Medicine Wheel Teachings

Medicine Wheel Teachings

The Native American medicine wheel is familiar to most people. Few, however, know the spiritual meaning of each direction, or that those energies can be called on for help. Spiritual Messenger and modern shaman Laine Cunningham’s Four Winds program aligns participants at the medicine wheel’s center.

“When we stand at the center of the medicine wheel, we are balanced in our lives,” she says. “From the center, we can easily turn toward any direction to call on that energy for help.”

The program starts with the creation of a sacred circle. After a cleansing smudge, drumming and tobacco offerings create a space that will support spiritual healing and growth. The teachings begin with an overview of the medicine wheel’s quadrants.

A different spirit lives in each of the directions, and each spirit offers a different gift. The south sends everything of beauty: the warm winds of spring, flowers and birds, and ease of living. People who stand in the south are open to receiving all the prosperity and abundance of this earth.

The west is very different. The sun passes through there to rest on an island every night. The Thunderbeings also send the purifying rains from this direction. Whenever someone is involved in prayer and a storm comes up, they know their prayers have been heard.

From the north people receive wisdom. Individuals who face this direction often are facing struggles. Once the struggle has resolved, they become teachers and can help others along their own journeys. Although the lessons of the north can be difficult, they are gifts in their own right.

The east sends healing from the sun’s warmth and power. It is also the place where the morning star first appears. The Morning Water Woman has special gifts for those on the spiritual path. No matter what an individual’s life looks like or what goals they hold, standing in the east is always a deeply moving experience.

The final directions are not pictured on two-dimensional representations. Still, they are understood to be part of every medicine wheel. The final three are above, below and the center. Below is Maka, Mother Earth, and above lives Wakan Tanka, the creator.

“By the end of the seminar, individuals have moved to the center of their own medicine wheels to find their true selves,” Cunningham says.

The program blends experiential exercises, group discussions and instructor interactions with singing, drumming and dancing. Native American history and cultural information is blended into the presentations. Stories old and new are told to highlight the concepts that reside in each direction.

For the longer versions, the group creates their own medicine wheel. They use flour, corn, soybeans, and other materials that reflect the color of each direction. The wheel becomes a piece of art that is ecologically sound because it nourishes the birds and the earth. When outdoor space is limited, the group paints a mural.

This program is flexible enough that it can be offered as a weekend seminar or as a half-day session. Churches and spiritually based organizations find it of great benefit for their members, and arts organizations have booked the Four Winds program for its cultural arts information. Colleges and universities can schedule the program over several class periods to fit their schedules. Public and private schools can also be accommodated.

In early 1999, Cunningham moved to the Minnesota prairie. There she learned about traditional and modern native lifestyles while participating in powwows, sweat lodges and ceremonies. An elder on the Fond du Lac reservation even taught her how to make birch bark baskets with materials they harvested from the surrounding woods.

After moving to North Carolina, Cunningham connected with individuals from Cherokee, Lumbee and Saponi tribes. In the process, she discovered her family’s link to Cherokee. She now returns there twice a year to commune with the land in and around the Qualla boundary.

Over the last ten years, she has conducted weekend and half-day seminars on courage and spirituality for organizations including a multicultural women’s foundation on White Earth reservation. She has written about Native American lifestyles for American Profile, a national magazine, and brings an understanding of traditional and modern lifeways to all her programs.

To learn more about this and other seminars, visit the Workshops page ( of her website at Most of the programs are flexible enough to be weekend, day or half day sessions. Her presentations run under an hour in length.

As an ordained interfaith minister and modern shaman, she also is available for ceremonial duties ( at weddings, funerals and other milestones. She is available on short notice and can be reached at 336-267-6572.

Cunningham has appeared in MSNBC’s The Well-Mannered Traveler, the Sydney Morning Herald, USA Today, Awareness magazine, and dozens of radio shows and TV programs. She has revealed the real secret behind the law of attraction, the spiritual lessons of chronic illness, and how to reach every life goal. She has also discussed the native take on the swine flu, the miracle she experienced while spending six months alone in the Australian outback, and women’s issues.

This winter, Cunningham will release her first nonfiction book. Seven Sisters pairs Australian Aboriginal stories with essays that address modern problems. To preorder this book at a special discount, visit the book page ( on her website.

Visitors can also sign up for her free bulletin The Spiritual Messenger. Every week the bulletin provides thoughtful, inspirational messages from the world of nature and tribal cultures.

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