Meditation on the Medicine Wheel: Prayers on the Sacred Circle

By Max Klinkenborg

Like the labyrinth, the most dominant geometric shape of the Sacred Circle is the circle.

“The circle acknowledges the connectedness of everything in life, such as the four seasons, the four stages of life and the four winds, and it represents the continuous cycle and relationship of the seen and the unseen, the physical and spiritual, birth and death and the daily sunrise and sunset.” —Kelly Beraulieu, an Ojibway woman.

As opposed to the linear view of life where we go from A to B to C, the circle goes from A to A; every beginning is an ending, and every ending is a beginning. The more we are in harmony with nature, the more aware we are of the cycles of life.

The second dominant geometric pattern that you see on the Sacred Circle is the two lines that bisect the circle and are at a right angle to each other. They are placed so that one is on a north-south axis and the other is on an east-west axis. The Sacred Circle is a giant compass that points to sunrise and sunset each day. Below the circle is Mother Earth and above is Father Sky; the Great Spirit is at the center where the axes cross. It is marked by a green rock that symbolizes the Spirit of Life.

The third pattern is the four quadrants of the circle that are created by the two bisecting lines. Each quadrant represents a season of the year: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. It also marks the four stages of life: childhood, youth, adult and elder. And it marks the four times of the day: sunrise, midday, sunset and midnight.

To use the Sacred Circle for Meditation and Prayer, one can move from quadrant to quadrant, beginning at the southeast quadrant for birth and move counterclockwise, praying for friends or family members at each stage of life from childhood, to youth, to adulthood and, finally, elder. One could also think about their own life at each stage and the people who were their spiritual teachers or mentors, praying for them, their memory and influence on our growth.

Focusing on the seasons of the year, one could move around the circle thanking God for the beauty of Spring flowers, the growth of plants in the Summer, the harvest of Fall and the earth resting in Winter.

Or one could mark the four times of day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the beauty of each time: the promise of sunrise, the labor of a midday sun, the beauty of a sunset, and the quiet and serenity of midnight.

There are limitless possibilities for using the Sacred Circle as a source of meditation and prayer. Everyone can make it fit their orientation to life and their appreciation of nature.

Medicine Wheel, Sacred Circle or Circle of Life

by Max Klinkenborg

The three names in the title all describe the same pattern but from different perspectives. Medicine Wheel, which is the most common and latest naming, came from the Europeans who had concept of a wheel, an alien idea to Native Americans. Sacred Circle describes the communal, ceremonial use. Circle of Life describes the completeness and unity of life’s seasons and ages.

A Sacred Circle has been built on Church of the Palms’ property to the west of the labyrinth. Its presence acknowledges the tribal peoples who lived in the Valley centuries before the earliest explorers and their reverence for all of Creation. (Interpretive material about the Sacred Circle will be available in the literature box at the labyrinth entrance.)

The Sacred Circle was common to the upper plains tribes; the oldest and largest is the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, which dates back to at least 4,000 BCE, the time of the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. The Chartres Cathedral with its labyrinth in France was built in 1,200 AD, five thousand years later.

“The circle, being primary, influences how we as aboriginal people view the world. In the process of how life evolves, how the natural world grows and works together, how all things are connected, and how all things move toward their destiny. Aboriginal peoples see and respond in the world in a circular fashion and are influenced by the examples of the circles of creation in our environment.” (Dumont, J 1989)

Western thought tends to be linear, moving in a line into a new future. But for the Native Americans, they see life as cyclical: one season follows another; one generation replaces another; and sunrise and sunset follow each other. The Circle of Life is acknowledged and celebrated for its promise and predictability.

The Sacred Circle is divided into four quadrants with the lines of separation indicating the four directions: North, South, East and West. Mother Earth is below and Father Sky is above and the Great Spirit is at the center. The East-West axis points to the sunrise and sunset and sets the time of the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox that separates the seasons from Spring to Summer and Autumn to Winter. The circle shape represents life; we change like the seasons as we pass through life.

The four quadrants each have a color and a season of the year. Beyond that, the interpretation of what each quadrant means varies greatly and becomes a very individualistic interpretation, seeking meaning and relevance. The purpose of the Sacred Circle is to show the path to healing, health and balance.