When I first started on this path I was truly overwhelmed by the amount I DID NOT KNOW. I am no longer overwhelmed, but I truly understand how much there is to know and getting to know even a small portion of it is truly a life long pursuit.
The Four Directions
The Directions are the Guardians. It has taken me many years to develop a relationship with the Direction Gardians. With each circle and each journey I have come to understand their overt and subtle relationship with not only the Earth around me but also myself. As with any relationship that is important, it is worth cultivating and seeking to understand. With each circle, healing, ritual or ceremony I call in each direction before I start my work partly out of respect, but mostly because in our relationship we cooperate to do anything. Spiritual energy is all around us in many forms and on many different planes. The Directions are the Guardians of many different planes and have many different levels to them. What I will discuss are the very bare bone basics of the Elements. This introduction is designed to give you a better idea of who and what the elementals are.
In the Northern hemisphere we place the Directions a certain way and the opposite placement is indicative of the southern hemisphere. There are many differences amongst the Northern hemisphere traditions some of which we will explore on our journey together to understand and work with each Guardian. I strongly encourage you to seek out other sources of information and embark on your own comparative analysis of the world around you.
I do not hold THE TRUTH or THE WAY, just my way and my truth.
I will start with East because all things begin in the East, and unless you are creating a widdershins space, I would suggest you start in the East… again suggest.
I have worked with Sun Bear’s Medicine Wheel for many years. His wisdom has inspired much of my curiosity, a catalyst for a perfect recipe cooking to explore a deep and powerful relationship to the Guardians of the Directions.
East on the Wheel is also referred to as the time of Wabun and is generally considered to begin wheel-wise at Spring Equinox, the beginning of the solar year. East is the beginning of all things. Souls are considered carried into this world on the rays of the rising sun. Also attributed to East is illumination, much the same way the Sun illuminates the Dark. Inspiration; as a bird sings to the trees to wake them from their slumber the bird song is then inspiration. Clarity; as the Sun brings light onto anything dark it clarifies what surrounds it. It also, along with West, is the Direction partly responsible for Intuition. Intuition can be referred to as the dawning of understanding.
East is also viewed as the beginning of a human’s walk, so we can say one is East on their Wheel if they are in early Childhood or if they are just “birthing” on the Spirit Path and hence bursting forth with new ideas and renewed energy.
The Guardian for Wabun, the Spirit Keeper of the East is the beautiful and majestic Golden Eagle, of which there are some here in Canada. The Eagle is known to soar higher than any other bird and therefore can watch the earth and perceive many things. Many people who walk the shamanic path in North America have the Eagle as one of their primary spirit guides. To be gifted with an Eagle Feather is one of the highest honors bestowed upon one. If you require clarity in your life ask the Spirit Keeper of Wabun to fly you high to the Universe, the God, the Creator and ask for illumination and clarity.
East is also the Element Air. Air can be the gentle breeze, the gentle winds of change or they can be the gale force winds of a tornado, the Energy and Spirit of Change. As Air is the breath of the Earth Air is also our breath. Air can be hot, as it is in Southern Alberta, or freezing cold such as in Yellowknife. East and air are your creative ideas and places of beginnings, they also can be the chaos which compels you to move either deeper into chaos to seek the stillness of awareness and perception. It is a transformative Element and certainly can be a wonderful and amazing teacher.
The plant totem associated with East is Tobacco. Tobacco is very sacred and is known to grow during the day, hence its association with Air/East. Tobacco, like sage or sweetgrass, is one of the main plants used in ceremony and ritual in North America. The chosen task of any sacred herb is to carry the prayers and messages from the ‘two-leggeds’ which would be us, to the Spirits Above and our Ancestors. Tobacco is also considered a wonderful gift to Mother Earth for all of the Spiritual Gifts she willingly gives to us. It is believed that working with the Spirit of Tobacco brings clarity to the seeker as well as it is said to have the spiritual properties necessary to change a negative energy to a positive energy.
Next on the Wheel is South. South is a wonderful place to explore, it is warm, fiery and not without its own unique lessons. The Spirit Keeper of the South is Shawdonese, The Spirit Animal associated with South is the coyote, as well as the mouse. I am particularly fond of both as they are both great teachers for the lessons of South. The Element for South is Fire, which makes sense as we in the Canadian portion of North America view any part of the country south as usually hotter. This is the time physically of young childhood, if you are on the south part of the wheel you are still young and learning. The southern part of the wheel also speaks to where you could be on your spiritual path. The South for me is a wonderful energy. South has taught me to laugh at myself, it is a very playful energy and playfulness is part of the coyote, a Spirit often thought of as the Trickster. The Spirit of Mouse shared with me his vision of the world, he can’t see six inches ahead of him. A world surrounded by everything much larger; seeing only the world directly in front of him – too near sighted to see any distance. Do you now see how the mouse is a good teacher for the South part of the Wheel?
The South is also a time of rapid growth. As we in Alberta have a relatively short growing season, so fire often too has a short life span. The South has taught me also the way of the warrior, also the patience of the warrior. Most people do not recognize the warrior as being particularly patient, but after having fought different battles the warrior will learn discernment. Much like a child who gradually learns that he or she is not the centre of the Universe, rather a part of the whole. South, in its patience, teaches us to be aware of the interconnectedness of all things; a new lesson for many walking on the Southern Part of the Wheel.
