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Leo Rutherford

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Teachings of the Medicine Wheel - Ancient wisdom for modern times
By Leo Rutherford   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Posted: Friday, June 15, 2007

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The Medicine Wheel is not a belief system but a way to see life more clearly. It teaches how to steer a good heart-full road through life’s many challenging and variegated circumstances.

The Medicine Wheel is a circle of power and knowledge, a way of understanding life, framed in a circle. It teaches of our connection to all things, it shows us our way back to Centre, our way home. The Medicine Wheel is a reflection of the Universe and the individual. As above, so below - the greater is reflected in the lesser and the lesser in the greater.

The Medicine Wheel is not a belief system but a way to see life more clearly, a series of diagrams to help understand the structure of life and see how one action causes another. It teaches how to steer a good heart-full road through life’s many challenging and variegated circumstances.

The ancient matriarchal cultures saw their world in terms of circles and cycles and so it was natural that they should teach of life in this manner. The Jewish Kabbalah is another way of teaching these essential truths but presented in a vertical format as befits a more male oriented society. Each system comes from the understandings and attitudes of its culture of origin and none is better or worse, they are merely different ways of understanding life on earth.

What Is The Meaning Of ‘Medicine’?

Medicine means vital force, life force, wholeness. To be whole is to be healed, to bring to an end to separation of the parts of oneself and separation from life so as to become a fully integrated human. Medicine is anything which brings personal power and understanding, strength and wisdom gained through life experience. Medicine is power in the real sense of that word - power over one’s Self and one’s ability to respond to and to consciously co-create life. A fully integrated whole human is a holy person.

The Medicine Wheel teaches the living of life in a way that brings healing and health to the Earth Mother and to all of our family, friends, and fellow creatures. It guides us to maintain our connection to the Great Mystery and to all aspects of life. Our Personal Medicine is what we have to ‘give-away’ to other humans and to the world,. It is what we contribute to the collective in our lifetime. It is what we can look back on at the end of life with pride and pleasure - what we gave to the evolution of All-That-Is, our unique contribution to the evolution of All Life.

Where Does the Medicine Wheel Come From?

Medicine Wheel teachings have come down to us from the ancient cultures in all parts of the world. All over the world can be found the remnants of stone circles. This system of Wheels originates in Central America, most probably the Mayan culture, though it is not easy to tell just what their furthest origins are.

There are many Medicine Wheel teachings in differing forms from different parts of the world, with the Elements and Powers often placed in quite different directions. The particular direction is not important in itself as the teachings are about relationship. Each Medicine Wheel system is complete and usually cannot be mixed with another system, though the teachings are always complementary and similar.

What is it for?

The Medicine Wheel is a way of teaching fundamental truths about our world. It is not didactic and it is not a belief system, but a path to knowledge, a way of ‘seeing’ the Universe and its great powers, of understanding our individual place in the scheme of things, and learning about the relationships of these powers to each other and to ourselves. These teachings have come to us from our ancestors who learned them through experience. It is for us to test them by our own experience and make them live for us.

What will the study teach me?

How we frame our world is very important. The Universe works like a hall of mirrors and what we ‘see’ depends on our frame of reference, what we allow ourselves to see, on how we look at things. There is a story about some indigenous people in South America asking newly arrived sailors ‘How did you get here? ‘On that ship’ they replied pointing to their galley anchored in the bay. The local people were unable to ‘see’ the ship, it was not in their frame of reference, and it was only when they had been out and walked upon it, touched it and experienced it for themselves, that they were able to accept its existence. We are all like that. We tend not to ‘see’ things until we are ready for them. The Medicine Wheel teachings help broaden your frame of reference and enable you to ‘see’ more.

The Directions And Their Powers

There are four cardinal directions - and the Centre makes five. Then there is the Above and the Below, and that makes seven. Seven is the number of the Dream of the Creator in manifestation. It is the Creator experiencing him/her/itself. The Medicine Wheel is a path towards understanding the Creator’s ‘Dream’ and the multitude of powers that affect our life in the third dimension of material reality.

Here is an introduction to the powers of the four directions.

Powers of The East

The East of the Wheel is where the sun rises. It is the place of beginnings and endings, of vision and inspiration - where spirit comes into matter and where matter touches spirit - the place that is beyond the confines of linear time. It is springtime and the planting of seeds and the beginning of sprouting.

It is the place of the myths of Eagle and Condor who fly between the worlds and see the big picture from high above. It is the place of the Mage, the ‘I-mage-a-nation’ where we learn that what we imagine becomes real. It is the place of the visionary, the one who sees beyond the apparent reality, and of the energy matrix which underlies the physical bodies of all living things. It is the high place where we can go to be alone and to contemplate Life, the Universe and Everything.

It is the Fire of Spirit where dross gets burned away and where we need to navigate with care to make sure it is only the dross and not ourselves that gets burned. It is the place of the mens’ council and of the Heyeokah, the contrary-joker-comedian who teaches truth through showing the world upside down.

Powers of The South

The South of the Wheel is the place of trust and innocence, the time of childhood. It is the place of emotion, energy-motion, of water and of the heart. We learn to touch and be touched, to feel and to be moved by the beauty and magic of the world; where the child experiences the world as alive, shimmering and connected.

South is the place where time begins for us and later, in adult life, it is where our past experiences affect our present until we turn the mirror of self-reflection upon ourselves. South is the place of White Buffalo Woman who brings the Medicine Pipe to the people to teach and remind us of the sacredness of all things.

