West Symbolism & Meaning
On the Sacred Medicine Wheel the Cardinal Direction of West is the place of the setting sun. Here there is a sense of completion and a definitive understanding of our own mortality.
The West symbolizes the moving of ignorance to wisdom. Sometimes called the “little death”, West asks us to put away our childish ways and evolve to become our most sage ‘self’. When working any Shamanic rituals or meditations where the energy of the West comes into play, the most powerful time of working is as the sun sets. With that slowly decreasing light release your fears and expand your boundaries. The next dawn, wake up to new possibilities.
West is associated with Autumn. The fading daylight hours represent slow, purposeful change. It is time for preparation. While the days are beautiful now, winter is around the corner. Address anything that you have not completed and tie up loose ends.
Some of the goals for West include recognizing the spirit has no limits as well as exploring other realms and healing.
Etymology of ‘West’:
The term West came from various Romance languages alluding to dusk. In Sanskrit it translates as ‘night’ and in Latin it means ‘vesper’.
Bear: Animal of The West
Bear symbolizes the Cardinal Direction of West. Bear is the keeper of wisdom and the ultimate protector. Bears go deep within Mother Gaia’s womb and enter the dreamstime (hibernation). During this altered state of consciousness they connect with the Great Spirit. When Bear emerges from its den it is older and wiser. The Direction of West is the time of coming darkness – sunset. For some the impending darkness of night is frightening. But Bear embraces the darkness, trusting that when she awakes the light will be there. Click to read all about Bear Symbolism and Meaning.
West and The Water Element
Many vision quests start at the West, relying on faith and a willingness to let the Divine guide our way. This is rather fitting as the element for the West is Water. The Element of Water is powerful medicine. Water magic is full of mysteries; a healing and an energy flow that connects us with the Higher Self.
To focus on the Water aspect of West for a moment, consider that water has many versions. There is salty ocean water, clear well-water, the glistening morning dew, the pitter-patter rainfall, snow and ice. You can use any of these aspects for enhancing prayers, healings, and rituals. For example, if you are blessing an amulet for health clear well water is a good choice. In the scenario of calling in the 5 Elements or the Cardinal Directions for protection, ice gives you a perfect vehicle with solid sides.
As you work with the Western Quarter and the Spirit Animals that abide therein, pay attention to how you feel. Your emotions (Water) teach you about the impact of relationships and intimacy. There are simple things you can do to embrace the West and Water. They include guided meditation, sacred dance, and of course swimming or lying in water.
West and Healing Crystals
When working with West medicine – especially in Shamanic healing sessions – two healing crystals that can really call in West energetic properties are:
Connected with the Water Element due to its rich ‘river or ocean-like’ blue colors, Labradorite is the most powerful stone of protection in the crystal and mineral kingdom. This ties in closely with the Spirit Animal Bear (Spirit Animal of the Cardinal Direction West).
Wearing or carrying Labradorite when the sun is setting can strengthen the Shamanic connection to the world beyond the veil by making it easier to achieve trance or an altered state of consciousness.
When you want to speak, roar, sing, grunt, or caw your truth Lapis Lazuli is the healing stone that can make this possible. Because of this, Lapis is associated with the Throat Chakra. While this does connect the healing crystal with the Wind Element, Lapis is also an extremely powerful stone used for receiving divine wisdom. Since the direction of West urges us to seek/speak truth and mature into wisdom, Lapis is a great stone to carry or wear when working with the energies of the West.
Additionally, the rich blue tones of Lapis allow the Water Element to flow into healing sessions, rituals, prayers, etc.
Native American Symbolism and Meaning for West
In Lakota Tradition the West represents the end of life. The Thunderbird lives here and provides rain. This is a vital necessity to all living things, Thus the West holds a seat of honor.
Besides the Thunderbird, Bear is said to be the West’s totem. Bear is a powerful spirit that represent courage and attunement with the earth’s cycles. As a spirit animal Bear brings confidence, action, grounding, and the ability to stand strong in the face of misfortune. Bear instructs us in the art of healing not simply for others, but also ourselves. Bear also reminds us of the need for solitude so we quiet our minds and hear the voice of the Divine.
Click to learn all about the Bear Spirit Animal.
Like the Celts, Native American tradition has an Animal Zodiac Signs system.
Click to find your Native American Zodiac Sign.
The first creature associated with the west is a Salmon (July 22 – August 2). People with a Salmon totem have seemingly endless reservoirs of energy. Your enthusiasm for life is contagious. The Salmon is smart, insightful and generous to a fault. They make friends easily, network effectively on new projects and has a mind that’s goal oriented. In a relationship Salmon represents a sensual partner that gives wholly to the moment.
