application/x-httpd-php wp-config-sample.php PHP script text Songs for the Lodge Teachings on Lakota Tradition Wed, 12 Jan 2011 13:40:28 +0000 en hourly 1 Significance of Big Horn Medicine Wheel Wed, 12 Jan 2011 13:40:28 +0000 Lady Drummer Native Indigenous Medicine Wheels are based in the peoples understanding of their respective cosmologies; their understanding of their universe, the creation of the earth, and humanity’s role in that creation.We tend to like Medicine Wheels icons because they are colorful but we often fail to realize that these smaller, ornamental wheels are based upon larger constructs built in nature hundreds of years  to thousands of years ago.  These constructswere used to mark the movement of planets, stars and other astronomical constructs.   Native Indigenous people had a deep understanding of the astronomical occurrences  in North America.  These astronomical occurrences were used to govern the movement of peoples to seasonal camping habitats and the timing of  certain rituals. 

Big Horn Medicine Wheel-Wyoming

 Big Horn Medicine Wheel
 The most studied wheel in America is the Big Horn Medicine wheel on Medicine Mountain in Wyoming.  The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a giant “Wheel”  87 feet in diameter  and made of stones.  The Wheel has   Twenty-eight “spokes,” which  fan outward from a central cairn and end at the circumference of the wheel.  There are five other spokes which end at cairns on the circumference.   The Wheel is  almost exactly the same size as the Sarsen Circle, the principal feature at Stonehenge.

Dr. John Addy discovered that the seventh spoke, which extends out past  the circumference of the wheel,  is aligned with the direction that the Sun rises  and sets on the summer solstice.   The other four spokes end in cairns on the circumference of the wheel and   point  to the rising points of the  stars Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Fomalhaut.

One author writes, “Although the exact date of its construction is unknown, it is believed to be at most a few hundred years old. Nevertheless, though it may not compare in age or grandeur with its more famous European cousin (Stonehenge) , Big Horn Medicine Wheel is no less interesting to archaeoastronomers, and no less mysterious in its origin, history, and purpose. “1

           Big Horn Medicine Wheel-graphic  2

The accuracy of Native Indigenous Medicine Wheels often baffles modern scientist as it appears that the   knowledge to construct these wheels was garnered without the use of sophisticated equipment. I am always amazed that scientist find indigenous constructs so mysterious. There is the tendency to extol the knowledge of the builders of Stonehenge and to negate the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people as an impossibility.   If they want to know the origin and  function of the Big Horn wheel, it would do well to ask the descendants of those who constructed  and used this wheel; the Northern  Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho people. 

The Lunar Calendar
Native indigenous people  used a 28 day lunar calendar.  The spokes on the Big Horn  wheel correspond to the 28 days of one  lunar month. These spokes were used to track the days in a month. 

Superimposed on the wheel are markers for Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Fomalhaut.  These stars are used to track the lunar year.   At the time the Wheel was built, Aldebaran rose in the East, just before the sun.  This phenomenon, called a helical rising , is very unique as it signifies a time when a star, usually behind the sun and unseen, flashes above the horizon before the sun, before it is again hidden by the sun’s light. The ” flash” of Aldebaran above the horizon signaled the approach of the summer solstice and the time to return to the Black Hills for Sun dance ceremony. ”Rigel rises almost exactly one lunar month (28 days) after Aldebaran and Sirius one month after Rigel.”Fomalhaut rises one month before the fall equinox.4  The Medicine Wheel of Big Horn is a massive  astronomical clock, marked in stone, which guided the daily lives of the Lakota around the Sacred Hoop of life.

Other Astronomical Medicine Wheels
There are approximately 1500 such wheels in continental North America constructed of stone, or mud.  Some are newer, like the Big Horn Wheel only estimated to be around 200 years old and others date back 4500 years.  This includes the wheel at Turtle Mountain Dakota Reservation and Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan; Canada. Almost All have the central cairns, the markers for summer solstice, and markers for Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Fomalhaut. 

Phases of the Medicine Wheel

Phases of the Medicine Wheel

This suggests a consistent culture of astronomical observance prevalent amongst the inhabitants of this land.  It is reasonable to conclude that these wheels were used in similar manner as discussed in this article.

