|Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Wyoming|
In the general culture of the First People (aka Native Americans), medicine is defined as the spiritual and magical power of persons, items, and activities. Medicine is recognized as a gift of Spirit; Medicine Makers are imbued with this power through their totem animals, empowered objects, or a vision. Often the power is passed by a shaman or healer to their student, or a familial or tribal elder. The power and use of making medicine is usually demonstrated through the link to its source, that is, its origin. There are specific forms of medicine for events ( such as False Face Medicine for the Iroquois Longhouse Ceremony); or connected to totems (Bear Medicine,etc.); activities (healing,divination,hunting); rites of passage (Corn Maiden,vision quests) and myth and lore according to culture (kachinas,emergence myths). Medicine, when understood this way is more of a concept than a word.
Directly connected to these things are the creation of medicine societies, their purpose usually reflected by a specific type of esoteric knowledge held by its members for protection, healing or some other contribution to the tribal community. Membership in these societies is gained through linage, clan, election, or by one who has received healing in some manner [http://books.google.com/books/about/Dictionary_of_Native_American_mythology.html?id=i7OB-BFvr9QC].
The act of making medicine is as diverse as there are methods. A particular ritual which comes to mind immediately in pop culture involves the use of the hallucinogenic peyote cactus, a polemic ceremony practiced as a sacrament in the Native American Church. [ http://csp.org/communities/docs/fikes-nac_history.html]. Though peyote ceremonies vary from group to group, the goal of connecting with deity and the rite of spiritual communion is always the same. It should be noted here that when this fairly new rite was first being practiced, it was viewed with disfavor among many traditional medicine men, as a possible detraction to their indigenous spiritual practice. A generation later, many of those same practitioners had themselves become "Roadmen", and the peyote ceremony was seen as just another form of road-opening ritual[http://www.unco.edu/library/gov/middle_ground/books/HONAI-%20Navajo%20Ceremonial%20System,%20reduced.pdf]. Other forms of making medicine involves bundles or bags filled with stones,herbs,fur, hair and nail trimmings,feathers-nearly anything relative to the magick desired to be activated. Medicine bundles can be fore any purpose: petition, offering, or to simply show supplication. A unique application of this tool is the despacho medicine bundle which originated in the Andean culture, but has been adapted by North American tribes and even Pagans [http://amethjera.blogspot.com/2010/11/despacho-medicine-bundle.html]. The Navajo Blessingway is a creation story, illustrated by the making of mountain soil bundles (soil from the four sacred mountain placed upright in a basket [http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Changing_Woman-Navajo.html]. Another common name for a medicine bundle is a jish.
Activation of the medicine being made is at times a rite unto itself. The secretive Green Corn Dance of the Seminole in Florida is an instance of this [http://www.semtribe.com/Culture/GreenCornDance.aspx].
Another is the famous Medicine Wheel, an arrangement of stones where meditation, song and dance are performed in a designated place of power throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming has been maintained by one tribe or another since it was built 300-800 years ago. It is the keystone of a complex of archaeological areas, each designated to a specific form of spiritual/magickal practice. It is also an astrological calendar in the same form as Stonehenge
[http://solar-center.stanford.edu/AO/bighorn.html]. Medicine Wheels can be reflective of various energies. They can be used as a magickal circle, or as a sacred space to honor the powers of Creation. Like a labyrinth, each direction of a medicine wheel can be "walked", it's stones asked to lend their animistic power to your question. They can be used as a type of shrine where offerings of tobacco or cornmeal are made. It is an excellent place for meditation on life's uncertainties, or can be a conduit between the worlds. The grounding energies of the stones will allow you to gather your discoveries and reflections, giving clarity to any problem you may bring into the circle. Every successive visit to the Medicine Wheel will provide you with insight and a new perspective of your thoughts.
Each of us have the gift of personal medicine; it is the spiritual quality that which makes us who we are. e
Medicine, as viewed by the First Nations, is the embodiment of animism. Every thing in the Universe has it's own particular form of life, and therefor its own special medicine. When the individual discovers his or her spiritual gift of medicine, they become more integrated beings. Looked upon this way, this integration is wholesome and therapeutic. The individual begins to understand and accept all parts of themselves-including the ones they'd rather not claim. Jungian psychology calls this the shadow self, that which sits just below the level of consciousness. This process of integration can be achieved on ones own, or with the help of a Medicine Maker, usually a shaman.
One of the features of personal medicine is discovering your True Name. As in other magickal traditions, this form of identification describes the person's character and gifts and is not just a convenient label. The characteristics attributed to the individual through this naming may reflect those of a particular animal, or a talent. Grasping the deeper meaning of the name means a particular synergy has been achieved within the understand of the individual.
Making Medicine is not something that can be exhaustively covered in a single blog entry, so I would encourage you to further explore the subject on your own. There are many good books on the subject, and one I would personally recommend is Voices from the Earth by Nicholas Wood ( ISBN 0-8069-6609-2, Godsfield Press). It's a great springboard to deeper learning on the subject and pleasurable to read. Be Well and Be Blessed!
copyright 2013, AmethJera