The Mandala is the most archaic symbol and is also the best symbol of the primordial state of unity. A Mandala, the Sanskrit word for circle- centre, is a sacred geometrical design expressive of the unity and wholeness of all Creation, a design which produces an effect upon its maker. Its traditional design often utilizes the circle-symbol of the cosmos in its entirety- and the square- symbol of the earth or man-made world.

The universality of the Mandala is in its one constant, the principle of the centre. The centre is the beginning of the Mandala as it is the beginning and origin of all form and of all processes, including the extensions of form into time. In the Beginning was the centre. The centre is symbolic of the eternal potential; the centre is one, and in the centre lies eternity.

The principle of the centre manifest itself through man in the same way as it does through a flower or a star; in it we may discover our cosmic community. The centre of the Mandala is not only the external constant of space but also of time.


Photomicrograph of a cross section of a twig Snow crystal Tucci says, “A Mandala delineates a consecrated place and protects it from invasion by disintegrating forces. But a Mandala is much more than just a consecrated area that must be kept pure for ritual and liturgical ends. It is, above all, a map of the cosmos. It is the whole universe in its essential plan, in its process of emanation and of reabsorption. The universe not only in its inert spatial expanse, but as temporal revolution and both as vital process which develops from an essential principle and rotates round a central axis, the axis on which the sky rest and which sinks its roots into the mysterious substratum.” 1

The Mandala, which is universally inherent in man’s consciousness, has appeared in his constructions, rituals and art forms. From its various manifestations we can derive three basic principles:

A centre


Cardinal points

The first principle is constant; the other two vary according to the nature of the particular Mandala. Symmetry can be bilateral or dynamic- rigid and well- defined, or absolutely fluid. The cardinal points may be precise in number, the number depending upon the Mandala situation; or the points may be infinite, and nonexistent as in a circle.

Here in the West the popular reintroduction of the Mandala is basically due to the work of Carl Jung, who rediscovered the Mandala as a basic structural device in the alchemical tradition of the West, and as a therapeutic, integrative art form created by patients in their own search for individuation 2.

According to Jung the Mandala is a symbolic representation of the “nuclear atom” of the human psyche. In The Secret of the Golden Flower, Jung and the Orientalist Richard Wilhelm relate the idea of the Mandala as a therapeutic device to the Mandala as a ritual, meditative technique conducive to mystic exaltation.

In either, the aim is a higher level of integration, though in the Eastern tradition the Mandala is essentially a vehicle for concentrating the mind so that it may pass beyond its usual chains.

1-Giuseppe Tucci, Teoría y Practica del Mandala, Barcelona, 1974, p.35
2-See Carl G. Jung, the Collected Works of C. G. Jung, New York, 1953, vol.9-12

In Tibet the Mandala has achieved its fullest and most complex development- both as an artistic form and as a meditative ritual emphasizing cosmic integration. The centre, the abode of the deity,


(Mandala of Kalachakra) is contained within the square-the palace of inner being surrounded by a circle or series of circles, each symbolizing a particular phase of initiation or level of consciousness 3.


In human dwellings, as in those of most of the “primitive”, pre- industrial world, there is a place, an altar, a fire, a stone that is the centre, not only of the house or dwelling, but also of the entire cosmos. This is no inherent contradiction, for we are dealing with what is essentially a sacred principle, or a sacred state of consciousness in which all beings and all things are realized equally as emanations of One Divine Whole. Sacred consciousness of which, the Mandala is a structural model, conforms to the Hermetic statement, “God is an intelligent sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”.

3-For a detailed description of a Tibetan Mandala see G.Tucci, op.cit. pp.50-58.

In one sense, all sacred religious structures partake of the Mandala principle 4: the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids; the temples of India; Buddhist stupas; Islamic mosques; the pagodas of China and Japan; and the tipis, kivas and Sun Dance Lodges of Turtle Island 5.

Despite geographical isolation, a unitary human purpose, design and meaning becomes apparent in the erection of cathedrals, mosques and temples in the general period of the tenth through fifteenth centuries: Kajuraho in India; Borobudur in Java; Angkor Wat in Cambodia; Chartress in France; Cordoba in Islamic Spain; and Chichen Itza in Yucatan. The world view which these edifices have in common is that each man is a cosmic unit and that the society in which he lives is a reflection of a map of the cosmos.

We shall examine now different types of Mandala from various cultures, beginning with its basic manifestation, the circle.

The circle comprises the All, its source and its ending. It is the centre of the HAWAIIAN CROSS OF THE FLOWER OF THE SUN,


4-Titus Burckhardt defines sacred art as that whose forms reflect a spiritual vision of a given religion. See T.Burckhardt, “El Arte Sagrado”, Cielo y Tierra, 1983, II, pp.8-18.

