Teachings come in many forms. Nature shows us that. Thoughts are
teachers. Practices are too. When people invest in a form that form is
enriched and attains an energy of its own, becomes alive. One of the
most vital forms I have found is the Medicine Wheel.
The Medicine Wheel is an ancient circular symbol that has been used by
the native peoples of this land. It also appears that the ancient Celtic
people used such a wheel, and many of the ancient stone wheels in this
continent have Celtic inscriptions on them. It represents the total
universe and teaches us of ourselves and of all other living things. It
shows us the path we must all walk to be fully human. It shows us the
way back to our home, to our center.
The teaching is that we all enter life from one direction on the wheel.
Some enter from the south, some the east, others the north or the west.
Our life's task, then, is to learn what we need to know about the other
three directions. This corresponds to Carl Jung's theory of personality
typing. As with his theory we are told that we enter from one direction,
learning about two of the other directions comes with relative ease, and
learning to work effectively from the fourth remaining direction can
require a lifetime of work. But learn it we must, as there is no other
way to become a whole and fully integrated human being.
We go around the wheel many times in each lifetime, learning and
refining what we already know each time round. Until we are finally so
adept that our movement becomes a dance. It is this dance that takes us
to our rightful place in the center.
One simple way to learn of the wheel is to look at the four directions
and their meanings.
The East is the place of sunrise and spring mornings. It is the place of
beginnings. Of vision. The ground has thawed. The seed is planted and
begins to sprout. Here is the mountain where we go to seek vision and
illumination and clarity. Here we fly on the wings of the eagle. In
Jungian terms the function here is intuition. From the heights of the
east we can see far into the future. It is here that the men sit in
council. This is the place of spirit, informed and energized by the fire
of the sun. Here we learn that all we can imagine can be made real. It
is the place of Spider Woman, continually creating and re-creating the
universe, teaching us that the weaver and the web are one.
The South is the place of innocence and trust. Here we learn of emotion
and passion. In Jungian terms this is the place of the feeling function.
Here we learn to touch with our hearts, and to be touched. Here is the
joy that we feel at noon on a beautiful summer day. The animal of the
south is the tiny mouse, always paying close attention to the smallest
details of life. In the South the musicians and entertainers, the
magicians and ceremonialists teach us of beauty and magic. Beautiful
Shell Woman comes from the south to teach about the ebb and flow of our
feelings and emotions. We can only understand Her message when we are
totally in the moment and are willing to see through the eyes of a
child. Only then can we see the world alive and shimmering, continually
new and splendid. Only then can we feel our deep connection to all of
The West is the place of inner work, of the women. Here the sun sets.
The night time comes. This is the time to look deeply within, into the
darkness to find the inner light. Here we touch the deepest part of our
souls. Here the great mother bear goes into hibernation for the long
winter. Here the snake sheds the skin it has outgrown. Here is the
sensate function. The West is the place of Grandmother Earth and all she
has to teach of cycles and change, of the wisdom of patience, of decay,
death and rebirth. It is the place of night and of the dream. It is the
place of Changing Woman, with her constantly moving and flowing cycles,
her continual rhythm of ebb and flow. Here we learn of our
responsibility to all living things and to the Earth which has given us
the gift of life.
The North is the place of winter time. The ground is frozen. In order to
survive we learn to co-operate with one another. We learn of the
Give-away. Here we understand that all the wisdom and knowledge and
experience we have gained is not for ourselves alone, but must be shared
if we are to survive. The Jungian function is thinking. Here we learn to
use the intellect in creative ways in which all things are honored. The
animal of the North is the great white buffalo, who gave all of itself
so that the people might live. This is the lesson of the Grandmothers
and Grandfathers of the North. This is the place of Rattling Hail Woman
who holds the universe in her hands and teaches us that we must be
consciously involved in the welfare of all.
Each of the directions may be thought of as a lodge. We must learn to be
comfortable and to feel at home in each of the lodges. It is important
that we not avoid the teachings and lessons of one of the lodges,
however difficult they might be for us. It is equally important that we
don't become entrapped in the energy of any one of the lodges and never
move away from it. Each has its dark side. The east's is spiritual pride
and out-there spaciness; the south trap is the continual pain-games and
stories we tell ourselves; the west self-absorption and depression; the
north arrogance and pedantry, knowledge without wisdom.
