The Native American medicine wheel was probably built for ritual and spiritual reasons. The stone Native American medicine wheel is still shrouded in mystery. Not many people truly know why they were made. The wheels were made by laying stones in a circular pattern until they resembled what we know as a wagon wheel. One large Native American medicine wheel is reported to reach 75 feet in diameter. While the wheel is still used today by Native Americans, the purpose and meaning of them are not usually shared with non-Native Americans.
The Native American medicine wheel can be found in Canada and the northern parts of the United States including Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. There has been between 70 to possibly 150 medicine wheels discovered, with most of them being found in Alberta. The Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming is home to a 75 foot Native American medicine wheel that has 28 spokes. It is the first wheel that was labeled a medicine wheel.
Medicine wheels were built with most of them using the same basic pattern. They were laid out in stone with a center, outer ring and inside spokes. The medicine wheels that have been found have at least two of these three features. However, they have variations. Each medicine wheel has its own personality and style. The most common difference in the medicine wheels is in the spokes. There seems to be not set number. Some spokes are not evenly spaced and there have been some medicine wheels that have one spoke that is longer than the other spokes. It is thought that the longer spoke was symbolic and perhaps pointed in a certain direction for a reason. Other variations in the spokes have been whether the spokes stopped at the outer ring. Some continued past the outer ring. Some medicine wheels have what appears to be a doorway or passageways in them. One of the oldest Native American medicine wheels is said to be 4500 years old. It is said that it was built and added on to with successive generations.
Some people believe the medicine wheels were used for astronomical purposes. Perhaps they were used to mark the passing of time? If they were used for astronomical purposes, it would seem the knowledge or astronomy originated in Canada and began to spread south to other Indians peoples. Other people believe that they were used for religious or ceremonial purposes. There has been evidence uncovered that would support that some type of dancing occurred inside the wheels.
While no one may ever truly know what the purpose behind the medicine wheel was, it is thought that there are some Native Americans who do know. Stories have been handed down from generation to generation in the Indian tribes. If anyone holds the key to the Native American medicine wheel, it is the Native Americans themselves.