  • Marker “O” shows summer solstice sunrise, approx. June 21.
  • Marker “A” shows the rising of Aldebaran as a morning star, approx. April 21.
  • Marker “B” shows the rising of Rigel as a morning star, approx. May 21.
  • Marker “C” shows the rising of Sirius as a morning star, approx. June 21.
  • Marker “D” shows the rising of Fomalhaut as a morning star, approx. Aug. 21.
  • Markers “E” and “F” are backsights for observing the other markers in sequence 5

Mitakuye Oasin
We are related to all things
Spider Who Sings@ Songs for the Lodge

5. Phases chart and legend:

Please note, this article is not an invitation to visit the Big Horn Wheel.  The U.S. Forest Service has made this site a national tourist attraction which draws over 32,000 visitors annually.  This has resulted in the degradation of the wheel.  While tourist are welcome traditional medicine people need to sneak and hide in the mountains to conduct traditional ceremonies.  Please respect the need and right of the People to preserve their spiritual and cultural heritage.  If you do go, please do not remove the stones or other sacred items placed by the people. 

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Cangleska Wakan: Sacred Hoop of Life Fri, 07 Jan 2011 12:01:03 +0000 songsforthelodge Native Americans perceive life as a series of cycles.  The Lakota speak of the Cangleska (Chan-gles-Ka) Wakan, the Sacred Red Hoop of Life around which they walked.  The United States government believed that the Lakota spoke of solely of religious beliefs which they dismissed as superstitious constructs.   The military would not accept that the Lakota  spoke literally of their physical environment.  In addition to representing many spiritual teachings, the small circular icons we see worn and displayed represented a literal relationship between the Lakota and their physical environment in the Black Hills of South Dakota.   It was the Lakota relationship to Black Hills that was considered sacred.

The Black Hills are a geological wonder. It is a wedge shaped land mass  that rises from the prairie in the western corner of South Dakota.  It is as though someone cut a piece out of the  Northern California forests and dropped them in the center of the western prairie.  The Lakota speak of a Great Race of Animals around the Black Hills, the tumult of which caused the Hills to rise from the floor of the earth(1)

Black Hills Topographical Map

Black Hills Topographical Map 2

Formed by glaciers, the mass consists primarily of bedrock coverered with glacial sediment. The land is fertile  and supports giant black pines; from which it gets it name, farming, crops, fruits and berries and a multitude of wildlife and fish. It is in this environment that the Lakota enjoyed an abundant way of living.

The Cangleska Wakan, the Sacred  Red Circle of Life is a red clay valley that circles the Black Hills. The Lakota, a nomadic people, migrated around this Hoop  on an annual basis for physical survival and spiritual renewal. There were specific camps for winter, spring and summer which corresponded to the best  locations  for game and foods.

Cangleska Wakan

Cangleska Wakan: Red Hoop of Life (3)


Lakota Spirituality was also inherently tied to the Black Hills environment. Within Cangleska Wakan; the Sacred Hoop, are various land masses used by the Lakota for the facilitation of specific rituals at various times of the year.

During the winter, the bands resided at their winter camps in Nebraska and South Dakota.  At the time of the spring equinox, the bands would begin the Spring Pipe Ceremonies. The prayers called the people to return to Devil’s Tower for the annual Sundance.  The prayers also called for the return of the animals and the renewal of plants. The bands would then begin the trek to Harney Peak ,Nebraska for the ceremonies of renewal.  There the Lakota performed the ceremonies called “They are dancing for the Thunders that are theirs”.  This was a ceremony to welcome back the Thunder Beings, harbingers of the spring storms which cleansed the earth.

When the bands arrived at Pe Sla, A barren hill in the Black Hills in mid-spring, the bands would perform the ceremony called “Peace at Bare Spot”.  This was a ceremony of welcoming back life and included the offering of libation (pouring water), feeding the birds and the offering of meat.  This time also included preparation for the annual Sundance; a time which included prayer and purification.4

Once the spring ceremonies were concluded the people would begin the journey to Devil’s Tower to conduct the   Sundance at the time of summer solstice.   The Sundance was a national religious and social event.  Matters of legal importance impacting the tribes were decided then.  If the bands could not converge for the spring ceremonies, all endeavored to return for the Sundance. 