Turning the Wheel just a bit further we find Bear Spirit (August 22 – Sept. 21). Bear embodies the attributes of practicality, meticulousness and pragmatism. Bear spirit often comes as a guide to those who have a big heart and give of themselves without a 2nd though. People born under this sign tend to be shy, unassertive and giving (often anonymously).
Last we move toward Raven (September 22-October 22). You want to talk about beguiling energy it is Raven 150 percent. Turn on a smile and Raven oozes charm. Despite that people respect those with a Raven totem for their commitment and natural tact. Of the Native American signs, Raven is one of the most even tempered and relaxed. With those attributes comes a side of romance and patience. Sounds like a lovely energetic recipe.
The Direction of West in Divination
When used as a holding point in various divination techniques, West represents the past – those thoughts and actions that may not be healthy for you. The quirk with the past is that all your experiences add up to YOU today. Hold on to the helpful memories and release unnecessary stuff so you can receive again. Here the Shamanic Practice of Soul Retrieval can be very helpful if you’ve experienced trauma during this lifetime. There are Shamanic Practitioners who can/do/will journey to your past lives and retrieve soul fragments from those past lives. But real/authentic/truly able one’s are rare so do your research before signing up for a session.
Celtic Symbolism and Meaning for West
The Celts believed that beyond the Western edge of the sea the Afterlife or Otherworld resided. As we progress sunward we encounter the energies of the emotions, movement, sacred knowledge and our own psyche. Like others, the Celts associated the Water Element with this quarter. One interesting note in the way the Celts perceived west, here they regard it as a place of origin and the beginning of the day, not the end.
Celtic tradition has an Animal Zodiac Signs system that we can refer to for more insight on the West.
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The Rainbow Salmon (August 5 – September 10. This Animal Guide is very wise and often bears insight to the greater mysteries. They have a very long life, meaning they remember much of history observed as a by standard (no colored glasses here). People born under this sign think globally. This approach to life affords them great success with any life test.
The other Celtic Zodiac Sign that resides in the West is Swan (September 2- September 29). Swan is the consummate faithful lover. They are similarly so with their friends. If this is your Totem or birth sign, you won’t let friends or family down. When you invest your heart it’s for life and beyond. You will always have past life connections with many in your inner circle. Magically speaking the Swan is said to be a shapeshifter. In modern terms, you can adapt and blend very easily so as to become part of the background tapestry.
Astrology & the Direction of West
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In Astrology, West is associated with the Water Element. The three Water signs of the Western Zodiac are Cancer the Crab, Scorpio the Scorpion and Pisces the Fish. People born with the Water element in their chart are very fluid. Water can be sensitive, gentle and intuitive. It can also be a full-on Tsunami. So while Water people seem externally very passive, don’t take that for weakness.
Water people are natural born nurturers. The feel everything very deeply, and have an amazing capacity for compassion and understanding. Empaths are very often Water signs.
Those born under a Water sign are generally artistic. Their love of beauty has no bounds. Water people are healthiest when they are on the move (stagnant water isn’t healthy or “living”). The only caution for Water signs is avoiding loosing themselves in wool gathering. It may be a great escape, but they will miss much by giving into self-indulgences.
Additionally, it can be helpful to look at the three water signs for their Spirit, Totem, and Power Animal Meanings. Scorpio (Scorpion), Pisces (Fish) and Cancer (Crab).
Cardinal Direction West in Chinese and Japanese Traditions
In Far Eastern Tradition it is the White Tiger who abides in the West and represents the season of autumn. Chinese Buddhism tells us that the West is the way of enlightenment. China specifically has a Zodiac made up of twelve animals. Of these, only two are governed by Water. Interestingly enough one is at the very beginning of the Zodiac cycle and the other at the end.
The first animal in the Chinese system is Rat. While that may not sound very auspicious, the Chinese characterize Rat very favorably. Rat embodies the attributes of charm, eloquence, intelligence, thoroughness, spunk and survival. Rat is humorous, observant and charming but sometime they take over a conversation without realizing it. Nonetheless their honesty far outweighs any negatives, and Rat never has trouble making new friends.
On the job Rat is the problem solver who can see things from many angles. This makes them born Administration. They thrive in creative settings with some flexibility. Rat doesn’t like to be cornered in.
Pig is the final sign on the Chinese Zodiac with the fixed Element of Water. Pig loves life particularly when they can entertain. They are tenacious, kind and generous. Those born under this sign are happiest as facilitators for others.
Pig will not abide lies. This spirit needs some peace from time to time to refill the well of bigheartedness that they often drain completely. Financially Pig is a spender not a saver, so if you want to save money shop with Pig.
For a career Pig looks for a position that inspires creativity. That’s while you find them as entertainers or hospitality coordinators. Not really a management sort, Pigs pay attention to minute details, which always pleases the boss.
With their partner Pig is a home body. They want to take things slowly and sensually. Pig is very affectionate and prefers long term relationships.
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