Throughout history, many cultures have practiced honoring the four directions as part of their connection to well-being, nature and spiritual harmony. In the Native American culture, the four directions are placed within The Medicine Wheel, also referred to as the “Sacred Hoop.” Each cardinal direction, East, South, West and North, hold the lessons of physical, emotional and spiritual balance. Symbolism is woven through each one in the form of colors, animals and elementals.
The Medicine Wheel is also known as “the wheel of life” where there is no beginning or end. It represents a way of living that is always evolving and transforming. By studying and calling in the four directions, we can begin to uncover our struggles so that our intentions and prayers can be realized.
“the medicine wheel shows us that we are all connected and shows us the intricacies of the interwoven threads of life and what our part in it all is.”
When life calls for a ceremony to open sacred space, such as prayer, ritual or meditation, the four directions can be invoked and become the sacred ground in which to do our spiritual work. By opening sacred space, permission is being asked from spirit to perform a ceremony in that space.
“within sacred space we have extraordinary spiritual assistance available to us. When we call within sacred space, the Universe conspires on our behalf.”
The history of the medicine wheel and the four directions varies within Indigenous cultures all over the world. Each culture honors the core belief that all things on earth are living and all things are interconnected. Whether the four directions are invoked through ceremony or daily living, there is a deep reverence and respect for the cycles and mysteries of life.
The wheel typically begins in the East, which is the place of the rising sun, the dawn of a new day, new beginnings and the Spring. The East brings newness, and fresh starts. The East shines light in places where there was once darkness. Here you will find illumination and inspiration. The East is the element of air. It is the place where the eagle, hawk and condor live. In the East, we are able to gain a distant perspective on our lives; to see far into the future and understand what the best direction we are to take. The East relates to childhood, adolescence, and correlates to the archetype of the teacher.
Next on the wheel is the South. The South symbolizes high noon, the element of fire and Summer. It is here that we learn about celebration, innocence, and travel. We dance our dance, sing our song, and share our existence with others. Whereas In the East we have gained insight and understanding into our lives, it is in the South where we share that understanding. It is here we learn the lessons of the heart. Coyote, wolf and rabbit dwell here. The South relates to early adulthood and correlates to the archetype of the visionary.
The West is the dusk, the element of water and Autumn. It is in this place that we begin our journey inward to reflect on the expansiveness and extroversion of the East and South. The West is the place where we look within. Here we are shown the unhealthy patterns that we must let go in order to become who we truly are. This is the lesson of the trees who, in Autumn, drop their leaves to nourish the Earth once again. Bear and Crow reside in the West. The West represents a time of great emotion as we slow down and gather ourselves for the winter ahead. The West relates to adulthood/middle age and correlates to the archetype of the healer.
The final turn on the medicine wheel is the North. The North is the night, the element of Earth and the Winter. The North is the place of nothingness, where we return to the Great Mystery to receive our vision which began in the East. The North is the place of the dreams; the day dream, the night dream and the life dream. This is the where we dream deeply in order to envision our life purpose and who we truly are. Ancient elders and wise ones live in the North, but we must be able to open ourselves to receive their wisdom. The buffalo dwells here. The owl and other nocturnal animals reside here as well. The North relates to elder-hood and correlates to the archetype of the warrior.
In the Book of the Zohar, (Kabbalah) the four basic elements (air, fire, water and earth) are mentioned, as they refer to the parallels between these elements, the four corners of the Earth and the four ministering Archangels; Raphael, Guardian of the East, Michael, Guardian of the South, Gabriel, Guardian of the West and Uriel, Guardian of the North. These angels are also referred to as the Guardians of the Gateways.
The Holy One created Four Cardinal Directions in the world – East, South, West and North. East, from where the light shines forth into the world…..As the Holy One, blessed be He, created the Four Cardinal directions and four standards corresponding to them, so also did He set about His throne, Four Angels – Raphael, Michael, Gabriel and Uriel.
– Midrash Rabbah, Numbers 2:7-10
Kabbalah is an ancient wisdom that reveals how the universe and life work. Kabbalah literally means “to receive” and is the study of how to receive fulfillment in our lives. Kabbalah is not a religion but a blueprint for living in order to become closer to God.
