A medicine wheel is a concept in many shamanic and nature influenced cultures and spiritual lineages, used as a map to orient oneself. It allows you to experience the energies (or medicine) present in each direction. It shows you where you are, what phase you just came from, and what awaits you. The aspects of each direction varies by culture and within that, vary by lineage and within that, sometimes varying by individual - but the general concept appears universal. A repeating cycle to get one's bearings and to move through. This has been one of the most powerful teachings I have received - it greatly influences my life and my practice.
The idea is to use your Medicine Wheel to help you mindfully move with the natural energies present at any given time as opposed to struggling against unknown forces. To be able to work with the natural rhythms of the world in a medicinal way. A supportive and healing way. Knowing when it is time to let things rest, or when it is time to rally the troops. When it's time to sow seeds, and when to harvest your efforts. If the natural world around you is slowing down, you may find it more frustrating to be ramping up and pushing ideas forward. But if you wait until the phase with latent energy dedicated to new growth and action, you may find your projects flows effortlessly. You can apply a Medicine Wheel to any aspect of your life, be it your age, your creative process, your spiritual practice, a challenge, or your emotional stages. Generally one moves clockwise around a wheel, this way when "feeling lost" or disoriented, you can find what stage you are at, know what has been completed and see what is coming next. Looking at the Seasonal Medicine Wheel above can be very helpful to begin with as we are so familiar with the repeating seasons of the year. Trees give us a perfect example to follow. In winter they have no leaves, their branches are quiet, sap slows, they lay dormant with their life force energy deep down into the earth. With springtime, tree energy begins to quicken. New shoots, fresh blossoms, birds return with joyous song. There is growth. Summer sees branches full of leaves turned toward the sun, full of life, energy, bearing sweet fruit. Children climb and play in and around. Animals visit and nibble. It's busy and there is a vibrant energy. Come Autumn this energy begins to retreat. Energy dedicated to leaves are no longer the priority. They grow dry with lack of vitality and are released from the places they've known, and become mulchy goodness for something else. Sap begins to slow with the cold. And the energy has returned from the outermost edges and vibrancy, back deep down into the center. Now.... think of all that but with a baby conceived, birthed, growing from maturity into eldership, and finally released back into the mystery where we came from. Now try it with the creative process of a project or idea. See the flow?
Some cycles are faster moving, like the Moon. Instead of a 365 day wheel its only 28. There are many many who align their actions and orient their internal realm to work in synchronicity with the moon. This moon pulls the mighty ocean tides, affects women's menstruation (ehem...moontime) biodynamic farmers pay close attention to this energy, and you may notice that neighbourhoods, people in public places, children and even your sleeping patterns are affected as well. The Medicine Wheel of the Day gives us even faster cycles of rest and activity.
Which wheel is for you?
Each direction of each wheel holds a plethora of aspects related to that phase that all have a natural flow to them. It is that direction's "medicine" and it's available to you! Looking at the samples here of the Seasons, the Lunar, and the Menstrual, you might find similarities among them all. You can get a sense of being able to amalgamate all three into one.
You might find you can identify where cultural deities that you work with would sit. Kali? An Cailleach? Kwan Yin? How about Totem Animals? Solstices and Equinoxes? Elements?
Meditate, journey, consult and find or create a wheel that you can identify with, something meaningful.
As I mentioned above, many cultures and lineages have different Medicine Wheels steeped in tradition and history. I encourage you to look into your heritage, find an elder, research and see if there is a natural resonance there within you. If you notice the tops (or the North) of my examples, you will find a certain similar energy represented there among them all, but your research may show those energies sit in a different direction. You may also find some people start in the East while others start in the North or South. This is the beauty of diversity. This is where you find your Medicine Wheel.
Do you have an affinity for a particular herb?
Have you been drawn to certain crystals?
Maybe you collect rocks that always seem to catch your eye.
These are each invitations to cultivate a relationship with these beings and their unique medicines. Perhaps you have already studied a bit or have begun to work with them and want to take things deeper.
There are a good number of methods that you can gradually get to know your new allies with or dive right into a full immersion experience. Here are a few of my favorites.
Take a fresh sprig of the plant, a crystal or the stone you want to work with and place it under your pillow (or inside the pillowcase if you are worried about losing it) Thank them for sharing information in your dreamtime. This may come through directly where you meet the spirit and have a lucid dream of asking questions or being shown energies and how to work together, or it may come through as an indirect influence of metaphor where meanings reveal themselves over time.
Depending on the type of crystal or plant (watching for toxicity or dissolving) having an ritual bath is a lovely way to immerse yourself in the energetic medicine of your new ally, especially if you are sensitive to energy. Rose quartz, amethyst, lavender, rosemary, or stones from special places are all wonderful to bathe with. This isn't a "get-clean" kind of bath, it's a quiet time to feel subtle energy. Light a candle, do some mindful breathing, meditate, and allow yourself to notice how you feel, invite these energies into your thoughts and see how they shift.
Make a tea or water:
Again using caution around potentially toxic plants and crystals if using a direct method, or stick to an indirect method to be safest - you can transfer the energy of your new friend into teas or waters and bring these medicines right into your body. A direct method is one where the plant/crystal/stone has been washed then placed directly into your water cup, or if a plant it can be brewed as a tea. Some safe crystals for this are rose quartz, clear quartz, or non-irradiated citrine. Generally some safe plants are lemonbalm, lavender, or red-belted polypore (of course I need to advise consulting a professional for any contradictions with existing medical conditions). An indirect method involves placing your item into a flat bottomed glass, then placing this glass into a bowl that has been semi-filled with water. Your item never gets wet, but will infuse the water surrounding the glass with its energy. Again, being thankful and respectful of the gifts being shared with you. This indirect method is safe to use for any plant, crystal or stone. If you are very sensitive you may only need a couple drops of your water or tea to feel its effects, you might choose to sip all of it slowly over the day, or you may wish to drink much over a few days.