The Plant Teacher that is honoured in the South is Sage. I use Sage all the time, in almost every single ritual and every single smudge I have ever burnt. Sage to me is the great cleanser, it burns long and hot. Sage burning in a pot not designed for smudge will burn your carpet, your fingers and if not properly attended will crack even the largest of the Abalone shell. Sage will clear a room of negative energy and many pesky spirit forms. Sage is also used often in conjunction with Sweetgrass to cleanse a person’s aura and help them to leave behind whatever burdens they carry, even if only for a moment.
Unlike Air, Fire leaves nothing untouched. Fire itself is even patient. The Spirit of Fire has many forms, electricity, the engine in your vehicle, the fire in the pit behind your house, the fever running through your body to the hot sauce you put in your chilli (well any good chilli that is!!).
Next on the Wheel is West. West has been a wonderful friend and the element of West is Water. The Spirit Keeper of West is Mudjekeewis, the Great Bear. Bear are the great dreamers. Bears are deadly if approached wrong or at the wrong time of the year and yet can be very gentle and truly loving. There are different traditions in North America which teach that the peoples descended from the bear, and hence Bear has a very honoured position spiritually speaking. Bear has been one of my most constant, gentlest and harshest teachers.
On the wheel the time of the Mudjekeewis is the Evening till Midnight, Autumn, our adult years to elder time. This is the time of slowing down & taking stock of experiences, of going within, like the Grizzly in autumn, of going within spiritually gaining strength from the knowledge earned; the time to prepare for the times of “winter” or later times.
Mudjekeewis is also the Spirit Keeper of Death, but not the scary death as we are given in our present mythology, rather the death of one way of life for another. Death is an inescapable necessity in the cycle of life. Death illuminates a pivotal point, a point from which the culmination of all knowledge can be drawn. When Death (in some form) is achieved, only then can there be a new beginning which utilizes, in new growth, the knowledge drawn from the past. Many traditions place another very sacred Spiritual Guardian in the West, Orcas, who are considered to be the wisdom keeper of the oceans and Yemaya, the Great Ocean Mother. We begin in water, we gestate in water, the same as dreams and visions gestate in the darkness and the moisture of our fertile imagination and creativity. Water runs downward into the west, like the setting sun and hence it is associated with water. I believe that the Fairy and the Fey are thought of as dwelling in the West because the sunset upon land or water was a line or a recognition of the land in between…. the betwixt and the between. The land known but still very mysterious. We seek to rest at the end of the day and chase our dreams which is why dreams are also placed in the West.
The Plant Spirit of West and Mudjekeewis is Cedar… can you say yuuuummmmm… the smell of burning cedar is sweet and can be mistaken for nothing else. The great cedar forests of British Columbia are some of my favourite places in Canada. Cedar is the grandmother of the Western herbs. I like to burn Cedar if I am asking for help from the Grandmothers of Change or the Grandmothers of the Dreamtime. If I am working in ritual with such Goddesses as Hecate I like to burn Cedar as a sweet water offering to her.
The lessons of the West that I have learnt are introspection, no matter how hard that is; inner knowledge; shamanic journeys; deep psychic work, love, emotions, dream states, releasing, and the attunement to all the great Spirits around us. We have finally come to a place on the wheel where ‘hopefully’ we have the patience to help those on other parts of the wheel, the wisdom to be quiet when necessary and the gift of discernment.
Ahhh now we have travelled on the wheel to my home, The North. The land of my Ancestors and my greatest teachers. The home of the Crystal People, the Mountains, the element Earth. The ever present darkness on the wheel never getting the light of the Sun. In the Darkness of Earth, the darkness of North we can rejuvenate and be reborn. This is the time on the wheel of the Elders. The Grand Elders of our community, the people of the collected wisdom.
The Spirit Keeper of North, Earth is Waboose, the White Buffalo is the Guardian of the Spirit Keeper Waboose. Waboose is when Father Sun is at the northern most part of his journey across the skies and the nights are long and cold. It is the elder time on the wheel and the time for souls to prepare for their rebirth. The Plant Spirit of North is Sweetgrass, need I say more?
North is my teacher of ritual, ceremony, practicality, patience and how to listen. North has taught me how to hear with my inner ear and how to use my inner voice. North is as much about inner spiritual journeys as it is about the outward manifestation of the inward journey and the inward visions.
Earth is why we are here. We are here to reconnect with the Element of Earth and to reconnect with our physical Earth Mother. The Ancestors of North will help us experience the ancient, ancient energies and personalities of the Elementals. Earth is our home and yet it is often neglected by us. We often take this amazing place for granted, as it is the place of our mundane work. It is the reality of our everyday existence… we work, play and live on this amazing Planet. The routines and rituals of our daily lives are what make it real for us. Earth is the element of REALITY.
Earth is the clockworks of all forms of spirituality. It is the cog that keeps the wheel of true spirituality turning ever toward the light. Earth is the element by which we regain our connection to natural spiritual wisdom. The Earth is the home of all the dimensions meeting in one place, open for all us to explore. By introducing you to the Spirits around you, I am hoping to give you a key to greater understanding of the forces of Nature, not as an observer, but as a participant. It is vital we practice part of our work outside because if all of our Nature spirituality is experienced beneath a man-made roof we run the risk of it becoming a mental image rather than a deep communion.
So in summary we are born in the East, grow up in the South, grow hopefully wise in our elder years of West finally coming to the place of wisdom, knowledge and true teaching in the place of the Grand Elders. Eventually we too will be the Ancestors that your descendants will call upon in their time of trials. East, Spring, South, Summer, West, Fall and North, Winter. We can see how the Wheel represents us physically, emotionally, spiritually as well as seasonally.