Medicine Wheel and the Cardinal Points

11 January 2009
The Medicine Wheel ~ a First Step

Almost all cultures hold the four directions as sacred, to one degree or another. In several traditions, the cardinal directions have come to be associated with elemental symbols as well as colors. European traditions have labeled the world according to the directions: the Far East, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and in North America the North, the Eastern Seaboard, the South, the Midwest, the West, the Southwest, the West Coast and the Pacific Northwest.

The Medicine Wheel is a traditional First Nations symbol, which associates the centre with the four directions.

Here, the Marquis Rufous attempts to build a mandala out of a Medicine Wheel, in hopes of combining the traditions of the First Nations, with that of other cultures. This is simply an attempt to build a global symbol-system that uses means other than written language to communicate fundamental beliefs and principles.

This is never intended to displace, replace or obfuscate existing traditions or Medicine Wheels.


In N.America, the tradition with maps has been to put North at the top. In China, the taoist tradition places North at the bottom. For those of us in Canada, the North is our home, and it is the place from which we regard the rest of the World. We look South at the path of the Sun and the Moon across the skies, and to the people of the USA, Mexico, Central and South America, and the constellation of islands.



Four colours are ssociated with the cardinal directions, however, there is great variety in which colors represent which direction. The colors above are the most commonly used in the Medicine Wheels of Canada.


Along with the four cardinal directions (N, E, S, W), and the four directions in between (NE, SE, SW, NW), up, down and the centre are also represented. The centre is key. It represents the centre of perception – that is to say, oneself. This is the most fundamentally important aspect of the Medicine Wheel.

Each of us is a centre of perception. Each of us stands at the centre of the four directions, regarding the world with our sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and other senses. And so there are illimitable centres, each perceiving the world according to our own unique interpretation. Somewhere through all these views of the relationship between oneself and the world lies our greater social participation with one another.


The association of the seasons with the directions stretches back beyond memory. The North Winter, the East Spring, the South Summer, and the West Autumn.

These characteristics form the basis from which Marquis Rufous will build the Medicine Wheel.