Thursday, October 28, 2010

The medicine wheel, the Great Spirit, and John Wesley

By Richard P. Holm M.D.

The American Indian medicine wheel is thought to have existed for more than 5,000 years and has been the basis for not only medicinal but also religious approaches to problems of living.

Although there are significant differences between regions and tribes, the medicine wheel reflects not only certain botanicals but also the circle of life and the Great Spirit surrounding all of us. East is spring, sunrise, childhood, physical, and yellow; south is summer, noon, adolescence, social, and red; west is autumn, sunset, adult, intellectual, and black; north is winter, night, elder, spiritual, and white. Up is sky and Father; down is earth and Mother; and center is fire.

The history of modern medicine in the Americas starts with the spiritual and herbal knowledge of the Indian. As the Europeans made their great western migration into this new land with Mediterranean medical concepts, there was a great mixing of ideas with the American Indian’s spiritual and herbal way. This resulted in the evolution of a uniquely American way of caring for the ill, especially helped by Indian knowledge of the medicinal nature of flora and fauna, and their respect for the spiritual element needed for healing. This in turn, influenced health care throughout the world and reflections of it remain with us today.

In 1735, when young John Wesley the famous English Methodist came to a new American colony at Savannah, Georgia, he was impressed by the rugged health and the medical practices of the American Indian. Later back in England he even composed a book, which described many Indian secrets to the art of healing.

Wesley wrote that Indian illnesses, during this era, were exceedingly few because of their continual exercise and lack of excessive alcohol. The great epidemics brought from Europe followed, however, and the physically rigorous life was no longer required. It resulted in decimation of about 80% of the Indian population with severe injury to their spiritual focus and culture.

We should learn and never forget the lessons from American Indian heritage: the proper use of medicinal ingredients, the value of a physically active life, and the spiritual power of the circle of life and the Great Spirit surrounding us all.

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