Medicine Wheels

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Medicine wheel in Sedona, Arizona. A Native American symbol, the wheel is a circle of stones with four spokes and a center. The outer circle is made up of sixteen stones, one for each of the twelve moons and one for each of the four spirit keepers, while the center represents the Great Spirit. Fortean Picture Library.

Medicine Wheels

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Scattered throughout the plains of western Canada and the United States are hundreds of prehistoric medicine wheels, circles of stones that seem to be aligned in patterns designed to represent astronomical sighting plains. When Europeans first discovered them, they naturally asked the Indians who built them. The answer was always the same: "The people who were here before." In other words, these were old— very old. They were considered sacred, protected by the spirits, and the destination of many a vision quest.

They remain so today. Many still travel to sit quietly, meditating on the circles which, by their very antiquity, provoke feelings of awe and wonder. Who built them? How were they used? And why are they here?

The pattern is not unique to America. Stone circles are found throughout the world, from Stonehenge, the "granddaddy" of them all, to the small, mountaintop circles of the American high desert that are known only to a few initiates.

The circle or sacred spiral pattern is also found consistently throughout the world's record of rock paintings. What does it mean? The standard theory is that astronomy figured heavily in its use. It is the common denominator in astrological alignments. Some speculate that the pattern is representative of the womb. But beyond that there seems to exist a spiritual component lost to modern humans. The best we can do is guess.

The question remains concerning the universality of the designs. Some consider it coincidence, believing the pattern represents a religious feeling we all must have in common. Whether we live in Siberia or Arizona, we all share the same human psychology. Others believe the design originated in one location and then spread throughout the world. This is the "diffusion" theory.