Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel

from Seven Arrows, by Hyemeyohsts Storm (New York:  Ballantine, 1972).

Editor:  Buddha taught that people should respect the religion of the country where they reside.  The First People of this continent followed the teaching of the Medicine Wheel.  Since our forebearers were all guests of the First People, it is fitting that we, their descendants, should understand this teaching.

Preface:  The  Pipe

You are about to begin an adventure of the People, the Plains Indian People.  You probably have known of these People only by their whiteman names, as the Cheyenne, the Crow, and the Sioux.  Here you will learn to know of them as they were truly known among the People, as the Painted Arrow, the Little Black Eagle, and the Brother People.

The story of these people has at its center and all around it the story of the Medicine Wheel.  The Medicine Wheel is the very Way of Life of the People.  It is an understanding of the Universe.  It is the Way given to the Peace Chiefs, our Teachers, and by them, to us.  The Medicine Wheel is everything of the People.

The Medicine Wheel is the Living Flame of the Lodges, the Great Shield of Truth written in the Sign of the Water.  It is the Heart and Mind.  It is the Song of the Earth.  It is the Star-Fire and the Painted Drum seen only in the Eyes of the Children.  It is the Red Pipe of the Buffalo Gift smoked in the Sacred Mountains, and it is the Four Arrows of the People's Lodge.  It is our Sun Dance.

The Medicine Wheel Way begins with the Touching of our Brothers and Sisters.  Next it speaks to us of the Touching of the world around us--the animals, the trees, grasses, and all other living things.  Finally, it teaches us to Sing the Song of the World, and in this Way to become Whole People.

Come sit with me, and let us smoke the Pipe of Peace in Understanding.  Let us Touch.  Let us each to the other, be a Gift, as is the Buffalo.  Let us be Meat to Nourish each other, that we may all Grow.  Sit here with me, each of you as you are in your own Perceiving to yourself, as Mouse, Wolf, Coyote, Weasel, Fox, or Prairie Bird.  See through your Eyes.  Let us Touch each other here in the Great Lodge of the People, this Sun Dance, of each of the Ways on this great Medicine Wheel, our Earth.

1.  How does this contrast to an academic approach to education?
2.  Where can one look now to find the Medicine Way?

1.  The Circle

Dear Reader,

If you and I were sitting in a circle of people on the prairie, and if I were then to place a painted drum or an eagle feather in the middle of this circle, each of us would perceive these objects differently.  Our vision of them would vary according to our individual positions in the circle, each of which would be unique.

Our personal perceptions of these objects would also depend upon much more than just the different positions from which we looked upon them.  For example, one or more of us might suffer from color blindness, or from weak eyesight.  Either of these two physical differences would influence our perceptions of the objects.  There are levels upon levels of perspectives we must consider when we try to understand our individual perceptions of things, or when we try to relate to our own perceptions to those of our brothers and sisters.  Every single one of our previous experiences in life will affect in some way the metal perspective from which we see the world around us.

Because of this, a particular object or event may appear fearful to you at the same time that it gives pleasure to me, or appears completely uninteresting to a third person.  All things that we perceive stimulate our individual imaginations in different ways, which in turn causes us to create our own unique interpretations of them.  Love, hate, fear, confusion, happiness, envy, and all other emotions we feel, act upon us to paint our perceptions of things in different colors.

If the things I were to place within our circle should be an abstraction, such as an idea, a feeling, or a philosophy, our perceptions of it would then be even more complicated than if the object had been a tangible thing. And further, the number of different perceptions of it would become greater and greater as more and more people were added to our circle.  The perception of any object, either tangible or abstract, is ultimately made a thousand times more complicated whenever it is viewed within the circle of an an entire People as a whole.  The understanding of this truth is the first lesson of the Medicine wheel, and it is a vital part of Sun Dance Teaching.

