You might have heard of Medicine Wheels that are used by various Native American tribes, but did you know that our European ancestors have been using a very similar wheel called the Wheel of Life or Medicine Wheel of the European culture?
The Celts and Germanics are our European ancestors who maintained a close connection to nature and its cycles. Both cultures used the Wheel of Life as sanctuaries for healing ceremonies, prayer time, and as a tool to live close to Mother Earth’s cyclic rhythm. By watching this rhythm of our planet, we discover the cyclic being and development of all that is. Every month Grandmother Moon follows her path around planet Earth, changing from New Moon to Full Moon and back in an endless cycle. Each year represents a cycle of seasons, repeated over and over again.
During springtime each tree springs its buds that grow in summer and become fruit in autumn. In winter, their life force is withdrawn into the roots to regain energy for the next spring. With each year, the tree simultaneously grows and lives its own spring, summer, and autumn until it also perishes to start a new cycle in a different form.
In this way many small circles get united to one big cycle, which is part of an even bigger cycle. All beings on earth (including us humans), experience this cycle which supports the continuous development and change of our world.
As nature’s cycles are reflected in the Wheel of Life, so is our personal cycle from birth to death. In a way, we ARE the Medicine Wheel, following the seasons and nature’s cycles. While we might need time for restoration and sleep in winter, we love to enjoy the first sun rays in spring, getting ready to bloom in summer. Our circadian rhythm (our body's natural internal clock) follows the rotation of the earth which regulates our sleep-wake cycle; we are following the cycles of the sun and moon which enables us to feel the life force flowing through us during the day, while slowing down and recharging during the night when the moon shines upon us.
If we are connected to the Wheel of Life and nature’s cycle, half of our yearly cycle follows a more passive flow. We rest and we connect with our dreams, wishes, and desires in autumn and winter so we are able to create, fulfil and harvest those during the more active time of spring and summer. Nowadays, most of us have left these natural cycles behind - we don’t care much about nature’s cycles and circumstances, but seem to feel a need for activity all over the year. Especially in winter, when resting would need to be a priority for our body and spirit, we follow the hustle of our modern Christmas, finishing the year with busyness at work and at home.
The Medicine Wheel provides a possibility to reconnect with our ancient wisdom and to follow the path of our ancestors. By connecting with it, we can feel into the roots of our own heritage and home.
The structure of the European Medicine Wheel
The European Medicine Wheel reflects infinity, with no beginning or end, representing the cycle of life and nature. The cross represents our visible world with its four directions, four elements, four moon phases, and the four seasons, etc. - the axis mundi. The number 4 stands for stability and consistency. From the center of the circle, the force of creation radiates its power into our world. The big wheel reminds us of the 4 or 8 festive ceremonies of the Sun and Moon. The smaller circle symbolises the bridge to other realms and greater wisdom. With its circles and lines the wheel incorporates male (straight line) and female (circular) energies. The main festive ceremonies also symbolise the circle of life and nature. Every festivity has its very own vibration and power.
The four celebrations of the sun - celebrated by the Germanics - are:
✻ Ostara - Spring Equinox ✻ Litha - Summer Solstice ✻ Mabon - Autumn Equinox ✻ Yule - Winter Solstice
The celebrations of the moon - celebrated by the Celts - are:
✻ Imbolc - Full Moon in February ✻ Beltane - Full Moon in May ✻ Lughnasadh - Full Moon in August ✻ Samhain - New Moon in November
Today we know the wheel with its 8 spokes. It is very probable that each of the cultures, Germanics and Celts, had their own wheel with their four main celebrations and four spokes which has then been merged to today’s known European Wheel of Life. It is a beautiful ritual to pause at these festivities - whether Moon or Sun celebrations (or both) - to feel into the phase of nature, the moon, and your life to realise, refocus, and recharge. Each celebration brings its own vibration, intention, and focus and represents different elements and life phases:
Celebrations of the Sun
SPRING EQUINOX - OSTARA
East relates to the element of Air, the mental realm, our childhood and can bring us the gifts of inspiration, clarity, communication, change, and new beginnings. Air can bring a whisper of insight and guidance or the force of truth to clear the way for new paths to emerge.
SUMMER SOLSTICE - LITHA South relates to the element of Fire, the spiritual realm, our youth, and can bring us the gifts of purification, protection, creativity and manifestation into action. The fire also teaches us about the warmth of our hearts.