5-See Douglas Fraser, Village Planning in the Primitive World, New York, 1968. For the Mandala in the foundation of primitive villages and sacred places see Mircea Eliade, Lo Sagrado y Lo Profano, Barcelona, 1979.

from which stream forth the eight solar deities. Although the centre of this deity is a fiery creative principle, symbolized by the solar flower, it is described as a fountain from which flows the Living Water of Life.

The colossal megalithic structure of Stonehenge in England is not simply a temple for the enactment of certain rituals, nor a monument commemorating some primeval conception of the solar and life forces. It is also the basic feature and landmark of the knowledge systematized by the Druids, for it served as a calendar and astronomical guide. Stonehenge is a Mandala symbolizing the cosmic procession of beings, planets and stars, of earthy seasons and galactic cycles.

The Aztec Sunstone combines in one powerful image the cosmogony, calendar and metaphysical history of the ancient Mexicans. It has at its centre the symbol of the present fifth age, Ollin, symmetrically framing the symbols of the previous four ages. From the central symbol radiate a series of circles representing twenty different day signs which are the constants of the Mexican calendar system. This band of signs is surrounded next by a band of celestial symbols. The outermost circle contains two celestial fire serpents, symbolizing the meeting of the two polar forces of the cosmos: light and darkness. Their struggle and continual encounter causes everything in the universe to come into being.

The Australian Tjuringa Stone, revealed to youths at the time of the great initiation of puberty, serves basically as a map recalling the origin of all things and bears the title, “Map of the Journeying of the Ancestors of the Dream-Time”. The Dream-Time is Eternity, the Ancestors are those beings or states of being through and by which all that we see, know, and experience becomes possible. To find one’s way back to the Dream-Time, as the map indicates, is to return to the eternal centre.

With its eight cardinal points, and a ninth, the centre point, the Tjuringa Stone recalls the eight petals of the Solar Flower of the Hawaiians, or the Eight-fold Wheel of the Law, the Dharmachakra of the Buddhist. In this stone, however, the eight cardinal points are not joined together by a circle, but rather a cross.

The cross introduces another Mandala form-variant, the square. According to Jung, the circle symbolizes essentially the process of nature or the cosmos as a whole, while the square refers to the universe as conceived and projected by man. The circle represents both the subconscious and the super conscious aspects of nature, while the square is related to the conscious rational aspects; in their integration these two represent a holistic world view 6.

The cross as a universal symbol appears in nearly all cultures, attesting to the structural identity of the human mind and its creative expressions. The swastika, as a variant of the cross, is equally widespread, common to the New World and the Old. Often associated with the idea of motion or change, it signifies the path of the Sun setting in motion the four cardinal points giving rise to the phenomenon of the seasons.


It is in the native architecture of Turtle Island that we best see the intrinsic amalgamation of space and place, of place and nature, of man and nature. All primal peoples have always found the means to protect themselves from the infinity of space. The tipi, the Hogan, the longhouse or the kiva, just as the temple, cathedral, or the ceremonial centre of antiquity, determine the perimeters of space in such a way that a sacred space is established. The defined space serves as a model of the world, of the cosmos or microcosmically, of the beings of nature, that is to say, a Mandala.

6-See C.G. Jung, ed., Man and his Symbols, New York, 1978, p.266

Essential to this definition of space, as we have said above, is the ritualized means by which to fix the centre of sacredness. A ritually defined centre, whether in a Plains tipi or a Hopi kiva, expresses not just a mathematically and architecturally fixed point, but is also taken to be the actual centre of the world.

The Pueblo and Hopi Indians of the Southwest ritualized their relationship to the natural world around them. The Indian has an entirely different view of humanity and nature from that of the Greek heritage- Greek architecture is a symbol of Western man’s attempt to escape from nature. For primal peoples, because the landscape itself is sacred it therefore embodies a divinity that it shares with everything that is part of nature, including human beings, animals, plants, mountains, .everything.


The kiva is an architectural symbol of the soul-form of all Creation, a Mandala. Circular, like those of the Pueblos, or rectangular, among the Hopi, it is sunk deep, like a womb, into the body of Mother Earth, from which man is born with all that nourishes him.

Benjamin Lee Whorf says, in his study of Hopi mentality, that theses Indians have no special names for types of buildings nor for the various rooms of a building except the single term yé-mòkvi, meaning inner room and cavern 7. Even the term kiva is not a definitive architectural term, but a corruption of the Hopi word ki-he, which means a building of any kind and does not specifically designate the ceremonial chamber of the village. Hopi buildings are nature, but their resemblance to the shapes of the earth is not a coincidence. Architecture to the Hopi is both an act of reverence and a congruence of terrain, materials and tribal sensibility.

