The use of the Medicine Wheel, and it’s four compass points, in the spiritual and healing practice of the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere of Earth stretches back at least 5000 years (Vulcan County, Alberta & Big Horn County, Wyoming1,5). The use of the Medicine Wheel probably extends back many thousands of years before that, into antiquity. This is actually the traditional and original “western medicine” – a knowledge and practice almost lost to those of us living today. Although some of the details of different tribes’ medicine wheels like the animal archetypes for each direction differ from North, to Central to South America, the major concepts appear similar.
Each direction is associated with one of the four energetic bodies that make up the human energy field: the particle or physical world (the body), the realm of emotions and thoughts (the mind), the realm of myth (the soul), and the world of spirit (energy). In North America, the Lakota Sioux also associate each direction with the time of day, the time of year, and the time of life3. For many thousands of years the shamans of the Americas have used each direction of the Medicine Wheel as interdependent doorways to unique perceptual levels, or states, in order to recover an individual’s true essence, personal power, energy, and inner wisdom for healing. The Laika people, isolated in the Peruvian Andes Mountains, seem to have a well-preserved and undistorted record of the use and meaning of their Medicine Wheel2. Thus, their version is central in our Earthkeeping, Integrative and Holistic Medicine practice.
The physical world (the body) is associated with the SOUTH direction and is represented by SERPENT2. In North America, the Lakota Sioux word for the South direction is Iktokaga, and is associated with noon, summer, and adolescence3. This is the material level of perception where most of modern medicine resides, in anatomy, in physiology, biochemistry, surgery and pharmacy. It is the realm where reality is 99% matter and only 1% spirit. This perspective is where everything is exactly as it seems or is measured without any judgment or emotions. Serpent symbolizes knowledge, scientific method, and healing with physical solutions, in order to treat diseases and injury. Serpent also sheds its skin, and grows a new skin underneath, and so, is continually both shedding its past, and healing itself. The innate healing intelligence of the body that is gradual, incremental and pulsed is the domain of the Serpent. Perhaps the most universal of the archetypes, Serpent has represented healing and the healing professions from the ancient Greek physicians into modern medicine as the staff of Asclepius, a powerful symbol.
Operating from the Serpent’s perspective is especially helpful for getting us through immediate trouble. Our reptilian brain is in charge, and works from survival instincts. We do what has to be done without overanalyzing or getting emotionally distraught about it.
The Four Teachings of the South are: Non-Judgment, Non-Suffering, Non-Attachment, and The Beauty Way2. Look at everything with beginner’s eyes. Avoid indulging or projecting pain. Let go of the labels you have stuck on yourself. Perceive loveliness even in the midst of ugliness. Move upon the Earth in beauty. Bring beauty into every interaction. – Alberto Villoldo, PhD
Understand that all of the four directions have some crossover and interdependence. Please refer to related articles below with the serpent icon. These look at healing from the SERPENT’S perspective of modern medical science.
- Scherrer, D, “Native American Medicine Wheels”; Stanford Univ. 2015 & “Medicine Wheel / Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark”; Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO Website) 2017
- Four Winds Society, Light Body School, Shamanic Energy Medicine Training March / April 2017 For example, among indigenous South American Andean people, the Condor is the archetype for the East instead of the Eagle in North America, but both embody keen vision, mastery of the heavens and connection to the Great Spirit
- Oklevueha Native American Church Membership Orientation 2016. For example, in many indigenous North American groups, the Bear is the archetype for the West instead of the Jaguar in South America, but both embody fearlessness as a core attribute.
- Andean Cosmic Vision Apprenticeship 2003 – Current
- Freeman, G; “Hidden Stonehenge” Book, Watkins Publishing (2012)
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