While modern medicine approaches illness through strictly scientific methods in order to restore health, for shamans, who across many cultures interact as an intermediary between the natural world and the spirit world, an illness is an opportunity to embark on a healing journey that leads to even greater health, enlightenment and empowerment.
Shamanism is often referred to as an “Earth-based system” because it uses the maps and clues nature provides through the cycles of her days and seasons, to connect to the deepest subconscious and conscious core of our being in order to help us heal and make changes in every aspect of our lives. The sun, moon and stars rise and set in arcs from East to West, and the seasons move that arc from North to South and back again. Shamans believe these cycles form the basis of all life and health, and that all forms of disease and chronic difficulties are due to being blocked from or out of sync with nature.
The Healing Power of a Medicine Wheel
In my practice as a shaman for over 20 years, I have witnessed incredible healings from using a medicine wheel as a way to harness the undeniable power of nature to protect and heal ourselves. The journey from disease back to health is made possible by following a series of steps along the wheel formed by the cardinal directions of South, West, North and East. The act of creating a physical medicine wheel and taking time to engage in a process of contemplation and action at each step helps us make changes more quickly and more permanently.
The medicine wheel began as a multifaceted framework for the healing journey of many primary cultures. To the living descendants of the Inca Shamans, the healing journey starts in the South and ends in the East. Each direction of the metaphorical medicine wheel is represented by animals whose characteristics and instincts are called upon to aid in the journey. But because shamanism does not separate matter and spirit, science and art, the metaphors are not just acting within the mind, but as actual active forces in the healing as well. This happens by accessing our subconscious mind and energy body, also known as the soul, aura and chakras. Shamans believe the soul contains our consciousness and all that we identify as ourselves, and simply uses the body and mind as a temporary vehicle, continuing from lifetime to lifetime. Working with the medicine wheel makes it possible to heal at the level of the soul, and can therefore address issues that repeat from many lifetimes. You can work through the medicine wheel with the help of a shaman, on your own, or with friends.
How to Set Up Your Medicine Wheel
To begin, set up objects in a circle at each cardinal direction, and images or symbols that represent each of the animals. The wheel can be any size, or even drawn on a piece of paper. Sit in or face each direction as you do the associated contemplation and process.
Working with the Southern area of the wheel, shamans call upon the anaconda of the Amazon rainforest, whose medicine helps to shed the wounds of the past the way she sheds her skin. Here we let go of the energy and the story of the painful experience that led to the original wound, so that it can be nurtured and healed by the Earth, much like mulch. This also helps to reconnect to nature. In addition to contemplating what we wish to shed, we can also use our breath to literally think of and blow the issue into a stick or stone, and then burn it or bury it. By using our body and a physical object in this way instead of just the mind, we are gaining access to the subconscious.
In the Western direction, we call on the jaguar as queen of the jungle. She helps reclaim the mastery over our own bodies, myths and beliefs. We are no longer influenced by the stories of our ancestors and genetics, or any other authority. We become a peaceful warrior who no longer has the need to battle internally or externally, or to be driven by fear. Instead, we are safe to know what we truly desire to experience. For the process, we can make an ancestor altar by gathering pictures of our parents, or an object that represents them, and offer some food and drink as a way to honor them while letting them go in peace.
In the work of the North, we call upon the hummingbird. It is here that we are no longer limited by what we think is impossible. We release rigid and limited beliefs and roles and can begin to receive the nectar of life that allows for unlimited possibilities. This is the state of enlightenment, and is similar to the practices of the spiritual traditions of Taoism, Zen and Buddhism. A simple process would be to create a pile of small matchsticks where each one represents our teachers, the roles we are identified or unidentified with, and anybody who we perceived that we were a victim of, perpetrator toward, or rescuer of, and then light the pile on fire or bury it.
When we look to the East, it is the mighty condor that is called forth to access our broadest perspective and clearest vision of the destiny we wish to be our reality. Now free, enlightened and empowered, we can be fully present in the theater of life as both co-author of the script and actor.
When we use the medicine wheel for a healing journey, we are engaging in a world view that is rooted in a different mythology than that of the West, one more fully comprehensive and inclusive of the whole of our being. It is through the medicine wheel that we heal not only our own wounds, traumas, limiting beliefs, fears and personal mythology, but also the fundamental underlying myths of our culture and the nature of our relationship with the Earth and all of our relations.
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