The Medicine Wheel
Charting Our Challenges & Advantages
By Jesse Wolf Hardin



It is best to walk up on one, in either the early hours of morning or in the last rays of the sun, as the shadows sharply delineate their circles of stones. Dating back to pre-Columbian times, Medicine Wheels are a world-wide phenomena as well as helpful tools for these modern times. With their markers oriented to each of the cardinal directions, they served the various indigenous cultures as a type of compass, astrological map and a calendar of the passing seasons, but from surviving tribal folklore we know these still poignant wheels of life are meant to chart much, much more.

From first breath until last, all human experience is cyclic, and every transition along the way can be plotted on this predictable spherical model. Every human and natural event could be plotted on its circular course, affixed to its bed of stone first by observation and then by personal memory, tradition and story: The years of drought and food, increase and plenty.

The first migration to this spot, the gathering and placing into a circle of these very rocks, and any annual or final migrations away. Days of strife, and months of peace. Events that affected entire populations, and those most significant to the individual such as births, the onset of moon-time (menses), rites of passage and the promises of marriage, and the assuming of honors and responsibilities.

On the wheel it is possible to chart both one’s personal health ecology, but also an entire system of constitutional healing and Western energetics such as that of the Animá Medicine Woman Tradition. My partner Kiva begins every healing consultation by determining her clients’ place of origin on the Wheel, and hence their basic constitutions, advantages and challenges before helping move them in the direction of their healing and wholeness.    

The result of astrological influences is a propensity, an innate inclination to perceive in certain ways and to respond predictably to similar situations. And all the more so, the effects of planet Earth and the inspiriting Animá, and five distinctive sets of characteristics, advantages and struggles we can assign to each direction.

Conscious recognition of our place on the Wheel at any given time enables us to make empowered choices grounded in self knowledge, with foresight regarding what is yet to come, or to be done. We can tell if we are on the path, fulfilling our own meaningful purpose, once we can look back and see where we started from, and forward to where  we are headed.

This is possible because we all appear to walk the Medicine Wheel of our lives sun-wise (or clockwise), creating a graph of our course. And in the end, each individual’s path is clearly a loop, leading us not just out into the world but also further into our selves... leading us full circle, to wholeness and to home.   

To create your own working model, begin with a minimum of 4 large and 28 smaller stones. These should ideally be collected from an area close to the site of your array, but could also have been gathered from the many different places you have travelled. Be conscious of their singularity. All vibrate a little differently, each buzzing with their own individual songs, minerals seeming somehow alive though in no hurry at all. Sit with them for awhile and feel the weight of their presence.

Next, prepare a smooth round area with your bare hands, perhaps 2 to 3 feet in diameter, and focus on the center. Starting with the East, place one of the large stones to mark its position on the rim of the Wheel. Carefully place each of the other three large stones to the South, West and North, then space two smaller ones between each of these cardinal points. A total of twelve stones should now make up the outer rim.

Place another 8 in a smaller circle at the Center, marking the 5th direction: root, earth and axle. Finally, connect this inner hub to the stones representing the 4 directions with 2 or more stones, making the East/West and North/South lines.

At birth you enter the Wheel from a particular orientation — your original direction. We could call this influence/power a “freebie,” in that it’s a gift of talents and tendencies you didn’t have to work for or grow into, of beneficial challenges as well as outright advantages. They helped to influence your inclinations and propensities, responses and actions from the time you left the womb until at least that first big change in how you “lived” the world.

Even once you have moved on around the Wheel, you may remain most affected by this one founding direction. As I describe the powers/characteristics, you may immediately recognize your original direction, resounding, incontestable. If not, you will need to spend longer facing and feeling each of them.

The East is the place of awakening, a brilliance that brings tears to your eyes, the advantage of distance and the power to see far. It is the element of Air, offering a clarity free of emotional subjectivity, unclouded by either hatred or compassion. Those born under the influence of the East are extremely perceptive, able from a young age to withdraw from conversations and analyze them from the unaffected outside. It can hurt to see so much, so well. But oh, how stunning the view!

The South is home to the element Fire, and of seeing close. Folks beginning there are afforded immediate immersion in the sensuality and physicality of experiential reality, their knowledge a product of personal experience, intimacy or trust obtained through risky exposure. While they want to focus on the positive in everything, they may also find it hard to step back and access a situation apart from their personal, bodily, emotive involvement. The rewards are those increased sensations that come with physical closeness, an inordinate sense of place and belonging.

Those of the West will dwell much of the time in unseen inner sanctums. It is home to the power of seeing within. From infancy on, those of the West know who they are beyond refute. This can easily lead to arrogance on their part, since they seek affirmation from only an esteemed few, and consensus from none. The reward is great, however, they are making all decisions based on their real selves, dreams and needs.

The North represents wisdom — or more accurately, the ability to incorporate, the power of inclusion and integration, the power of seeing connections. True wisdom results from the reconciliation of seemingly divergent interests and perspectives. The power of the North is integrative, and unperturbed.

The Center is the power of motion, growth and proliferation. It fuels the powers of each of the four cardinal directions, and helps move us around the circle that is our being and our lives. It is analogous to the tree of life — or more accurately — to the vital sap that runs from earth and root up into every stem and branch of our existence and our manifestating.

You can confirm your original direction by referencing it against the direction that precedes it on the Wheel, which should clearly appear as the final most difficult direction/ perception you’ll be integrating into your life. For those starting in the South, for example, the objectivity and discernment of the East would prove most formidable.

While the Center effects and propels all four of the cardinal directions, anyone originating in the Center still must enter the larger circle at a specific point. While I was born defined by the constitutional energies of movement and growth, I rose up through the portal of the West, and incorporating the powers and lessons of the South has indeed posed the greatest difficulty.

From day one we have the option to work on incorporating aspects of the remaining directions simultaneously, but each is only fully integrated in cyclic order, in turn, in sun-wise rotation around the Wheel. Someone of the North might consciously and determinedly work to learn the lessons of the South, but will be unable to fully complete the task until they have first integrated those changes ushered in by the East.

The Wheel invokes already-existent forces and helps reveal our more-than-human potential, in alignment with our inner and greater Animá. Our quest around the Wheel is a process of self exploration, embodiment, utilization and fulfillment. With the incorporation and embodiment of each direction we access its omnipresent powers. It is a process not unlike finding cards missing from the deck, cards that you had with you all along.

Then with the integration of our final direction every tool is made available; we can actualize the full range of terrestrial influence and potential... consciously connected to all things, and able to see all ways at once.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed author and teacher of Animá earth-centered practice. He and his partners offer inspiring Shaman Path and Medicine Woman Tradition correspondence courses as well as host retreats, vision quests and internships in their enchanted S.W. river canyon. Events held in this ancient place of power include the August 1-6 Medicine Woman’s Workshop, and the August 29 Wild Foods Weekend:  Animá Wilderness Retreat Center, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 and


Return to the July/August Index page