THE FOUR DIRECTIONS – wisdom teachings

Here’s a teaching from my book THE BEAUTY WAY. Offerings and communion with the directions in my daily practice occur several times a day. These are the most important spiritual entities in North American shamanism. But if I present them here today, it’s above all because they also carry wisdom that can inspire a truer relationship with oneself, a topographical map of the soul that leads to a greater understanding of who we are in relation to our earthly universe. A little longer than my usual articles, even though I’ve shortened the texts from my book.


The four directions are, for all First Nations of North and South America, great angelic beings which were placed here at the very beginning of the world, during the creation of this planet. Their role is to keep the Poles, which are the North Pole, the South Pole that are well known and also the East Pole and the West Pole[1]. They are also guardians of specific wisdom and teachings for the people.

First of all the directions help us to find our way. Everybody knows that. Those who venture into the forest on camping trips often take a compass. Formerly, First Nations, as all other inhabitants of nature, did not need a compass. Migratory birds know exactly where there going without the need for a compass. What we need to understand here is that there are resonant harmonics of these directions within us. Knowing where the directions are, in the world and within, facilitates our finding our way in life.

The North represents mirror wisdom, the quiet waters of the sacred lake that reflects things as they are. This picture of the quiet lake where the water reflects the sky is a symbol of our minds. When the mind is quiet, still, all things appear onto our consciousness as they are.  When the mind is active, agitated, we perceive things as we think they are. The world appears to us through our many filters and conditionings, thus not as they are but as we think they are, which is most often far from reality.  As soon as the wind stirs the waters of the lake, the waves break the perfect image of the sky and the waters become cloudy. The truth disappears, giving way to a storm of thoughts and feelings. When peace and quiet returns, the waters settle, giving us once again the perfect image of all that is.

When we understand how our mind works, it becomes easier to recognize what is true and what is untrue, to know what our thoughts are and what thoughts come from others, from conditionings and false programming. Meditation is an excellent way of cultivating this understanding as it allows us to harmonize and regulate our thoughts. Children have this capacity to concentrate intensely on what they’re doing and are often not distracted by their inner mental dialogue. When they hear something interesting, their attention is completely concentrated on what is being explained, thus their mind is still, like a calm lake, and their understanding, immediate. When the mental body is quiet it understands immediately and does not require thinking to understand.

The North symbolizes the wisdom to see things such as they are, the mind being as still and quiet as the great northern frozen lakes. The North will teach us to relax and understand the mind through the practice of contemplation and meditation so that our thoughts and emotions do not colour our perception of reality.

The North symbolizes unmanifest potential represented by the frozen lakes in the North. The ice is immovable, petrified, nothing seems to live there. Nevertheless, under the ice, the potential for life exists and when spring comes, life is revealed. Another symbol of un manifest potential is the egg, or the seed, symbols of life, yet where nothing is yet revealed.

From the North, come the strong cold winds which give us strength and stamina. The North also symbolizes those tests of life which will either break us or strengthen our being, giving us more resolve and stamina. One of my friends once saw seven eagles coming from the North and asked me the meaning of this. I avoided answering in a straightforward manner knowing what very hard times were coming for him. Those great cold northern winds of winter test our strength and our resolve.

Thus, the North wind, when it blows with its icy cold breath, summons from our core vitality, stamina and strength. If we have the courage to complete the tests which are sent to us, we stand to grow and become stronger because of them. To make a sword that will not break, one must take the iron, plunge it into red hot coals, beat it repeatedly into its perfect shape and then plunge it into ice cold water and then again into the blazing fire, beating it again with heavy hammer, back into the ice cold water and again and again until it becomes unbreakable steel. So is the path of the initiate who walks the way of spirit in our times.

The animal representing the North is the great white buffalo. The earth is covered by electromagnetic currents which cross from the North to the South and also from the East to the West. These electro magnetic currents are the etheric web of the earth, the blueprint of the planet. The energy battery or primary source of these energies flows that supports this immense electromagnetic web is represented by the great white buffalo. This is an actual spirit being, whom we have seen, and is for all First Nations a very important being. Many prophecies shared by numerous nations say that when the pounding of the hooves of the great white buffalo will resound again on the earth, it will be sounding the healing of the earth. Then, the great herds of buffalo of former days will reappear from beneath the ground and we shall come again to the joys and freedom of our ancestral way of life.

