The Circle

Tapestry was founded by a Choctaw Indian woman to operate out of Indigenous worldview. The Circle common to many Indigenous peoples helps to explain Tapestry’s organizational system — how we see the world around us and our place in it, and therefore what we do and how  we do it. The fact that we use the Circle to explain more than one aspect of ourselves and our work reflects the explanatory power of the Circle itself, as a map of reality to Indigenous people.

The Circle is laid out like a map, with the direction north at the top. The north-south and east-west axes mark the cardinal directions. Each direction and/or its associated quadrant is represented by a color. The center of the circle is also very important. You “enter” the Circle at East (at the “seam” between the white and yellow quadrants to your right as you face the image) because the sun rises in that direction. Then you move clockwise around the Circle because that is the sun-wise direction. (“Clockwise” and “sunwise” are literally the same thing.)

Tapestry uses the Circle as a way of understanding and explaining the ways that people know, learn about, and respond to the natural world. “Typifying” or “categorizing” something like “ways of knowing” provides a tool that can help us better understand the ways people learn and know in general, though the categories are obviously not absolute.  But the Circle can provide insight that enriches other models of human knowing and learning.

To Indigenous peoples, the Circle illustrates “the way the world works” — from seasons to weather patterns to human lives. Using the Circle to understand Tapestry’s work is therefore not simply symbolic or metaphorical, as it would be in contemporary modern worldview. It has strongly mythic overtones that help us understand many different things. For example, the Medicine Wheel used by many peoples of the American Great Plains associates the four directions with Mind, Emotion, Spirit, and Physical Body. Northern Cheyenne horse trainer and elder Phillip Whiteman, Jr. applies the Medicine Wheel to understanding horses by associating the four directions with “the stages of life and behaviors that come with the stages” (as well as all the things just discussed).

It’s important to realize that the inherent richness of the Circle’s meaning also leads to variation in how it’s depicted. Different tribal traditions ascribe slightly different colors and meanings to some of the quarters. We have chosen to use largely pan-tribal designations of yellow, red, black, and white for the cardinal directions, which happen to also be the colors used by the Choctaw for those four directions. But that does not mean this Circle is “the definitive” Native American circle; there is no such thing. On the other hand, there are limits to the Circle’s variation and deep roots to its symbology. It is in this middle ground between “only one right way” and “anything goes” that Tapestry seeks to inform, educate, and empower.

The model we use links the directions of the Circle with specific ways of knowing and learning in this way:

We suggest you visit the East as your first step in exploring the Circle.

You may use the table below to explore the directions, their associated ways of knowing and learning, and an example of each type of learning as applied to understanding tornadoes.

Directions on the Circle Ways of Learning and Knowing Tornado Example
East Intellectual Ways of Learning and Knowing Intellectual Ways of Learning about Tornadoes
South Experiential Ways of Learning and Knowing Experiential Ways of Learning about Tornadoes
West Spiritual Ways of Learning and Knowing Spiritual Ways of Learning about Tornadoes
North Mythic Ways of Learning and Knowing Mythic Ways of Learning about Tornadoes
Center Integrated Ways of Learning and Knowing Integrated Ways of Learning about Tornadoes