I was surprised, and yet I should not have been, to discover the traditional medicine wheel of indigenous peoples travels differently in the Southern Hemisphere. I came upon this revelation quite naturally. After climbing to the top of the highest volcano on Easter Island, Chile, my partner and I sat having lunch with the wind howling around us. He suddenly asked which direction is which and I immediately replied without any thought, “well, the sun is over there so that must be south.”
However, that didn’t sit right with us because the map of the island showed that to be north even if we were off by a bit. After we sorted out the directions east and west by the directions that planes fly on and off the island, we realized my south had to be north.
Sorting Out the Mystery
The first thought that came to me was, what was the sun doing in the north? I visualized the Earth in relation to the Sun and thought that our small size couldn’t possible shift that significantly in relation to the Sun. The word ethnocentric came to mind. To be caught up in one’s own culture and worldview, it occurred to me that this was hemisphere-centrism or something of the sort. I found myself trapped in the mindset of the northern hemisphere and expansion was definitely necessary. I do love learning something new!!
My partner loves technology and techie gadgets, so he dug out his IPhone, which has a compass, and it did show that north was behind us where the sun was high in the sky at 1 pm in the afternoon. If this wasn’t an anomaly, the sun was moving from east to west through the north sky. After sitting with this for a moment, I realized this difference was never pointed out to me before on trips to the southern hemisphere and I hadn’t noticed it myself. I knew that I had stared up into the night sky in the southern hemisphere fascinated by the constellation the Southern Cross. It isn’t a constellation we get to view in the northern hemisphere.
I was usually very aware of my place on the planet and somehow I had missed learning this important piece of information on past trips to the southern hemisphere. I had been to Antarctica and to southern points of Africa and South America, and yet, somehow I had missed learning this wonderful difference between the hemispheres. Maybe I missed that class back in school!!
What About the Medicine Wheel?
After puzzling for a moment, I realized the sun must be seen in the north sky in the southern hemisphere as the Earth rotates, rather than the south sky, as we experience in the northern hemisphere. It suddenly occurred to me that the traditional medicine wheel must move in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere the wheel naturally moves clockwise from East (Yellow or Red) to South (Red or Yellow) to West (Blue or Black) to North (White or All Colours).
I envisioned the medicine wheel moving counter-clockwise from East to North to West to South and it felt very awkward, and yet it must be so. How can the ancient ones be in the South?
I had always experienced the ancient ones with the white or silver hair in the realm of the North, in the Arctic, where there is snow and a cooler climate, and then I remembered Antarctica. In the southern hemisphere the ancient ones, the old crone and the wise man, dwell in the south where there too is snow and a cooler climate. White tends to be associated with the direction of the ancient ones – North in the northern hemisphere and South in the southern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, to their north is the equator, the belt of continuous warmth on planet Earth. Often the colour Red is associated with the hottest direction when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, which is South in the northern hemisphere and North in the southern hemisphere.
I could not remember anyone mentioning a difference in the wheel between the northern and southern hemispheres, however, it suddenly seemed obvious. After coming down off the volcano and back to our accommodation, I looked up the medicine wheel in the southern hemisphere on my computer and confirmed my thoughts. I felt it was a good idea to share this information with anyone else who mght have missed learning about this too. I also thought that sharing some photos of this fabulous place, the most isolated inhabited place on the planet was a must.
Four Directions of the Wheel in the Southern Hemisphere:
Some meanings of the East: The sun rises, dawn of a new day, morning, new beginnings, creation, new life, new growth, birth, rebirth, new projects, a new cycle begins, where one is significantly influenced by family values and beliefs, and the element fire.
Some meanings of the North: The sun is high in the sky, noon, trees and plants are in the height of growth, youthful passion, growth, playful, innocence, energy, spontaneous, self-judgement and judging others, separation from the other, and the element earth.
Some meanings of the West: Sunset, the moon is present, evening, trees lose their leaves, transformation, darkness, mystery, adulthood, accumulation of wounds, exploring self, separation from collective, letting go of what no longer serves, and the element water.
Some meanings of the South: Night, peace, the ancestors, wisdom, contemplation, see the big picture, ancient ones, trees hibernate preparing for renewal, elders, relaxation, harvest the fruit of the journey, freedom, endings, universal Oneness, no form, no time, openness, understand limitations, non-attachment, and the element wind.
Why now? It was the right time for me to learn this lesson. The realization that regardless of how open we feel we are to the diversity of others and the perspectives of others, something always seems to limit our ability to envision the whole. A blindspot is revealed.
It is an opportunity to open to the expansiveness of the universe and the old adage, the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know. Being on Rapa Nui, the island of great mysteries, or its Spanish name Isla de Pascua, I am drawn to the mystery of all that we do not understand in the universe and in our lives.
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