Medicine Wheel

The term Medicine Wheel describes an ancient system developed in the Americas that encompasses spirituality, philosophy, ecology, and social and personal development. The term Medicine refers to a state of being in harmony and balance with ourselves, the world and with spirit.

Teachings are given out in 'wheels' or 'circles'. This is a system that understands the cyclic nature of life and honours diversity and difference; one that values equality over hierarchy. At its core is a constant reminder: it is essential for us to find a lifestyle that allows us to live in harmony and balance with the rest of your world.

Were Medicine people to talk about the ecology of the earth they would remind us that we are an integral part of that ecology. Other inhabitants of their earth are all related to us and therefore have an equal right to life. Understanding that plants and animals are as much our relations as other humans, we would care about the millions of species threatened with extinction. We would be aware that our survival depends more upon regaining an ecological balance in nature that on large bank balances and insurance policies.

Medicine wheels start with the present moment and their first task is orientation. They take the four points of the compass, which they call the Four Directions, and orient us with qualities that relate to the world as we perceive it. For example, the sun rises in the east so the east is the place to remember the sun and all the qualities it holds. Symbolism mixes with material reality. The wheel continues around the directions: in the west we learn about he earth, in the south, the plants and in the north we meet the animals, remind us of the building blocks of our world.

Medicine Wheel teachings are a simple and playful route into understanding the deeper and often scary questions that only plague some of us during a sleepless night. They contain the lifelines that help us withstand failure, bereavement, betrayal and boredom with equanimity. With their poetic imagery and wild stories they remind us of a longing for whatever lies bathing the beauty of a sunset, beyond stars watched on a warm summer night, behind the bubbles glistening on a cup of hot chocolate.

At one time, we too knew we were intimately connected to the earth and all living beings but today we have isolated ourselves in a cultural bubble that is fantastical and unsustainable. Medicine Wheel teachings hold a pathway back to reality. They do not attempt to overturn our culture; rather they help it regain a sense of order and balance.

This is an extract from an article titled 'Medicine Wheel teachings and the 21st century' by Annie Spencer and was first published in Kindred Spirit magazine, issue 68. The full article can be found at or you can call 01803 866686 for subscription details.

Annie Spencer is a ceremonialist and workshop leader with over 20 years' experience. She weaves together Native American teachings with those from our land and opens pathways for others - illuminating their life's journeys. Visit Annie's website at

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