Throughout history Native American, Peruvian, Mexican, Siberian, Celtic and Nordic people, to name a few, have practiced honoring the four directions as part of their culture’s connection to well-being, nature and spiritual harmony. The four directions are placed within The Medicine Wheel, often referred to as the “Sacred Hoop.” Each cardinal direction, East, South, West and North, along with the center, above and below hold lessons of physical, emotional and spiritual balance. Symbolism is woven through each one in the form of colors, animals and elemental relations.
The Wheel of Life
The Medicine Wheel is also known as “the wheel of life” where there is no beginning or end, representing a way of living that is always evolving and transforming. Through the study of the four directions, one may begin to unearth their struggles and attune to their vision, so that intentions, prayers and potentials may be realized. According to Ina Woolcott, “the medicine wheel shows us that we are all connected and shows us the intricacies of the interwoven threads of life and what our part in it all is.”
When Life Calls for Sacred Space
When life calls for a ceremony to open sacred space, such as birth, death, marriage, community gatherings, prayer and meditation to name a few, the four directions can be an invocation to become the landmark in which to ground spiritual work. By opening sacred space, permission is being asked from the local spirits, the mountains and mother earth to perform a ceremony in the space. According to Alberto Villoldo, “within sacred space we have extraordinary spiritual assistance available to us. When we call within sacred space, the Universe conspires on our behalf.”
The Luminous Energy Field
Whatever the reason is to call in sacred space, the intention must carry an unyielding presence of love and focus for it to open. When sacred space is created, the veils between the physical and spiritual worlds begin to thin and the feeling of transformation within becomes completely authentic and unique. Ina Woolcott states that, “for the Q’ero Shaman, the four directions are related to the four layers of the Luminous Energy Field (LEF), to the four levels of perception, to the four major aspects of being human: body, mind, soul, spirit and to the journey of human being-ness, what is called the Medicine Wheel.” Through this honoring and invocation, an intimate relationship with the luminous energy field and its associations arises naturally. At the heart of the Shamanic path is the contract to live in harmony with nature, self, community and spirit. Through this way of living, emotional, mental and physical imbalances begin to shape shift and dreaming one’s life into reality becomes a way of life.
All Things Are Living and Connected
The history of the medicine wheel and the four directions varies within Indigenous cultures all over the world. Each culture honors the core belief that all things on earth are living and all things are interconnected. Whether the four directions are invoked through ceremony or daily living, there is a deep reverence and respect for the cycles and mysteries of life.
As there is a multitude of information on this topic, I will focus on a brief overview of the four directions in the Native American or First Nations tradition, followed by a description of the four directions of the Q’ero Shamans in Peru. Lastly I will give an example of creating sacred space and an invocation to call in the four directions.
The Four Directions: Native American Knowledge
The four directions, as taught through Native American knowledge, including corresponding colors and meanings:
East represents Spring and symbolizes victory, success and power. After a long winter, the renewed sense of life emerges. The Color is red. Red was the color of the war club weapon used to fight against enemies. 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. Each of which have a layer of fat to survive during the winter. These animals are hunted and highly respected for the reminder of taking things slowly and being patient with what winter will bring.
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. When Shaman’s would call upon the enemy to be destroyed, they would summon the black spirits in the west, asking them to tear out the enemy’s soul and carry it west to be put in a black coffin with a black serpent coiled above it. The animals of the west include the beaver for teamwork to prepare for winter and 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. White beads meant all was peaceful and happy when trading. 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.
The Four Directions: Q’ero Peruvian Medicine Wheel
Note that the South is the starting point of the Q’ero Wheel, whereas in the Native American tradition the East is the beginning of the cycle. I had the honor to study and become a full mesa carrier in the Peruvian shamanic lineage with shaman Christine Selda and Jhaimy Alvarez-Acosta of Children of the 7 Rays.
Going through the medicine wheel training was a profound and highly transformative experience. It was deeply rich in ceremony, creativity, commitment to the path and dynamic practices to release blockages and obstacles inside in my body and mind. Shamanism is an ongoing study and practice for me as is my practice of yoga and meditation. My call to live with ceremony, prayer, daily practice, art, breath and union with nature life has inspired me to keep going further on this journey and to inspire others on this path.
