The Medicine Wheel is an ancient symbol of First Nations spirituality

Padre Jonczyk

Padre Zibby Jonczyk

Although I am not an expert when it comes to First Nations spirituality, I would like to share with you some of my limited knowledge of a symbol which perhaps you might have seen around Cold Lake. You will find it on the sign for the Cold Lake Museum and Casino Dene among other places. That symbol is the Medicine Wheel.

Ancient people of different cultures have left us with some spectacular monuments. Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, Stonehenge in England or the giant figures of Easter Island. The ancient people who lived on the North American plains have also left us with some of their cultural heritage which, although less spectacular, are also much less intrusive.

The Medicine Wheel is considered one of the oldest symbols of First Nations spirituality and it is believed to have been around for more than 4,000 years.

In your summer travels across Alberta, Saskatchewan and South of the border in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming you might be able to find some. If you do, please treat them with respect as they are sacred to the First Nations people. If you thought that there is not much history in Alberta you might be surprised, as most of the Medicine Wheels are located in our province.
All of the Medicine Wheels on the North American prairies were created by laying stones on the ground in a particular pattern. Most of them have a center cairn surrounded by an outer ring of stones. Often the wheels would have lines of rocks radiating from the cairn towards the outer ring.

Today you might find a Medicine Wheel represented in bumper stickers, dream catchers, jewelry, tattoos or as part of powwow costumes. Most Medicine Wheels are in four colours: red, white, yellow and black, although varieties with blue or green replacing black exist.

What does a Medicine Wheel symbolize? Some elders teach that the Medicine Wheel represents the human journey; others say that it represents our life itself. The wheel is divided in four quarters. Each represents a different element—earth, wind,
fire, water; one of the four cardinal directions—North, South, East and West; one of the four seasons—winter, spring, summer, fall; one of the four stages of life—child, youth, adult, elder; four spirit animals—wolf, eagle, buffalo, bear; and four sacred plants —cedar, tobacco, sage, sweetgrass. Some Medicine Wheels also include the four areas of our health: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. Others elements exist depending on the tribe and its spiritual traditions. In a center of the
wheel often there is a place for the soul or the self and the Creator.

The Medicine Wheel is a symbol of wholeness. It includes all races, plants and animals coexisting as part of Creation. Whether they represent our journey or ourselves, Medicine Wheels show our inter-connectedness, interdependency and the balance that sometimes we lose somewhere along our journey when we focus on one element and neglect the others. As the Medicine Wheel reminds us, we must care for all aspects of our life and make sure we are connected to our Creator and to those around us. Only then we will achieve the balance we need to nurture our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

The Medicine Wheel symbolism could be wrapped in a phrase used frequently in the First Nations prayers: “All my relations.” And with the Creator as the center of our wheel, we might just find that perfect balance.
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