Native American Cosmology

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In North America, in Indian belief, the earth is a circular disc usually surrounded on all sides by water and the sky is a solid concave hemisphere coming down at the horizon to the level of the earth. In Cherokee and other Indian myths the sky is continually lifting up and coming down again to the earth like the upper blade of a pair of scissors. The sun which lives outside the hemisphere slips between the earth and the sky-line in the morning when there is a momentary slit, and it returns from the Western side in the evening in the same fashion. ~ Levy Bruhl
This idea of the sky lifting up and down, opening and closing a space “between the rim of the sky and the earth” is widespread among North American Indians, some of them believing that this bellows-like movement of the sky caused wind. A number of Siberian tribes believe the opening of the sky allows migratory birds to fly out of this world in the winter and live “on the other side of the celestial vault” until spring. But birds which do not hurry “are caught and crushed between the rocks of the sky and the earth” when the sky closes down. 

Directly connecting us to the divine, the mystical cosmology of the Seven Sacred Directions is the basis for all Native American ceremony including the medicine wheel, sweat lodge and sacred pipe. As a living, moving model of the universe it is interconnected with all life on earth and the divine forces of creation. In Native American tradition creating sacred space with the Seven Sacred Directions is the single most important practice we can do to get in touch with spirit.

The Directions can be categorized as “the above” where we have great spirit and great mystery, “the below” as mother earth, “the center of all things”, and “the four cardinal directions”, north, south, east and west. All the Directions have their own attributes and totems helping to define their meanings and actions.  Below is a short synopsis of each Direction’s attributes to help you understand how they work.

The Above

Great Mystery lives in everything, is everything, and encompasses everything in creation. Great Mystery is the life force energy of creation, and is the feminine principal and womb of the universe.


Great Spirit was formed from the vibrational core of Great Mystery and directs the creative flow of all worlds, all universes, all levels of consciousness, and all understanding of life. Great Spirit is the creative principal that constantly feeds creation.

The Below

Mother Earth quite simply is our mother. Being born on her body, we also contain all of her 84 elements within us. Our planet Mother Earth, supports, grounds, nourishes, relaxes and sustains us.

The Center of all Things

The Center is very important for it embodies the four qualities of love, life, light and law. Love is defined as the binding, unifying, nurturing force of the universe. It holds all things together and seeks to merge, harmonize and unify. Without love, life cannot be sustained.

Life is defined as the essential essence of the conscious awareness of being and it’s action, while light is seen as the power that gives movement to the universe providing it with energy. Law is simply the geometry of relationships and links everything together. It is the Plan, force-form, harmonic balance, and the structured behavior system throughout the universe. Being timeless and still, we enter the center within our own spirituality.

The Four Cardinal Directions

In the Native American tradition, the four cardinal directions are usually called either Guardians or Spirit Keepers and are seen as divine beings that work with each direction. In light of this, the East represents new beginnings, initiating force, clarity, illumination, enlightenment, purification, sunrise, springtime and the element of fire.

The South embodies the element of water, the season of summer, fruition, protection, trust, innocence, gentleness, joy, laughter, exercise, midday, and the trickster, while the West symbolizes transformation, introspection, healing, strength, courage, sunset, the element of earth, season of fall, silence, and soul. Attributes of the north include gratitude, prosperity, abundance, knowledge, wisdom, renewal, season of winter, element of air, humility, ancestors, future, and midnight.

Because the first six directions provide silence and space for the seventh, (the center of all things), they provide the creative energy needed for all manifestation to take place. When we get in touch with these Seven Sacred Directions with honor, respect and gratitude, we are given the opportunity to work with this mystical Native American cosmology and to have our prayers answered.