The Circle of Life
"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our Teepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation 's hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children. "
(Black Elk Speaks, pp. 198-200) Spiritual Advisor to the Oglala Sioux in 1930.
Native cultures in their traditional nature are authentic and dynamic, fostering distinctive and sophisticated development. A sense of identity, pride and self-esteem are rooted in established spiritual principles.
Native spiritual life is founded on a belief in the fundamental inter-connectedness of all natural things, all forms of life with primary importance being attached to Mother Earth.
The Medicine Wheel
The symbol of the circle holds a place of special importance in Native beliefs. For the North American Indian, whose culture is traditional rather than literate, the significance of the circle has always been expressed in ritual practise and in art. The lives of men and women, as individual expressions of the Power of the World move in and are nourished by an uninterrupted circular/spiral motion. This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. Human beings live, breathe and move, giving additional impetus to the circular movement, provided they live harmoniously, according to the circle's vibratory movement. Every seeker has a chance to eventually discover a harmonious way of living with their environment according to these precepts.
The Four Powers
Each of the four directions represents a particular way of perceiving things, but none is considered superior or more significant than the other. The emphasis is always placed on the need to seek and explore each of the four great ways in order to gain a thorough understanding of one's own nature in relation to the surrounding world.
The four cardinal points of the circle transcend the mere compass directions. The directions themselves embody four powerful natural forces representing seasonal influences associated with various other powerful attributes.
North represents Wisdom. Its colour is white, its power animal is the buffalo and its gift is strength and endurance. From the South comes the gift of warmth and growth after winter is over, a place of innocence and trust. Its colour is green (or sometimes red), its power animal, the mouse. To the West is the place of introspection, of looking within one's spirit. Its colour is black, its gift rain and its power animal the bear. The East is marked by the sign of the Eagle. Its colour is gold for the sun's illumination, the new dawning sky and enlightenment. Its gift is peace and light.
Understanding the meaning of the Medicine Wheel depends on the concept that a person's life consists of"conquering the four hills: Infancy, Youth, Maturity and Old Age. The four stages are celebrated in ritual as the four prime moments in life corresponding to the four directions.
The first hill is the South (innocence and trust) where the infant's reception into life occurs. The second hill, that of introspection, in the West, becomes the youth's solitary vigil and quest for vision. This first quest seeks the revelation of the Great Spirit's manifestation and continuing presence.
This is the time when a power animal attribute enters a Native individual's soul becoming a part of his or her name. (Sitting Bull, Black Elk, Crazy Horse and so on). It marks the beginning of the dweller within, the dreaming soul that contacts the higher spiritual planes bringing back visions that serve as fundamental guide posts in life. The hill of maturity lies to the North and represents the successful realization of ability and ambition. It is the place of recognition in which the pursuit of wisdom underlies and nourishes all action.
Sympathy with life itself grows in this quarter.
The final hill is that of old age situated in the East. It represents a quiet, reflective and meditative segment where the old ones now can pass on their knowledge to youth as they have mastered the meaning of joy and sorrow and the many other trials and tribulations encountered over the course of their existence.
Source: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Native Spirituality Guide
Tipis Piegan. "Tipi" vient du sioux "ti": habiter et "pi": employé pour. Photographie: Edward S. Curtis: "The North American Indian". Library of Congress.