Honoring the directions within the framework of a medicine wheel is a common practice of shamanism found throughout the world and at the root of each of our ancestral lines. This prayer to honor the directions can be called a number of things depending on the culture and preferences of the person praying. Some say we are “calling in the directions” while others state we are “calling ourselves to the directions”. Others just see that we are setting up sacred space to do sacred work.
Regardless of the nomenclature, it is important to take a moment and reflect on why you have chosen to enter in to this practice. Are you superstitious about negative energy entering in as you open up to meditate or journey, so you feel compelled to set up protection around yourself? Do you wish to offer your gratitude to the seasons and rhythms of nature? Is it just because you learned it in a class and you’re trying to explore the power of the practice? Are you asking for help from all of creation for a healing? Are you offering yourself as a channel for the Divine? Are you calling yourself back to center so that you can be your authentic self and be grounded in your being? Do you intend to set up a quiet space for meditation free from the chaos of the everyday?
The good news is that calling in the directions does all of the above and more, but your intent will shape the content and power of the chants or prayers you say. So take the time to reflect on your intent and then be willing to allow that intent to shift over time. The beauty of a shamanic practice is that it is personal and place based. Depending on who you are, where you live and what stage of your life you are in, calling the directions will look different because your relationship to nature will be different.
The shamanic landscape can be broken into five or seven parts depending on your inclination, but always contains the four primary directions: East, South, West and North and a central point or axis. It varies as to if “Above” and “Below” are also recognized individually because the central axis is seen as inherently connected to these two spaces. As you determine what qualities, gifts, elements and power animals to acquaint with each direction I have a simple framework for you to start with.
- Path of the Sun: The medicine wheel is laid out in relation to the path of the sun. The East is the place of dawn (beginnings) and the West is the place of dusk (endings)
- Seasonality: The wheel of the directions can be laid over a seasonal calendar which for us places spring in the East, summer in the South, fall in the West and winter in the North (see photo above). If you lived at the equator you would only recognize two seasons, rainy and dry, or if you lived at the poles you would recognize light and dark, so your associations would be different.
- Diurnal Cycle: You can also overlay the wheel with the a 24 hour clock with the East being sunrise, South being midday, West being sunset, and North being midnight.
To help you determine your own, unique blend of qualities to associate with the directions I offer the following ideas that I’ve accumulated from studying a number of cultures and nature herself. You may see some qualities listed in more than one direction. Feel into the quality and see where it fits for you. For example, the element of Fire can be associated with the East or the South. Try it in the East for a time and see if that resonates with you. If it doesn’t, try the element somewhere else or have it in both places.
- Qualities of the East: dawn/sunrise, spring, new beginnings, birth, infancy, mental body, element of earth or fire, seedling plants, new shoots, fresh start, innocence, play, childhood, the Sun or Mother Earth, yellow, orange, green.
- Qualities of the South: midday, summer, adolescence, physical body, mature crops, harvest, abundance, element of earth or fire, the Sun or Mother Earth, process, dance, vitality, fullness, ripeness, maturity, red, orange, yellow.
- Qualities of the West: dusk/sunset, fall, adulthood, emotional body, leaves dropping from trees, letting go/death, the void, element of water, the womb, the Moon, surrender, trust and faith, the unknown, the unconscious, black or blue.
- Qualities of the North: midnight, winter, elder, spiritual body, frozen landscape, silence, communion with Spirit, element of wind, the Moon, intuition, complete understanding, being filled with the Divine, white.
- Qualities of the Center: In the moment, timeless, ageless, integration of all bodies, openness, channel/hollow reed, grace, connection to above and below, trees, mountains, inspiration, rainbow, all colors.
- Qualities of Above: Cosmic currents, collective unconscious, future, possibility, stars, galaxies, expanded consciousness, God, angels.
- Qualities of Below: Planetary currents, collective history, ancestors, past, creation, fertility, the womb, the cave, Goddess.