7-Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality, Cambridge, 1956

A Hopi kiva is sunk in a central plaza, the kisonvi (centre of the village), where public dances are performed at the end of the secret ceremonies held inside the kiva. It is rectangularly set with the directions, the east-west axis formed by the path of the sun running through it lengthwise, and running crosswise the north-south axis of the earth, at whose ends sit Pöqánghoya and Palongawhoya who keep the planet rotating properly. Sometimes the kiva is widened at one end, forming the same shape as the T-shaped doorways found in ancient Hopi ruins.

Inside the floor of the eastern half is raised slightly above the level of the western half. During initiation rites the novices occupy the raised level, the lower level being always reserved for the priests, who are always barefoot to show their humility.

Ground plan of a Hopi Kiva

In the centre of the kiva, on the altar level and directly below the roof opening, is the sunken fire pit in which a fire is lighted in the New Fire Ceremony during Wuwuchim, for life began with fire 8. Next to it is the small hole in the floor called the sipápuni- more commonly known by the Tewa name of sipapu. Etymologically

8-See Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, Harmondsworth, 1978, pp.138-141

derived from the two words for navel and path from, the sipápuni thus denotes the umbilical cord leading from Mother Earth and symbolizes the path of man’s Emergence from the previous under world. It is usually plugged and covered by a plank which is ritually removed when the Emergence from the underworld is re-enacted. The altar is set in the centre of the altar-level floor. In the seating ledge running across the west wall and directly opposite the ladder is the kachina house (kachinki or tuwaki), which contains the kachina masks when they are not embodied by the spirits which give them life. The ladder represents the reed which man climbed up during his Emergence and through the roof opening are watched the constellations in the sky above, whose movements time all rituals.

This is then the structure of the multi-world universe: the sipapu which leads down to the Place of beginning; the sunken fire pit where life began with fire represents the First World; the altar level, the Second World; the raised level on which the ladder rest, symbolizes the Third World; and the ladder; which serves as another sipapu to the present Fourth World outside and above the kiva 9.

Pueblo kivas feature the same basic elements as Hopi kivas with some minor differences due to their circular shape. The anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz has indicated that the Plaza of Tewa San Juan makes use of all the major elements of the ancient Great Kiva found at sites like Aztec, Mesa Verde and Chetro Ketl. The Plaza is the centre of the people’s outward communal life and the focus of their religious thought and ceremonies. The Plaza is a big, organic Mandala: it has a centre and takes notice of the four sacred hills standing before them along the same axes. Visible from San Juan Pueblo are the horned Truchas Peaks, which the Tewa of the village call Rock Horn Mountain, and which Ortiz identifies as Juan’s sacred mountain of the east 10.
We have seen that the kiva, whether rectangular or circular, as well as San Juan’s Plaza, feature the three basic principles of the
Mandala. Note that the kiva provided accurate astronomical data and calculations, just like Stonehenge 11.

9-See Louis Hieb, “Hopi World View”, Handbook of North American Indians, 1979, IX, pp. 577-580. 10-See Alfonso Ortiz, the Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society, Chicago, 1969.
11-For astronomical aspects of certain buildings see Jamake Higwater, The Primal Mind, New York, 1981, pp. 128-130.

Next we shall see another example of circular Mandala, a dwelling that echoes the forms of nature, the house or earth lodge of the Pawnee Indians.


The Pawnees, like the Hopi, had an elaborate ceremonial life, which was based on a complex philosophy of the creation of the universe and of man and of their ongoing nature. The ceremonies where the means for keeping the cosmic order in its course and the continuance of the earth and its life processes. Rehearsals for ceremonies, the preparation of costumes and ceremonial objects, and the performance of the ceremonies themselves took a large part of the time, attention, and skill of the men and women of this tribe 12.

The world around a Pawnee was his/her home-ka-huraru, the universe, meaning literally the inside land, and the house was a small model of the universe. The infinite cosmos was a constant source of strength and the ultimate progenitor. The supreme god and first cause of all was Tirawahat, The Expanse of the Heavens, who directed everything and to his power there were four direct paths leading from the house to the sky in the Four Semi cardinal Directions- northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest. Each Semi cardinal direction was associated with a specific color, natural force, animal, and tree, as we can see in the Mandala below.


12 -For preparation of the earth lodge for the Doctor Ceremony see Gene Weltfish, The Lost Universe, New York, 1971, pp.340-350.

The four Semi cardinal Directions taken together represent the whole world, ka-huraru.

The round lodge had an entryway oriented to the east, a central fire and eight master pillars around it, an altar in the western part, beds lined along the north and south circular walls, and a high-domed roof covered with thatch and then with tamped earth 13.

• Ground plan of a Pawnee Earth Lodge

13-The beds of the women were ranged by age to represent the main stages in a women’s life-the youngest near the west, the mature in the middle, and the oldest “on the way out” near the east.

