The Native American Medicine Wheel

Dr. Richard Holm

In recent years, I’ve learned of wonderful aspects of Native American culture, especially the sacred medicine wheel or hoop of life with variations in colors and meanings according to each tribe and nation. The circle is a universal spiritual symbol, but the Native American medicine wheel has complexity and power for me, a person who has cared for the elderly throughout my lifetime on the prairie. 

For centuries, the Native American medicine wheel has given bearing, a sense of position, an objective and simultaneous understanding of both the infinitude and the limitation of life. The wheel brings a conscious spirituality that recognizes and accepts all things. For me, it closes the gap between the cynical scientific part of me and the inclusive spiritual part. By spiritual, I mean that part of our soul that savors music, art, poetry and the divine; the part that grows to love all things living and nonliving. 

In the following verse, I’ve taken the liberty to express my interpretation of the sacred circle: 

First we get down on our knees and feel the soil, sacred Mother Earth, the world around us, the animals, plants, prairies, lakes, mountains, the environment of our planet from where all food and sustenance comes; earth is foundation. 

Then we stand and raise our arms to sacred Father Sky, the sun, stars, clouds, rain, wind, air and breath of life, light and dark; from where all energy flows and ebbs; sky is infinity. 

Then we turn and bow east, symbolized by the color red, the rising sun, springtime, birth, the very young, a sense of innocence and hope for the future.

Then we bow south, symbolized by the color yellow, the full sun, summer, early adulthood, a sense of unconquerable power and the courage to fight for justice. 

Then we bow west, symbolized by the color black, the setting sun, autumn, mature adulthood, a sense of gravity to protect freedom and face vulnerability with honest eyes.

Finally we bow north, symbolized by the color white, nighttime, winter, old age, wisdom to savor friendship, family and the circle of life, release from fear of change and death, and a sense of empathy from having walked in another’s moccasins. 

We pray in harmony as love consoles. O sacred hoop of life, please touch our souls.

This essay is a composite of works written by the late Richard P. Holm, M.D. who died in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was founder of The Prairie Doc® and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. Dr. Holm’s legacy lives on through his Prairie Doc® organization. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook, featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. Central.

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