3.  What is the key idea (word) of this passage?
4.  Give an example of this from your personal life.

2.  The Medicine Wheel

In many ways this Circle, the Medicine Wheel, can best be understood if you think of it as a mirror in which everything is reflected.  "The universe is a Mirror of the People," the old Teachers tell us, "and each person is a mirror to every other person."

Any idea, person or object can be a Medicine Wheel, a Mirror, for a man.  The tiniest flower can be such a Mirror, as can a wolf, a story, a touch, a religion or a mountain top.  For example, one person alone on a mountain top at night might feel fear.  Another night might feel calm and peaceful.  Still another might feel lonely, and a fourth person might feel nothing at all.  In each case the mountain top would be the same, but it would be perceived differently as it reflected the feelings of the different people who experienced it.  This book, Seven Arrows, is such a Mirror.  It is a Medicine wheel, just as you are.

Here is a drawing of a simple Medicine Wheel.

Among the People, the Teachers usually constructed it from small stones or pebbles, which they would place like this before them upon the ground.  Each one of these tiny stones within the Medicine Wheel represents one of the many things of the Universe.  One of them represents you, and another represents me.  Others hold within them our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and our friends.  Still others symbolize hawks, buffalo, elks and wolves.  There are also stones which represent religions, governments, philosophies, and even entire nations.  All things are contained within the Medicine Wheel, and all things are equal within it.  The Medicine Wheel is the Total Universe.

Our Teachers tell us that all things within this Universe Wheel know of their Harmony with every other thing, and know how to Give-Away one to the other, except man.  Of all the universe's creatures, it is we alone who do not begin our lives with knowledge of this great harmony.

All the things of the Universe Wheel have spirit and life, including the rivers, rocks, earth, sky, plants and animals.  But it is only man, of all the Beings on the Wheel, who is a determiner.  Our determining spirit can be made whole only through the learning of our harmony with all our brothers and sisters, and with all the other spirits of the Universe.  To do this we must learn to seek and to perceive.  We must do this to find our place within the Medicine Wheel.  To determine this place we must learn to Give-Away.

The Vision Quest, or perceiving quest, is the way we must begin this search.  We must all follow our Vision Quest to discover ourselves, and to find our relationship with the world around us.

5.  Medicine Wheels are actual objects that served as astronomical observatories, setting the calendar for each year on the basis of the solstices.  Reflect on the significance of this for a culture.
6.  Describe your feelings if you were sitting on a mountain top by yourself.
7.  Examine your early education. Were you taught that "all things are contained within the Universe or Medicine Wheel, and all things are equal within it"?. 
8.  Consider your religious upbringing.  Does your tradition claim that human beings have dominion or lordship over other creatures, and that man has dominion over woman?
9.  What do you think about this idea now--of being born out of Harmony with the Universe, and needing to learn it, if you are to have a meaningful life?
10.  Does our culture teach us to Give Away? Explain.  How much do you struggle with Giving Away?  In what dimensions of your life?
11.  The Vision Quest required that youths separate themselves from their families and villages to live in isolation for a period of 3-5 days, during which they would try to connect with their totem spirit, which would tell them their name (their identity) and their function in the tribe.  How far have you come in this process?  What is required for this to be successful? 

3.  The Powers

Among the People, a child's first Teaching is of the Four Great Powers of the Medicine Wheel.  To the North on the Medicine Wheel is found Wisdom.  The color of the Wisdom of the North is White, and its Medicine Animal is the Buffalo.  The South is represented by the Sign of the Mouse, and its Medicine color is green.  The South is the place of Innocence and Trust, and for perceiving closely our nature of the heart.  In the West is the Sign of the Bear.  The West is the Looks-Within Place, which speaks of the Introspective nature of man.  The Color of this Place is Black.  The East is marked by the Sign of the Eagle.  It is the Place of Illumination, where we can see things clearly far and wide.  Its Color is the Gold of the Morning star.

At birth, each of us is given a particular Beginning Place within these Four Great Directions on the Medicine Wheel.  This starting Place gives us our first way of perceiving things, which will then be our easiest and most natural way throughout our lives.

