Comparison of Animal Oracle Decks by Debbie Lake
I've managed to accumulate quite a collection of animal oracles over the year (I'm sure this is a big surprise to all you Tarotholics out there). So I've decided to put them to good use by writing a comparison review of them for Tarot Passages. My current collection includes the Druid Animal Oracle, Beasts of Albion, Medicine Cards and Animal Spirit Cards. I've decided to take a look at the different decks and compare what they have in common and what makes them different.
I chose two cards included in each deck to compare and contrast: Wolf and Raven. Many of the cards in each deck are similar but there are also cards unique to the individual decks. And each deck has a different focus. Druid Animal Oracle and Beasts of Albion both draw on the ancient traditions and beliefs of Celtic Britain and Ireland. The Medicine Cards draw on the native traditions of America and Susan Seddon Boulet's Animal Spirits draws on animals and beliefs from across the world.
Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson, illustrated by Angela C. Werneke - These cards all share a similar format - the image of the animal is drawn in the center of the card on a medicine shield. The top of the card is light blue and the bottom is a pale green. The cards measure three by five and a half inches and can be a bit challenging to shuffle. In the accompanying book, the authors describe the native people's beliefs in animal spirits and how they were used for healing and guidance, along with the concepts of the Medicine Wheel and Medicine Shield. They also recommend using this deck in an effort to reconnect with the animal medicine powers which we have lost. For each card, the creators offer a short poem and a keyword for the animal's magic, along with a description of the traditions and meanings associated with the animal in both upright and reversed positions. Several spreads are offered which can be used to tap into the energies of the various animals (and would probably work with Tarot cards too). This deck also offers nine additional blank cards so you can create your own Medicine Cards for animals not included here. The images on these cards are well-drawn, but small and not as detailed as some of the other decks reviewed. In fact, they are almost stark in comparison. The authors claim they combined Choctaw, Lakota, Seneca, Aztec, Yaqui, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Iroquois and Mayan traditions. I'm not very familiar with Native American traditions and beliefs so I can't comment on the accuracy and authenticity of the meanings and other information given about these animals. But I still think it's an interesting and useful deck in the collection.
Animal Spirit Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet - If you have been involved in the New Age/Metaphysical community for any length of time, odds are you have seen Susan Seddon Boulet's work. Her art has graced book covers, calendars, magazines and a variety of other venues. Her art often combines human and animal forms merged in a synergistic and magical whole. Animal Spirit cards use images from Boulet's work to illustrate various animal energies and offer their symbolic meaning, as well as a brief description of what peoples and traditions honored these animals. Some of the images are dreamlike--it can be a bit challenging to determine what animal the image is showing. I think some of them were taken from larger works of art and cropped to fit the card. But regardless of their origin, the artwork is breathtaking and mystical, drawing you into other worlds whether you realize it or not. There is no indication whether these cards were intended for working with animal energies, shamanic practices, divination or just to enjoy. But regardless of why you buy these cards, they are small pieces of art worth owning and using and, at $9.95, the price is right. And at three and a half by four inches, these cards are fairly easy to work with and the images are still large enough to see.
Beasts of Albion Cards by Miranda Gray - Miranda Gray was the artist who illustrated such beautiful Tarot decks as the Matthews' Hallowquest Arthurian Tarot and R.J. Stewart's Merlin Tarot. She continues to prove her skill as an artist in the Beasts of Albion cards. Gray indicates that the animals included in this deck represent animals which are, or once were, native to Britain and which are still strongly represented in the isle's folklore. Of course, one could argue that the Lion, Dragon and Unicorn do not technically fit this description, but they are certainly strongly present in the folklore of Britain. Gray also combines the myths and legends of the various peoples that make up Britain's populace: Celts, Romans, Saxons, Viking and the early Christian church. The artwork is gloriously rich and breathtaking, with each animal set against a diamond-pattern and framed by a colored border. The cards measure three by four and a half inches and are relatively easy to shuffle. Gray has created a system that assigns the various animals to one of three kingdoms: Strength, Wisdom or Purity, represented by the Lion, the Dragon and the Unicorn respectively. Within each kingdom are four Trine with three Harmonics each: 1) Harmonic of Self, 2) Harmonic of Inner Self and 3) Harmonic of Beyond the Self. The vertical color on the border indicates to which kingdom the animal belongs. So the Kingdom of Strength has the Trines of Growth, Challenge, Intelligence and Creation. The Kingdom of Wisdom has the Trines of Awakening, Empowering, Protection and Knowledge. The Kingdom of Purity has the Trines of Compassion, Nurturing, Inspiration and Transformation. The animals assigned to each Trine represent a different aspect of that energy. To quote an example from the accompanying book, "In the Trine of Nurturing, for example, each animal represents a different aspect of nurturing. The Otter relates this concept to the Self, in developing joy within your own character, the Cow relates it to Others, in providing nurturing and sustenance for other people, and the Pig represents nurturing on a spiritual plane, awakening others to knowledge and enlightenment". So the Trine your totem or power animal falls within offers you additional insights, if you look at the other members of the Trine. For each card, Gray also offers the mythology and folklore associated with the animal, its meaning and characteristics in a spread and its Spiral Path meaning (which connects to its energy within the Trine and Kingdom).
