Medicine Wheel

Sun at sunrise position, June 21, summer solstice.

We have found that observing Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun can help us not only to stay in touch with Mother Earth and Father Sky, but can help us in maintaining vital aspects of living such as hunting, farming, and social life.

DIGITAL EFFECT: Medicine Wheel
Crossfade scene to coordinates of Big Horn Mountain Medicine Wheel (44°49′34″N 107°55′18″W), on the 2012 summer solstice about 90 minutes before sunrise. Scale up the Sun to size 5x for easier viewing of the solar alignments. If presenters would like to use the current year instead, update with the correct year.
VISUAL 9 (still): Map with Medicine Wheel Marked
Map with Medicine Wheel Marked

In some places, Native Americans built structures that mark points along the horizon where events of interest occur. 

Do you know of any such structures? 

[Accept any responses. Especially show interest in those who have actually visited such sites.]

Now we will leave Northern California and journey to the high mountains in northern Wyoming. 

Does anyone here know what it’s like there?

VISUAL 10 (still): Big Horn Medicine Mountain
Fade on a small image of the view of Big Horn Mountain at the marked position on the map, and then scale up and move the image off to the side for viewing.
Big Horn Medicine Mountain

It is late spring at the summit of Medicine Mountain in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. We are at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. It is pretty cold here on this mountain top. There is snow on the ground much of the year, but this is an excellent location for sky watching. The top is above timberline and offers a clear view of the horizon.

VISUAL 11 (still): Medicine Wheel
Fade on a small image of the view of the Medicine Wheel at the top of the Big Horn Mountain image, and then scale up and move the image off to the side for viewing.
Small image of the view of the Medicine Wheel at the top of the Big Horn Mountain

[Fade off the map image.]

On top of the mountain is a wheel-like pattern made of piled up stones that were gathered from the area. There are many of these stone circles in North America. We call this particular stone circle “Big Horn Medicine Wheel.” The Crow people call it “The Sun’s Tipi.” Some stone circles in North America may be over 2000 years old. 

At the center of the circle is a doughnut-shaped pile of stones connected to the rim by 28 spoke-like lines of stones.

Can you think of any reason that there are 28 spokes? 

[Perhaps because the Moon can be seen for about 28 days of its monthly cycle. The number 28 is sacred among the Plains people.]

Six more piles of stones are around the outside of the circle. Archaeologists call the piles of stones cairns.

[Fade off the Big Horn Mountain and the Medicine Wheel images.]

Fade on Medicine Wheel panorama, with a mix of small and large cairn repesentations. The small cairns offer little significant alignment in this representation. The large cairns mark the summer solstice sunrise and sunset points. Note: this representation does not accurately reflect the view from the center of the Medicine Wheel—it is only meant to give a feel for the view.

Fade up stars. Turn on the Planetarium clock.If you sight from one cairn to another, certain points on the horizon are marked. Here are some of those horizon points. We are here in the chilly, early morning just before sunrise on the “longest day of the year.” We saw the special sunrise position for this day with the Hupa world walker.

Let’s watch this special sunrise here at Medicine Wheel.

Run diurnal motion such that the Sun rises atop the northeastern cairn in 20 seconds. Stars off.

Blue lights on.

The Sun rises over this cairn on the “longest day of the year.”

Can you guess where the Sun will set?

Let diurnal motion continue to demonstrate the Sun setting atop the northwestern cairn in 30 seconds.
As the sun is setting, explain more about the Medicine Wheel:

For the Northern Cheyenne, Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Crow, Arapahoe and other Northern Plains people, the stone circle is a religious site, an altar on the top of a sacred mountain. No one knows exactly who constructed the wheel.

Because Medicine Wheel is visited by many tribes, it has more than one purpose. Some individuals use it as a place to seek visions. Seeking a vision requires great self discipline: meditation, abstinence, and fasting. At one time, the cairns were stacked higher, and had simple roofs that formed an enclosure for the individual seeking a vision.

It is also said that Medicine Wheel was built to allow the observance of the Sundance ceremony. The design of the stone wheel is similar to the Sundance Lodge, which has 28 poles reaching to the center tree.

Stop diurnal motion with the Sun above the lone, western cairn.

Is there anyone who would like to mark the sunset? 

At Medicine Wheel, the sunrise and sunset positions are marked in alignments of cairns for the “longest day of the year,” the summer solstice. But there is no cairn alignment for the “shortest day of the year,” the winter solstice.

Why do you think that is? 

[The 10,000-foot-high mountain in northern Wyoming is inaccessible in the winter time—too much snow.]

Run diurnal motion to the end of astronomical evening twilight in 30 seconds to let the Sun set and darken the sky. Turn on stars and four colors at cardinal points.

The four directions of the solstice extremes have spiritual meaning just as the four cardinal directions have meaning of their own. Some Native American cultures align buildings and roads to the four solstice extremes to help them stay in tune with the yearly rhythms of Grandfather Sun.

VISUAL 12 (still): Close-up of Medicine Wheel

[Fade on a image of the view of the snow-covered Medicine Wheel.]
Image of the view of the snow-covered Medicine Wheel.

Before we leave, look one more time at the Medicine Wheel. Here you see a close-up of one of the rock cairns. 

What’s the white stuff? [Snow.] 

Can you see anything wrong with this picture? Anything that does not belong?  [The fence.]

Native Americans today maintain that the Medicine Wheel is a place for sacred ceremonies. This fence was placed around Medicine Wheel to protect it from being destroyed by tens of thousands of summer tourists each year. The U.S. Forest Service does not allow anyone to cross the fence, including Native Americans wishing to perform traditional ceremonies at the site. Several recent Supreme Court decisions have denied Native Americans access and control of other sacred sites as well.

Fade off the closeup Medicine Wheel image, and fade off the cairns panorama, the cardinal directions, and the planetarium clock.

Four cardinal direction color lights on. Darken sky, turn on stars, transition music. Diurnal motion to just before sunrise. Make the Moon a Waning Crescent about 20° above the western horizon. Fade four colored lights.