The Earth lodge was a microcosm of the universe. The dome of the sky was the high-arching roof of the universe and the horizon all around was the circular wall of the cosmic house. The star gods sent through the roof of the house their strength from their appropriate directions in a constant stream. In the west was found the Evening Star- a beautiful woman, Goddess of Night and Germination, and her garden the corn and buffalo were constantly renewed; also in the western part of the lodge there was an altar with a buffalo skull and a Sacred Bundle with ears of corn symbolizing this power of renewal. Between the fireplace and the altar there was a sacred spot that was invisible- the wi-haru, “the place of the Wise Words of Those Who Have Gone Before Us”. In the eastern part was The Morning Star- God of Light, of Fire and of War; as he rose every morning he sent his beam into the long entryway of the lodge and lit the fire in an act of cosmic procreation, symbolizing his first union with the Evening Star in the times of the great creation.

Besides being a map of the universe, the earth lodge was the womb of a woman, and the household activities represented her reproductive powers. Also as the kivas or Stonehenge, the earth lodge served as an astronomical observatory; the priest sitting at the west could observe the stars in certain positions through the smoke hole and through the long east oriented entryway. They also kept watch of the horizon after sunset and before dawn to note the order and position of the stars.


The circle, as we have said above, is the basic manifestation of the Mandala, and, among the Plains Indians, is probably the symbol that best expresses the relationship between primal man and nature and between him and the world. In the great ceremonial Camp-Circle of The Sun Dance of the Plain Indians, in the architecture of the Sun Dance Lodge itself (as we shall see below),

there is a carefully prescribed master plan that is not a matter of accommodating rank and giving places of honor, but is also a reflection of a cosmic design and rhythm that reverberates through every aspect of the American Indian relationship to the earth, to nature, and, ultimately, to the conception of place.

For example, in the Hako ceremony of the Pawnees, the shaman draws a circle in the ground with his foot; the explanation given was that, “the circle represents a nest and it is drawn with the tip of the foot because the Eagle (symbol of the Great Spirit) builds her nest with the claws. Although we imitate the bird when building the nest, this action has another meaning: we think of Tirawa when he creates the world so man can live in it!” 14.

The words of Hahaka Sapa (black Elk), the holy man of the Oglala Sioux, reinforce the idea of the circle as a universal, Mandalic archetype:”You have noticed that everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished…..Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars…Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the sea-sons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children” 15.

Even Hehaka Sapa’s great vision is that of a Mandala in
14-Alice Fletcher, “The Hako a Pawnee Ceremony”, Bureau of American Ethnology, 1904, XXII,quoted in J.E. Brown, “El Legado Espiritual del Indio Americano”, Cielo y Tierra, 1982, I, pp.21-22. 15-John Neirhardt, Black Elk Speaks, New York, 1972, pp. 164-165

which the grandfather spirits, or Tunkashila, changing back and forth from elders to stallions of the four winds; come from the cardinal directions, symbolized in the primary colors dark blue (or black), white, red, and yellow.

First, a black stallion rides out of the west, where fall rainstorms gather to bring life to the plains. He gives Black Elk a bowl of water and a bow, “the power to make-live and destroy”. These sacred common objects image the cup of the sky and the lightning bow, a natural joining of wicasa wakan (holy man) and warrior. The white stallion from the north stands for the test of winter. The Grandfather of Wa, the “white” of Waziya or the “snow” in the north, offers Black Elk a sacred white herb and white goose feather; these empower him with holy medicine and winged flight. The sorrel from the east represents renewal and enlightenment, the sunrise of spring after winter’s trial. In the east Black Elk sees the day break star of understanding and the sacred red pipestone. The fourth grandfather appears as buckskin from the south, and represents summer’s richness when the sun rises highest. This yellow stallion gives Black Elk a flowering staff and the sacred hoop. This image a tribal circle around a living cottonwood axis, the centre of the annual Sun Dance. The fifth ancestor is an eagle representing Mother Earth. Adding sky-blue and earth-green to the cardinal colors of the four winds, black-blue, white, red and yellow, surrounds Black Elk with an ancestral nimbus: six elders before, behind, above, below, one side, and the other.

The sacred hoop ideally encircles a person, wherever the person is, extending a primal sphere around each tribal self. The number seven then completes the integration of four and three, earth and sky, object and spirit. With this vision, Black Elk says, everywhere is the centre of the earth; a vision echoes perfectly the Hermetic statement quoted above.

Hehaka Sapa also foresaw the fourfold Mandala of human brotherhood: “I saw the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the centre grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy….I saw the herb of understanding falling far and when it struck the earth it rooted and grew and flowered, four blossoms on one stem, a blue, a white, a scarlet, and a yellow; and the rays from theses streamed upward to the heavens so that all creatures saw it and in no place was there darkness”. 16

O- Flowering tree (centre)
(The up and down directions are represented on a diagonal axis)

16-Ibid., p.36.