On the journey to Devil’s Tower, the people would carry with them stones from Inyan Kaga (a hill in the Wyoming Black Hills) to be used in the purification lodges at the Sundance. The spiritual name for Devil’s tower is “Grey Buffalo Horn”.  Inyan Kaga is called “Black Buffalo Horn” and Bear Butte was called the “Buffalo’s Nose”.  This triangular configuration of mountains was called, “The Buffalo’s Head” and between spring equinox and summer solstice was a cauldron of spiritual energy and activity. 4

To the Lakota, The Buffalo represented a traditional way of life; a way of living.  They were not just referring to the wooly animal of the plains, but rather to the spiritual “Buffalo”, whose head was formed by three sacred mountains, which was the core of their spiritual and physical and renewal.  The journey for the Lakota was, in actuality quite circuitous, however this was  Their sacred and literal Red Circle of Life  

Cangleska Wakan, the first Medicine Wheel,   encompassed the physical context for Lakota spiritual beliefs.  This was their home. Saying that the Sacred Circle was broken is a literal description of the desecration of the physical homeland of the Lakota people.  Bear Butte, the place where the Lakota said they emerged from within the earth, is now a national park.  The people now need special arrangements to facilitate the Vision Quest ceremonies to prepare to dance.  The Hot Springs, used for spring purification are now a tourist attraction from which the people are barred and chased away.  When the Lakota said they were no longer able to follow the Sacred Hoop, they spoke literally as well as symbolically.

The physical  world of the Lakota was mirrored in the heavens. What they did on the earth was a replica of what occurred in the heavens; as the saying goes, As above, so below…From a practical perspective  How did the Lakota  know when to move camp?  We will explore these concepts and questions  in our next articles, “The Significance of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel.”  

Until then,
Spider who Sings

Black Elk spoke of a time in the Seventh Generation of people that the Sacred Hoop would begin to be mended.  This mending has taken many forms including political and social revolution, litigation, and the reclaiming of traditional cultural andspiritual practices. There are many who have been able  blend traditinal teachings and American institutions to build   lives  of courage with purpose.

The journey for the individual can be treacherous as lack of employment opportunities, poverty, substance abuse and disease are rampant on the reservation. The reservation on Pine Ridge has been described as a third world environment and many struggle to find meaning in the barren land into which they were deposited. 

If you are interested in providing assistance there are many credible organizations which help to provide propane, medicines and education on the Lakota reservations.  If you desire to provide assitance please contact the Black Hills Salvation Army to find credible ways to help these communities.  The Lakota Country Times is good online resource reporting on events  involving the Lakotanation.  The Native American Rights Fund provides articles and information on the efforts of native tribes to unravel the legal entaglements of  the treaties which took away their lands and rights. NARF is the place to go if you can’t find other resources.  They will tell you how to help.

 1. Lakota Creation Stories
2. map from:
4.  Lakota Star Knowledge:  Studies in Lakot Stellar Theology: Ronald Goodman, Sinte Gleska University press, 1992.

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The Power of Four Directions: Medicine Wheels Mon, 03 Jan 2011 12:12:46 +0000 songsforthelodge Below are several examples of medicine wheel icons from the Lakota tradition.

Notice that the colors are in different directions on the wheel.  Is there a correct placement of the colors on the wheel  and what do they mean?  Is there such a things as “ The right  or wrong Medicine Wheel?”  One internet author wrote:

“So which is correct?  How can you tell bogus interpretations from time honored ones? Well, you can’t. The metaphysics and religion of the Lakota are as subjective as those of any religion; maybe even more so because of the emphasis on individualism, i.e. one’s own vision. Nowhere is this more true than among the Lakota holy people and interpreters. The variations in the colours for the directions can easily and readily differ from individual to individual, as each is guided specifically by their own visions.”2.

I find there is some truth to this perspective, however much confusion  with respect to the wheels comes from  non-Indians not understanding some fundamental principles about the types of medicine people and the representation of these medicines and colors  on the wheel.  There are medicine people who work with herbs and roots.  These medicine people, called Pejuta Wakan, have a core wheel with a core set of four colors.The placement of the colors on the wheel may vary from individual to individual however the core colors remain the same.  The Heyoka, the Sacred Contraries also have a different set of colors indicative of their medicine. Similarly the  Wicasa Wakan, the Holy People,  have a different wheel with a core set of colors.  The  lay person also uses particular wheels whose colors and placement on the wheel are determined by band and by clan then personal vision. 

