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Wendell George | The mysteries of the medicine wheel

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The Medicine Wheel is used in some form by many of the 562 tribes in the United States. But as independent thinkers we don’t agree on the sequence of the accepted colors red, yellow, black and white. Since most tribes didn’t have a written language we don’t know the beginning of the Medicine Wheel. There is evidence that it moved up from the Mayans to the Yaquis, Hopi, Cherokee, Sioux and on to other tribes. I first encountered it in the early 1970s on the Colville Indian Reservation.

The Mayans of what is now Mexico and Central America documented their version in a hieroglyphic language that was not decoded until about the same time the genetic code was discovered in 1953. The inscriptions were completed by A.D. 692 which marked the beginning of seven generations of unparalleled activity up to A.D. 830. Their code is in a complicated 13 by 20 matrix with twenty symbols that compares favorably to the twenty amino acids which comprise the genetic code (DNA).

Their sequence is clockwise and counterclockwise simultaneously.

For the counterclockwise direction:

East is the light going from birth to consciousness. Color is red.

North is moving towards wisdom until purified. Color is white.

West is transformation from the mysterious to a higher life. Color is black.

South is life from seed to love. Color is yellow.

The clockwise direction is east, south, west, and north.

The number four is significant for all cultures. Besides the four directions the first four numbers of the universe are embedded in music, astronomy, geography, and metaphysics. They make up the basis for the whole physical universe i.e. geometry (point, line, surface and solid) and four dimensions (Three space and one time). These four numbers point to the unity of the psyche and matter:

One – Signifies the continuum as a time-bound quality. (Informational)

Two – Is the rhythm or vibration to establish symmetry. (Electromagnetic)

Three – Spatial extent of the rhythm as actualized in consciousness and matter. (Gravitational)

Four – Number of closing or wholeness that contains the other three. (Psychoactive)

The Medicine Wheel is a powerful metaphor for understanding what life is all about. We use the Medicine Wheel center and the four directions of the compass to describe how all aspects of creation and consciousness are tied together. We show how the mineral, plant, animal, human and spirit realms overlap and interweave to form the whole.

The center of the Medicine Wheel is the symbol for the black hole in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Both of these depict the chaos during the course of creation. But it also contains all possibilities of life. Life could not exist without the life force energy of the void, which is the catalyst for all the powers that are symbolically found within the 360 degrees of the Medicine Wheel.

Indians use the Medicine Wheel to keep on the right path. The Medicine Wheel can be used to understand each of our roles in life. When you follow the wheel circumference you eventually return to the beginning. The end becomes the beginning.

Many think there is no beginning or end because the starting point looks the same. But is it the same? Don’t we know more when we return to our beginning? The day, the seasons, and the cycles of the moon are all repetitive processes but yet they are different. We grow older, the environment changes and we do things differently the next time around.

This is demonstrated in the education field by the Spiral Curriculum where the depth of teaching increases with each turn of the spiral. To the Indian this is the way to achieve “cosmic consciousness”.

We can benefit from the knowledge and feeling developed along our journey. We should not make the same mistakes. As we move toward our beginning we see an opportunity to improve ourselves. We are the center of the Medicine Wheel so we create our own environments and life experiences. We also have the ability to make changes to these.

This sacred healing symbol used by our ancestors helps people to walk a more balanced life. It offers direction for greater harmony and wholeness as we grow and develop spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks). He can be reached via email at His books are at stores, the tribal museum and Amazon.