A Glimpse Into Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions

June 02, 2017

A Glimpse Into Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions

"When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, it is you who belong to this land." Native American proverb

For thousands of years, traditional indigenous medicine have been used to promote health and wellbeing for millions of native Americans who once inhabited this continent. Native diets, ceremonies that greet the seasons and the harvests, and the use of native plants for healing purposes have been used to live to promote health by living in harmony with the earth.

The First Nations inhabitants of America apparently regarded themselves as the extension of nature. They believed that every plant, animal, and stone, possessed a type of spirit.

History indicates that each tribe would have one or more elders who were groomed in the healing arts. These individuals would serve as herbalists, healers, and spirit communicators. The duties and types of healing arts and spiritual ceremonies performed would naturally vary from tribe to tribe.

 Native American healing arts and practices are earth-based, honoring and respectful of the Father Sky, Mother Earth, Grandfather Sun, and Grandmother Moon.

The Medicine Wheel

Most of the first nations tribes used the medicine wheel for healing. It basically contains four quadrants that symbolize north, east, south, and west while stages of life, seasons of the year, elements - air, water, fire Earth, and sacred plants and animals were included in the other categories of the wheel.

medicine wheel

The circle shape represents the interconnectivity of all aspects of one’s being, including the connection with the natural world. Medicine wheels are frequently believed to be the circle of awareness of the individual self; the circle of knowledge that provides the power we each have over our own lives.

Ancient Site

Medicine Wheel, a Native American sacred site and National Historic Landmark in Wyoming

The physical earthwork structures, were and still are the manifestations of the medicine wheel such as the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. It is a circular structure at 9,642 feet (2938 meters) in elevation, created by carefully placed stones. The diameter of the wheel is 80 feet, and has 28 spokes jutting out from its center. It is marked by a cairn 12 feet in diameter and two feet high. Six other cairns are also incorporated into the design of the wheel, where the spokes terminate.

medicine wheel ancient site

Medicine Wheel, a Native American sacred site and National Historic Landmark in Wyoming

How long ago stone medicine wheels were first created is still up for discussion but some have been dated to 4000 BC, which is when the Great Egyptian Pyramids were built; there are suggestions that the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, the largest and oldest, could be millions of years old. The original name for medicine wheels was “sacred circles” - the term “medicine wheel” was coined non-Native Americans in response to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, a around the turn of the century.

One of the researchers argues that even in our modern language, we can't express, pain, sensation, and feelings of the internal body and that our language is very limited. He explains that we may feel pain, or we might feel depressed, but there are various versions of this feeling and everyone's feeling is different, there is no sufficient expression to differentiate it. It is somewhere because of the lack of our focus in expressing the internal feelings.

Like in the ancient times, people used heart as the organ of perception, which is probably why, they were able to express the feelings more articulately. There is no doubt that the western medicine is more advanced, but somewhere, it also fails and there seems to be the need of the native American healing practices. It is important for the modern medicine to have some space for the traditional way of healing as well.

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