In Kabbalah, the Star of David symbolizes the six directions of space (East, South, West, North, Above and Below) plus the center,which is God. The six points symbolize that God rules over the Universe and protects us from all six directions. How beautiful is that?
You see those triangular shapes? They are the actual alchemical symbols for the four elements. Put them all together and you get the Star of David. Fascinating, right? I thought so.
So tell me, what do Native Americans (not to mention Peruvians, Celts and others) and, ancient Jewish people from two complete and separate parts of the world have in common? God. One God. We are all connected my friends. This is all part of the Great Mystery.
I have to tell you, once, when I was a kid, I saw a lady in the synagogue during the High Holidays. She was dripping in turquoise and gold. She was wearing some kind of hat with feathers sticking out all over the place. I know she thought she looked stunning, but to me, she looked like she was wearing a small turkey on her head. Well, that’s what came to my mind anyway. It was Yom Kippur so I was fasting and was ravenously hungry. That hat was starting to look good……… but anyway…………that’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to commonality between Jews and Native Americans. 🙂
I have begun incorporating the invocation of the four directions into some of my own spiritual practices. I create a protective circle/sacred container around myself with my selenite wand and then reverently call in the quarters (directions). Instead of “create a circle”I could say “cast a circle” but then some of you would probably get all nervous and jittery and think I’m a witch and shit like that. I know “casting circles” can have a negative connotation.
The truth is that circles are actually cast (or created, if you prefer) for protection from negative energies. I usually create a circle/sacred container around myself while doing any type of spiritual work, especially readings and meditation. Just for the record, I have nothing at all against witches. I know quite a few witches. Besides my ex mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, pu, pu, pu, witches are wonderful people who only want to bring light, love and healing into the world. There are all kinds of witches, even Christian witches. No lie. Google it.
I am open to all religions and beliefs but I don’t mess with that dark and twisty stuff. No dead chickens on my altar. Nuh uh. Not me.
Yes, I said “altar.” Nothing to get all freaked out about. Altar is synonymous with shrine, sacred space, hallowed space; holy space. I have several altars in my home. One for healing, one for manifestation, one to celebrate the moon, one to honor and work with the nature spirits and one for holidays of all faiths. I have crystals out the ying yang (but I still NEED more). They bring beautiful energy to my home and to the sacred spaces within my home.
So how did a nice Jewish girl from Philadelphia get to this place? And, I do mean really nice Jewish girl. In fact, I was a virgin until I got married. Okay, you got me on that one but still, a nice Jewish girl at heart. Now I’m at the point in my life where I would rather have crystals than shoes. That’s just blasphemy where I come from. I’ve even thought of selling one of my Tory Burch bags for this awesome shamanic journey crystal generator that is calling my name. Some times I don’t even know who I am anymore. 🙂
For those of you who have asked, my husband, Al, is fine. His latest thing is buying used spiritual books on Ebay and Amazon. Right now, he’s going down the Kabbalah rabbit hole with me so he’s buying every book he can find.
Al: “It was only .99.”
Me: “Yeh, but honey, the shipping is $12.00 and you don’t even read them.”
He hands me a yellow highlighter.
Al: “You read it and just highlight the good parts for me.”
Al goes to church every Sunday but gets daily emails from “Ask the Rabbi” or some shit like that. I’ve even caught him kissing the mezuzah on our door post while making the sign of the cross. He’s either a little conflicted or covering all of his bases – not sure which.
But, even though I’m Jewish I shouldn’t complain. Al is a good man. He never tells me not to buy MORE crystals or MORE herbs and essential oils or take yet ANOTHER class. Ha! Probably because he doesn’t know how much I spend. You see, I have this gimmick going with the checkbook. In the registry, I simply enter…………oh crap, I can’t share this here! Sorry. Private message me and we’ll talk.
I leave you with this thought:
A necessary condition for spiritual elevation is a continuous quest for a bond with the Creator.
(Rambam, Ilchot Yesodot Torah)
Love and Blessings,