Medicine wheels, or sacred hoops, were constructed by laying stones in a particular pattern on the ground. Most medicine wheels follow the basic pattern of having a center of stone(s), and surrounding that is an outer ring of stones with “spokes”, or lines of rocks radiating from the center. Some ancient types of sacred architecture were built by laying stones on the surface of the ground in particular patterns common to aboriginal peoples. Originally, and still today, medicine wheels are stone structures constructed by certain indigenous peoples of North America for various astronomical, ritual, healing, and teaching purposes. Medicine wheels are still ‘opened’ or inaugurated in Native American spirituality where they are more often referred to as “sacred hoops”, which is the favoured English rendering by some. There are various native words to describe the ancient forms and types of rock alignments. One teaching involves the description of the four directions. More recently, syncretic, hybridized uses of medicine wheels, magic circles, and mandala sacred technology are employed in New Age, Wiccan, Pagan and other spiritual discourse throughout the World. The rite of the sacred hoop and medicine wheel differed and differs amongst indigenous traditions, as it now does between non-indigenous peoples, and between traditional and modernist variations. The essential nature of the rite common to these divergent traditions deserves further anthropological exploration as does an exegesis of their valence.
The Royal Alberta Museum (2005) hold that the term ‘medicine wheel’ was first applied to the Big Horn medicine wheel in Wyoming, the most southern archeological wheel still extant. The term “medicine” was applied because of the healing that was associated with the medicine wheel, and denotes that the sacred site and rock formations were of central importance and attributed with religious, hallowed, and spiritual significance.
The revisionist and culturally congruent English nomenclature ‘sacred hoop’. Zotigh (2002) defines hoop in his article on Indigenous American hoop dancing:The hoop is symbolic of “the never-ending cycle of life.” It has no beginning and no end. Tribal healers and holy men have regarded the hoop as sacred and have always used it in their ceremonies. Its significance enhanced the embodiment of healing ceremonies