The Four Directions and Medicine Wheel of Native Americans
Life calls to open sacred space during pivotal events, such as birth or marriage, and for healing purposes. Whatever the reason is, the intention must carry an unyielding presence of love and focus for sacred space to open. When sacred space is created, the veils between the physical and spiritual worlds begin to thin and transformation ensues.
The Medicine Wheel
At the heart of the Shamanic path is the contract to live in harmony with nature, self, community, and spirit. The Medicine Wheel, or Wheel of Life, is represented by the four directions.: it symbolizes the cycle of life, without beginning or end, and provides guidance for living. While the Medicine Wheel varies by culture, it universally honors the core belief that all things on earth are living and all things are interconnected. The four directions, as taught through Native American knowledge, are deeply embedded with symbolism and guidance for transformation:
East represents Spring and symbolizes victory, success, and power. After a long winter, the renewed sense of life emerges. The color is red and it symbolizes protection. Red beads were used to call forth the red spirit for strong love relations, to heal from illness, and to pray for longevity. Animals of the East are birds in flight such as the owl, hawk, and hummingbird. Words are offered to the East so they may fly and soar with Spirit.
North represents winter and also a sense of trouble, hardships, and sadness. As winter is the season of waiting and surviving, the Cherokee word for North literally means cold. North is the color blue. The animals representing the North include white buffalo, moose, and bear. These animals are a reminder to be patient with the seasons.
West represents Autumn and the final harvest as the end of a cycle. The West is black and it represents the death of summer’s cycle. The animals of the west include the beaver for teamwork to prepare for winter and the snake to remind us of how to shed our old skin for transformation.
South represents Summer and is a time of great abundance. The summer holds fertility, passion, growth, joy, and peace. The color is white. The animals of the South hold the lesson of strength, courage, and pride. The eagle with her keen sight and the wolf, proud to be part of the tribe.
Above and Below
There are three more Sacred Directions: up above to the stars is yellow, down below to the earth is brown and the center is green. The place of self or the “sacred fire” of the self which is the center of all paths. The medicine wheel holds meaning to life, death, birth, aftermath, rebirth, and the sacredness of place along the path.
Assignment: Find Your True North
Knowing the cardinal directions and where you stand in relation to them is an essential aspect of connecting to the natural and spirit worlds. Ancient cultures of the world, in tune with the cycles of the seasons and the stars, knew how to orient themselves if lost and likely intuited their location naturally due to practice.
Set a reminder to locate true north intermittently throughout the day; for example, at sunrise, midday and sunset, use a compass to find north. Stand facing north and notice the angle of the sun and landmarks that may guide you without a compass.
Four Directions Ceremony: Open Sacred Space
Call upon the four directions in this invocation from the Q’ero Shamans of Peru to ask for a blessing from the spirits in your endeavors. Consider creating an altar representing each direction. To begin, take some deep breaths, let go of mental preoccupations and align with your heart’s intention to create sacred space. As you face each direction, smudge or fan sage, blow scented water, or shake a rattle and say the prayer aloud.
Face the south with one arm up and the other palm open to receive
To The Winds of the South
Mother of the Life-giving waters
Wrap your coils of light around me
Remind me of how to let go and shed old ways of being
Teach me to walk the way of beauty
Face the west with one arm up and the other palm open to receive
To The Winds of the West
Support me as I see my own fears
Teach me how to transform my fears into love
Remind of how to live with impeccability
May I have no enemies in this lifetime or next
Face the north with one arm up and the other palm open to receive
To the Winds of the North
Teach me about your endurance and your great joy
Come to me in the dreamtime
With honor I greet you
Face the east with one arm up and the other palm open to receive
To the Winds of the East
Eagle or Condor
Great visionary, remind me to lead from my pure heart
Teach me to soar to new places, to fly wing to wing with Spirit
Place one palm on the earth and the other arm up
Mother Earth- Pachamama
I pray for your healing
Let me soften into your wisdom
May I take great care of you so that my children and my children’s children
may witness the beauty and abundance you offer me today
Raise both arms to the sky
Father Sun, Grandmother Moon, to the Star nations
Great Spirit- you who are known by a thousand names
And you who are the unnamable One
Thank you for bringing me here at this time
Close the Ceremony
When you have finished your ceremony, sacred space must be closed. This can be done silently or spoken aloud, but it must be intentional. Thank the serpent, jaguar, hummingbird, and eagle for their wisdom. As you release their energies back to their four directions, take a few deep breaths, acknowledge yourself back in the space you are in, and witness any changes in your being. Take any inspiration gleaned from your sacred space and share them with the earth, your family, and your community.
Updated by Gaia Staff 9/17/2020
The Origins of Shamanism
The Origins and History of Shamanism
Shamanism originated in Siberia, where members of indigenous tribes would gather the sometimes poisonous and highly psychoactive mushroom, Amanita muscaria. Once it was recognized and classified as shamanism, it became apparent many cultures around the world conducted similar practices.
It might just be the oldest spiritual practice in the world – one that is not necessarily based on faith in a particular god, but rather based on animism, the belief that everything is living and has a spirit.
Shamanism has persisted all over the world since its inception in ancient native cultures, including Siberian, Indian, Native American, and South American Shamans. Shamanism has had to fight oppression from governments and religions worldwide that perceive it to be a manic and primitive tradition. But its mysticism and continued practice remain strong throughout disparate tribal cultures, many of which had little to no contact for centuries, despite their very similar traditions, beliefs, and rituals.
So what is shamanism? Shamanism is thought to be the key to existence — as long as shamanic rituals are practiced we will continue to exist. Shamans are a link between our plane and higher planes of existence. They link to the spirit world in order to heal, contact deceased ancestors, influence the weather, and uplift consciousness.