Medicine Wheel Teachings
The Native American medicine wheel is familiar to most people. Few, however, know the spiritual meaning of each direction, or that those energies can be called on for help. Laine Cunningham tells people how to align themselves at the medicine wheel’s center.
“When we stand at the center of the medicine wheel, we are balanced in our lives,” she says. “From the center, we can easily turn toward any direction to call on that energy for help.”
The teachings begin with an overview of the medicine wheel’s quadrants.
A different spirit lives in each of the directions, and each spirit offers a different gift. The south sends everything of beauty: the warm winds of spring, flowers and birds, and ease of living. People who stand in the south are open to receiving all the prosperity and abundance of this earth.
The west is very different. The sun passes through there to rest on an island every night. The Thunderbeings also send the purifying rains from this direction. Whenever someone is involved in prayer and a storm comes up, they know their prayers have been heard.
From the north people receive wisdom. Individuals who face this direction often are facing struggles. Once the struggle has resolved, they become teachers and can help others along their own journeys. Although the lessons of the north can be difficult, they are gifts in their own right.
The east sends healing from the sun’s warmth and power. It is also the place where the morning star first appears. The Morning Water Woman has special gifts for those on the spiritual path. No matter what an individual’s life looks like or what goals they hold, standing in the east is always a deeply moving experience.
The final directions are not pictured on two-dimensional representations. Still, they are understood to be part of every medicine wheel. The final three are above, below and the center. Below is Maka, Mother Earth, and above lives Wakan Tanka, the creator.
“Individuals move to the center of their own medicine wheels to find their true selves,” Cunningham says.
In early 1999, Cunningham moved to the Minnesota prairie. There she learned about traditional and modern native lifestyles while participating in powwows, sweat lodges and ceremonies. An elder on the Fond du Lac reservation even taught her how to make birch bark baskets with materials they harvested from the surrounding woods.
After moving to North Carolina, Cunningham connected with individuals from Cherokee, Lumbee and Saponi tribes. In the process, she discovered her family’s link to Cherokee. She now returns there twice a year to commune with the land in and around the Qualla boundary.
Over the last ten years, she has conducted weekend and half-day seminars on courage and spirituality for organizations including a multicultural women’s foundation on White Earth reservation. She has written about Native American lifestyles for American Profile, a national magazine, and brings an understanding of traditional and modern lifeways to her novels.