So far we have seen the Mandala in the sacred space of a dwelling; astronomical observatory and ceremonial centre, and even in the “sacred space” of a vision. In this part we shall see the Mandala as a tool for healing and renewal; examples ranging from the Inipi lodge and Sun Dance Lodge of the Plains Indians to the Sand paintings of the Navajo Indians.


The rite of purification or Inipi is very wakan and is used before any great undertaking for which people want to make them pure or to gain strength. Purification is an act of healing; the basic purpose of the ritual being the re- establishment of harmony between man and nature and between man and Wakan- Tanka. The rite takes place in the onikare (sweet lodge or inipi lodge).

The four Powers of the Universe are involved in this rite: earth- and all that grows from her, water, fire, and air. Water represents the Thunder-beings who come fearfully but bring goodness, because the steam which comes from the rocks, within which is fire, is frightening, but it purifies so the people may live as Wakan-Tanka wills.

The onikare is usually made from twelve or sixteen young willows. These willows which make the circular frame are set in such a way that they mark the four quarters of the universe. The whole lodge is an image of the universe, a Mandala in which the two legged, four legged, and winged people, and all the things of the world are contained within it; all these peoples and things too have to be purified before they can send a voice to Wakan-Tanka.

The rocks used in the ritual represent Mother Earth, from whom all fruits come, and they also represent the indestructible and everlasting nature of Wakan- Tanka. The fire used to heat the rocks represents the power of Wakan-Tanka which gives life to all things. The round fireplace at the centre of the lodge is the centre of the universe, in which dwells Wakan-Tanka, with his power the fire.

The door of the Inipi lodge is always oriented to the east, because the light of wisdom comes from this direction. But before building the lodge, a sacred fireplace is set up some ten paces at the east of the lodge site. The rocks are heated in this Peta-owi-hankeshni, a “fire of no end” or “eternal fire”, which is made of four sticks running east and west, and of four sticks on top of these running north and south, and then some sticks placed as in a tipi- first on the west side, then on the north, east and south sides; finally rocks are placed at these four directions, and then many more are put on top. The fire is always lit on the side facing the east and a prayer is said: “O Wakan-Tanka,
This is Your eternal fire that has been given to us on this great island! It is your will that we build this place in a sacred manner. The eternal fire always burns; through it we shall live again by being made pure, and by coming closer to Your powers.” 17

17- Joseph E. Brown, The Sacred Pipe, New York, 1982, p.33.


 Ground plan of an Inipi Lodge

Before making the central altar within the lodge, where the heated rocks are to be placed later, a stick is pushed into the earth at the centre of the lodge, and then around this holy point a circle is drawn with a cord of rawhide.

The space of the lodge is made sacred by the leader of the rite and his sacred pipe; anything bad within the lodge is driven away by the Power of the smoke. The participants sit around the centre in this circular Mandala; the purification rite taking place in complete darkness- this represents the darkness of the soul, the ignorance, and by means of the purification the Light will be seen. During the course of the inipi, the door is opened four times, letting in the light; this light reminds the participants of the four ages and the light received in each of them through the goodness of Wakan-Tanka. 18

Brown says, “entering into the light after being in the darkness of the purification lodge represents liberation from the universe, the cosmos, or microcosmically the liberation from the ego; both ego and world are dark since they have only relative or illusory reality, for ultimately there is no reality other than Wakan-Tanka, who is here represented by the light of day, or by the space around the lodge” 19.


The ceremony known as the Sun Dance, in forms of varying complexity, was familiar to some twenty or more tribes of the Great Plains. It was distinctly a Plains production, for those sections of the 18-For a detailed account of the purification rite see ibid., pp.35-43.
19-Ibid., p.42.

Plains tribes east of the Missouri did not have it. The Sun Dance was its Lakota name (Wiwanyag Wachipi) since the dancers looked at the sun; the Cheyenne called it the New Life Lodge and the Ponca the Sacred or Mystery Dance. The purpose of this rite was to renew communion with the earth, sun, and the spirits, and specially with the winds, so that the tribe might have health and fertility and the buffalo might never fail.

The actual dance takes place in a lodge built specially for the occasion. The basic pattern of this lodge is that of a circular Mandala with a clearly defined centre in which stands the Holy Tree. The tree is always a cottonwood, because when cutting an upper limb of this tree crosswise a perfect pointed star is seen in the grain and that represents- to the Lakota- the presence of Wakan Tanka.

