Medicine Wheel Meaning and Function

A Medicine Wheel is a living sculpture we can use as a tool for personal introspection as well as for group healing.  Built with stones of any size, the Medicine Wheel is both simple and complex at once.  It can show several reflections of reality at once, even if those realities contradict each other. The Medicine Wheel meaning and function is about learning how to shift from the time-keeping hemisphere of awareness to the timeless, non-verbal knowing field of witness.   It is a meditative tool made of stone that also connects us with the cycles of the season and the animal nations.  Stones are keepers of energy records throughout time.  Taking time to connect to the silent information in stones is an excellent way to enter the Shamanic awareness and access the morphogenic field, also called the Knowing Field.  Learning about the Knowing Field is the basis of Shamanism.

Medicine Wheel History

Stone Circles have been built all over the world since time out of mind. There are some similarities between the Medicine Wheels in Western Canada and the megalithic stone rings of Stonehenge which were built at the time the pyramids were being constructed in Egypt.  The most well-known ancient Wheels of Turtle Island (North America) are found at the Big Horn basin near Lovell, Wyoming and the Circlestone ruin in Arizona. There are also several circles found across Canada.  These ancient protected sites are accepted as being a minimum of 7,000 years old and are still used by the indigenous people of the land today.   The Medicine Wheel is recorded as being originally from the Ojibewe tribe which eventually spread to many other tribes before European contact.

Public knowledge of Native American Medicine Wheel teachings comes from the Chippewee author and Medicine Man, Sun Bear who published his work from between 1973 and 1994.  Sun Bear’s life achievement was to establish the Bear Tribe community which allowed people from any ethnic background to join, learn and help recover Indigenous Spirituality. His books and workshops were an effort to unite global consciousness.  His paradigm is an excellent beginning place to understand the core principles involved with working with Medicine Wheel concepts. There is some controversy in the Native communities about Sun Bear sharing these teachings with the world.  With good reason, many of the Indigenous tribal traditions for Medicine Wheels and other ceremonies practiced on Reservations are not open to public use and should be respected as private. The Sun Bear teachings are public.  He published them as an offering to all nations and his work is what we will use to learn about the Knowing Field. The Knowing Field has been used by indigenous cultures all over the world for thousands of years and has only recently been recognized and named in Western science as Quantum Physics.  But while Scientists focus on learning how the Field works- doing their best to stay separate from the Field, tribal cultures focus on learning how to work inside the field.  A Medicine Wheel is a gateway for the mind to cross from static data collecting to experiential learning.

The Architecture of Modern Medicine Wheels as taught by Sun Bear:  

Medicine Wheel Meaning and Function.

Medicine Wheel Meaning and Function.

Center Stone- (1) The Great Mystery.  Begin building the wheel by placing the center stone which symbolizes the sheer wonder of all that is.  In Lakota teachings there is no heaven, no classical God.  There is only the Great Mystery- the Void from which all life comes.  Life is and will always be- a mystery.

Inner Wheel-(2-8) The Seven Clans around the Great Mystery.  Around the center stone seven stones are placed.  These stones represent the clans (collective awareness of) Planet Earth, the Sun, the Moon and the four basic elements of life- Fire, Air, Water, and Stone.

Outer Wheel -in two parts

Part 1- Four Spirit Guardians- (9-12) These are the Gate Keepers of the four directions; North, South, East and West.  These four large outer stones should be placed in the actual accurate directions they represent whenever possible.  The four directions of the world hold profound cosmic wisdom of how reality comes and goes through spacetime. They work on polar opposite axis with North being the seat of elders and teaching while South is the home of eternal youth and the process of always learning.  East is the guardian of all things spiritual/metaphysical while the West is the portal to physical reality. The East/West axis is called the BLUE ROAD of spirit.  It is the energy stream of ancestors and lives yet to come.  The North/South axis is the RED ROAD of life. It is the ‘right’ path we walk in life to stay connected to what is true.  Truth changes.  We follow.  Where the Blue Road and the Red Road cross is where communication between dimensions can occur, where we can access the Knowing field.

Part 2- Months Of The Calendar Year – (13-24) The smaller stones between the four directions in the outer wheel make up a single calendar year with three months per quadrant.  Each month holds a Spirit Animal Guide for that time of year as well as a color vibration and a stone.  It is good to locate and contemplate the meanings of the stone of your month of birth and compare it to its opposite- which would be your particular life challenges and what you are learning in this life walk. Keep in mind, this interpretation of the outer wheel is a modern construct, as ancient tribes did not use a European calendar year.  Sun Bear adapted the Medicine Wheel to modern culture.

The Spokes: Virtue Path Ways between the inner and outer wheels- Energetically, we are always moving either from the outside wheel to the inside or from the inside out.  We are always moving between physical reality and spiritual metaphysical reality.  How we move between the dualistic realms is informed by the Virtue stones. Each spoke in the wheel is comprised of three stones each (12 stones total) which connect the inner circle to the outer circle and create distinct quadrants. The connecting spokes are dynamic teachings that enable us to travel from inner to outer reality.  One experience leads to the next and we are always cycling around from beginning to end and beginning again. The four virtue pathways are comprised as follows:

Virtue Pathway one:  Spirit Journey of the North- (stones 25-27)

Cleansing StoneRenewal StonePurity Stone-

To seek enlightenment it is necessary to release illusions and misperceptions.  This is done through a process of cleansing.  There are many ways to cleans body, mind, and spirit. Native cultures hold the sacred Sweat Lodge for this phase of life. Once cleansed in a spiritual ceremony we are renewed and have shed old unhelpful beliefs.  The cleansing and renewal processes lead us to the reality of pure innocence.  From this place, we are ready to move to the Eastern pathway.

