The Medicine Wheel

image of a medicine wheel
The medicine wheel is a sacred symbol used by many Tribes.

Gabby Drapeau

In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it." - Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk)

The image of the medicine wheel is a regular feature and theme in the exhibits at Pipestone National Monument. Some of the more common questions visitors ask about the medicine wheel at the Monument have been addressed below.

What is the significance of the medicine wheel?
The medicine wheel (also called the Sun Dance Circle or Sacred Hoop) is an ancient and sacred symbol used by many Tribes. It signifies Earth’s boundary and all the knowledge of the universe.

What do the colors represent?

The four colors (black, white, yellow, and red) embody concepts such as the Four Directions, four seasons, and sacred path of both the sun and human beings. Arrangement of colors vary among the different customs of the Tribes.

What is it used for?

It is used in ceremonies to put feathers and medicines on, like in a bundle. However, it can also be used in daily life and decoration.

What is meant by decoration?

The medicine wheel may have different colors than the traditional black, white, yellow, and red. In ceremonies, they can have colors that correspond with the medicine being used. Since they can be used in decoration, they can be made with as many or few colors as desired.

What is it traditionally made out of?
It may be an object/artifact, art, or physically constructed on the landscape. For objects, the base of the wheel is often dried buffalo or elk hide. Dyed porcupine quills are flattened and wrapped around the base in different patterns.

How old is the medicine wheel?
They have been used for centuries. Hundreds of stone medicine wheels dot the landscapes of the U.S. and Canada. The oldest (in Alberta, Canada) is estimated to be over 5,000 years old. One of the largest and best-preserved is the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming.

There are many books written on this topic along with other resources to help people learn more about the
medicine wheel.

Pipestone National Monument

Last updated: October 10, 2020