But any person who perceives from only one of these Four Great Directions will remain just a partial man.  For example, a man who possesses only the Gift of the North will be wise.  But he will be a cold man, a man without feeling.  And the man who lives only in the East will have the clear, far sighted vision of the Eagle, but he will never be close to things.  This man will feel separated, high above life, and will never understand or believe that he can be touched by anything.

A man or woman who perceives only from the West will go over the same thought again and again in their mind, and will always be undecided.  And if a person has only the Gift of the South , he will see everything with the eyes of a Mouse.  He will be too close to the ground and too near sighted to see anything except whatever is right in front of him, touching his whiskers.

There are many people who have two or three of these Gifts, but these people still are not whole.  A man might be a Bear person from the East, or an Eagle person of the South.  The first of these men would have the gift of seeing Introspectively within Illumination, but he would lack Gifts of Touching and Wisdom.  The second would be able to see clearly and far, like the Eagle, within Trust and Innocence.  But he would still not know of the things of the North, nor of the Looks-Within Place.

In this same way, a person might also be a Golden Bear of the North, or a Black Eagle of the South.  But none of these people would yet be Whole.  After each of us has learned of our Beginning Gift, our First place on the Medicine Wheel, we then must Grow by Seeking Understanding in each of the four Great Ways.  Only in this way can we become Full, capable of Balance and decision in what we do.  Seven Arrows speaks of this Growing and Seeking.

12.  What is the point of this section?
13.  What do you believe is your Beginning Place?
14.  How far have you traveled on the Medicine Wheel?
15.  What is your name, in terms of the Powers?
16.  If you name something or someone, what happens?
17.  What is the difference between naming and invoking?  When, if ever, do you invoke?

4.  The Touching

To Touch and Feel is to Experience.  Many people live out their entire lives without ever really Touching or being Touched by anything.  These people live within a world of mind and imagination that may move them sometimes to joy, tears, happiness or sorrow.  But these people never really Touch.  They do not live and become one with life.

The Sun Dancer believes that each person is a unique Living Medicine Wheel, powerful beyond imagination, that has been limited and placed upon this earth to Touch, Experience and Learn.  The Six Grandfathers Taught me that each man, woman, and child at one time was a Living Power that existed somewhere in time and space.  These Powers were without form, but they were aware.  They were alive.

Each power possessed boundless energy and beauty.  These living Medicine Wheels were capable of nearly anything.  They were beautiful and perfect in all ways except one.  They had no understanding of limitation, no experience of substance.  These Beings were total energy of the Mind, without Body or Heart.  They were placed upon this earth that they might Learn the things of the Heart through Touching.

According to the Teachers, there is only one thing that all people possess equally.  This is their loneliness.  No two people on the face of this earth are alike in any one thing except for their loneliness.  No two people on the face of this earth are alike in any one thing except for their loneliness.  This is the cause of our Growing, but it is also the cause of our wars.  Love, hate, greed and generosity are all rooted within our loneliness, within our desire to be needed and loved.

The only way that we can overcome our loneliness is through Touching.  It is only in this way that we can learn to be Total Beings.  God is a presence of this Total.  Heamavihio, the breath of Wisdom, and Miaheyyun, Total Understanding, are but two of the words in the Cheyenne language which express this Wholeness.

18.  What is the point of this section?
19.  Incarnation is described in this section.  How is it worded?.
20.  What do all human beings have in common?
21.  What is the pedagogy of the Medicine Wheel?
22.  Have you been taught this before?

5.  Medicines

This brings us back again to the Medicines.  Each of us has as his personal Medicine a particular animal reflection.  The characteristics of this reflection are determined by the nature of the animal itself, and also by the location of our individual Beginning Place on the Medicine Wheel.  These two things, our Medicine Animal and our Beginning Place on the Medicine Wheel, together are the Beginning Gift to each of us from Miaheyyum.

For example, there are Eagle People, elk People, Bear People, Wolf People, Pheasant People, Otter People, Buffalo People, Mice People, Rock People, Cloud People, and as many other kinds of People as there are kinds of living beings on this earth.  And within each of these different kinds of People, there are other differences of the Four Great Directions.  Thus an Elk Person might be born a White Elk of the North, a Green Elk of the South, a Black Elk of the West, or a Yellow Elk of the East, depending upon the Direction of their Beginning Gift.

It would be impossible for me to tell you here of all the different Medicines, but I will speak to you of one of them, the Mouse.  Mice live all their lives next to the ground, building their nests and gathering their food among the roots of the tall grass and bushes of the prairie.  Because of this, Mice never see things at a distance.  Everything they can see is right in front of them, where they can sniff at it with their noses and Touch it with their whiskers.  Their lives are spent in Touching things in this way, and in gathering seeds and berries to eat.

But since it is really people that we are talking about, the Medicines must be understood within the ways of people.  A Mouse Person would be one who saw everything close up, and whose vision would be limited to the immediate world around him.  He would be a gatherer of things.  He might gather facts, information, material objects, or even ideas.  But because he could not see far enough to connect to his world with that of the great prairie of the world around him, he would never be able to use or understand all that he saw or gathered.

If a Mouse Person were born into the North, his Beginning Gift would be the Gift of the Mind.  His name might be White Mouse.  He would be a wise Mouse Person, but he would not yet be Whole.  To become Whole, he would first have to seek the South, the place of the Heart, and find the Marriage of this Gift with his Beginning Gift.  Then he would have to visit and have Intercourse with the things of the East, Illumination, and travel to the Looks-Within place of the West.  He would be able to Grow and become a Full person only be doing all of these things, which would give him an understanding of his own Nature.

In this way he would become able to make his decisions within the Balance of the Four Directions.  A person with the Beginning Gift of the Mind must always try to include his Heart in his decisions.  When he des this, he begins to turn upon the Medicine Wheel.  A man can live out his entire life without ever finding more than what was already within him as his Beginning Gift, but if he wishes to Grow he must become a Seeker and Seek for himself the other Ways.

When you have done this yourself, and when you have reached a full Understanding of the different Medicines of men, you will never feel surprised or threatened by the actions or decisions of your Brothers and Sisters.  This Understanding is held within the meaning of the Shields carried by the People, which were Mirrors of their Medicines.

23.  Make a list of several surprises, pleasant and unpleasant, that demonstrate what sectors of the Medicine Wheel you have not yet traversed.
24.  Identify and describe one or two people in your life who seemed to have found the Balance of the Four Directions.

6.  The Shields

To understand the Sun Dance, we must first gain an Understanding of the Shields.  My Father, whose Name was Hyemeyohsts and who gave his Name to me, was a Shield Maker and my Teacher.  Hyemeyohsts taught me the construction of many Personal Shields.  He also taught me the construction, Painting and Medicine Ways of the other Shields:  the Men's Shields, Women's Shields, Children's Shields, Peace Shields, and the Sacred Shields.  This was Hyemeyohsts Gift to me, as it was his Gift from his Fathers and from the Medicine Power, the Great Spirit.  it is Miaheyyun's Gift to all of us, in order that we might learn and become Sun Dancers together.

There were originally Twelve Sacred Shields.  At the time of the annual Renewal these Twelve Sacred Shields were brought together, and placed inside the Twelve Forked Poles which formed the outer circle of the Sun Dance Lodge, the People's Lodge.  But these Sacred Shields were never together except at Renewal time.  They were never kept by any one Tribe, but were passed on from one People to another.

