardinal directions takes on a different aspect or energy. The cross also acts as an axis that the entirety of the wheel spins around. You can think of this axis like the spokes of a tire, acting as a source of support and strength to the outer wheel. The axis is typically divided further into two parts. In my tradition, the vertical line is called the 'Sky Tree' and the horizontal line is simply called 'the Horizon'. The sky tree represents the movement between the spirit world and the material plane, it is the essence of stability and order. The Horizon, conversely, is a respresentation of transitory energies. Like the sun and moon that pass across the sky from East to West. At the heart of the cross at the place of intersection is what can be refferred to as the vortex, the source, or the well spring of power. At this center we encounter the sacred void, the place from which all things come. It is the place of coalescence between all the energies that live within the Sacred Round. It is Quintessence,

-The Circle-

Around the outside of the cross is the circle, which in my tradition is called 'The Sacred Hoop'. The circle is not only a symbol of continuity and the endless procession of cycles, but it is the reminder that the Medicine wheel is indeed a container of power. Without the Sacred Hoop, the Medicine Wheel is a only gathering of four energies, it is the circle that generates movement and interaction between these Four realms of energy. Just like the wheels on a bicycle, if we remove the tire and are left with spokes, we would lose the seamless flow of motion between the spokes, making for an uncomfortbale and ineffective mode of transportation.


Although the Medicine Wheel has distinguishable features, it is important that we do not view each of these parts as seperate, just as we designate parts of our body like our head, arm and shoulder, each of these parts are joined together and work as a whole. To further explore the Medicine Wheel and understand how to use it, let's take a look at one of the simplest wheels I use in my tradition.


The Sacred Hoop pictured above is the "Wheel of Manifestation", This wheel governs everything from starting an art project, writing a paper for school, to taking a vacation. For the purpose of this article, let's say we are working on a painting. We begin this wheel in the North, the place of Spirit. this is where inspiration comes from. It is in our communion with spirit that we are given new acts of power, new endeavors to accomplish in this world. For this example, we go on a nature walk, and are inspired by the beauty of leaves. So we are given this sense of wonder and we begin to dream. This inspiration will stay formless and unrealized until we bring it into the East.

In the East is the realm of the mind, of wisdom, intellect, and memory. It is here tha we will being to formulate a plan of action. Drawing on what we have learned and the sheer power of imagination, we begin to bring this formless concept into focus, We take that beauty and wonder, and we say "I want to paint those leaves on this size canvas, I want to use these colors, and I see it with such and such lighting.." Then we plan how to make this happen. We decide that we've enjoyed the supplies we've bought from a particular store. Or we remember a cool technique we learned in Art Class in High School that would make this project interesting and beautiful. Now that we've formulated a plan and drawn upon our experiences, we now have a clearer picture of what we're going to do. And so we take this plan to the South.

In the South is the realm of physical and material energies. It is the body, the sensation of doing and being. It is in the South that we put our plan into action. We take this plan and we go buy our art supplies, and perhaps we set aside a space in the house for us to work. Then we sit down and we start painting. We lose ourselves in the process of DOING. It is the action that is sacred here. We manifest our dream into this world, giving birth to something that stirs our spirit, this is an act of power. After we have made the painting we step back and realize, this is done. It is in that moment that we to move to the West.

In the West in the realm of death and rebirth, it is the place of the giveaway. It is the act of completion and release. Now that we've created our painting, we can admire it for what it is. It is no longer something inside of us, it is now a fully realized form seperate from us. And so, we must honor and acknowledge this seperation. Alot of times, this where people have issues. In our culture, we don't know that everything must be finished. This is true of our thoughts, emotions, relationships, and even our household projects. We have to realize that everything that we give live to has to released in order for it to become whole. If we choose not to release something that we've created or experienced it will continue to draw on your energy to sustain itself. It is important to note that just because we complete or release something, does not mean that it is no longer a part of our spirit. We remember it and it leaves a lasting impression upon us. The other important process that occurs within the West is the necessary period of rest. When we finish something, we must take a moment to gather ourselves and recuperate. It is in this period of stasis that we heal and become ready to move back into the North to begin our journey again.

Taking what we have just learned about the Wheel of Manifestation, we can see the movement that occurs when we undertake any project or act of creation. It seems like common sense right? That we are inspired, we plan, we do and then we let go. But like anything in life, it is easy for us to become lost and confused while we are in the thick of it. The medicine wheel exists to help us see past our own limitations and truly look at where we are in a process and what we need to do in order to live balanced and productive lives.

Think about it, how often do we try to move directly across the wheel instead of around and through it? The following are some of the conditions created when we try to move in this fashion:

(North to South)- We try to make something happen without any foresight or planning, and it ends up with unnecessary complications and headache.

(East to West)- We create a plan but decide its finished before we even enact it, never getting it off the ground in the

(South to North)- We end up with countless unresolved experiences or unfinished projects as we constantly seek new dreams without ended those we've started. This movement often pushes us to burn-out.

(West to East)- We find ourselves bored and uninspired, unable to come up with any original or interesting ideas. This is the gateway for living life as a robot.

Besides trying to generate movement along the axis, we can also become stuck in areas. When this occurs its important to take a moment and realize where you are in the Wheel. Once you've discovered your location, figure out the next step in the process and make whatever adjustments necessary to move you in that direction. When you're stuck it can feel like all the wind has been let out of your sails, and something that I've found has helped me during my stays in the quagmire, is that small changes can help generate enough movement to help get your gears unstuck.

In the end, the Medicine Wheel is the swiss army knife of many shamans. And in truth there are as many Hoops as there are problems in life. In the future I hope to share many of the wheels I have come to know during my time upon this Red Road.

Written By- Kurt Shoopman

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