Eight Shields Model

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Source : https://sites.google.com/site/sustainablelivingproject/eight-shields-model

The Eight Shields Model[edit | edit source]

As a part of building community and living in an environment where all things are rhythmically and intricately interwoven, I have come to use Jon Young's Eight Shields Model as a way to organize groups of people and promote understanding of the energetics of life, both between humans themselves and in nature in general. Depending on how things go in our group, and if people are interested, we could use that model in our interactions. Here is an article I wrote about my understanding of this model.

Origin and Credits[edit | edit source]

The 8 Shields Model was formulated by Jon Young, co-founder of Wilderness Awareness School. He was interested in what made indigenous cultures “work” well, in comparison to our dysfunctional culture. He identified many cultural points that contribute to peace, harmony, and cooperation and synthesized these points as 8 archetypal energies. In the model, these energies are called Shields or Directions. The directions map onto the Medicine Wheel and reflect natural cycles and energies in the natural world. For instance, they reflect the flow of a day, of a season, of a life cycle. The 8 Shields model has been in use at Wilderness Awareness School for many years and helps the school as a whole and its different programs to run smoothly. Additionally, it is used in major events to distribute tasks and make sure everything gets done without requiring centralized leadership.

Intentions[edit | edit source]

Jon Young describes himself as a social engineer. Although the model may seem awkward and artificial at first because it defies our current cultural roles and functions, the main intention is to embrace the model to the point where it becomes natural and invisible, applied in the same implicit ways it has been applied in Native cultures for thousands of years. Thus, the model is generally introduced by giving participants some specific and concrete tasks that reflect the archetypal energy of their directions. Yet, with time, participants learn to transcend these tasks and to embody the archetypal energy itself; they become grounded, empowered, and present in their direction and, therefore, always know and anticipate what needs to be done.  At this level of mastery, the task, the system, the culture as a whole just flows naturally and is perceived as magic by outsiders.

The power of the 8 Shields Model is that it can be used toward two main goals. The first one puts emphasis on efficiency. Each of us has natural tendencies to gravitate toward certain directions as they reflect our strong points. Thus, if a specific task needs to be accomplished, people can be assigned to their preferred direction to ensure optimum success at completing the task.

On the other hand, the model can also be used to promote personal growth. Just as our body can be misaligned from a structural perspective due to restrictions in certain areas and can be reintegrated into a more functional whole, our psyche can be more comfortable with certain directions and more restricted with others. In this case, people can be given directions that challenge them, so that they can explore this aspect of themselves they tend to shy away from and grow more comfortable with it, thus leading to a more balanced, integrated whole. Additionally, it teaches people to respect others and their challenges and encourages them to empower others instead of taking over. For instance, a natural North in the Southwest direction may think that the official North is not doing good enough of a job and may have the tendency to push the North aside to take leadership. This provides a good opportunity to point out that 1) the Southwest is so uncomfortable with his/her direction that he/she is willing to give it up, thus pointing out a personal weakness, 2) the North needs to be encouraged and empowered into a direction he/she is not yet comfortable with and it doesn’t help to push him/her aside, 3) the culture as a whole suffers because nobody is holding the Southwest anymore. Therefore, the model promotes trust in others, responsibility for one’s own attitudes and actions, teamwork, and harmony.

The Eight Shields Model[edit | edit source]

A group of people holding each of the directions is called an acorn because, just like an acorn holds the potential of a beautiful oak tree, this group of people holds the potential of a beautiful working culture and successful events. Indeed, it is important to keep in mind that, although each direction has its own energies and that some of these energies can seem to be opposing each other, they have to be thought of as balancing energies designed to reach a common goal, not as battling forces attempting to get their way and crush the opposition. For instance, in the model the “hard work” and “play” energies are not in conflict with each other; rather, they each maintain an awareness of where the group is at and what it needs to complete its task in an optimal manner. The “play” energy may call for breaks when people are getting tired and slowing down, and the “hard work” energy reminds people of their commitment to reach their goal once everybody is refreshed.

Depending on needs and number of participants, the 8 Shields Model can be somewhat rearranged. It may be the case that there is no use for the South-East and North-West Shields (the latest evolutions of the model) and it is common to use the then Six Shields Model, which stands just fine on its own. If there are few participants or few tasks to perform, people can be assigned to axes instead of single directions (North-South, East-West, etc). Alternatively, if there are many participants they can be assigned to 8 person “clans” (6 persons in the 6 Shields model), each with one direction, and people with the same direction across all the clans form “societies” who can meet and discuss how to embody their direction and facilitate activities in the larger group in the best possible way.

Archetypal energies[edit | edit source]

Here are the energies that each direction summons. Specific tasks can then be assigned to specific directions in accordance with their respective energies. One should also watch for the “direction gone bad” syndrome, when people lose track of the greater goal and become self-absorbed in their direction.

EAST: Beginnings (sunrise, birth, spring), getting things started

·      Inspiration

·      Illumination

·      Energy

·      Enthusiasm

·      Excitement

·      Freshness

·      Welcoming

·      Inclusion

·      Communication

·      Outreach

·      Promotion

·      Awareness of Hazards

East gone bad: phony, uninspired sales attitude; wants to jump to teaching role immediately


·      Motivation

·      Overcoming personal blocks

·      Clarity of vision

·      What’s the next step?

