According to Lakota legend, the medicine wheel is a sacred symbol that represents all knowledge of the universe. The medicine wheel consists of a circle. A horizontal and vertical line are drawn through the circle's center. The circle represents the sacred outer boundary of the Earth often referred to as the Sun Dance Circle or the Sacred Hoop. It represents the continuous pattern of ongoing life and death. The horizontal and vertical lines represent the sun and man’s sacred paths, respectively. The crossing of the two lines indicates the center of the Earth where one stands when praying.
Native Americans also recognized the spiritual and healing power of the wheel, and the Lakota Sioux still consider the Medicine Wheel site in Wyoming to be a holy place.
On a windswept mountain a ring of piled rock 75 feet in diameter surrounds a central cairn. Twenty eight "spokes" of stone connect the two structures. The outer ring of stone is studded with "U" shaped cairns. The largest concentrations of these sun wheel structures are in southern Alberta. Others are larger, but Wyoming's Medicine Wheel enjoys one of the most spectacular locations of any. Medicine Wheel lies on the end of a natural ridge line, at an altitude of over 9600 feet in the Bighorn National Forest
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel predates the Indian tribes in the region and is thought to be about 700 years old. Members of the Crow tribe, who have long used the Medicine Wheel for rituals, ascribe its creation to a boy named Burnt Face. According to the story, the boy fell into the fire as a baby and was severely scarred.
Although sun wheels are still used by native people as ceremonial gathering places, they predate European contact. Previous excavations and sampling at Medicine Wheel show the central cairn to have been built on a lower original surface. Its age is estimated at 500 to 800 years old. Other sun wheels are been shown to be over 1000 years old.
When Burnt Face reached his teen years, he went on a vision quest in the mountains, where he fasted and built the medicine wheel. During his quest, he helped drive away an animal who attacked baby eaglets. In return, he was carried off by an eagle and his face was made smooth.
For centuries, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel has been used by Crow youth for fasting and vision quests. Native Americans also go to Bighorn to offer thanks for the creation that sustains them, placing a buffalo skull on the center cairn as a prayer offering. Prayers are offering here for healing, and atonement is made for harm done to others and to Mother Earth.
A number of great chiefs, including Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, have come to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel to pray for wisdom and guidance to lead their people in the transition from freedom to reservation life. The medicine wheel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
In recent years, Bighorn Medicine Wheel has attracted many New Age followers, who believe medicine wheels to be centers of earth energy. Many Native Americans of the area resent the presence of pilgrims and visitors to the site, and some young warriors are now reluctant to go to the wheel because of the presence of white visitors.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is located in the Bighorn National Forest in north-central Wyoming, at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet on Medicine Mountain. Its elevation makes the medicine wheel inaccessible much of the year due to snow pack.
The wheel is made simply of locally gathered rocks. From a central cairn (pile of stones) of about 10 feet across and 2 feet high, 28 spokes radiate out to a rim of about 80 feet in diameter and 245 feet in circumference. Six smaller cairns are spaced along the rim.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is astronomically aligned: four of the outer cairns line up with the rising and setting sun of the summer solstice, and the others with the three bright stars that fade as the sun rises on summer mornings: Aldebaran, Rigel and Sirius. The 28 spokes are likely to correspond with the days of the lunar month.
Not all sun wheels are the same size or shape as Medicine Wheel. And although some of the cairns in Medicine Wheel have been shown to have astronomical alignments, other sun wheels do not seem to have them. Native peoples have identified them as markers for gatherings. Some are attributed as memorial markers to great men of the past.
In the recent past sites like these, with active ceremonial activities still being practiced on what are now Federal lands, had no particular special status. Now they are treated as a special class, so there are occasional times that the site is off limits to non-Indians or those who are not active participants in a ceremony. These times seldom last for more than a few hours, and are not frequent. However, as a spiritual site, you will see offerings, not unlike cloth, coins and medals at a holy well.
The site is 3 miles off Highway 14A which is only consistently open from May through October. Call the highway department for road conditions during shoulder seasons. The last mile and a half is limited to foot traffic, although the road is a fine dirt track. The only thing difficult about the walk is the altitude, and possible weather problems. I visited in mid June with patches of snow and a brisk wind.
Today, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is protected by a wire fence with wooden posts, to which prayer offerings are often found attached. Offerings are still left in the cairns of the wheel as well.
Several contemporary related sites can be found in the vicinity of the wheel, including ceremonial staging areas, medicinal and ceremonial plant gathering areas, sweat lodge sites, altars, offering places and vision quest enclosures.
Around 100 medicine wheels have been identified throughout North America, including examples in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is considered the type site.
source of information: megalithic.co.uk & sacred-destinations.com