Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The Medicine Wheel
I may have posted this story over a year ago in my old Heart Melody Blog. I felt it worth repeating, at least to myself. I needed to hear what I said before and wanted the motivation to continue strongly on this path. Reading about what I did and how I felt when I did it reminds me to stay on the path. As I have seen and felt good in my life before, I'll see and feel it again.
I'll be leaving for the Sundance in a couple of days and will again be away from these pages. Return will be some time in early August. Please come back and check out the links listed at the end. Some good stuff to see. Thank you.
High in the Northern end of the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming sits an archeological find that is said to be a Medicine Wheel. Scholars know there have been thousands of these throughout North and South America with Canada having the most. Not many, however, are intact or complete. Just remnants have been unearthed over the years.
In Wyoming sits one of the best examples of this Wheel. It is at an altitude of almost 10,000 feet above sea level at the top of a mountain. It is said that the layout may be somewhat orientated to the Sun and Moon and Stars and is astrological.
All this information is a guess. There is no written history. It is a circle of rocks layed out in a wheel around 80 feet in diameter. The center is a pit about 6’ X 6’ made of rocks piled around in a horseshoe shape called a cairn. There are six more of these cairns scattered around the edges. There are 28 spokes that radiate from the center to the edges. The rocks sit on the earth and are in great shape considering they are exposed to the elements at this high altitude.
The area is now a protected site. people can go up there and look at the place, but nothing is to be touched. Native people from over 80 tribes have ceremonies up there from time to time. The Indians feel this place is Sacred.
I first heard of it when I saw it on a map. It is called the Medicine Wheel National Monument. The Forest Service has a small visitor center there and a small parking lot. To visit, you must walk a one and a half mile trail uphill from the small gravel parking area. So, the place doesn’t get the usual high numbers of tourists like Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. It is off the beaten track and only the hardiest of travelers goes there to see it. Besides, in this part of the Big Horn Mountains at this altitude, the road is open only from Memorial Day to sometime in September or October when the snows come and the powers that be close the road for the Winter.
The Indians that hold ceremony there go for many reasons. They feel that their ancestors used this site as a place to pray. Medicine men and women and spiritual leaders go there as well as individuals just wanting to pray. The Forest Service asks people to allow others to have their space if they see someone doing something other than walking around reading the signs. Maybe that person or small group is involved in a ceremony and we are asked not to bother them.
So, I saw it on a map and realized I have never taken that particular road on my trips out West. A few years ago, as I was learning more and more about Native American Spirituality, I met two women who took a trip to this place. Both of these women are said to be healers. One is an Anishanabe, (Ojibway) medicine woman. I was introduced to them as I showed an interest in receiving the benefits of a healing ceremony.
I was told the story of their visit to the Medicine Wheel the year before. I was told that the Indian woman was offered entrance into the Sacred circle of the Medicine Wheel when they visited. I was told that there was a vision to visit in the first place as well as a vision that took place during the visit. I guess I just listened and filed the information for future reference. My involvement with these women went on and I did get a healing ceremony from them, but the ceremony of which I partook had nothing to do with the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming.
My spiritual advisor tells me today that the ceremony was a good one and started me on a path of healing. More about this healing ceremony at a later time.
Five years ago, I was traveling East from California by automobile and took the route less travelled. The road went past the Medicine Wheel and I decided to take the opportunity to stop and see it for myself. I was well into trying to understand and accept many of the Indian ways by this time in my life and as I hiked up the side of the mountain for the first time, I drew upon my beliefs and teachings I had learned to that point.
For the past number of years I have taken up this path of Native American Spirituality in my life. I am not better than anyone else. I am not an Indian nor am I trying to become one. I just have never found the religious teachings of Catholic Christianity to be acceptable. Or for that matter, any organized religion. Too much difference of opinion. One religious leader telling the other that their way was the only true way. I wanted to believe, but I had hesitation because of this involvement of man.
The Indian way of thinking about the Great Spirit or God is different for me. I cut out the middle man and create a dialogue directly with The Creator of all things. No-one tells me what is right or wrong. My heart tells me as I speak directly to God from my heart. No man intervenes and explains my conversations. The thoughts come to me and I know if they are right or wrong instinctively. When I am not sure, I seek guidance through prayer. The answers come and I know in my heart of hearts that I will live in peace and do no harm or force my way on another person.