·      Logistics

Southeast gone bad: pushes personal limits too far; often in dangerous situations

SOUTH: Hard Work

·      Implementation

·      Creation

·      Perspiration

·      Attention to detail

·      Joyful, hard work

·      Focus

·      In the thick of it

·      Time keeping

·      Attendance network

·      Honoring agreements

South gone bad: tunnel vision, slave driver, control freak, not open to suggestions


·      Connection to earth & plants

·      Groundedness

·      Beautification

·      Feeling at home

·      Facilitate clean up

·      Physical caretaking

·      Nurturing, Nourishment

·      Health

·      Timeless wandering, carefree

·      Downtime, relaxation and play

Southwest gone bad: passive, naïve, lazy, careless

WEST: Community

·      Community Building

·      Bringing people together

·      Celebration

·      Sharing gifts

·      Appreciation, honoring people

·      Learning/Understanding

·      Reflection/Seeking Truth

·      Sharing stories & teaching

·      Harvesting - sharing fruits of labor

West gone bad: ego, too much presenting and not enough relating

NORTHWEST: Connection with the past

·      Transcending mistakes of the past

·      Overcoming ancestral blocks

·      Healing past wounds

·      Networking

·      Deep connection

Northwest gone bad: stuck in the past, obsessed with being forgiven & self-sacrifice

NORTH: Oversight

·      Vision and purpose

·      Oversight and big picture

·      Coordination

·      Internalization

·      Integration

·      Perspective

·      Wisdom and Elderhood

·      Teamwork

·      Provide feedback

·      Unity

North gone bad: wants to do it all, overwhelmed, doesn’t delegate, authoritarian tyrant


·      Meta-vision

·      Where all begins and all ends

·      Connection with Spirit

·      Mystery

·      Intuition, gut feelings

·      Notice “coincidences”

·      Trickster/Transformer

·      Thanksgiving/Ceremony

·      Spiritual caretaking

Northeast gone bad: not grounded in reality, overzealous prankster

Rings: Circles upon circles[edit | edit source]

In a complete, well functioning model, there are different levels of involvement in the culture. These levels of involvement are called “rings,” symbolizing the member of an acorn in a circle.  In the model’s jargon, people can be referred to as a “ring 3 acorn,” or an individual as a “ring 4 North,” for example.

At the most basic level, “Ring 1” consists of the new participants who are not familiar with the model. They are being introduced to it progressively, first being given concrete tasks to get a grasp of what is expected of them while learning what energies they should tap into.

At the second level, “Ring 2” consists of participants in a program who are already familiar with the model and who can, therefore, assist the instructors in communicating information to the new participants, be good role models, and facilitate the general flow of the program.

“Ring 3” consists of the instructors of the program, those who interact directly with participants. They have a good knowledge of the model and use the culture to structure their teaching.

“Ring 4” consists of people with a good understanding of the culture but who work behind the scenes to facilitate the task of the Ring 3 instructors. Their tasks include prep-work, research, finding good locales, etc… whatever will make the program a success.

Finally, “Ring 5” consists of the elders of the culture, people with a profound understanding of the model, who are rather uninvolved with a particular program but who can be consulted about the model’s intricacies when necessary.

Adding other layers[edit | edit source]

Wilderness Awareness School has been fortunate to benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of many Native elders. From the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Nation, we heard the Peace Maker story and how one man brought peace to a people ravaged by wars. In our society, we tend to talk a lot about conflict resolution. However, this presumes that there are always open doors for conflicts. According to the Peace Maker, four principles are important to, as they say, “keep an upright mind.” When people live by these principles, conflict is generally avoided and never spirals out of control. In the 8 Shields model, these four principles are mapped onto the four axes of the directions and they are embodied and preserved by the people in these directions.

North-South Axis: UNITY. The North and South directions are the guardians of unity in the group. When it is time to make a decision, all members of the group should be consulted and consensus should be reached so as to guarantee that each person is committed to reach the shared goal of the group.

Northeast-Southwest Axis: PEACE. The Northeast and Southwest directions are the guardians of peace in the group. All communication should be peaceful and all words should be peaceful. All intentions should be peaceful and all individuals should be peaceful.

East-West Axis: GOOD MESSAGE. The East and West directions are the guardians of the good message principle. It is easy to only catch part of what is being said in a conversation and take that as a whole truth. It is equally easy to gossip about people behind their back and pass on information that is not true. However, these things tend to lead to spiraling frustration and aggressiveness that is often unwarranted. Following the good message principle means bringing concerns out to the open and clarifying the situation and the intentions behind the words heard so that everyone is clear about the actual truth of a situation.

Southeast-Northwest Axis: CONDOLENCE. The Southeast and Northwest directions are the guardians of condolence. In our society people often store grief in their minds and bodies, often leading to anger, depression, and restrictions in many aspects of life. The condolence principle recognizes that grief is essential to reclaiming joy and happiness. As such, the guardians of condolence provide a safe atmosphere for people to express and work through their grief.

Note: This document only reflects Xavier’s understanding of, and experience with, the 8 Shields Model. Though permission was obtained from Wilderness Awareness School to share this model, neither the school nor any other entity mentioned above has sanctioned this document.