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Significance of Big Horn Medicine Wheel

Native Indigenous Medicine Wheels are based in the peoples understanding of their respective cosmologies; their understanding of their universe, the creation of the earth, and humanity’s role in that creation.We tend to like Medicine Wheels icons because they are colorful but we often fail to realize that these smaller, ornamental wheels are based upon larger constructs built in nature hundreds of years  to thousands of years ago.  These constructswere used to mark the movement of planets, stars and other astronomical constructs.   Native Indigenous people had a deep understanding of the astronomical occurrences  in North America.  These astronomical occurrences were used to govern the movement of peoples to seasonal camping habitats and the timing of  certain rituals. 

Big Horn Medicine Wheel-Wyoming
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 Big Horn Medicine Wheel
 The most studied wheel in America is the Big Horn Medicine wheel on Medicine Mountain in Wyoming.  The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a giant “Wheel”  87 feet in diameter  and made of stones.  The Wheel has   Twenty-eight “spokes,” which  fan outward from a central cairn and end at the circumference of the wheel.  There are five other spokes which end at cairns on the circumference.   The Wheel is  almost exactly the same size as the Sarsen Circle, the principal feature at Stonehenge.

Dr. John Addy discovered that the seventh spoke, which extends out past  the circumference of the wheel,  is aligned with the direction that the Sun rises  and sets on the summer solstice.   The other four spokes end in cairns on the circumference of the wheel and   point  to the rising points of the  stars Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Fomalhaut.

One author writes, “Although the exact date of its construction is unknown, it is believed to be at most a few hundred years old. Nevertheless, though it may not compare in age or grandeur with its more famous European cousin (Stonehenge) , Big Horn Medicine Wheel is no less interesting to archaeoastronomers, and no less mysterious in its origin, history, and purpose. “1

           Big Horn Medicine Wheel-graphic  2

The accuracy of Native Indigenous Medicine Wheels often baffles modern scientist as it appears that the   knowledge to construct these wheels was garnered without the use of sophisticated equipment. I am always amazed that scientist find indigenous constructs so mysterious. There is the tendency to extol the knowledge of the builders of Stonehenge and to negate the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people as an impossibility.   If they want to know the origin and  function of the Big Horn wheel, it would do well to ask the descendants of those who constructed  and used this wheel; the Northern  Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho people. 

The Lunar Calendar
Native indigenous people  used a 28 day lunar calendar.  The spokes on the Big Horn  wheel correspond to the 28 days of one  lunar month. These spokes were used to track the days in a month. 

Superimposed on the wheel are markers for Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Fomalhaut.  These stars are used to track the lunar year.   At the time the Wheel was built, Aldebaran rose in the East, just before the sun.  This phenomenon, called a helical rising , is very unique as it signifies a time when a star, usually behind the sun and unseen, flashes above the horizon before the sun, before it is again hidden by the sun’s light. The ” flash” of Aldebaran above the horizon signaled the approach of the summer solstice and the time to return to the Black Hills for Sun dance ceremony. ”Rigel rises almost exactly one lunar month (28 days) after Aldebaran and Sirius one month after Rigel.”Fomalhaut rises one month before the fall equinox.4  The Medicine Wheel of Big Horn is a massive  astronomical clock, marked in stone, which guided the daily lives of the Lakota around the Sacred Hoop of life.

Other Astronomical Medicine Wheels
There are approximately 1500 such wheels in continental North America constructed of stone, or mud.  Some are newer, like the Big Horn Wheel only estimated to be around 200 years old and others date back 4500 years.  This includes the wheel at Turtle Mountain Dakota Reservation and Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan; Canada. Almost All have the central cairns, the markers for summer solstice, and markers for Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, and Fomalhaut. 

Phases of the Medicine Wheel

Phases of the Medicine Wheel

This suggests a consistent culture of astronomical observance prevalent amongst the inhabitants of this land.  It is reasonable to conclude that these wheels were used in similar manner as discussed in this article.

  • Marker “O” shows summer solstice sunrise, approx. June 21.
  • Marker “A” shows the rising of Aldebaran as a morning star, approx. April 21.
  • Marker “B” shows the rising of Rigel as a morning star, approx. May 21.
  • Marker “C” shows the rising of Sirius as a morning star, approx. June 21.
  • Marker “D” shows the rising of Fomalhaut as a morning star, approx. Aug. 21.
  • Markers “E” and “F” are backsights for observing the other markers in sequence 5

Mitakuye Oasin
We are related to all things
Spider Who Sings@ Songs for the Lodge

1.  http://www.planetquest.org/learn/bighorn.html
2.http://webspace.webring.com/people/vu/um_1416/wheel.html
3. http://solar-center.stanford.edu/AO/overview-alignments.html
4.http://turtlemountain.org/exhibits/mythandhistory/astronomy
5. Phases chart and legend: http://turtlemountain.org/exhibits/mythandhistory/phases

Please note, this article is not an invitation to visit the Big Horn Wheel.  The U.S. Forest Service has made this site a national tourist attraction which draws over 32,000 visitors annually.  This has resulted in the degradation of the wheel.  While tourist are welcome traditional medicine people need to sneak and hide in the mountains to conduct traditional ceremonies.  Please respect the need and right of the People to preserve their spiritual and cultural heritage.  If you do go, please do not remove the stones or other sacred items placed by the people. 

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