Bighorn Medicine Wheel

On a shoulder of Medicine Mountain is the most famous medicine wheel in North America. Described as a sort of American Stonehenge, Bighorn Medicine Wheel was famous with local native tribes as a location for sunrise and sunset rituals, as well as other celestial observations. This archaeological mystery and sacred native site is located high atop Medicine Mountain within Bighorn National Forest, 25 miles (40 km) east of Lovell, Wyoming. The medicine wheel consists of a collection of half-sunken stones in the shape of a wagon wheel. From the impressive elevation of 9,640 feet (2,892 m), the Bighorn Wheel alignments appear to link the distant plains with the heavens.

The middle cairn (stone pile) is a meter tall with 28 uneven spokes radiating to an outer rim. The 28 spokes may represent the 28 days of the lunar cycle. Each spoke is about 36 feet (11 m) long, the outer ring is about 80 feet (24 m) in diameter and 245 feet (74 m) in circumference. Around the rim are 6 smaller cairns about a half meter tall and open on one side. The center cairn and another outside the rim establish an alignment with the rising sun on summer solstice, and one more measures the setting sun on the same day. The other cairns line up with the stars Sirius, Fomalhaut in the constellation Pisces, Rigel in the constellation Orion, and Aldebaran in the constel­lation Taurus. All these star readings fall within one month of the summer solstice.

The hollowed out center cairn may have contained an offering bowl, a buffalo skull platform or some kind of lost instru­ment used for celestial navigat­ing. No one knows how old the wheel is; some estimates date it back thousands of years, but the best guess puts it around 800 years old.

Originally, medicine wheels are stone structures constructed by certain indigenous peoples of 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 favored 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.

The site has a long history with the Plains Indians and other tribes in the Rocky Mountains. The Crow, Arapaho, Shoshone and Cheyenne all have oral histories about important ceremonies being held here. Crow youth came to the wheel as a place to fast and seek their vision quest. Other tribes came to pray for personal atonement, heal­ing, or pay respect to the Great Spirit.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé came to Bighorn for guidance and wisdom as his people were transitioning from freedom to reservation life. Today a fence surrounds the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, with prayer offerings attached to the fence. For North American native people the circle represents the cycle of life. The circle is seen as a symbol of eternity — with no beginning and no end — denoting the interconnectedness of everything. The medicine wheel could also represent a microcosm of life, a sort of starting point for all otherworldly aspects. Along with astrological alignments, the circular pathway includes the four cardinal compass points. The four compass points can also be seen as the four seasons, where spring would represent the east, summer the south, autumn the west, and winter the north. The number four also cor­responds to the four sacred elements of earth, wind, water, and fire.

Sacred Places Around The World: 108 Destinations by Brad Olsen;

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Sacred Places Around The World: 108 Destinations by Brad Olsen page 206

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