The Sun Dance Wheel
An Arapaho Legend
At one time the whole world was covered with water. It was everywhere, no matter where one looked.
The water did not stop a man carrying Flat Pipe, his companion and counselor, from walking across the waters for four days and nights. The man wanted to treat his pipe in the best way, so he gave much thought to this subject. He thought for six days and finally decided that in order to provide a good home for Flat Pipe there should be land and the good company of creatures.
So on the seventh day the man set out to find land among all the water, calling to the four directions as he went. From the four directions came many animal helpers, and with their help man found a land home. He put the Four Old Men in each of the four directions to control the winds. Now, the land would also provide a place for a Sun Dance of ceremony and thanksgiving every year.
A garter snake came to the man, and the man said "Oh, you will be a great comfort to the people and have a great place in the Sun Dance as the Sacred Wheel to represent the waters that surround this earth."
He then looked again to all around him for help and many offered. Long Stick, a bush with flexible limbs and dark bark, came and said "I offer myself for the wheel for the good of all." All approved so Long Stick was made into the ring of the Sacred Wheel, representing the circle that is the Sun.
The eagle soared by and said "My strength is great enough to carry me above the earth and water as I fly on the winds of the four directions. Please take my feathers to represent the Four Old Men."
The man was pleased, and told all that four bunches of eagle feathers would forever be tied to the wheel to honor the desire of the eagle and anyone who would ever offer an eagle feather as a gift.
Once the man shaped the Sacred Wheel he painted it in the image of garter snake and placed the feathers in the position of the Four Old Men - Northwest, Northeast, Southeast and Southwest - who rule the directions and control the winds and to represent the Thunderbird who brings the rain. To further enhance the wheel, the man added groups of stars, painting special images of the Sun, the Moon and the Milky Way. Blue beads tied on represented the sky.
When finished, the man thanked garter snake for serving his people in this way with the creation of the wheel that symbolizes all creation.
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