Virtue Pathway two: Spirit Journey of the East- (stones 27-30)

Clarity StoneWisdom StoneIllumination Stone

Having released the illusions of the past we see what is- as it is.  From the empty space of clarity, real wisdom about people and life patterns emerge effortlessly.  We find in this part of the wheel that we have answers to peoples questions without much effort.  This stream of wisdom leads to an even higher state.  Beyond logical wisdom and data collecting, we discover an indescribable state of grace known as illumination.  When we are in this part of the wheel we are able to leave our limited personal situation and grasp entire generations of conflict with compassion. From illumination connect to cosmic dimensions beyond our five senses.  Achieving this moves us, ironically out of the Eastern arc and into the South, the land of the child.

Virtue Pathway three: Spirit Journey of the South- (stones 31-33)

The journey through clarity, wisdom, and illumination has an unexpected effect of bringing us back to the child’s place of learning.  Having left the familiar dimension of the North environment and opened to new realms, we become students once again of an unknown territory.  The phases of this arc are the:

Growth Stone- Trust Stone-Love Stone– Whatever we question can be dismantled, leaving us confounded and alone if we are not careful.  To truly grow we must trust the process of life.  When we learn to trust, we open to love.  Can there be any greater achievement?  But the wheel doesn’t stop there.  It never stops.  As we move through love relationships our awareness shifts us into the fourth quadrant- The Western arc.

Virtue Pathway four: Spirit Journey of the West- (stones 34-36)

Experience StoneIntrospection StoneStrength Stone– Here we release the comfort of having answers and enter the uncomfortable phase of being taught again by elders in an area of life we’ve only just discovered.  We grow.  It is awkward but necessary and compulsive.  All the love and connection we find in life at any time still does not ultimately define us.  When we move into these virtues we understand that we are not what happens to us. No single relationship, no matter how loving, can ever define us definitively.  Likewise, no single relationship no matter how painful can define us either.  We are ever changing energy fields through time. This pathway asks us to accept our independent, autonomous nature.  The last stone in the cycle is Strength.  The process of living always leads a soul to more power gained.  EVERY life walk is a success on some level no matter how many mistakes we’ve made.  One’s life always results in some amount of power achieved in some capacity.  Connecting to, moving through, and releasing physical reality results in spiritual power.  We survive the trials of life and simply grow stronger and more capable of another cycle of experience.  It is our choice to use that power to enter the wheel again and cycle through another adventure.  Or perhaps we will use our hard-won strength to travel out of the Wheel and sustain presence for others.


Build them wherever you go! It is your adventure and your wheel. Do with it what you will and bring what you discover to others. Build tiny wheels with pebbles in your bedroom.  Build larger wheels with river stones at your next campsite.  These wheels are invitations into the Field- a greater resource for wisdom.

The Medicine Wheel is a cosmic map into the Great Mystery.  It is a living sculpture of energy patterns which teaches us how to listen to life’s moments with shamanic integrity and helps us locate where we are in relation to where we want to be and how best to move forward towards our life’s joy.  This introspective tool, when combined with Animal Spirit Medicine teachings can open up limiting perspectives and shift a situation into deeper clarity and creative momentum.

White Buffalo Calf Woman

Medicine Wheel Meaning and Function.

White Buffalo Calf Woman: Connecting to a revered source of power greater than you is always advised before entering into personal shamanic inquiry. Every spiritual practice has a Spirit Guardian.  From Christ to Buddha to Quan Yin… and others. Lakota Medicine Ways are in the guidance and protection of White Buffalo Calf Woman.  Call on her to learn more about how to conduct a sacred ceremony.  She teaches how to develop personal and collective spiritual ceremonies to connect to higher dimensions of the cosmos.  This powerful Female energy field is the guardian of the sacred Lakota Pipe Ceremonies, Vision Quests, Sweat Lodge and Sun Dance.  She is the spirit guide who teaches how to hold effective communion with dimensions beyond our perceptions.  Call on White Buffalo Calf Woman when dancing with the Wheel.

Mitakuye Oyasin! (pronounced- ‘mitakwee osin’)  “For all my relations!” This Lakota phrase reminds us that we are woven into a vast fabric of life.  We are all connected.  What we do effects ALL of all our relations on Earth, the Animal Nations, the Standing People (trees), the Stone People, the living rivers, and all of Gaia.

I wish you joy on your journey through the Medicine Wheel.

-Jessica Hagan
Otter On A Rock


Dancing With The Wheel: The Medicine Wheel Workbook by Sun Bear- the basic data of ways to interpret and engage the Wheel.

Even If It Costs Me My Life by Stephan Hausner – An excellent introduction to how western medicine is now using the Morphogenic Knowing Field to heal on emotional/spiritual dimensions.

Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat- a bridge between two ways of thinking and how to have informed compassion and understanding for Indigenous cultures.

Animal Medicine Cards and Sacred Path Cards by Jamie Sams- This authors work opened a flood gate of lost Native wisdom.  Her cards are a fun and elegant way to learn about the spirituality of Turtle Island (North America)

Insights At The Edge- Podcast with Tammi Simon of Sounds True.  This is THE best free resource for studying all aspects of the healing arts- from Shamanism to science.  A link to this podcast can be found at: