How The Shamanic Medicine Wheel Works

How the Shamanic Medicine Wheel Works

Passed down from generations to generations, the Shamanic Medicine Wheel is a key element of the Q’ero nations’ shamanic practices.

The wheel is an embodiment of all that is seen and unseen in this natural world, capturing the essence of all energy and creation.

But what is this iconic wheel? How does it work? And how do we experience it in a plant medicine ceremony?

The Shamanic Medicine Wheel - Sandra Staub

Similar to a compass, there are four directions on the medicine wheel pointing South, West, North, and East.

Each compass direction is represented by a spirit animal archetype:

  1. South: Serpent
  2. West: Jaguar
  3. North: Hummingbird
  4. Condor/Eagle

Each animal offers a very specific teaching and healing path (which we’ll get into a little later in this article).

We can call upon these Spirit Animals / directions of the wind to welcome them for their healing at any time. All it asks is to sit down, create a little ceremony (maybe next to the fire), and trust whatever comes through. These changes are usually subtle, but are very fundamental. Small changes will over time cause a big difference in our life.

When we work with a plant medicine, the medicine will guide us through a similar journey. However, because we’re working with a plant medicine, the experience is more intense. We might go through an intense experience of letting something go (South) while we are in the medicine. Only to return to silence, stillness and joy way later in the ceremony (North).

In this article, I will explain the four directions to you. Once we become aware of them, and start living more in-tune with our own rhythm and the rhythm of nature, we can observe that we might be going through the medicine wheel multiple times throughout our life. Sometimes quicker and more intense, sometimes more subtle and spread over multiple years.

Four ways plant medicine will help you

The Four Things Plant Medicine Does - Sandra Staub

In a plant medicine ceremony, there are four key ways that the medicine will help you. For a deeper look into how this works, check out Plant Medicine: The Only VR You Need.

But in short, plant medicine will help you:

1. Gain a new perspective

2. Find your truth

3. Connect to the Great Spirit

4. Have a new vision for your life

And it is the shamanic medicine wheel that helps us manifest the healing powers of plant medicine. When we start the ceremony, we start at the South of the wheel, kicking off the four core healing practices.

This is how the medicine wheel comes to life in a plant medicine ceremony

Within a plant medicine ceremony, you can experience the wheel manifesting in real time. As you start the ceremony, you progress through an inner journey that takes you from through the medicine wheel: beginning in the south, moving to the west, to the north, and then ending in the east. 

At each stage of your journey, the plant medicine guides you through an awakening process that will manifest itself in a similar way to the spirit animal of that compass direction.

SOUTH: Shed your identities like a Serpent sheds its skin

Shed your identities like the serpent - SOUTH on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel
Shed your identities like the serpent – SOUTH on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel

Most of us live our lives walking around wearing an “identity” that is not truly ours. Whether it’s out of a sense of obligation, out of concern for what people will think, or maybe even out of fear – we build our lives around roles and responsibilities that may not serve us. 

This looks like the accountant who has a passion for writing but is afraid of what people will think because he’s lived his whole adult life as an accountant. So he continues being an accountant, wearing the “skin” of someone that doesn’t connect with his passion.

Or maybe it’s the entrepreneurial woman who’s ambition has held her back from her heart’s calling – to be a full-time mother. Her fear of what others will think keeps her stuck wearing the “skin” that does not serve here. 

When a plant medicine ceremony starts, we begin at the SOUTH of the medicine wheel where we are asked to channel the energy of the Serpent. Just as a serpent sheds its skin, so too are we asked to shed our “skin,” the layers and attachments that no longer serve us.

WEST: Look inward with the courage of the Jaguar

Face the emotions you've been burying - WEST on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel
Face the emotions you’ve been burying – WEST on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel

Many of us hide a lot within us – we bury the things we don’t like and avoid them like the plague.

We all do it: we bury all kinds of stuff. Sometimes it’s memories, emotions, fears – pretty much anything that is uncomfortable and we don’t want to deal with, we bury it, cover it up with our identities, roles and “responsibilities” – and hope to never see it again.

So when we’ve gone through the South and shed those identities, we have no choice but to face what has been hidden underneath those identities: in the WEST of the medicine wheel, we meet the spirit of the Jaguar.

The Jaguar teaches us to have the courage to see through our darkness within, just as the jaguar sees through the darkness of night.

NORTH: Enjoy the sweetness of presence like the Hummingbird

Find presence & Connect with the Great Spirit - NORTH on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel
Find presence & Connect with the Great Spirit – NORTH on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel

At the end of every tunnel, there is light. Once we’ve channeled our Jaguar spirit and faced the darkness of the West, the plant medicine ceremony guides us to the NORTH where we meet the Hummingbird. 

In the North, the Hummingbird teaches us to enjoy the sweetness of the present moment, just as the hummingbird enjoys the sweetness of Mother Earth. It is here when we truly connect to The Great Spirit; when we understand the interconnectedness of all living beings on Mother Earth. 

The Hummingbird helps us to find the joy in life, the sweet simple connection to The Great Spirit.

EAST: Soar above your thoughts with the perspective of the Eagle

Find presence & Connect with the Great Spirit – NORTH on the Shamanic Medicine Wheel

And finally, just as a new day rises on the eastern horizon, we end the plant medicine ceremony in the EAST. Here, we meet the great Eagle or Condor and are invited to find a new vision in life.

Just as the Eagle has a birds-eye view of the forest as it soars in the sky, we are invited to soar above our life with a birds-eye view. How can we find a new vision for our life? How can we see a new future? How can we see ourselves differently?

The Shamanic Medicine Wheel Manifests Your Inner Journey

The sacred plant medicine ceremony is hinged upon the guidance of the Shamanic Medicine Wheel. Here’s a recap of what we experience:

  1. As we progress through a plant medicine ceremony, we are guided through the shamanic medicine wheel. We begin in the South and work our way around:
  • South
  • West
  • North
  • East
  1. At each point of the wheel, we are asked to channel the spirit of the animal of that direction:
  • South – Serpent
  • West – Jaguar
  • North – Hummingbird 
  • East – Eagle/Condor
  1. And each animal spirit guides us through a deeply personal inner journey:
  • South – Serpent: Shed your identities and find a new perspective
  • West – Jaguar: Face the emotions you’ve been suppressing
  • North – Hummingbird: Enjoy the sweetness of the present moment
  • East – Eagle/Condor: Soar above and see a new vision for your life 

If you’re interested in experiencing the medicine wheel in realtime, join me in a special, legal, and intimate plant medicine ceremony. Check out to reserve your spot!

Special Thanks:

A heartfelt thank you to Sandra Staub for her illustration talents!


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