There is a medicine teaching which says we can look at spiritual childhood as lasting until we are about 27, just before (in astrology) Saturn returns and turns lives upside down.

Powers Of The West

The West is the place of the setting sun where we draw ourselves inwards to do inner work. This is woman’s place, the deep, the dark, the inner, the womb where new creation is nurtured, the place of introspection. The West is the place of Grandmother Earth who gives life and who teaches of cycles and patience, of the permanence of change, of death, decay and rebirth, and that Death-Gives-Life and all things are born, live, die, decay and give new life. It is the direction of all things physical, of the now, the present moment which is the only time that physical matter knows.

West is the place of Bear who hibernates for the long winter and dreams; of Owl who knows the night; and of Jaguar who teaches of death and the need to overcome inertia, deadness, and become a Spiritual Warrior who knows that all ‘enemies’ are really allies and teachers.

This is the place of our spiritual adolescence, which can be looked on as the period from around 27 to 54 years of age, the time of apparent maturity in the everyday world during which we are working through adolescence in the inner world.

Powers of The North

The North is the place of winter when the ground is frozen and we have to learn to co-operate to survive. It is where we learn to achieve adulthood with maturity and to giveaway to one another, and that the survival of the tribe, group, village, country or planet is more important than that of any one individual. This is where we learn to plan for the future and to look at how our actions will affect the next seven generations that follow us.

The North is the place of the wind, of mind, of thinking, of intellect. The animal totems are the Great White Buffalo who gives all of himself to feed and clothe the people and so teaches of the sacredness of the giveaway and reminds us that we, in our turn, give away all we have ‘borrowed’ from Mother Earth at the end of our time here. Also Wolf who is teacher, direction finder and keeper of the family; Horse who is keeper of wisdom and philosophy, and Dragon who leads us to an encounter with direct knowing, a face-to-face encounter with power.

North is the place of mystery teachings such as the Medicine Wheel, the ancient ways of the shaman, teachings of what it means to become fully human (Hu means divine, man means mortal). Adulthood can be considered as the period of life from around 54 to 81 years, the time where we can gain true maturity of spirit in matter.

And then we Return to the East.

And so as our life comes towards its completion we come back once more to the East, now as an elder. We can think of this as the period from about 81 years to 108, or whenever the end comes. This is when we return to the simplicity of childhood as our outer faculties lessen and we move more inward, back towards our essential being, the Spirit-Self who came in at the beginning. All of life leads to death. It is a circle. The teachings say that linear time is an illusion which we experience in the third dimension only. That means that we will step back into the spirit world at the same moment that we left it to come into this world. From Spirit’s view, our whole life journey in the blink of an eye!

As the end of our life approaches, the fire begins to burn up the matter of our bodies until just the essence is left. The quality of our old age is dependent upon how much we have done to clear, heal and develop our-Self and our potential during our journey, on how much we have kept in-spirit, inspired, in contact with the Spirit World, and on how much we have done to develop our gifts and talents and to give them in service to others. In the old cultures, the elders were the Wise Ones who, through the trials and tests of life, gained immeasurably valuable life experience that they made available to the younger generations. This tradition had almost vanished in the ‘developed’ world - and the ‘developed’ world may vanish unless it returns.

Each of the directions can be considered as a ‘lodge’, a home. The teachings say that we will probably be ‘at home’ in one of the four directions, and its trials and tests will be easy for us. Two other directions will require work but their lessons can be learned with dedicated effort, but the fourth direction is where our biggest challenges lie and may require our lifetime’s work to gain mastery of its lessons.

‘Enemies’ Of The Directions.

Each direction has its ‘enemy’, its corruption, it’s self-glorification:

East: Spiritual pride, power over others, rejection of the Earth and matter and attachment to ‘superior spiritual affairs’.
South: Self pity, ‘pain games’, lack of responsibility, childishness.
West: Self obsession, inertia (deadness while alive), depression, fear of death.
North: Knowledge without wisdom, intellectual arrogance, dogma, pedantry, beliefs without experience; the critical, judgmental mind that destroys the self while it thinks it is cleverly showing superiority over others.

It is natural for us to fall into these traps and they are the ways we learn and grow. When we master and ‘enemy’, it becomes our ‘ally.

The Place of Balance

In this realm of duality no force can exist without its opposite. There must be good for us to know bad and bad for us to know good. When we come to the centre, the place of balance, the centre of the cross, the centre of the wheel of our life, we can hold these forces together in harmony. It is our life task to balance these forces within ourselves and so to steer ourselves through the Great Maze of manifest life.

Each one of us has our own particular journey to travel and each one of us has to make our own decisions at every turn. In childhood there are parents and father Christmas figures to guide and take responsibility for us. Once into adulthood there is no one there, no big-daddy-in-the-sky Father-Christmas-God-like replacement, nothing except our-Self. We have spirit guides and ancestors who may guide but do not take responsibility for us. The journey is one of making our own way, through our own choices and our own effort, and of taking responsibility for the outcome. No one is to blame, there is no blame, there is just experience to be experienced and awareness, perception and consciousness to be gained. Each direction is a mirror and it reflects to us what we need to know in order to grow, develop and complete our self. Its purpose is to help and guide us to return home to the place of balance, alignment, harmony, and health that is our Centre, where our little will merges with the Great Will of Creation. Ho!

Web Site: Eagle's Wing

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Return of the Canoe Societies: Second Edition by Rosemary Patterson

A riveting Literary History and adventure novel that celebrates the cultural resurgence of Coastal First Nations peoples...  
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