If a man or woman in their lifetime aspired to high honor, they might seek to be the Keeper of one of these Sacred Shields.  At any one time there could only be Twelve of these Keepers of the Shields of Light.  These people were the most powerful and respected among all the People.  They were Healers, Diviners, and Teachers.  It was they who carried the sacred Shields from camp to camp, and from Tribe to tribe.  I once asked my Father, Hyemeyohsts, about these Shields.  He answered, "Over the Earth there are Twelve Great Tribes.  Two of these Peoples are the Indian People.  The Other Ten are the other Peoples of the Earth.  These Twelve Peoples are the sacred Shields."

The Chief's Shields are tied to the sacred Shields, in that they each tell a part of the Story of the Sacred Shields.  There are Forty-Four of these Chief's Shields.  Because the Chiefs were Peace Chiefs, and because their Shields were used for Teaching about the Sacred Shields and the Sun Dance Way, their Shields were also known as Peace Shields or Teaching Shields.

Among the People, every person possessed a shield of one kind or another.  One of the most important things to understand about these Shields is that they were never intended to give physical protection in battle.  They were not made to turn away arrows or bullets, nor were they made for people to hide behind.  Usually they were much too thin and fragile for this.  Sometimes they were made from the tough hides of bears or buffalo bulls, but more often they were covered only with the soft skins of deer, antelope, coyote, otter, weasel, or even mice.  They were then hung with eagle plumes, cedar pouches, tassels of animal fur, and many other things.  They were also painted with various symbolic figures.

In the case of the Personal Shields, all of these different things represented the individual Medicines and Clan Signs of the men who carried them.  These Signs told who the man was, what he sought to be, and what his loves, fears and dreams were.  Almost everything about him was written there, reflected in the Mirror of his Shield.

The Personal Shields of Men were first constructed and given to them after their Vision Quest.  On their return from the Quest, they would tell four chosen Spiritual Fathers of their experiences.  Sometimes these experiences might actually have included true visions, but more often the seeker would simply have had normal experiences, whatever they might have been, in terms of what they reflected of the Seeker's character and Medicines.  They would then give him a name which symbolically represented these things, and they would construct for him a Shield that visually reflected the same symbolic meanings.

These shields were carried by the men among the People in order that anyone they met might know them.  Even when they rested in their lodges, their Shields were always kept outside where all could see them.  They might be hung up on the lodge door, or up by the smoke hole, or on a tripod near the lodge, according to each person's own Medicine Way.  But they were always kept outside, where the People might see and learn from them.

The women also carried their Medicine Signs in ways to be seen, usually as symbolic designs woven with porcupine quills or beads on their dresses or belts.  The Woman's Belt was usually the most important of her Shields.  Many times it was her only Shield, since not all of the different Peoples had both Dress and Belt Shields.  These Belts were totally symbolic in design.  Usually they contained the symbols of the Brotherhood Societies the women lived among, such as Kit Fox, Rattling Hoof, Crazy Dog, Coyote, or Painted Spear Societies.  Added to these signs were those of the woman's spiritual Family, her blood family, and those of her Personal Medicines, or Name.

The woman's Spiritual Clan relatives were called her Clan Fathers, Clan Mothers, Clan Uncles, and Clan Brothers and Sisters,.  It was to these people that she had her closest ties and responsibilities.  Her Clan Fathers, Mothers, and Uncles reciprocated these responsibilities to their Spiritual Children.  Because of this, intermarriages between different peoples caused the tradition of the Shields to spread widely.  The Brotherhood of the Shields grew and became very powerful among the People.  It was a time of great peace and Spiritual renewal.  It was a time of the Medicine Wheel, the Sun Dance.

25.  Draw your Medicine Shield or Woman's Belt.
26.  Tell its story in your group, when the opportunity arises.
27.  What are the Twelve Sacred Shields?  Have you met them in your Humanities courses?  If not, why do you suppose that you have not been taught them?
28.  How are you going to learn about the Twelve Sacred Shields, if they are only mentioned in this selection, but not explained?

7.  Names

You have learned that Names always had symbolic meaning among the People and were the reflections of the People's individual Medicines.  Within Seven Arrows you will meet many different People.  Their Names will tell you much about them.  They will tell you of their Medicines and of their Ways of Perceiving.