The lodge is made by putting upright, in a large circle, twenty eight forked sticks, and from the fork of each stick a pole is placed which reaches to the Holy Tree at the centre. The Sun Dance lodge is an image of the universe; each of the post around the lodge represents some particular object of creation, so the whole circle is the entire creation, and the tree at the centre is Wakan-Tanka, who is the centre of everything. The lodge is a cosmic symbol, representing the marriage of the sun- the lodge as a whole- and the moon- the structure of the lodge. Among the Lakota, twenty-eight forked sticks are used because twenty- eight is four times seven and both four and seven are sacred numbers. The moon lives twenty-eight days and each day represents something sacred to the Lakota: two of the days represents the Great Spirit ; two are for Mother Earth; four are for the four winds; one is for the Spotted Eagle; one for the Sun; one for the Moon; one is for the Morning Star; four for the four ages; seven are for the seven rites; one is for the buffalo; one for the fire; one for the water; one for the rock; and finally one is for the two-legged people.

An altar is also part of the lodge. A pinch of purified earth is offered above and below and then placed at the centre of the sacred place. Another pinch of earth is offered to the four cardinal directions and then placed at the west of the circle. In the same manner, earth is placed at the other three directions, and then it is spread evenly all around within the circle. This earth represents the two-leggeds, the four- leggeds, the wingeds, and all that moves, and all that is in the universe. The altar is constructed upon this sacred place- first a stick is pointed to the six directions, and with it a small circle is made at the centre, which is the house of Wakan-Tanka.

A mark is made starting from the west and leading to the edge of the circle. In the same manner a line is drawn in the other three cardinal directions. By making the altar in this way, we see that everything leads into, or returns to, the centre, and this centre which is here, and everywhere, as Hehaka Sapa says, is Wakan Tanka. 20

At the very end of the Sun Dance, Kablaya, who was the first one to have a vision of the Sun Dance, said, “by your actions today you have strengthened the sacred hoop of our nation. You have made a sacred centre which will always be with you, and you have created a closer relationship with all things of the universe”. 21

20-For Hehaka Sapa’s full account of the Sun Dance see ibid., pp.67-100

21-Ibid., pp-99-100

Among the Cheyenne the Sun Dance and the lodge had some distinct features. 22 Storm refers to the Sun Dance as the Medicine Wheel, which is the Way of life of the people. The Medicine Wheel, a Circle, is the universe- all things are contained within it and all things are equal within it. 23

The outer circle of the Sun Dance lodge is formed by twelve forked poles; so here the sacred number is twelve instead of twenty-eight. At the time of the annual renewal the twelve Sacred Shields were brought together and placed inside these twelve forked poles. To the Cheyenne, the Twelve Sacred Shields represents the Twelve Peoples or Tribes of the Earth, the Indian People being two of these Peoples

Each cardinal point of the Medicine Wheel is associated to one of the Four Great Powers. To the north of the Medicine Wheel is found wisdom; its color is white and its Medicine Animal is the buffalo. The sign of the mouse represents the south, which is the place of innocence and trust, and for perceiving closely the nature of our hearts; its Medicine color is green. In the west is the sign of the bear, whose color is black and speaks of the introspective nature of man. The east is marked by the sign of the eagle and its colour is the gold of the Morning Star; it is the Place of Illumination, where things can be clearly far and wide.

22-See Ruth Underhill, Red Man’s Religion, Chicago, 1965, pp. 145-152.
23-See Hyemeyohsts Storm, Seven Arrows, New York, 1973, pp. 265-266

Storm says, “The Medicine Wheel Circle is our Way of Touching, and of experiencing Harmony with every other thing around us. And for those who seek Understanding, the Circle is their Mirror. This Circle is the Flowering Tree. When we experience the flowering Tree, we hear the lightning flash within our darkness.” 24

Sand paintings are an important part of the chants or chantways of the Navajo Indians of the Southwest. These chantways are curing rituals of three, five, or nine days duration, in which are involved elements such as songs, offerings and sand paintings. The chantways can be used then for the treatment of almost any disease of body or mind, because the Navajo thinks that the real reason behind any disease is a lack of harmony with one’s world and with nature.
To be more precise we can say that the primary purpose of Navajo ritual is to maintain or restore hózh ́q, which is everything that is good, harmonious, orderly, happy and beautiful. The opposite of hózh ́q is hóchq– the evil, the disorderly, and the ugly. There are three general classes of ritual: the Blessingway rites (hózhóqji), which maintain and reinforce hózh ́q by attracting and incorporating the good and power of benevolent Holy people; the Holyway rites (diyink ́ehgo) , which deal with Holy people who are potentially malevolent; and the Evilway rites (hóch ́qóji), which emphasize the exorcism of the evil powers of malevolent Holy people.

To illustrate a chant, there may be a hundred or more sand paintings of which the chanter will use only four, chosen by him or the patient. The sand paintings have a basic structure that exemplifies the universal characteristics of the Mandala- a centre, symmetry, and cardinal points. These paintings made with earth colours on the floor of the Hogan (or outdoors) have to be swept up soon after completion. 25 The Navajo word for them means “the going away of a group”, or in other words, a temporary visit of the Holy people.

