When we hear “rites of passage”, most people think of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Examples include the Latin American quinseanera, which is celebrated at a girl’s 15th birthday, the Hebrew Bar Mitzvah when a boy turns 13 / Bat Mitzvah when a girl turns 12, the Native American vision quest, or even modern day graduation ceremonies.
Rites of passage are not only important for those transitioning to adulthood, they are valuable for anyone going through one life’s many transitions, such as divorce, becoming an empty-nester, a change in career, menopause, or coming to terms with a terminal illness. The Native American medicine wheel is a powerful tool for healing and self-awareness.
Two years ago, I participated in a ten day Rite of Passage / Wilderness Quest in the Inyo Mountain Wilderness of Nevada. The experience culminated in a 3 day / 3 night solo wilderness journey without food or a tent. I was turning 50 and wanted to create a deeply personal celebration of life. Welcoming the transition to “elderhood” was a pivotal moment in my life.
On the first day of the adventure, our mentor and leader, Mike Bodkin, taught us about the Native American medicine wheel. The medicine wheel represents harmony with the primal energy of nature. It embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky above, Mother Earth below, and Spirit Tree that encompasses them all.
The medicine wheel played an integral role in my wilderness quest. Since then, I’ve used a medicine wheel any time I need clarity, spiritual / mental / emotional / physical healing, or for insight into relationships with family and friends.
What is a medicine wheel?
There are a few variations of the traditional Native American medicine wheel. But they all seem to share general characteristics which represent dimensions of health and cycles of life.
The East represents birth, renewal and the color yellow for sun / fire. The East is characterized by spirituality, enlightenment and illumination. The spirit animal of the East is the eagle.
The South represents youth, the inner child and the color red. The South is characterized by emotion, trust, innocence, playfulness and nature. The spirit animal of the south is the coyote.
The West represents middle age, soulfulness and the color black. The West is characterized by physical strength, creativity, turbulence and introspection. The spirit animal of the west is the bear.
The North represents old age, survival and the color white. The North is characterized by intellect, wisdom, responsibility and logic. The spirit animal of the north is the buffalo.
You stand at the center of the four directions, representing the vast, infinite, expansiveness of the human soul.
The wheel is a circle. Life does not begin at birth, nor does it end at death. The cycle of life is eternal. The four points of the compass are enveloped between Father Sky above and Mother Earth below. Rooted beneath Mother Earth, soaring above Father Sky, Spirit Tree contains all of life, time and space in its roots, trunk and branches.
The Medicine Wheel is a physical embodiment of our spiritual energy. When used for self-reflection and examination, the medicine wheel becomes an outward expression of the inner characteristics that make us spiritually whole, healthy and complete.
How Do You Create A Medicine Wheel?
You can create your own medicine wheel by placing rocks in a circle large enough to stand inside comfortably. Make sure the rocks touch each other, containing the energy of the circle. Use a compass to find north, identifying “North” with a stone or another object that represents the characteristics of North. Do this for each of the other directions on the wheel.
Ask permission to enter the circle, then remove one stone, tapping it on the stone next to it before entering the circle. Once inside the circle, Replace the missing stone. Standing in the middle of the circle, turn to each of the points of the compass in turn, saying:
I honor the East, the place of sun rising. I honor the spring, the time of things planted.
I honor the South, the place of sun warming. I honor the summer, the time of things growing.
I honor the West, the place of sun setting. I honor the fall, the time of the harvest.
I honor the North, the place of sun sleeping. I honor the winter, the time of earth resting.
Take a deep breath and ask God / Spirit / the Universe / Divine Love to reveal areas of your life that are in need of the medicine wheel’s healing. Take another deep breath, quiet your mind and focus your intention on receiving inspiration. Expect to receive valuable insights and healing. Use the medicine wheel any time you need clarity on your life’s purpose / direction, to heal relationships or to restore your spirit when it feels broken or bruised.
I hope the medicine wheel will become a valuable tool in your journey to healing and self-awareness!