It is with this confidence that I hike up to the top of this mountain. As I walk, I pray for knowledge of the place where I am visiting. I ask the Spirits to help me as I am a dumb human and need a sign to help me understand what it is I am suppose to see. I am talking to God, as I understand him, as I walk.
I ask for a lesson, some direction or learning that I can take away from here that will help me be a better person and live with peace in my heart. I ask for more healing from the wounds of life. Hey, I’m also praying that I make it to the top because it’s hard for a guy who has had numerous open heart surgeries to hike over a mile uphill at 10,000 feet above sea level.
I am taking it slow. One step at a time. I learn this lesson quickly. Each step leads you to the desired promised land. Patience prevails. If I keep taking one step at a time, after a while, I’ll get there. If I don’t start the journey, it will never happen. This thought came to me some time later. Not all these lessons, or any of them for that matter, come to you with the revelation of a sunrise. One day I just thought about it. I realized that if I hadn’t tried it and kept at it, I never would have made it. This is also true of everything in life. Sure, maybe I’ll die before I reach certain goals, but I can’t just sit and wait to die. I must proceed.
As I reach the top of the mountain and see the stones on the ground and make out this circle of rocks the Spirits grab a hold of my shoulders and I shudder like a chill went through me. I immediately burst into tears and a great feeling of relief comes over me. I cannot explain this feeling except to say that I felt cleansed and pure for that moment in time as I cry in front of God at the top of a mountain many miles from my home.
I keep my gaze to my left on that circle as I step up closer. I follow the man made path to the Northwest edge of the circle and walk around it in a clockwise direction. I keep praying. Crying jags hit me every once in a while as I walk. I stare at parts of the circle, the cairns, the rocks. Then I start to see the offerings and gifts brought there and laid down by visitors before me. Prayer ties tied to fenceposts and thrown into the cairns. Some carried to the center of the circle by Native people who are allowed into the area to pray in the manner that they wish as their ancetors had done.
Sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar, Tobacco. In pouches of cloth and in small leather bags. Beadwork. Feathers, symbols of faith and belief and honor and worship laid there by those who want to symbolize to themselves their journey through life as being one of Spirit. Each offering meant to strengthen mans personal Spirit life and forge a connection to the Great Mystery of life itself.
I look at these things as I walk around the circle. I have a vision as I walk. I see the ancient beings with fire around them dancing here. I feel their Spirits and hear the drumming and singing and chanting. I cry again and again. I see another vision. I see myself dancing at the Sun Dance. I see myself pierced and dragging the skulls of four buffalo.
As I walk I envision myself at the Sun Dance. In a book I read and in accounts told to me by others. I knew I had to have a vision that I would someday dance if I ever was to participate in the Sun Dance ceremony. This was that vision. This was that strong serious thought and visualization that will be ingrained in my mind forever.
For a brief moment, the Medicine Wheel was my Sun Dance arbor, I was peirced in my back and tied to the buffalo skulls and I dragged them as I prayed for the people.
I lingered around on top of the mountain for a while. I walked around and looked out over the beautiful valley of pines and rock to the East and to the West which looks out over a huge basin called the five springs basin. You can see Yellowstone from here, over 125 miles away. Below in the near reaches of the basin is the confluence of the Shoshone and Big Horn Rivers and one of the largest stands of old-growth cottonwood trees left in America.
As I started down the mountain, I felt good about going there. I really had the sensation that I was suppose to see it, supposed to be there that day. I made a promise to go back some day.
As I left the area and headed East towards home, I started to think and another strong thought entered my head. I wanted to go back to the Medicine Wheel sometime and camp out nearby and make the trek up to the top of the mountain every day for four days. This would be an honor to the four Sacred directions. The thoughts kept coming and I saw it as a pilgrimage to the Medicine Wheel, going up each day. And each day I would honor one of the directions by tying a prayer tie on the fence in that direction.
I thought of how I’d tie the prayer ties and what colors I’d use and what I’d put inside of each tie. The only thing I didn’t pre-determine was what I was going to be saying as I hiked up and down the mountain and around the Medicine Wheel. This was in August. I returned in October.
The Forest Service says that the Medicine Wheel and the road through the Big Horn Mountains, Hwy 14A, is open until weather does not permit. This usually happens sometime in October.
I took a chance and arrived there in October around the 10th. I knew it would be cold and I was prepared for that with everything I needed for a warm campsite including firewood, a warm sleeping bag and plenty of warm long sleeved shirts. There was a smattering of snow near the mountain this time of year at this altitude.