The colour of the North is the deep blue or white, that white that is so white it contains blue reflections, as often seen on the snow. The North wind speaks of the night, of winter, its strongest moment being midnight on the winter solstice. In the life of a human being, it is when we have white hair and are the Elders of the nation. We can then contemplate the world and reflect on our lives distilling the pristine wisdom we can offer to the younger generations. The spirit world is in the North. That’s where our ancestors reside, in “Ungawi”, the world of ideal form. Thanks to the clear vision of our still mind we perceive and understand the teachings of our ancestors.

In the East, we find the wisdom of inspiration, the wisdom of the sphere of existence and illumination. The East represents inner and outer light. It is also knowledge and the desire to acquire new knowledge. It is birth, the beginning of things. Understandings, revelations as well as the expression of ones potential are in the east. Between the North and the East, between the old man and the newborn child, we find the period of learning about life, the expression of our individuality. It is also these sweet winds which take care of us, the east Zephyr. The animal-totem of this direction is the golden eagle, its season, spring, its moment of day dawn and its colour is the golden yellow of the rising sun. The morning energy is special and all the First Nations gatherings begin with sunrise ceremony. Morning exercises in front of the rising sun confer a magnificent energy to those who practise them. All traditions have this understanding. The strongest moment of this direction is at sunrise on the day of the spring equinox.

The South embodies the wisdom that succeeds, manifesting our dreams and aspirations. This wisdom channels the energy and motivation which allows us to realise our projects. It is the medicine of success and rapid growth. It is the warm period of summer, laughter, joy, innocence, love and all the qualities which are connected with love. Its totem animal is the coyote. In the First Nations mythology this animal is the one who plays tricks on people to teach them life’s hard lessons despite their bitter resistances. In my book on crystals, I speak about citrine as being a stone which serves well to channel the medicine of coyote. We all have in our families people who are creatures of habit, having a rather boring life: eat, work, eat, tv, sleep, over and over again. We can incite the coyote to come surprise these people and wake them up a bit. There are those people who had everything, who knew glory and fortune and were arrogant about it and who found themselves from one day to the next, poor on the street, meeting with bankruptcy and humiliation. It’s the medicine of coyote teaching them humility and the value of life.

To know how to laugh at oneself is a great virtue. Humour occupies a brilliant and strategic place in First Nation’s spirituality. You will very rarely see First Nations teachers remaining serious for long periods of time. Generally, they will be doing what they can to relax the atmosphere and cheer up people. Laughter is a natural immunity booster and energy purifier.  When we are cheerful, we are much less prone to falling ill. When we know how to laugh at ourselves and our errors, our integration of the life lessons which we experience goes much faster. This is one facet of the teachings from coyote medicine.

We have another animal associated to this direction, the little mouse. His role consists in teaching us confidence, trust and innocence. My primary direction is south. Many years ago, I was celebrating a summer solstice ceremony. As the sun rises very early at that time of year, everyone was to wake up at 4h30 AM to prepare for sun rise ceremony. The night before I had shared the story of Jumping Mouse, a beautiful story on the ability to love and trust life completely. The following morning, at 4:15 am, a small mouse ran over every single person in that tipi and woke them up. This can show us how nature does in fact participate in our ceremonies.

The colour of the South is green and its time of day is noon. Its highlight is at noon on the summer solstice. One of the symbols of the South, are the grandmothers dancing with baskets of seeds to insure us a future full of abundance, love and compassion. If we look closer, we notice that these grandmothers are in fact old warriors, who are disguised as grandmothers to avoid forever the madness of war and thus look out for future generations.

The West represents the wisdom that understands the specific details without losing sight of the whole situation. It understands the experiences of life and the causes and effects of ones’ actions. It is the fire which destroys and then restores back to life. It is the fire of autumn, which adorns the trees with many fiery colours. It is the door which we cross to reach the death of the ego. The line is very thin between asserting our individuality and trumpeting our ego. Our personality, that we also call ego, is the sum of all the perceived experiences since our birth. These recollections and mostly the way we reacted to them and the way we perceive them will often determine the way we are going to react to events and people. The ego is a temporary creation which dissolves at death. It is the supreme illusion to which we are much attached, but which has in fact no other reality that the one we give it. The wisdom of the West teaches the perpetuity of the soul, the eternal life of the spirit and non-attachment to the imaginary and passing personality that is ego.

