4 Spirit Keepers of the Native American Medicine Wheel

Traditionally, a medicine wheel was a ground-level monument constructed by many indigenous tribal communities, especially North American native groups, and was associated with religious practices. The uses for medicine wheels varied from tribe to tribe, but generally speaking they were wheel-like structures composed with stones arranged in an outer circle with "spokes" radiating from the center. In most instances, the four spokes of the medicine wheel were aligned according to the compass directions: north, south, east, and west. 

More recently, New Age spiritual practitioners have adopted the medicine wheel as a symbol or metaphor for spiritual healing, and they also have adopted other symbols from Native American spiritual and shamanic practice—including the use of Power Animals.

In New Age spirituality, the four animals most commonly represented as f spirit keepers for the medicine wheel are the Bear, the Buffalo, the Eagle, and the Mouse. However, there are no firm rules about which animals stand for each of spoke directions of the medicine wheel. Michael Samuels, co-author of "The Path of the Feather," teaches that all native peoples had different spirit animals and interpretations of the spoke directions, which encourages modern users to choose their own. 

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Spirit Eagle, Keeper of the East

Bald Eagle in Flight
Bald Eagle in Flight. Getty / Todd Ryburn

The Eagle is the spirit keeper of the eastern direction or air quadrant of the medicine wheel.

In most native tribes, the eagle stood for spiritual protection, as well as strength, courage, and wisdom. Like an eagle in flight, as a totem animal, the bird represents the ability to see broad truths that we cannot see from our normal earth-bound perspective. The eagle is the power animal closest to the Creator. 

Interestingly, the eagle has represented similar values for ancient cultures throughout the world. In ancient Egypt, for example, the eagle was revered in a manner quite similar to Native American culture. 

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Spirit Buffalo, Keeper of the North

American Bison
American Bison. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

The American buffalo, more properly known as the bison, is the spirit keeper of the northern direction or earth quadrant of the medicine wheel.

Much like the animal itself, as a totem symbol, the buffalo represents groundedness, solidness, sheer power, and abundance. It represents strength and a deep, firm connection to the earth. 

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Spirt Grizzly, Keeper of the West

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear. Mark Newman / Getty Images

The grizzly bear is the spirit keeper of the western direction or water quadrant of the medicine wheel.

The bear is a solitary animal capable of ferocity, and as a totem animal, it signifies the importance of taking command and leading with aloof aggressiveness. It also represents the need for solitary reflection, and it is a symbol to lean on when individual, lone courage is required. 

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Spirit Mouse, Keeper of the South

Mouse. NIck Saunders / Getty Images

The Mouse is the spirit keeper of the southern direction or fire quadrant of the medicine wheel.

The mouse as a totem animal represents the importance of small, persistent action. It represents the ability to pay attention to small details and how to discern the important from the irrelevant. Like the actual creature, the totem mouse represents heightened awareness to small details and the virtue of sometimes being timid and sacrificing one's ego. A mouse is able to successfully live on the most meager of materials—a lesson we're well advised to learn. 

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Desy, Phylameana lila. "4 Spirit Keepers of the Native American Medicine Wheel." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, learnreligions.com/medicine-wheel-power-animals-1731122. Desy, Phylameana lila. (2020, August 26). 4 Spirit Keepers of the Native American Medicine Wheel. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/medicine-wheel-power-animals-1731122 Desy, Phylameana lila. "4 Spirit Keepers of the Native American Medicine Wheel." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/medicine-wheel-power-animals-1731122 (accessed May 29, 2023).