The Four Directions and The Medicine Wheel
The Medicine Wheel is a legacy the West has adopted from the Native Americans. The details vary from tribe to tribe though the basic principles remain the same. We pass from South to West to North to East clockwise around the wheel as we do respectively from child to adolescent, to adult (or warrior) and to visionary (or hero/ine.) This wheel of life is also what the Eastern traditions would call the recurring wheel of samsara resulting from a sentient based existence necessitating rebirth again and again until perfection of the soul is realized. Hence we are reborn as the child of the South unless, having arrived in the East, we have fully reconciled that part of our being that has to do with spirit and our higher Self.
It would be good to honor each passage with some special ritual, rite of passage or trial of initiation such as a vision quest as do the Native Americans. Some have adopted this tradition but it is still very much lacking in Western society.
The information below is loosely based on that originally visioned by Steven Foster and Meredith Little (The School of Lost Borders.)
Each direction has a season, a color, an animal, an element, a chakra, an archetype and a shadow side as well which you should discover for yourself.
Different Native American traditions vary in which color, element or animal "belongs" where but bear, cougar, buffalo, eagle and even the mouse feature prominently. As a shaman once told me; " the power animal you want may not be the one that you need for that something lacking inside of you," e.g. one might need a mouse rather than a lion if lacking in humility. The Chumash of the Central Californian Coast would use datura in sacred ceremony to dream their own power or totem animal. The animal came to them from within rather from without.
It is my belief that each individual should particularize and choose his or her own polarity for the directions remembering that in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are reversed and the animals may differ. The four basic archetypes are; healer, teacher, warrior (or leader) and visionary or elder (e.g. shaman, wisdom keeper, story teller, musician, artist etc.) Here is a basic structure that you can modify to your own individual sensitivities. Its no use having a medicinal wheel that belongs to someone else that has no meaning for you. Add to and change this as you see fit but for yourself only.
The South is the place of the child, represents summer (color ? red,) the earth element and the first chakra since the child is very much in survival mode. The child depends on the parent for all its needs and although self centered represents innocence, spontaneity, gratification and an untainted ego. It is often the wounded child of the South who never received unconditional love who becomes a healer (Angeles Arrien.)
We should be looking at what is there in a particular direction that may be holding us back from our ultimate vision? In which direction are we stuck? Where are we deficient? The move from one to a new direction was associated with a rite of passage (ROP) or a trial of initiation to be sure one was ready to go to the next level.
The West; the place of the adolescent, represents autumn, the water element and the second chakra of elimination (urine and stool) and reproduction (its sexual and hence hormones are beginning to rage.) The color here is black in line with the dark night of the soul or introspection which is often sabotaged by sexual longings and confusion. Since autumn requires that nature lies fallow, the bear is often the animal of the West since it is getting ready to hibernate.
A good archetype for the West is the teacher since it is an inspirational teacher or mentor that the youth needs to get through this difficult phase. Becoming a gang member, though socio-pathic, is in a sense an attempt to link with this archetype in the wrong way and with dark mentors. Rather than go and hunt an animal as a ROP they choose to kill a rival gang member to prove themselves.
The North; the place of the adult, represents winter (color often white,) the fire element and the third chakra. Our ego is centered around this chakra and this is the how we make our way in the world. The archetype is the warrior. The warrior or leader is the governing principle of the wheel. The animal of the north is therefore an animal of integrity, mastery and power but also one that should fit your own personality. We depend on a leader of integrity who subordinates ego for the greater good of the whole rather than a charismatic narcissist who leads the group to who knows where. Nature and the environment often suffer in the hands of an unskillful warrior. The marvels of science and technology can also be the shadow side of this direction. To paraphrase the words of Steve Jobs; Apple is here not to give people what they need but to tell them what they want. Jobs was a genius but there is also a lingering shadow to his talent that has made Apple a false prophet to many devotees.
Fulfilling needs rather than wants is key to successful passage into the Visionary phases of our lives.
The child of the south and the adolescent of the West depend on a truthful, peaceful, non egotistical warrior for them to more easily turn out whole. We all have to develop our warrior or ego side and self-actualize before we are ready to move into the East. We cannot skip chakras and move into the higher chakras above the diaphragm too soon.
The East is the place of the visionary (also Hero/ine who wants to serve the greater good) and represents spring (new seeds or ideas germinating.) The color can be gold, the chakras are those above the diaphragm starting with air of the heart chakra and depending on the degree of Self-realization graduating to ether above. In other words the fifth chakra of creative expression, the sixth in contact with the paranormal through the Third Eye and finally the seventh or crown chakra of the oneness experience where knower, known and process of knowing fuse into one and we have a direct experience of the "Field" and even the Great Spirit. The gateway to the fifth chakra and beyond is the fourth heart chakra which is love. In order to be a successful visionary we have to love everyone no matter what we think of them or at least have an unconditional positive regard for that part of them also made in the image of the Creator. We have to open our hearts to go into the East. We are all microcosmic representations of the Divine. In the West the animal is usually a raptor with vision such as an eagle or hawk. In the East it is more likely to be a water bird such as a heron or stork. The visionary is in touch with his or her true purpose or destiny and everything flows from this and remains true to it. The visionary subordinates ego to the Higher Self. The temptations and hypnosis of materialism can lead to the hero/ine's "fall" from the grail and from grace. The visionary may also be in danger of projecting his own shadow onto others by being self righteous and arrogant. A regular enjoyable inner practice and a connection with one's true destiny are the best antidotes to the fall. The East is the direction of altruism, the north is more self serving. The visionary or hero/ine gives the grail away, the warrior may shares the spoils with his family, the corporation and even the community but keeps most for himself.
In general the antidote for a "stuck" direction can be the opposite direction (Stephen Foster and Meredith Little) but one cannot skip directions and one has to go thru the next clockwise direction to get there.
Treatment or Rx (excuse medical lingo) for the West.
Rx for the West is having a teacher with the right qualities who can direct us to our source of vision in the East. However the "adolescent" (maybe now an adult) has to go through the North first to get to the East. We have to develop or redevelop our ego side, our warrior side first.
Rx of the North is some kind of inner practice that keeps the warrior or leader centered. Many businesses are using meditation, yoga etc. to make more money but at the same time it has a beneficial effect and the warrior energy doesn't run amuck with greed and ambition. This creates a corporation which is more holistic, has the health and happiness of its workers in mind, as well as the environment and social responsibility.
Rx of the adult still stuck in the South in his child phase is the warrior of the North but the child in that adult stuck in the South must go through the introspective direction of the dark night of the soul of the West. Many women complain about men stuck in the eros of the South.
Rx of the warrior gone mad with compulsion, aggression, ambition etc. is to lighten up and connect with the child of the opposite South but that adult must also have some of the inner vision in the East in order to connect with his child of the South.
We are continuously doing the medicine wheel again and again but just at different levels, hopefully more skillfully and less painfully all the time as we gain wisdom. Life's challenges demand that we continue on other hero/ine's journeys where needed.
The woman with breast cancer who heals herself and then starts counseling other woman with breast cancer is fulfilling the heroine's journey.
The man who loses a job, cannot make a living and is propelled out of the visionary phase may have to start all over again as a warrior and abort his visionary phase temporarily.