There was a nice BLM campground to the west, 13 miles down the hill from the entrance drive at the Medicine Wheel site, called Five Springs Falls Campground.
When I got there, I was the only person there. I did not see another human for the entire time I was there. The deer nation greeted me every morning and evening. I saw fabulous sunrises and sunsets each morning and evening. I set up my camp and made a place at the picnic table to get my prayer ties ready for my first of four days at the Medicine Wheel.
I used the Lakota colors of Black, Red, Yellow and White. to honor the four directions. I used Blue for the Grandfather sky above and Green for Mother earth below. I would be using 6 colors and make six ties each day. From home, I prepared a big bag of Tobacco, Cedar, Sweetgrass and Sage to fill the bundles. As I tied them, I put a prayer for some cause in each one.
I lit sage and puirified myself and my materials as I tied them. I tried to keep my thoughts on what I was asking for. This took concentration and was a struggle. Let me say here that as I narrate what I did on these trips I am in no way trying to brag about the fact that I pray. In all humility, I am just wanting to tell a story and explain what I was trying to do, what I felt meant a lot to me on that particular trip on that particular day.
When I felt all was ready, I got into the car and drove to the small gravel parking lot near the medicine Wheel and parked. I got out, grabbed my stuff and started my walk. The wind was blowing hard and it was raw and cold. I made day one and day two.
Each of these days as I walked up the mountain, I remembered my first journey up there and spoke to the Spirits again. I again said that I was dumb and needed direction. I asked again for lessons and thoughts to come to me. Ideas about how to improve my life. I wanted to be a better person. I felt that the Spirits could help guide me and inspire me to live a better life and this would benefit all others as well, especially members of my own family who are around me most of the time.
I walked around the Wheel and as I walked I prayed and looked around at the beauty. I listened to the songs of the birds and heard The Creators voice the as the wind blew through the trees and over the rocks. I was cold but didn’t pay it any mind. I tied my ties onto the fence and started with the East.
I felt the East was the way the doorway faced at the Sweat Lodge and also where the sun came up each day. I was thinking about the new chance at life the Creator gives us each day with that sun in the East. The rebirth every day. I started with the east. I would work clockwise and tie my prayer ties to the South the next day, then the West and finally the North.
I was finished and even though I did linger a little while, I was cold and the wind was relentless, so I headed down with thoughts of a fire at my campsite so I could get warm. I had barely made it 100 yards on the trail back down when it hit me. I had a thought, a strong thought, a revelation, an idea that was so obvious and made such sense, but never really thought about it in such simple precise terms before that moment.
The idea came to me that one of the things I need to be doing to live a better life was to stop talking negatively about other people. A basic rule that says if you don’t have anything good to say about another, don’t say anything.
This thought conjured up all sorts of personal confessions as I walked. I knew what the teaching meant immediately. In those instances when someone irritates you or they do something that you feel just isn’t right, instead of dragging another persons misdeeds through the mud, just keep quiet about it. Leave them be. Don’t talk about another person and what you don’t like about them or that you don’t like what they do.
This valuable lesson kept up and more information came to me. I looked back at a few instances for understanding, but more importantly, I looked ahead and learned how to treat a situation in the future when it comes up again. It was a great lesson, and so simple.
We live our lives everyday and as for me, I never gave much thought to self improvement. In fact, I guess I always enjoyed when people liked me or at least I thought that they liked me. I figured if they were listening to me, be it good or bad about another person, and I had their attention, it was good. This is not so.
I took this first lesson and wrote about my thoughts in my journal. More and more ideas came forward. I felt so much growth and power the rest of that day. I was amazed. I got the feeling that I asked the Spirits for a lesson and they gave it to me. Maybe it had nothing to do with the Spirits. Some would argue that fact I’m sure, but to me, I was receptive and looking for answers to life’s problems. This is how the answers came to me.
The next day, I followed the same routine and I received another strong visual teaching the same way. Along the same lines as don’t talk about people came the phrase don’t judge people.
The same hours of concentration about this subject happened the second day and more was learned. I felt good again. Time passed quickly as I sat alone in my campsite by the fire. I was thinking about right now instead of the past or problems that I thought I would have in the future. For me personally, this was a major change in the thinking process. I looked at it as more healing. An extension of the healing started in my life by the two women.
Earlier, I mentioned a healing ceremony I went through some time ago. I want to tell you about that simple ceremony and draw some correlation to the happenings at the Medicine Wheel.