AUTUMN EQUINOX - MABON West relates to the element of Water, the emotional realm, our adulthood, and can bring us the gifts of feeling, cleansing, healing, and compassion. The west connects us to the sacred waters, our blood, our ancestors, and teaches us to flow through life. Water can be a calm, still lake or the strong current of a waterfall to bring about movement and change. WINTER SOLSTICE - MODHRO North relates to the element of Earth, the physical realm, our elder years, and can bring us the gifts of abundance, grounding, strength, and fertility. The North connects us to our bodies and how we rely on the Earth for our nourishment and support.
Celebrations of the Moon
IMBOLC Imbolc is the celebration of new beginnings, the festival of fire and light. It’s time to clean the inner space to create a new and young vision for the year ahead. It marks the midpoint between winter and spring. This is a festival of purification, a festival of light and fertility, and new beginnings during the Full Moon in February.
BELTANE Beltane is a time of pure and flowing energy which shows us our fierceness and power. It honours the fertility of the earth during the Full Moon in May. A time of lust, passion, fire, and abundance.
LUGHNASAD Lughnasad takes us to the time of harvest. It reminds us of the darker times ahead for which we need to prepare. It is the first harvest festival during the Full Moon in August, when plants drop their seeds to ensure future crops.
SAMHAIN Samhain is happening during the New Moon, a celebration during the dark time of the year and the beginning of the New CelticYear.This night symbolises the transition from old to new and allows us to see beyond this realm. It’s a time to honour our ancestors and embrace the darker half of the year.
Building your personal Medicine Wheel
The medicine wheel is a symbol of symmetry and balance and represents the many cycles of life and nature. It can take many different forms -it can be an artwork such as an artefact or painting, or it can be a physical construction on the land. Each stone or spoke placement within the wheel focuses on a different aspect of our living. We must also remember that the Medicine Wheel is exceptionally individual. A person can develop their own Medicine Wheel that has their own Animal and Spirit Helpers. This knowledge may happen in ceremony, visions, dreams, or by other means. A personal medicine wheel can be made using objects such as crystals, stones, wood, feathers, or whatever tool speaks to you. During the process of constructing the wheel you will begin to recognise what areas of our life may not be in balance, where attention is lacking and which areas require our focus. How to use the Medicine Wheel
The Medicine Wheel impacts our perception of the outer world and helps us to see the sacredness of Mother Earth and Life. We consciously enhance our powers of joy, healing, fertility, and peace. The Wheel can also be guiding our development in our inner world. We experience healing, change, and reconciliation with ourselves and others. We get to know our powers and how to unleash them. As we are all on our unique paths, we have to travel the Medicine Wheel at our own pace. The Wheel of Life works as a life compass, telling you where you are in life right now. It helps you to pause and check where you are currently at in your life. You can use the Medicine Wheel to ask it for answers to questions or challenges you might be experiencing in your life. Put this question in the middle of your Wheel and contemplate on it from all four directions and angles. Each direction has its own element, season, archetypes, guardians, and life phase which can be consulted (as described with the festivities above).
EAST Ask your question from the perspective of creation, new beginnings, birth, and activation from the life phase of the child.
What would the child say to this question? How can I start something new? How can I receive new ideas? What needs to be done to start a new project?
SOUTH Your questions can be regarded from the direction of the South or the life phase of Youth. What does my youth tell me? Where do I need to get active? Which tasks do I meet and how can I solve them? What is holding me back to do the things I want and need to do?
WEST Ask your question from the perspective of the West or the adulthood.
What would my inner adult tell me? What can be harvested? How can I harvest the fruits of my work and life?
NORTH Your question can be asked from the direction of the North of the life phase of a wise elder. What would my wise elder tell me? What is there to release? What keeps me in old structures and patterns? This is the place to ask questions regarding death, grief, and loss. Take time to reflect on each aspect of your life (self, family, relationships, life purpose, community, finances, health, etc.) as you place objects within the circle or meditate with the Medicine Wheel. You can call in the Spirits and Guardians that might be protecting the wheel and the certain areas in your life. Let yourself be guided through the different phases, choose new perspectives and receive ideas and messages. You will be guided by the ancient wisdom that flows in your blood and through your roots.
Pictures by Jaqueline Louan Text by Nina