In every culture, the first marks a child creates are often a circle overlaid with two intersecting lines. In many cultures, these circles are divided into segments relating to north, south, east, and west, or to specific colors, qualities or deities associated with the spiritual beliefs of that culture. I call these circles mandalas or medicine wheels.
Mandalas are considered a portal for spiritual transformation, and the central motif often represents the principal qualities of that specific mandala. The word ‘Mandala,’ from Sanscrit, means circle, cosmos or divine abode. In Hinduism and Buddhism it is a very specific circular geometric pattern representing the universe. Buddhist mandalas are created with sand, tempera paint, or carved from butter.
In the medicine wheels of western indigenous cultures, one finds similar designs, mediums, and purpose. In North America, we have sacred stone circles that are oriented to the four directions, as well as sacred hoops. Further south, the Navaho create circular sand paintings and the Huichol create geometric gods eyes. For many indigenous cultures the circles have religious, spiritual, astronomical, territorial, or calendrical significance. Similar patterns can be found in architecture from Persian, India, the Rose Windows of Notre Dame, or in the form of labyrinths. Jungian analysts utilize mandalas for healing, as a circle of awareness of the individual self. Symbols used in making Mandalas may reflect deep subconscious traits in both the individual and the universe as experienced by humans.
The Medicine Wheel
In many indigenous cultures the Medicine Wheel is incorporated into ceremony. Stones or lines are laid in the Four Directions (East, South, West, and North). When the designs are painted, each direction is represented by a distinctive color – and every territory utilizes its own distinct colours. The directions may also represent the following:
Stages of life (birth, youth, adult, death) The seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter) Elements of nature: fire, air, water, and earth Animals: Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo and many others important to a specific culture Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage, cedar
Medicine wheels are consistently circular, and often move in a clockwise direction.
In 1987 I happened upon some beautiful illuminated mandalas in books such as ‘Mandala’ by Arguelles and ‘Man and His Symbols’ by Carl Jung. I was drawn to local exhibits of the works of Jack Wise and Buddhist mandalas, and was inspired to create one of my own. Shapes and patterns often just ‘come to me’ at the sketch pad... and can include patterns found in nature or geometry- from snowflakes and fractals to the golden ratio of a pinecone, a moon snail shell, or the center of the sunflower. When creating, one often begins with a central motif or theme, which becomes a ‘launching point’. Subjects that I prefer to incorporate are Metis beadwork design, history and culture, sacred geometry and ecology. Once a basic thought is laid down in ink, I allow the intuitive processes to take over… often spending uncounted hours at my work table.
There is a healing/meditative response to creating the patterns, laying down the colours and shapes… so perhaps the creative relationship with basic human archetypes can be communicated through art to human perception. Considering the wide variety of beliefs and cultures – we would expect mandalas to look vastly different, but in both the imagery and intention they are very much the same.