Thunder Bay·Audio

An Ontario firekeeper explains the Four Directions of the Medicine Wheel

Local firekeeper AL Mcdonald explains The Four Directions of The Medicine Wheel using the teachings he has been gifted by elders, knowledge carriers and medicine people.

The Four Sacred Directions represented by yellow, red, black and white

A.L. McDonald's smudge bowl sits on the Medicine Wheel.  (H.Zimak/THEMUSEUM)

The Four Sacred Directions of the Medicine Wheel guide every aspect of the life of A.L. McDonald, a firekeeper in southwestern Ontario. 

"It's the acknowledgement from within: where I am, where I'm going and honouring the space I'm in," he said, explaining the Medicine Wheel is an interconnected system of teachings relating to the directions, seasons, and elements of life. 

"It's a way of life, it's how we live our lives. That circle is within us, it's the awareness of what's in those directions," McDonald said, adding that he believes everything is connected.

It is that feeling of unity which leads him to perform a smudge for himself, and for those embarking on painful discussions following recent violent acts against marginalized communities.

"This is for healing from events that have happened, with the loss of our brothers and sisters at the hands of policing and racism that is upon us all throughout the world. The smudge will go through the room that I'm in and carry right across Turtle Island. I hope this smudge reaches you all," McDonald intoned as the scent wafted through his home in Kitchener, Ont. 

Sage is one of the four plant medicines found on the Medicine Wheel. The way McDonald was taught, this plant is found under the direction of The West but he notes that teachings vary, depending on where you're from. 

Born on Manitoulin Island, his interpretation of The Medicine Wheel is based on Anishinaabe teachings. 

It's a way of life, it's how we live our lives. That circle is within us, it's the awareness of what's in those directions.- AL McDonald, local firekeeper
A.L. McDonald took this photo of his Medicine Wheel, and the way it supports his smudge bowl. (A.L. McDonald )

The Four Sacred Directions of the Medicine Wheel are represented by the colours yellow, red, black and white, he said.

Yellow: Spirit

The East
The morning 
The spring
The plant medicine is tobacco 
The eagle

Red: Emotion

The South 
The afternoon
The summer 
The plant medicine is cedar 
The coyote

Black: Physical 

The West 
The evening 
The autumn
The plant medicine is sage 
The bear

White: Mind

The North 
The night 
The winter 
The plant medicine is sweetgrass 
The deer

The centre is where all lines intersect, tying together our spiritual, emotional, physical and mental balance, said McDonald.

He noted the Seven Grandfather Teachings are also located on the Medicine Wheel, and include wisdom, honesty, courage, respect, love, humility, and truth. 

These teachings have been gifted to him by various elders, knowledge carriers and medicine people, McDonald said

"Once you start looking at the wheel overall, you can start connecting with the various things within your life." 

You can hear the full interview with A.L. McDonald here.