Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Medicine Wheel

For the third part in this series I promised to go into the concept of the Medicine Wheel. A Medicine Wheel, or a Sacred Hoop, is first and foremost a physical circle, usually made from rocks, that is used to represent the directions, both cardinal and spiritual, in many Native traditions. But the wheel also exists in the air, and in the mind.

The wheel generally had certain colors, animals and directions associated with it, but which ones go where can very from culture to culture. I will share what I remember from my own experiences, but please don't assume that this information will be the same in every instance.

The Wheel is always divided into four main parts (five if you count the center as separate). Each section is associated with a cardinal direction. North is usually associated with elders, wisdom and introspection. North is represented by Brother Bear, Cedar, the wind and winter. It is most often drawn in black or white.

South is associated with youth, with young people in the twilight of their adolesence, along with passion, fertility, and energy. The South is represented by Sister Wolf, Sweetgrass, Earth and summer. Its color can vary but is often shown as red or yellow.

The East is associated with children, the dawn, and change. The East is represented by Eagle, Tobacco, fire and spring. The color also varies, but is sometimes green or yellow.

The West is associated with adulthood, responsibility, reflection. The West is represented by Buffalo, Sage, water and autumn. Its color is usually blue.

My understanding is that each Totem Animal falls into one of these categories, but I honestly can't remember (except for the main four listed here) which ones go where. You should be able to find this kind of information in some of the books I listed yesterday.

Now I will try to continue where we left off yesterday, and share some details of the less common Spirit Animals.

Dolphin: Dolphin symbolizes kindness and play energy. Dolphin has also always been seen as a messenger by many different cultures. Although it is a mammal, it lives in the sea, and has mastered the art of breath control, sometimes spending impossible amounts of time deep underwater without breathing. Since water is the symbol of life Dolphin brings us teachings from the water of life. Dolphin reminds us that time to play and relax is a crucial element to walking in balance throughout life’s journey. He tells us to move with the ebb and flow of life, and not against it.

Dolphin Medicine includes change, balance, harmony, communication, freedom, trust, understanding, the power of rhythm in life, the use of breath to release emotion and significant water power.

Cat: Native American tradition only refers to American cats like cougar, puma, and jaguar, but it should be safe to assume that the power behind all great cats is similar. Cat's are known for their fierce independence as well as their artful mystique. People with cats for Spirit Guides are usually wise leaders who teach others through example and without ego.

Cat's Medicine is independence, curiosity, many lives, cleverness, unpredictability, healing, the ability to defend oneself fiercely when backed into a corner, and seeing the unseen.

Turtle: Turtle has always been seen as patient and tenacious. Turtles are known for making long, slow journey without ever deviating from the path.

Turtle's Medicine includes being a symbol for the Earth, connection with the center, navigation, patience, femininity, self-reliance, commitment, and non-violent defense.

Monkey: Monkey is not commonly referred to in Native culture, because they are not common in North America, but Monkey is generally known for cleverness and mischief.

Monkey's Medicine includes movement through ego, ability to change their environment, family, understanding excess, health, and understanding success.

Now I will try to break down two very specific examples, just for fun, and because two of my friends apparently really want to know what they mean.

Wolverine: Wolverine is thought of by many Native tribes, interestingly enough, as the Hyena of the North. Wolverines are very clever, and so are associated with the Trickster. A Wolverine also controls an extremely large territory in the wild, usually with no others of their species living within several miles, so they are often considered loners.

Wolverine's Medicine is made up of being considered the "last phantom of the wilderness." They are also associated with revenge, craftiness, resistance to cold, aggression, standing up for yourself and standing your ground, fierceness, elusiveness, strength, endurance, and courage.

Giant Sloth: A Sloth is like what? Part ant-eater and part bear? Sloths are generally folivores, but some have been known to eat insects and small birds to supplement their diets. I'm not sure how they catch them though, because Sloths are mainly known for being slow and plodding, and are certainly not known as great predators.

Sloth's Medicine includes persistence, rest, reflection, and balance. Sloth is known for being patient, friendly and adorable, or at least the ones we have left here on Earth are.

Space Monkey: Space Monkeys are mainly known for not actually existing, but hey, some people think Zombies don't exist either. Of course there are the actual primates that were sent into space by the government, to test for the safety of going into orbit, before sending humans, and I would imagine that those adorable little fellows would have to be known for their courage and their curiosity.

Space Monkey's Medicine includes droppin mischief on substitute teachers, overstating the value of corndogs to strangers, dealing with stinky burp breath, and breaking the universe with a cosmic space kapow!

So that's it folks. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The blog should go back into action on Monday, January 3rd, and will hopefully be able to get back to some slightly more serious business.


Matthew MacNish said...

I just noticed this is my 200th post. Woot.

Candyland said...

Yay 200!!! I took that quiz and was an otter.

vic caswell said...

i've never heard of a medicine wheel before... at all! awesome breakdown of the sloth and space monkey! :) merry christmas!

DEZMOND said...

It's so strange that a Medicine Wheel should have Tobacco within it!

Matthew MacNish said...

Well, Native Americans considered Tobacco (natural tobacco, not manufactured) to be kind of like a holy sacrament. But you're right, it is a little strange. Thanks Dez!