Each lodge simply serves as a mirror and is intended to show us what we
need to know about ourselves in relation to the entire universe. The
purpose of this is to help us return to the home of the True Self in the
center of our own internal wheel of being.
Some people come in from the East and are full of inspired ideas and
initiating energy. The next movement may be into the south, learning to
play and enjoy life as a small child does. At this point one may be in
love with the "light" and feel that to enter the darkness of the west,
to face the unknown, is simply not in the interest of the New Age. They
may feel all they need to do is say two million positive affirmations
and every thing that is difficult will pass. When one is a puer or
puella, an eternal youth, enchanted with the light, it is most
unsettling to look at the shadow side of things that dwell in the west.
So this person will simply skip the west and move into the north. Here
they may study many things and perhaps learn many spiritual disciplines,
and gain much knowledge. Perhaps enough that they may even begin to
teach others or become very successful in a particular line of work. But
the knowledge will not be wisdom, as that can only be gained by looking
deeply within and processing life's experiences, no matter how painful
or difficult. Until this is done their teaching will be hollow and the
ego will become hard and impenetrable. Unless the inner-realm is faced,
this person moves back into the east and begins to project the shadows
that he has been too frightened to look at onto everything and every one
that differs from him in even the slightest ways. When he returns to the
south he will be ready to numb himself with any and everything possible
to avoid the shadows of self that have grown larger and more ominous as
time has passed and they have been ignored.
So the cycle goes, until the entire thing collapses, and a nervous
breakdown, or a bout with alcohol or drugs has finally been lost, or
wife and family have deserted him because of one or more of his
addictions has finally alienated them all. At this point, if he is
lucky, he will finally enter the west and begin the long overdue process
of introspection and re-ensoulment.
Another person may enter life from the south and may have experienced
great abuse and neglect as a child and when they move into the west they
may become so self-absorbed with looking within that they become lost in
the dark corridors of the psyche. This can result in extreme depression,
narcissism and inertia. Or if they move directly from the west to the
east, skipping the give-away place of the north, they may move into a
state of frenzied activity and find themselves on an endless see-saw
ride of manic depression.
Another may originate in the place of the west in a manner that may make
them inward and timid, and may learn about the north through having and
caring for children, which is, of course, an enormous give-away. This
person may skip the lessons of the east and move into the south, which,
without the inspiration of the east may be a place of plodding attention
to details and mundane activities, with no sense of purpose or
excitement. Their life will be dull and boring and they may feel
themselves in an existential nightmare in which their life has no
purpose or meaning, especially after the children have left home and
maybe the husband has run off with a younger and more exciting woman.
Another person may skip the south because the circumstances of their
life made their own early years so difficult that they never got to
experience their own childhood. This person may be filled with so much
seriousness that they make all of life an enormous drudgery. They are
often full of self-importance and totally lack the ability to laugh at
themselves or at the world.
I came in as a child of the east, full of imagination and fantasy. I was
painfully intuitive, and was filled with religious mysticism. On warm
balmy Texas nights I could always be found lying in the grass, gazing
for hours at the stars, my imagination taking me on endless journeys
throughout the galaxies. I had vivid memories of flying and spent many
hours practicing so that I could do it again. At the small Catholic
elementary school I attended I spent much of my recess in the tiny
chapel, a place of real beauty and magic to me.
I learned much about the South, having been very adored and
over-indulged by my family. Because of very painful losses in my early
life I also learned a lot of the emotional pain of the south, and this
pain moved me into the west where I became very shy, withdrawn and
introverted. The north was a difficult place for me and I avoided it. It
was much easier to move past it into the east and experience every
spiritual trip that caught my fancy. Anything to get high and avoid
responsibility. A perfect puella, or eternal youth. Finally the
emptiness of it all became just too painful.
Then my real work began. I had to learn to stay in one place and connect
deeply to the land and the people right there, rather than moving all
the time. I had to commit myself to a schedule of work, giving up many
other possibilities that continually came my way. I had to eliminate the
many distractions and entertainments I had constantly run after. I had
to begin to take life and myself seriously, and find a way to give-away
all the many blessings I had received. In this way I was able to finally
move into the Northern part of the wheel and begin to take the
responsibility that was appropriate for me in my stage of life.
There are so many ways to work with the medicine wheel. It is powerful
as a tool to bring us to a deeper relationship with ourselves but it
also connects us with a larger community which includes plants, animals,
mouths of rivers and solar systems; everything has a place in the wheel,