Medicine wheels were constructed by laying stones in a particular pattern on the ground. Most medicine wheels follow the basic pattern of having a center cairn of stones, and surrounding that would be an outer ring of stones, then there would be “spokes”, or lines of rocks, coming out the cairn.
Medicine wheels were built by laying out stones in a circular pattern that often looked like a wagon wheel lying on its side. The wheels could be large, reaching diameters of 75 feet. Although archeologists are not definite on the purpose of each medicine wheel, it is thought that they probably had ceremonial or astronomical significance.
Almost all medicine wheels would have at least two of the three elements mentioned above (the center cairn, the outer ring, and the spokes), but beyond that there were many variations on this basic design, and every wheel found has been unique and has had its own style and eccentricities.
The most common deviation between different wheels are the spokes. There is no set number of spokes for a medicine wheel to have. The spokes within each wheel are rarely evenly spaced out, or even all the same length. Some medicine wheels will have one particular spoke that’s significantly longer than the rest, suggesting something important about the direction it points.
Another variation is whether the spokes start from the center cairn and go out only to the outer ring, or whether they go past the outer ring, or whether they start at the outer ring and go out from there.
An odd variation sometimes found in medicine wheels is the presence of a passageway, or a doorway, in the circles. The outer ring of stones will be broken, and there will be a stone path leading up to the center of the wheel.
Also many medicine wheels have various other circles around the outside of the wheel, sometimes attached to spokes or the outer ring, and sometimes just seemingly floating free of the main structure.
They are made by placing rocks down into a circle shape, and four lines or more of rocks are put down across the circle, or near the circle. Medicine wheels are used to mark the geographical directions and astronomical events of the sun, moon, some stars, and some planets in relation to the Earth’s horizon at that location. These rock sites were also used for important ceremonies, teachings, and as sacred places to give thanks to the Creator, or Gitchi Manitou, known as the Great Spirit in the Ojibway language. Other North American indigenous peoples also made these circle petroforms. Medicine wheels are very similar to circular turtle shaped petroforms with the legs, head, and tail pointing out the directions and aligned with astronomical events.