The South represents the element of Earth and is the color white. “Sacha Mama” the serpent or the great water boa is the animal associated with the South. It represents physical healing, shedding old layers or wounds to be transformed into sources of power and compassion. Similar to a snake shedding its skin, the practice here is to shed the parts of our ego and our physical body that no longer serve the highest self.
The West represents the element of water and yellow is the color associated with this direction. “Otorongo” or sister jaguar is the animal totem of the West and she is the one who teaches us how to track our fears and be a luminous warrior. She holds the wisdom of the breath and the keys to our emotional healing. The jaguar teaches us how to be impeccable and honest. She calls to us to have no enemies in this lifetime or the next.
The North represents the element of Air and red is the color. The royal hummingbird or “Siwarkenti” teaches us how to see the joy and magic in our lives. The ancient ones and the mountains are also connected to the north, reminding us that nothing is out of our reach. The essence of the North is spiritual healing and the practices are in stepping out of time into the world of spirit.
The East represents the element of Fire and is the color green. The great eagle or condor “Hatun or Apuchin” holds the wisdom of the visionary and how to dream your way into being. The eagle asks us to soar our own wings to new places and to fly wing to wing with spirit. The essence of the East is through thought and manifestation our dreams can become our reality.
Mother Earth or “Pachamama” is honored for all the abundance and beauty she gives to us. She asks for so little yet she gives so much. Mother Earth represents creativity, fertility, planting seeds, growth and nourishment.
Father Sun, Grandmother Moon and Star Nations
Above, a relationship is formed with “Inti Titi” or father sun, “Mamakia” or grandmother moon, “Hatun Chaska” or Star Nations, and “Wakan Tanka” or Great Spirit as they all guide us on our journey of discovery, healing and deep connection with nature.
A Call to Three Other Realms
Shamans from the Peruvian lineage call to three other realms of non-ordinary reality:
A call to the lower world where “Husk Inca” lives, keeper of the lower world and keeper of soul parts, power animals and sacred contracts. The shamans journey here to find answers to questions regarding these topics. Middle World A call to the middle world where “Quetzelcoatl,” a feathered winged serpent, resides. This is the realm of the present and the god of the middle world. Quetzelcoatel may deliver messages to the present day questions. Upper World A call to the upper world where “Pachacuti Inca” lives, in the upper realm. Shamans journey here to shift and transform our destinies. Here, anything is possible, the message may be received and the work is to bring it into the present.
“The shaman’s covenant with Spirit is that when she calls, Spirit answers. Powerful medicine people from the Spirit world appear in the form of luminous beings who assist us in our healing work. Literally we use the four cardinal directions to get our bearings in the material world. For the shaman, these directions also personalize qualities and energies. If we can imagine the movement of these energies in the same way that a weather forecast shows the jet stream bringing rain from one area to another, we can understand how energy moves through space.” ::Dr. Alberto Villoldo
Calling in the Four Directions: A Blessing to Create Sacred Space
This blessing to create sacred space calls upon the four directions as an invocation where we ask for permission to the spirits to do our intentional work. We call in the spirits of the four cardinal directions and beyond: South, West, North and East, Mother Earth and Father Sky.
To begin, take some deep breaths, let go of any mental preoccupations and align with your heart’s intention to create sacred space. Feel free to change any of the words to align with your vision as this works best when it’s authentic to you.
As you face the South, smudge or fan sage or incense, blow scented water, or shake a rattle and repeat the prayer for the South. Have one arm held up and face the palm of your hand out to receive. Then repeating west, north and east. When calling in mother earth or “pachamama” place one hand to the ground and when calling to Father Sky, reach for the stars.
To The Winds of the South Great Serpent 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
To The Winds of the West Mother Jaguar 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
To the Winds of the North Royal Hummingbird Ancient Ones Teach me about your endurance and your great joy Come to me in the dreamtime With honor I greet you
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
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
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.
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.
I would like to end with a Hopi Proverb which has been one of my guiding mantras: “Know your garden and where your water is.”