According to myth, the original picture was sometimes shown to the hero on a cloud and he was promised that, if he could reproduce it in all its details, power would enter the copy.
The size of the sand paintings might range from four to eighteen feet wide and the shape may be round or square. The Holy people are shown in pairs, quarters, or larger multiples to increase their power. The forms of these Holy People are human or anthropomorphized animals, plants, natural phenomena, and even material objects. The pairs are called male and female although they actually represent distinctions of power. The main theme symbols are arranged according to one of three types of composition: radial, featuring the important symbols in the cardinal directions, around a centre symbolizing the spring, pool, mountain, or dwelling where the commemorated episode took place; extended centre, with a central motif occupying most of the space; and linear, with figures in a row or rows. Sequences of color have directional, sexual, or other ritual meanings. Finally the painting is surrounded by the red and blue body of the rainbow Goddess, whose head and arms are at one end and her feet and kilt at the other, with an opening to the east that allows the entrance of good and the expulsion of evil. Sometimes a pair of small   symbols- Bear or Fly- increases control of this eastern entranceway.

24-Ibid., p.14

25-The traditional Hogan of the Navajo with its octagonal design, central fire, cardinal points, and door opening to the east, is another example of the Mandala in architecture.

To the eyes of a Navajo a sand painting is full of motion, which is indicated by means of symbols. The finished painting is like a vessel ready to receive power, and this power comes when the chanter sprinkles it with pollen, then places around it his special plumes and the objects form this bundle.

In the last part of the ritual, the patient is bathed, dried with cornmeal, and painted with symbols of the Supernatural Beings. Then comes the actual incarnation. The patient sits at the centre of this Mandala, whose centre is the centre of the cosmos. Sand from the diffrenet parts of the figures is pressed against the patient, especially on the ailing parts. The patient is made one with the Great Beings and shares their power. Finally the sand is swept up and carried away to eliminate the chance of its contact with man or beast. 26

The pictures reproduced below are copies of sand paintings from the Navajo Blessingway and depict events from the Navajo Emergence Myth.


-Sandpaintings from the Blessingway Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, Santa Fe, N.M.
26- See Leland Wyman,”Navajo Ceremonial System”, Handbook of North American Indians,1983, X, pp.536-557, and R.Underhill, op.cit., pp. 226-234.

-Other Sandpaintings from the Blessingway Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, Santa Fe, N.M.

The Myth proper begins when the first people have already come up through four womb-chambers: it is a highly complex interweaving of symbols, consisting essentially of ladder of four successive worlds, each associated with a different color- the order of the colors varies from one version of the myth to another. The two pictures shown above were ritually drawn- a recital of the myth is part of the ritual, by re-enacting the process of creation, to assure an abundance of crops and game. All have the sacred place of emergence in the centre, from which the four domesticated plants grow, between the four sacred mountains; the whole is surrounded by the circular figure of the Rainbow Goddess. The first place of emergence is blue, the second yellow (not shown here), and the final one white. The opening faces east.

We can see how condensed in the simple form of a sand painting is the interdependence of all phenomena and their essential unity in time by virtue of their relationships with the one eternal centre.
The process of the Navajo sand painting offers many parallels to the Tibetan Mandala ritual and Yantra, because all are by nature a complete meditation, with the mind in right perspective so that it can not escape anywhere. The formal similarity between the Tibetan and the Navajo Mandalas reveals healing (the curing of psychosomatic symptoms) as an integral part of meditation.


Another example of the Mandala in the architecture of the native peoples of Turtle Island is the Big House of the Lenni Lenape (or Delaware). The Big House stands for the universe; its floor, the earth; its four walls, the four quarters; its vault, the sky dome, atop which resides the Creator in his indefinable supremacy. The central post is the staff of the Great Spirit with its foot upon the earth, its pinnacle reaching to the hand of the Supreme Deity. The floor of the Big House is the flatness of the earth upon which sit the three grouped divisions of mankind, the human social groupings in their appropriate places. The eastern door is the point of sunrise where the day begins and at the same time the symbol of the beginning of things. The western door is the point of sunset and a symbol of termination. The north and south walls assume the meaning of respective horizons. The roof of the temple is the visible sky vault. The ground beneath the Big House is the realm of the underworld while above the roof lie the twelve extended planes or levels, stretched upward to the abode of Great Spirit. 27

27- See Frank Speck, “A study of the Delaware Indian Big House Ceremony”, Publications of the Pennsylvania Historical Commision, 1931, II, pp. 22-3, reprinted in H.B. Alexander, The World’s Rim, Licoln, 1953, p. 206