There are wheels which represent the higher powers and knowledge obtained only by  the Medicine people ; those trained to approach that energy.  There are wheels for the layperson which represent knowledge that can be obtained by anyone willing to learn how to access that information.  An individual   may use one medicine wheel for finding guidance in day to day living.  The same individual may approach a Pejuta Wakan ( herbalist- family doctor)  who uses a different core.  The Pejuta Wakan may refer the individual to  a Wicasa Wakan ( holy man, medium, surgeon).  When one understands the core colors one knows what type  of medicine person, that one is  working with. When one understands this concept the issue of right and wrong medicine wheels disappears.

If one grew up in the culture one would learn many variations of the wheel and their meanings by virtue of living in the environment.  This is akin to a student learning the colors of  the various schools, their mascots and slogans, group personalities and values as they matriculated through the education system.  It is important when studying these icons and teachings to study and learn one system well, then learn others.  These  iconic wheels represent and define reltionships  within a culture and within communities.  The spiritual teachings can generalize if one takes the time to learn the symbols and teachings.

In our next article, Cangleska Wakan:  the Sacred Hoop of Life, we will discuss the relationship between the Black Hills and various constellations in the sky.  This relationship formed the basis of Lakota spiritual thought and guided their daily living.   These earthen and stellar wheels give birth to all other possible wheels and possible relationships.  In the interim we invite you visit the link on reference 4 for one particular interpretation of a medicine wheel.

1.Image sources:
3. For those familiar with Ifa the difference is akin to the use of obi abata, dilogun and Ikinfor divination.  Anyone can use obi and obi  abata to talk to their ancestors to inquire about the daily activities and affairs.  The priest use dilogun to approach the deities with regard to information on the worldly plan.  The awo’s approach Ifa for understanding of one’s destiny and how forces are impacting the individual.

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Power of Four Directions: The Medicine Wheel Sat, 01 Jan 2011 13:19:02 +0000 songsforthelodge The medicine wheel is a European termed used to describe Native American beliefs that life moves in a series of cycles.  The small icons we see are the symbolic representation of the cardinal directions upon a circle.  Each direction represents a series of lessons represented by specific animals, medicines, stellar and planetary alignments and colors. 

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The Ancients believe that we visit each Direction, each Corner, as we traverse through life. We remain in each direction approximately seven years absorbing the lessons of that Direction.

It is said that one can attain enlightenment in one twenty-eight year cycle of life.  Ideally an individual will live long enough to traverse the wheel four times in an incarnation.  This is why we pray for long life; to complete our lessons so we do not have to repeat the cycle.

Here is a Native American perspective on the meaning of the straight and narrow; not that one walks a linear path that never jumps the curb, but that one stays focused and passionate enough to complete their cycles regardless of the road that needs to be traveled.  Windows of opportunity are presented to us and we either leap, to grab the ring off the turnstile, or remain on the path we’re on.  If we are not careful, we get stuck in old beliefs and behaviors that keep us stuck on the Sacred Wheel. Healing is recreating opportunities to learn our lessons and clear our Karmic responsibilities.

We acknowledge the Four Corners which create the world and begin our series on the Medicine Wheel; the Sacred Hoop of Life.  We share from the Lakota perspective for we have direct experience with this culture and tribe. We know that the spiritual metaphysical concepts of the Lakota “Medicine Wheels” are based upon a literal “Wheel” in the physical environment of the Black Hills and Western Plains.  The Lakota way of Life focused on this Sacred Red Road of Life.  

We invite you to browse our series, learn more about the Lakota perspective and universal truths inherent in these teachings. We welcome your comments and thoughts at the site.  In sharing our thoughts and feelings, we will find that we all carry a piece of the truth and truly are all related.

 Spider Who Sings
Songs for the

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The Purpose of the Inipi:Learning from James Ray Sun, 19 Dec 2010 00:06:20 +0000 songsforthelodge [vsw id="XOO5wIu8Lnc?fs=1&" source="youtube" width="425" height="344" autoplay="no"]
What do you think?

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Kahlil Gibran on Love Wed, 15 Sep 2010 03:45:17 +0000 Lady Drummer Hello fam.  We are back after a long , drawn  out illness.  We’re all healed up now and reading to go.  Want to share with you all a very profound video shared on Facebook by a friend depicting Gibran’s poem on love.  I must say, these words held true for me and our staff.  Enjoy!-Spider Who Sings.

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