Druid Animal Oracle by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, illustrated by Bill Worthington - At four by almost six inches, these cards are the largest in the category. The images are absolutely gorgeous, but the size of the cards can make them hard to work with and shuffle. Philip Carr-Gomm admits to being inspired to create this deck after seeing Jamie Sams' and David Carson's Medicine Cards. These cards, similar to the Beasts of Albion cards, incorporate the different influences the made up the Celtic world. I'm a bit skeptical about the inclusion of dragons because they seem to be more prevalent in Norse/Germanic traditions and Arthurian legend, which was quite possibly influenced by the myths and traditions of the invading Saxons. But this is my tendency to nit-pickiness. The remainder of the animals certainly seem to reflect animals found in sacred Celtic tradition - salmon, raven, owl, wolf, otter, seal and boar among them. There are a total of 33 cards in this deck. In the accompanying book the Carr-Gomms offer some background and insight into Druid history and practices as well as offering a variety of spreads which can be used to work with these cards. For each animal they provide a brief description of the image on the card, its meaning when drawn upright and reversed as well as the background and tradition of the animal in question. For anyone interested in Celtic and or Druid traditions, these cards would be a welcome addition to your collection.
Now let's look at two cards represented in each deck and the meanings ascribed to them.
Medicine Cards: Keyword - Teacher. "Wolf . . . Teacher, Pathfinder, Moon-dog of my soul. Howling, Singing, Teaching how to know." Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. The senses of Wolf are very keen and the moon is its power ally. If you have drawn Wolf's card, you may be able to share your personal medicine with others. Your intuitive side may also have an answer or teaching for your personal use at this time. As you feel Wolf coming alive within you, you may wish to share your knowledge by writing or lecturing on information that will help others better understand their uniqueness or path in life. If Wolf is reversed, you are being asked to expand your limited view of the present situation.
Animal Spirits Cards: Symbology - creation, healing, purification. "Although portrayed as a marauding villain in many European cultures, wolves are deities in Native American cosmologies and are a popular totem. Like the raven, which also appears in this painting, the wolf is a hero and creator. In some legends she is the trickster sibling of the coyote. In the early Roman cult of Lupa or Feronia, the great she-wolf (also known as the Mother of Wolves) was the divine midwife and matriarch of the ancestral spirits. She was honored in annual festival of the she-wolf and was invoked in purification rituals.
Beasts of Albion: Kingdom - Purity, Trine - Compassion, Teaching - The Mentor. Characteristics: Community, Teaching, Co-operation, Society, Knowledge, Nurturing, Companionship, Instinct, Victory, Ferocity, Guidance, Intelligence. In a spread, the Wolf can represent the importance of community and the ability to co-operate with others. It can also symbolize interaction with others in the form of guidance or teaching. The Wolf has a strong personality, often using its abilities for the good of society, but it also carries the potential for destructiveness if allowed to become too dominant. Spiral Path Meaning: The Mentor. The Wolf, as a teacher holds compassion for humankind and teaches it its place within the community of animals, trees, and plants. It teaches you, in turn, to take on the role of teacher, to share your insights and experiences with others.
Druid Animal Oracle:
"Raven . . . black as pitch, Mystical as the moon, Speak to me of magic, I will fly with your soon". Throughout time Raven has carried the medicine of magic. Raven magic is powerful medicine that can give you the courage to enter the darkness of the void, which is the home of all that is not yet in form. Raven is the messenger of the void. If Raven appears in your spread, you are about to experience a change in consciousness. Raven is the guardian of ceremonial magic and in absentia healing. In any healing circle, Raven is present. Raven is the messenger that carries all energy flows of ceremonial magic between the ceremony itself and the intended destination. Reversed Raven can indicate a boomerang effect - bad wishes for others rebound back on you. Or it may be telling you that you have forgotten the magic of life and settled in to a mundane rut. It may also portend a time of smoky, confused messages that you cannot see or hear because your "intellect" is insisting that magic is not real.
Animal Spirit Cards: Symbology - creation, magic, illumination. "The raven is frequently associated with powerful magic and omens. Its symbolism parallels that of the coyote and rabbit in Native American myths, and it is worshipped as a deity. The Haida and Tlingit peoples of western Canada and Alaska revered the raven as a hero and helper of human beings, a role reflected in the bird's prominent position in the totems of the Northwest. The raven is believed to have placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky, bringing light to the people both day and night."
Beasts of Albion: Kingdom - Strength, Trine - Challenge, Teaching - Challenge of Darkness. Characteristics: Foreknowledge, Prophecy, Cunning, Intelligence, Change, Battle, Opportunism, Selfishness, Scavenging, Protection. In a spread, the Raven represents a sharp, quick intelligence and the talent to anticipate or predict events. It can signify the ability to turn any situation to personal advantage, sometimes without regard for the consequences or for others. It may also suggest a tendency towards dangerous pursuits of various kinds. The Raven has an appetite for the acquisition of knowledge, and shows how to use that knowledge to its own best advantage. Spiral Path Meaning: Challenge of Darkness. The Raven offers the challenge of the unknown. With its prophetic cry muted, it teaches the ability to overcome the dark forces of uncertainty, ignorance and death.
If you would like to purchase the Medicine Cards, click here.
If you would like to purchase the Animal Spirit Cards, click here.
If you would like to purchase the Beasts of Albion cards, click here.
If you would like to purchase the Druid Animal Oracle, click here.
Debbie Lake is a cranky, opinionated Tarotholic who was born and bred in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. She has been married for 15 years (which explains the crankiness) and just loves working with Tarot, reading and driving friends and family crazy with her know-it-all-ness. Visit her at her website.
Article © 2003 Debbie Lake
Images © St. Martin's Press (Medicine Cards), Pomegranate Press (Animal Spirit Cards), Thorson's (Beasts of Albion Cards) and US Games System (Druid Animal Oracle)
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes