Native American thought on illness has always been different from that of the Western world. Native Americans believed that illness was a spiritual imbalance, rather than a single condition that needed to be cured by a pill or surgery. The word “medicine”, to Native Americans, was more closely related to harnessing the power of nature to heal oneself from within. The medicine wheel draws the circular energy of the universe from each direction, harnessing it to provide the energy and self-balance needed to heal.
The idea of the medicine wheel was realized over time through the careful observation of nature. Native Americans tribes, contrary to Western thought, have traditionally believed that life is not lived in a straight line. Rather, every process in life is cyclical, never really starting or ending. The medicine wheel, also commonly known as a sacred hoop, is a representation of this notion.
There is the never-ending cycle of seasons, an annual transformation of the Earth with the coming and going of colorful vegetation and the scattered outbursts of extreme weather. Life itself is a cycle, from childhood to old age and death, only to be born again. The medicine wheel encapsulates these notions, providing a channel for people to connect with nature and to feel whole.
Many times, medicine wheels come in the form of large arrangements of stone that serve as a special place for self-reflection and healing through a connection to the cyclical nature of life. In Lakota tradition, stones are laid out like a directional compass, with one stone placed for each cardinal and ordinal direction. The most famous medicine wheel, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, gave the practice its name.
Tribes give different meanings to each cardinal direction. Sometimes, stages of life are represented in the same direction as the rising and setting of the sun, from birth to youth, then adult to death. Likewise, a medicine wheel might represent the four seasons or the elements of nature.
Kachina House carries a variety of handmade medicine wheels. Visit our website to see them, along with a huge selection of other Native American art and jewelry.