When I met these two women, it was to find out about a trip to the Medicine Wheel site near Sedona Arizona where they were going to travel and conduct a healing ceremony. My interest was to help out with driving and some of the funding and be able to tag along and witness while being hopeful that I might be invited into the circle.
The trip to Sedona never came to be. It seems that when we tried to get information about the area to plan our logistics, we came upon a lot of information that showed people reserving the Sacred Medicine Wheel to run ‘for profit’ ceremonies. Advertising their programs and putting the price tag right up front. The trip to Arizona was aborted.
Instead, they decided to hold a healing ceremony right near home. High on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River near Diamond Bluff, Wisconsin. This happens to be the large expanse of yard attached to a rented farm of one of the women.
The ceremony was simple. I was told to tie seven prayer ties, all with red cloth, and one of them is to have a different color tying string so as to identify it from the six others. Tobacco, Sage and Cedar were to be tied into these offerings.
At the sight, a small fire pit was surrounded by Cedar with an entrance to the East. The ceremony involved tying one of these prayer ties to a tree in every direction. I was to also offer one tie above to the Grandfather and one to Mother Earth below us into the fire. I was told to hold on to the one with the different colored tie for a while.
Not much else was said or done, but after a while, I was to ask for the Creator to remove something I wanted to get rid of and put this request into that last special prayer tie. Then I was to put it into the fire. End of ceremony.
I waited for about five minutes and wondered if I was then healed. I actually had no understanding of the process and absolutely no patience. What I have learned eight years later is that the simple ceremony started me on a path to healing. As I look back, my life has changed so much, and for the better. This ceremony was the first small step that eventually led me up the side of the mountain in Wyoming and into numerous other opportunities to learn, grow and heal.
So now I realized that I indeed have been on a healing path that seemed to have started with that ceremony. And as I sit at my campfire and I am able to concentrate on my thoughts and have a greater understanding of Spirit and my place in the universe, I am at peace in my heart. I have experienced a healing.
The next day I woke up to a bright Eastern sky and what I thought would be an inevitable sunrise, but the morning quickly turned cloudy. I went back to my cot in the tent and dozed off for a short while and I awoke to an inch of snow on my tent. I got out of the tent and looked around in amazement at the beautiful sight of the soft fresh snow in this windless mountain environment. The snow was wet and it didn’t feel so cold or even cold enough to have had snowed.
The sky was gray and it was soon after that a fog came over the area where I was camped. The fog thickened like corn starch poured into boiling water and soon I couldn’t see for more than 50 yards. The deer that I usually saw feeding were gone and so was the field where they roamed. The mountaintops dissapeared, all the color of my tent and my car were muted into a grayish haze. It was like I was living life in a black and white photograph.
I got ready and got into my car for my trek to the mountain. The road was covered with snow and as I started driving up to the Medicine Wheel, I met the plow and there were large plumes of snow coming off the edges of that plow. I went back and broke camp and figured that I better abandone this mission for now because I was fearful that I’d get stranded in the snow. It was October 15th.
I had made two days of the four I had made a committment to do. I struggled a little about this, but then realized that I didn’t put a time limit on the exercize. I could and would return and fulfil my committment to go to the Medicine Wheel for four days.
It took me a little less than a year to go back and try again. I set up this camp closer to the entrance for the steep gravel driveway that led to the Wheel. It was late August and the nights were cold, but the creator blessed me with wonderful warm sunny almost windless days for the entire four days I was there.
I went up to the Medicine Wheel once each day for four consecutive days, each day with a new bundle of prayers, asking the Creator to answer them. Asking the Spirits to help guide and protect me. Wanting more lessons, more teachings, more faith.
I was blessed then with answers to many questions and more strong thoughts about things that have been troubling me in my life. The healing still continues. More thoughts, more teachings pop into my head. I also realize that this is a lifelong process and that this way of life must continue on forever. This isn’t anything I’ll ever be finished with. It is only a great start to an amazing journey. I will return to the Medicine Wheel. Feel free to join me if you’d like. I’ll be heading back that way later this summer.
I did find a great website that shows many pictures of the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. Check it out HERE. You also might want to see other places. The site has many areas of interest and can be found HERE.
Lastly, a site I found with a wonderful story about the Medicine Wheel before the Forest Service made it into a developed site. You can see that HERE.
Thank you for allowing me to share a small part of my life with you. Feel free to e-mail if you have any questions. I'll answer when I return in August.
Peace to All.