'Shamanic' Journey or Meditation:
If you have learned the shamanic technique of journeying, or if you have a meditation practice suitable, you may glean a lot of information by visiting the spirit of the plant/crystal/stone that you are working with. You can ask for a healing, for guidance on how to work further with them, thank them for showing you just what the medicine they are offering is and importantly how you can reciprocate in the relationship.
Tuck your stone, plant or crystal into your pocket, into a medicine pouch around your neck, find or make a pendant where it touches your skin (some plants like Devil's Club can be dried and made into beads) In this way you are in constant contact with the medicine, the energies of this helper. Skin to skin or simply in your energy field, there will be a conversation happening as you move through your day.
Mesa/Lia Mala/Crane Bag/Medicine Bundle:
Some shamanists or medicine people carry a Mesa, Lia Mala, Crane Bag or other Medicine Bundle. If you have one of these, tucking a new stone, crystal, or part of a plant into the folds is a nice gentle way of bringing their medicine into yours. If it is right to do so, you might add this piece fully inside to work more deeply, to alter the harmony already present, and to stay as a longer term influence. Each lineage will have differing ways of working with your medicine hearth so you may want to consult an elder for guidance around this.
Some plants, even certain fungi, are beautiful to cleanse and bless with while burning. You may already know how buffalo sage brings about a different cleansing than tobacco or palo santo, but you might also find rowan berries become your go-to for protection while lavender opens the door to your Ancestors. You may find that some plants instantly connect you to different healing work, helpers, or area of focus than others. Over harvesting of certain popular herbs gives us an extra nudge to look local and to our cultural heritages. What is naturally growing in abundance around you? What might your great-great-great-grandmother have burned? I have been sweetly surprised to learn certain plants coming to me have a long history of being added to sacred smoke rituals. I had been working with fomitopsis pinicola for about 20 years before I discovered some First Nations used it during smudge rituals. This knowledge deepened my respect for this powerful healing ally. Oh! how I love working in these ways!
Remember, we don't just ask and take from our human or animal friends, we also care for them and support them when they need it. The same is true for our plant, crystal or stone friends. We are entering into a spiritual relationship, they may become sacred objects and part of your medicine basket, we need to always treat them with respect and honour. Never leaving them laying around or placed directly on the floor, cleansing and recharging them with moon or sun light, salt, the running water of a clear stream, or by saining. Feed them offerings, whisper your gratitude, sing to them, wrap them in special cloth or place them on your altar. This is a special and personal friendship :)
You might think healing happens during your session.
You arrive, a service is performed for you, you leave healed.
I have yet to experience this - in any modality.
Have you ever had a medical condition that when you get to the point of showing a doctor the situation has spontaneously cleared itself up? Or how about a broken bone? You have it set and cast, but the physical healing takes place after you leave the emergency room. In my experiences both embarking on, and facilitating healing modalities, the healing process begins long before a session and continues long after. I have witnessed countless times in both fields of neurofeedback and shamanism - the healing actually begins when you make the first step on your path to wellness.
After you have made the appointment, the energy is set in motion. You may find the issues you are aiming to bring healing to exacerbate, intensify and really get-in-your-face. Think of it like a detox or cleanse, the toxins are coming up to the surface for clearing out. This really helps you become acutely aware and hopefully more determined to work on exactly what is needed. However, this has potential to be an uncomfortable time.
During your session, you my have a deeply personal experience full of raw emotion, visions, revelations - or you may come away feeling like it was interesting and nice but not revolutionary. Neither experience guarantees the outcome of your recovery. While clients and practitioners may both prefer a powerful poignant experience to confirm "something important happened" this is not actually the make-or-break point of your progress.
The make-or-break point, sometimes the hardest point (but not always!) is after your session. The time for integrating the healing work. This part requires your active participation, your follow through. With a broken bone it would mean wearing an itchy, hot cast for weeks. In neurofeedback it is giving your brain a rest time to solidify new, healthier neural pathways, there can be no alcohol and reinforcement with various techniques is encouraged. In shamanism it means completing the "prescription" which likely comes in the form of a task or activity that anchors the healing work already done, and allowing your mind and body to remember the healing has already begun. This part is also essential to signal you are willing to do your part instead of wanting others to "fix" things. It is sometimes a trying time of being "tested" where you may need to utilize wisdom from the session. It's the time your internal work needs to shift and become reflected in your outer world, your day-to-day life. It takes time and dedication until there is harmony between the "unseen" healing and the "seen" life. The time it takes varies. Having support from your practitioner, friends, and like-minded community is a big help if you find this part tricky.
You will know you have made it through the integration phase when you have an ease both within yourself as well as in your daily life around the subject you've been working on. When a triggering situation occurs your nervous system and emotions no longer respond in unhelpful ways. Peace, clarity, and awareness reign.
Don't be fooled into thinking the healing process takes places solely within your session, but in fact, prior to, during, and sometimes long afterwards. Your practitioner facilitates, and Spirit directs, but You and your dedication is what allows healing to truly happen.
A bean feasa of Gaelic heritage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.