Posted on

Notes from Turtle Island: The Medicine Wheel

The medicine wheel and its teachings date back many thousands of years into prehistoric times. In tribal oral history there are myths and legends of the great wheel and the wheels within wheels. There are even stories of flying wheels – perhaps inner-dimensional – tales of otherworldly beings seeding Mother Earth. These beings can be clearly seen depicted in various ancient petroglyphs found throughout Turtle Island, the North American continent.

The medicine wheel consists of four points on a wheel, the four directions east, south, west and north. Each direction has many lessons. Some people have called the medicine wheel the ‘feng shui’ of Turtle Island. There is much taught today in both tribal and the prevailing cultures pertaining to the medicine wheel.

One way to look at the medicine wheel is as a progression of time, a day, a week, and a year. Everything is considered to be alive on the medicine wheel – mountains, rivers, the sun, the air, a rock. A thing seen inside the medicine wheel is seen from infinite perspectives. We ourselves and all of life are living medicine wheels.

Dawn breaks in the east and a new day is born. East then is the entrance to the sacred medicine wheel or medicine circle in many Native American cultures. East is the place of illumination. One can think of the east as the direction of the spouting of seeds, of springtime, of new life and promise. In human terms, east is the place of the infant. The usual emblematic colour of the east is yellow. The eagle, an emblem of spirituality, is often the totem of the east. Eagles fly in wide circles and so should we.

Going sunwise to the south, we find the place of innocence and trust on the sacred wheel. The south has been called a very ‘touchy-feely’ place. It is a place of green and growing things. It is the summertime of life, a place of the child. And the child must learn to fight their different battles so the south also holds warrior energy and medicine. The south is a place of substance, a place many people consider to be the ‘real’ world.  The usual colour of the south is red.  A mouse, touching everything with its whiskers, is most often the totem of the south. The mouse tells us to pay attention to little things – details.

Following the sacred wheel to the west, we find the place of introspection, a looks-within direction, a place of dreams and visions, a place of long shadows and nightfall. It is a place to seek your deepest truth, the place of the vision quest, of sacred dances, of sweat lodge and so on – technologies that free us from our artificial selves and bring us to the harmonies of the universe. And we are, after all, mirrors of each other. Black is the usual emblematic colour of the west. Hibernating animals such as snake and bear are seen to be the totem of the west. The bear and snake teach us about the great silence and the dreamtime.

Lastly, the north. In the north is the place of the elder, the man or woman of wisdom, having had a long life – people who have seen and dealt with most every kind of scenario, a person of deep understanding and spirituality. North is associated with the colour white and wintertime. It is also a place of cold and cutting intellect. Since an elder carries aspects of the entire medicine wheel, it is likely that unfeeling intellect is mitigated by compassion. Buffalo, sometimes a white buffalo, is thought to be the totem of the north on most medicine wheels. The buffalo teaches us about abundant living and gratitude.

Medicine wheels are cosmic in nature and pay attention to the celestial motions of the sun, moon and stars and other heavenly phenomena. When we follow the sunwise path around the medicine wheel we are following a natural progression of energy. When we go contrary around the medicine wheel, counter-clockwise, we go against a subtle current. Initiates, great magicians and energy jugglers—the great illuminated ones, so to speak, are spiritual masters who use these two energies to destroy our illusions, jar our harmonies and take us to new spiritual insights and understanding.

Elders teach there is a road going from the south to the north. This is the red road of spirit. They also teach there is a road going from the east to the west. This, they say, is the black road of decline and decay. Accordingly, we must stay on the good red road. These two roads, the black and the red, intersect where we are in each moment, in the centre of the wheel and we always have a choice as to which road we will take.

And as they say, ‘What goes around comes around’.

David Carson was raised in Oklahoma Indian Country and is of Choctaw descent. He is the author of How to find your spirit david carsonAnimalCrossing into Medicine Country: A Journey into Native American Healing and is co-creator of the bestselling Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power through the Ways of the Animals, which explains how to receive guidance from animals. See David Carson interview.

You can contact David Carson via e-mail at