One of the Reflections you will meet will be Day Woman.  Translated within the People's tongue, Day Woman means Woman of the Sun, or Truth.  This Name is also the Sign of Sun Dancing, the Seeking of Harmony.

You will also meet a person called Hawk.  The Hawk is the Little Brother of the Eagle.  This person's Medicine Sign means that he was born with the Gift of Seeing, both at a Distance and Closely.  Of course, this should be interpreted symbolically rather than literally.  Hawk's Gift was the ability to perceive clearly and broadly into the things of the Mind, the Heart, and of the Way of the People, the Sun Dance Way.  Red Hawk was this man's color.  Red symbolizes Fire.  Fire represents the Living Spirit of the People, and it also tells that hawk perceives with the Illumination of the Golden East.

Within the Story of Seven Arrows, Night Bear's Name and his Way of Perceiving are also explained.  As you learn of these things, you may also learn of your own Name.

29.  Have you met Day Woman?  Describe your encounter.
30.  How does one Sun Dance within the Medicine Wheel?

8.  The Stories

There are many old Stories told within Seven Arrows.  These stories were used among the People to Teach the meaning of the Sun Dance Way.  They were themselves a Way of Understanding among the People, and also between different Peoples.  Because the People did not have a written language, these stories were memorized and passed down in one way through countless generations.

The Stories are about both animals and people.  You will find Stories about Mice, Wolves, Raccoon, Otters, and Buffalo.  These stories are almost entirely allegorical in form, and everything in them should be read symbolically.  Every story can be symbolically unfolded for you through your own Medicines, Reflections, and Seekings.  As you do this, you will learn to see through the Eyes of your Brothers and Sisters, and to share their Perceptions.

Questioning is one of the most vital paths to understanding these Stories, which will teach you of the Sun Dance Way.  When you question, the Medicine Wheel is turned for you.  These Stories are magical Teachers in this way.  They are Flowers of Truth whose petals can be unfolded by the Seeker without end....

31.  What is your father's story?  your mother's? your most significant grandparents'?  How do you put these stories together?
32.  How many chapters are there to your story?  Have you found a theme for your story?  Has one been given you by your family?  Explain what is happening here....
33.  What is the story of human kind--in a few chapters?  What chapter would you like to be a part of as the present unfolds?  What is the title of this chapter?
34.  What is the story of a child who is killed by a drone strike, or who starves to death, or whose home is washed away by a flood, or whose parents are homeless?
35.  How do you put these stories together with yours? 
36.  Most European settlers called the Native American people savages, without ever hearing the teaching of the Medicine Wheel.  Reflect and comment on this.


“I release my parents from the feeling that they have already failed me.

I release my children from the need to bring pride to me; that they may write their own ways according to their hearts, that whisper all the time in their ears.

I release my partner from the obligation to complete myself. I do not lack anything, I learn with all beings all the time. 

I thank my grandparents and forefathers who have gathered so that I can breathe life today. I release them from past failures and unfulfilled desires, aware that they have done their best to resolve their situations within the consciousness they had at that moment. I honor you, I love you and I recognize you as innocent.

I am transparent before your eyes, so they know that I do not hide or owe anything other than being true to myself and to my very existence, that walking with the wisdom of the heart, I am aware that I fulfill my life project, free from invisible and visible family loyalties that might disturb my Peace and Happiness, which are my only responsibilities.

I renounce the role of savior, of being one who unites or fulfills the expectations of others.

Learning through, and only through, LOVE, I bless my essence, my way of expressing, even though somebody may not understand me.

I understand myself, because I alone have lived and experienced my history; because I know myself, I know who I am, what I feel, what I do and why I do it.

I respect and approve myself.

I honor the Divinity in me and in you.

We are free."

(This ancient blessing was created in the Nahuatl language, spoken in Mexico. It deals with forgiveness, affection, detachment and liberation).