The West teaches us to assert our individuality in a healthy and well-balanced way, without falling in the traps of our personality. It is thus the way of integration and the dissolution of unhealthy desires. It is the path of medicine, the difficult road which requires renunciation, fasting, the practice of solitude and introspection.

By etymological definition, a shaman is a person who has died and returned to life. It’s the original meaning of the term that comes to us from a Native culture in Siberia. « Shaman » means « one who was twice born ». A shaman knows how to pass into other worlds to communicate with the spirits and return. Many shamanic initiations are thus going to contain a more or less ritual death as a symbol of this ability to travel between worlds.

The West teaches us the dissolution of desires. Its winds are dry and strong. The animals of the west are the brown bear and the black bear and its period of day, the setting sun. At this moment, the sky is often afire with brilliant colours. Its highlight is sunset on the autumn equinox. West medicine also holds those of transformation, herbal medicine and introspection. The one who best teaches introspection is the bear who, when winter comes, enters his “ouache” (the bear’s cave or shelter) and sleeps until spring. We do the same thing, in a sense, when we have moments of solitude and where we reintegrate our cave, which is the center of our head and heart. There, we have perception of a completely different reality and can renew our being in this contact with spirit. The bear also knows all the plants that heal. In the First Nations legends, it is often the bear that came to reveal to the people the use of plant medicines.

All of nature in autumn experiences profound transformation. The leaves on the trees go from green to all the fiery colours of red, orange and yellow. The fruit and vegetables ripen and are thus ready for harvest.

It’s not indicated to sleep with your head towards the west. Sleep might be uneasy and the body may tend to be feverish. It is better to go to bed with head northward, where the energies are quiet and where the telluric currents cleanse our etheric body while they pour over us as a river along the length of our body during the night. The colour of the West is red (black in the Algonquin culture). The West teaches us maturity and represents adulthood and the experiences acquired during a good life.

And now, we come to centre. Here lies the wisdom of balance and equanimity. We are the center of the four directions! It’s in the middle of the circle that we learn balance and equanimity. This ability in being of equal humour in all circumstances is the trademark of great men and woman of wisdom. Little import is given to individual events, through all they remain serene. They have understood what is consciousness and that only the essence, that is spirit and soul, is eternal. Everything physical passes and transforms into something else, in the eternal dance of the elements. And this dance is created and transformed by consciousness, that of Great Spirit and of Man. As one Native Elder once said: “Am I breathing? Thus, everything is fine!  I have stopped breathing? Ah, life continues in spirit world. Why, then, get excited?” Obviously, it is much easier to speak of equanimity than to master this steadiness of heart and mind on an everyday basis. Yet, it’s the stuff of true wisdom. The centre of the 4 directions, which is also a direction, is the essence of the medicine wheel teachings: balance wisdom.

Living in balance is an important aspect that the teachings of the four directions convey. For example, from the East we go to see how things are embodied, the first idea of a project, how inspiration comes. But to realize this project we shall need the experience and vision that comes from the West. In the South, we perceive all the details, all the different aspects that are important for the realization of the project. From the North, we see the archetype, the un manifest potential in all its perfection that is necessary to be able to integrate all the details into a complete vision. All these attributes are important for the manifestation of what we want to accomplish.

The wisdom of centre helps us to include others, to find a balance within our universe as co creators of our reality. We can illuminate the world with our enlightened understanding. Our ultimate offering, as human beings, is to acquire this ability to shine wisdom and light to the world. When we are at one with our soul and the world, our sole presence is sufficient to promote peace and healing all around us.



[1] –  The east pole is located on the Tibetan plateau and the west pole in the four corners in south western USA, where the Hopi live, between four great mountains.


1 thought on “THE FOUR DIRECTIONS – wisdom teachings”

  1. Thank you im looking forward to a deeper understanding of the Four Directions in the Medicine Wheel of Life (somehow I see it as that).. Miigwetch.


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