Native American Medicine Wheel:  Comparison In Life

© 2012, 2015 Native American Composition & Performance, Limited

By Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek


Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation



This paper is about the Native American Medicine Wheel symbol and color and design as opposed to the physical structure known as the Medicine Wheel that is visible as architecture across North America.

Universal truths can be found in this paper of information that is shared and accepted in not being overly protected or sacred. The paper does not attempt to discuss or explain the many concepts of spirituality behind the Medicine Wheel as that is very specific, sacred and rather personable to Native American Nations, Tribes, Clans, Bands, Families and most important Individuals.

Always know that the symbolism varies greatly from Nation to Nation.


The term “Medicine Wheel” is not a Native American expression. It is of course of European and American origin. What the symbol has been called in Native America depends on the language of each particular Nation. This is protected among some Native American Nations and therefore will not be discussed here. For some this has often been lost and “Medicine Wheel” is the common used phrase.

The main characteristic design of the Native American Medicine Wheel is the most basic yet most perfect form – the circle. This is one absolute not only in Native America for sacred hoops but also for most cultures that have some kind of Circle of Life symbol. The second aspect of the Native American Medicine Wheel are the two intersecting lines that create a cross in the middle of the circle. The lines separate the circle into four equal sector parts.  Now that involves what can be seen. The Medicine Wheel must be thought of as floating in space and its cardinal points as well as other points that cannot be seen create a perfect sphere. Thus creating other points for directions up and down and of course perfect center.


Color Explanation and Color Placement on the Medicine Wheel can vary based on various customs by: Nations, Tribe, Clan, Band, Family and Individual.

While it is true that the most common colors of the Medicine Wheel in Native America are Red, Yellow Black and White, these are not the absolute colors for all Native American Nations. Some Nations use, Blue in wake of Black, others have Purple instead of Black. Yet some other Nations have used Green in lieu of Black.

So the four colors of Red, White, Black and Yellow are not set in stone as being for just one People.


It is widely accepted that the Medicine Wheel is a symbol of life and specifically the Circle of Life. As well known the circle represents perfection as well as infinites since the circle has no beginning or end. There can be many reasons behind the meaning of the circle itself among Nations. This can range from representing the Sun, Moon, Earth, and the Stars to representing concepts of life, continuity, consciousness, energy, and so much more. It should be stressed that this is not the same from Nation to Nation and there can be some representation that is very secret. The point at which the lines cross in the middle is extensively accepted as Center. Like color, which point and which sector represents what can be debated and broadly contested instead of discussed and understood from one person to another.

The part points as well as the four sectors have been attributed to representing the following:

The Four Directions: East, South, West, North

The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

The Four Stages of Life: Birth, Youth, Adult, Death

The Four Times of Day: Sunrise, Noon, Sunset, Midnight

The Four Elements of Life: Earth, Fire, Water, Wind

The Four Races of Man: Red, Yellow, Black, White

The Four Trials of Man: Success, Defeat, Peace, War

The Heavenly Beings: Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars

And there are many more!

The four points as well as the four sectors may also have animal, plant and celestial representations. These also differ greatly from Nation to Nation and varies vastly also due to geographical location. For example the Buffalo used for some of the Plains Tribes Medicine Wheel does not have any representation among the Medicine Wheel of the deep South East as that animal was rare among them. However the Alligator that may represent in a sector among the South East Nations did not have any representation among the Plains Tribes as it was not among them.


No one Medicine Wheel is the Medicine Wheel for all of Native America. The differences as mentioned are extremely wide.   One must also remember that the Medicine Wheel is exceptionally individual. A person can develop their own Medicine Wheel that has their own Animal/Spirit Helpers. This knowledge may happen in ceremony, visions, or dreams and other. This type of Medicine Wheel can be so private that only the person and The Creator are aware of its existence.


While there are many sources of information on the Native American Medicine Wheel from books and pamphlets to DVDs and the internet, none have been listed or used for this paper. Instead the author drew for his own knowledge and experience gained from many years of study, discipline and fellowship among The People.


Again this is not a spiritual paper by any means. The author wishes to express to all that true learning about the Native American Medicine Wheel needs to come from respectable people. Use non-human resources carefully. This is mentioned because there are many false, bogus, and faux sites and people on all kinds of information including that on Native America and the symbol seen all across Native America.

© 2012, 2015 Native American Composition & Performance, Limited

Jamie K. Oxendine, Lumbee/Creek

Native American Speaker

Director, Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation

A Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Native American Organization






  1. Amanda Fraser
    5:17 pm - 12-15-2017


  2. Jennifer Locklear
    8:12 am - 6-29-2018

    Jamie I love this!

  3. Jane Chin
    12:39 pm - 1-21-2019

    Interesting. Thank you for this article. I am very happy to learn about the native american medicine wheel. Sorry I missed your class at UT.

  4. Austin Locklear
    2:15 pm - 12-25-2019

    Hey Bro, this is well written too and very interesting information. I had not idea on the other colors but makes sense seeing there are so many Nations and were over 500 before 1492.

  5. Jimmy Nash
    6:48 am - 6-20-2020

    This is great and should be your next book!

  6. John Garcia
    8:45 am - 7-31-2020


  7. James Kaw
    2:40 am - 11-2-2023

    Wow I had no idea of any of this. I been to the big wheel in WY. Thanks for this information. I will look at the colors and meanings very different now.

  8. Brian Dicey
    5:12 pm - 11-3-2023

    Thanks Jamie. Great seeing you today at the Stone Mountain Festival. You are a great MC!

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