Bryan Russell said...

Being a predator takes too much energy. We sloths like to let our food come to us.

That means we accept donations. It is a little known fact that Giant Sloths actually love chocolate and coffee. And occasionally binge on ice cream and potato chips. SOMETIMES AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, slothness is wonderful.

Anne Gallagher said...

Happy Happy Holidays to you and yours Matthew. May you find everything you want under the tree.

Talli Roland said...

Whoop whoop! Congrats on 200 posts, medicine wheels, sloths and all!

Have a great holiday season. See you on the other side!

Unknown said...

I love any post that manages to incorporate space monkeys. Thanks for the cool medicine wheel info and congrats on 200 posts! :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Awee, you left Badger and Wolverine off :-(.


I guess that means I will have to hunt you down and chew your leg off. Wolverines do that.

(j/k, of course)


Laura S. said...

Many blessings to you and your family this Christmas and in the new year!!!

Jeff Beesler said...

Congratulations on your 200th post! And this information on the wheel is great. Very informative, especially about the space monkeys.

storyqueen said...

Is it possible to overestimate the value of a corndog?

Steve MC said...

PBS's "Nature" just had a great show on wolverines - "Chasing the Phantom" - and you can watch it online.

Congrats on your 200th!

IanBontems said...

Congrats on the 200th post Matt.

Really interesting stuff.

I did a quiz and apparently Wolverine was my animal, but man, I so wish it had been space monkey.

Have a good Christmas

Lydia Kang said...

200! Wow, you go!

I don't know which animal I am. I want to say turtle or sloth, but maybe I can be both? A turtley-sloth?

Emily White said...

Very interesting stuff! Have a Merry Christmas!

Carolyn Abiad said...

Congrats on 200 posts! I'm going to find a quiz for fun, but I still think I'm a cat. Happy Holidays!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I want a space monkey!
Have a great Christmas, Matthew.

Old Kitty said...

And what a 200th post this is!! WOW!!!! I want a Space Monkey too but I won't be detracted from the Cat!!!! This is so interesting- thank you!!!

ENJOY your christmas holidays - have a good one!! See you soon in blogland!! Take care

Lenny Lee said...

hi mr matthew! wowee 200 posts! yikes! that a whole lot for sure. i like reading all you said about spirit animals and that medicine wheel. i like posts where i could learn stuff. me and my raccoon spirit animal wish for you and your family the most happy holidays ever!
...happy holiday hugs from lenny

Raquel Byrnes said...

Learn something everyday...thanks for that. I'm pulling this stuff out at cocktail parties. =)

Merry Christmas!
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Unknown said...

Ha - love it! You know the space monkey kind well.

dolorah said...

I'm late to your medicine wheel posts; but I'm thoroughly enjoying the history you've presented here.

I've grown up around Native Americans, and have a love of their lore.

This has been an educational experience.

And - I almost didn't post a comment after Nathan. GULP. Like, anything after that bears reading . . .

Hey, Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Matthew. Although I don't comment often, I have enjoyed your posts. So helpful and informative. Thanks.


Natalie Aguirre said...

This is so interesting. The animals remind me of the Chinese Zodiac. Have a great holiday!

Slamdunk said...

Congrats on the 200.

I could use some more sloth in my life.

HGrant said...

Matt, Merry Christmas to you and your family! I love this series -- you've really hooked me.

Jeff Beesler said...

Matt, fyi I gave your blog a shout-out on my Thursday posting. Merry Christmas!

Jemi Fraser said...

Really interesting stuff! The first nations cultures are really fascinating - many of the kids I've taught over the years have shared tidbits of information. Thanks for sharing! :)

Have a wonderful Christmas season!! :)

Creepy Query Girl said...

I remember reading 'animal speak' when I was a teen. I read just about everything in the waldenbooks occult section back the...*ahem* anyway, this was a great run through! I love learning about other spiritual traditions. Hope you have a fantastic holiday!

erica and christy said...

I did a bunch of research on Totems and Spirit Animals for my WIP this fall. Somehow I missed the Space Monkeys, though!! Thank goodness I read this! ;)

Melissa Gill said...

Sorry-Falling behind on commenting, but I really loved this post. Being a lover of animals, this is great stuff.

Congrats on 200 posts.

Happy Everything.

Amie Kaufman said...

Hey, well done on 200! South Pacific culture also sees the turtle as a traveler, thoguh the turtle we're referring to in this part of the world is a sea turtle. They're seen as wise, because they live so long and see so much of the world.

Congrats on 200 posts!

Will Burke said...

I've been away awhile, and I was surprised to find this here. This is my third visit to go back and put it all in context. I have several loved ones in the Wannabe Tribe, and know a little of Medicine Wheels and sweat lodges, but I enjoyed the refresher. Though my interests lean more to the other Ted Andrews work on Qaballa, I have incorperated smudging into my practice, and the Native definitions of "Medicine." Thanks again, and Cheers!


Fascinating post. Never heard of a medicine wheel before, and was delighted to learn something new! The whole post reads like an encyclopedia entry in the depth of detail and knowledge. Very nice! Thanks for posting.

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Anonymous said...

Have an epic New year to you and yours! 2011 is going to be a great year.