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Lakota Country Times

Where did the medicine wheel symbol come from?
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By Francis White Bird
Somehow in Native America, there are two terms which exists and these are medicine and medicine wheel. I hear people say about someone, he or she has strong medicine or that thing has strong medicine. What is medicine? Is it something like Tylenol? Tylenol is stronger than aspirin. Or is medicine, spiritual power? Would you say a priest or rabbi has strong medicine? If a person has strong spiritual power, than say strong spiritual power. Medicine implies sickness or injury and requires medical help. Spiritual leaders have somehow gotten entangled with doctors.
There are people who administer herbal medicine to cure a sickness or an injury in historic times. These people fit the description of medicine.
Medicine wheel is a term which has emerged within the last forty years in Native America. The symbol is of a circle with a line going up and down in the middle of the circle. There is another line one going side to side in the middle of the circle. It looks like a compass or the crosshairs on a scope on a rifle. This symbol is NOT a sacred symbol in Lakota culture.
This symbol is a hybrid of something called, "tahogmi." The three Lakota words are, "taha, ogmi and gmi." Taha is rawhide or leather and ogmi is to go around the object which probably was a piece of wood formed into a circle.
Gmi is shortened from gmigma which is a circle. The purpose of the "tahogmi" defined as "the hoop on which a scalp or hide is stretched." These, "tahogmi" with a scalp were put on a six foot stripped sapling and were held by the women during a wakte gli dance.
It is okay to put an eagle feather or an eagle plume in the middle to secure the feather or plume. Maybe some other tribe has their own definition and they should let everyone know so there is no confusion on the origin and purpose of the word.
If I remember correctly, this symbol was designed by a non-Native person in the mid 70s. I think most tribes who have lost their language and spirituality have adopted this symbol as their sacred symbol.
There is a whole cottage industry which has emerged within Native America on different designs, color configuration and explanations on this thing called, the "medicine wheel." Since there are four points in this design, someone suggested the number four is sacred.
If four is sacred, if you order four beers, does that make the beers sacred? How about a child being four years old?
Is that child sacred for one year and not the rest? Numbers are units of measure and they are NOT sacred. Besides, numbers are on level one of the Lakota language. T
he number four is NOT sacred. Some people say the four colors; black, white, red and yellow represents the four human races of the world.
This is erroneous as the colors represent, thunder, snow, sun and moon rise and the trail back to the spirit world.
There are songs with the words for thunder, snow, sun/moon, the spirit trail, the sky above and unci maka. There are no songs with the words for wasicu, ha sapa and the picokan hunska in our spiritual or any other songs.
There are veteran songs but they have to do more with the courage of the Lakota men. Besides, what kind of values will these different colors of man bring to the quality of life for Lakota people? As far as I can tell, they brought nothing but grief so why we are such wimps as to say the four colors represent man and include ourselves at their level?
There is a symbol which looks like a tahogmi and it is the hocoka symbol.
This symbol has seven directions, seven values, seven elements with animals and seven colors. Just listen to the inipi songs and you will hear this pattern.
This is a topic for a future writing. I am torn about writing about this symbol as some non-Lakota speaking person would write about it in a trivial manner and cheapen the symbol like the Lakota spiritual word, "mitakuye owasin."

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