Undoubtedly we can find other examples of the presence of the Mandala among other tribes from Turtle Island. The Universal archetype of the Mandala presents a great variety, thus there are Mandalas for meditation, healing, the initiation of puberty, birth, the passage of the dead, guarding against evil or disease, for peace and prayer, Mandalas that embody the teachings of great masters, and Mandalas consecrated to the great changes of nature. Some of the Mandalas we have described in this paper are still in use- the kiva, the sand paintings, the inipi lodge,..-especially among the most traditional sectors of the tribes. Mandalas correspond to Ouspensky’s idea of “objective” works of art. Such art expresses a knowledge of the laws of harmony. It is not concerned with the personal, but with the transpersonal; not with the fugitive and the arbitrary, but with the eternal. 28 A very interesting point is that among the languages of American Indians there is no word for “Art”- Art is unnamed because it is part of a continuum wider and more inclusive than the western idea of reality. 29 Art is usually regarded not as an object of the eye but as an experience of the mind, as a ritual form. And the general form of ritual, like the characteristics form of organic culture, is a Mandala.

In our present fossil-nuclear fuel industrial society we are far from the situation of these (few remaining) people for whom everything is sacred- for whom the tribe is a sacred social unit and the tribal structure itself a reflection of the divine whole, an imprint of the heavens, stamped upon every act, every artifact and dwelling. While we no longer share the same communal, Mandaloid consciousness of our ancestors or those still able to maintain a traditional way of life, individually we may still bring ourselves to the same primal existential condition.

28-See P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, New York, 1949, and Tertium Organum, New York, 1970
29-J.Highwater, op.cit., pp.56-58.


Alexander, Hartley B.: The World’s Rim Lincoln: University of

Nebraska Press, 1953
Argüelles, Jose and Miriam: Mandala. Berkeley: Shambala, 1972

Brown, Joseph Epes: The Sacred Pipe. New York: penguin Books, 1982 ——-“El Legado Espiritual del Indio Americano”,

Cielo y tierra, 1982, I, pp.18-28.
Burckhardt, Titus: “El Arte Sagrado”, Cielo y Tierra, 1983, II, pp.8-18

Hieb, Louis: “Hopi World View”, Handbook of North American Indians, 1979, IX, pp.577-580

Highwater, Jamake : The Primal Mind. New York: Harper and Row, 1981 Jung, Carl G., ed.: Man and his symbols. New York: Dell, 1978
Lincoln, Kenneth: Native American Renaissance. Berkeley: University of

California Press, 1983
Maclagan, David: Creation Myths.London: Thames and Hudson, 1977.

Neihardt, John: Black Elk Speaks. New York: Pocket Books, 1972.
Storm, Hyemeyohsts: Seven Arrows. New York: Ballantine, 1973.
Tucci, Giuseppe: Teoria y Practica del Mandala. Barcelona: Barnal, 1974. Underhill, Ruth: Red Man’s Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965. Waters, Frank: Book of the Hopi. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978 Weltfish, Gene: The Lost Universe. New York. Ballantine, 1971
Witherspoon, Gary: “Language and Reality in Navajo World View”, Handbook of

North American Indians, 1983, X, pp. 570-578
Wyman, Leland: “Navajo Ceremonial System”, Handbook of North American

Indians, 1983, X, pp. 536-557.

Further Reading

Eliade, Mircea: Lo Sagrado y lo Profano. Barcelona: Guadarrama, 1979
Fraser, Douglas: Village Planning in the Primitive World. New York: Braziller, 1968
Gordon, Annette: Tibetan Religious Art. New York: Paragon, 1963
Govinda, Lama Anagarika: Mandala: Der Heilige Kreis. Zurich: Crigo Verlag, 1960 Hawkins,Gerald: Stonehenge Decoded. New York: Dell, 1965
Jung, Carl G. : The collected Works of C.G.Jung New York: Ballantine, 1971
Lesser, George: Gothic Cathedrals and Sacred Geometry, 3 vols. London: A. Tiranti, 1957-64 Melville, Leinani: Children of the Rainbow: The Religión,Legends and Gods of Pre-Christians

Hawai. Wheaton: The Theosophical Society Publishing Co., 1969 Mountford, Charles: Art, Myth and Symbolism of Arnhem Land. Melbourne: Melbourne

University Press, 1956
Ortiz, Alfonso: The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969
Ouspensky, P.D.: In Search of the Miraculous. New York Harcourt and Brace, 1949 —————Terrium Organum: A key to the Enigmas of the World. New York: Vintage, 1970 Pollock, H.E.D.: Round Structures of Aboriginal Middle America. Washington: Carnegie

Institution, 1936
Villaseñor,David : Tapestries in Sand: The Spirit of Indian Sand painting. Heildsburg:

Naturegraph Press, 1966
Whorf, Benjamin Lee: Language, Thought and Reality. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1956 Wyman, Leland: Navajo Indian Painting: Symbolism, Artistry and Psychology. Boston:

Museum of Fine Arts, 1959