(Note: This post has been significantly edited since it was originally posted in order to provide more up-to-date information about the deck and its publishing history. The “My Thoughts” section of this updated post contains my personal comments and review from the original post, with just some minor tweaking.)

About the Deck

Overview

The deck was created by Jamie Sams and David Carson, illustrated by Angela Werneke, and published by Bear & Company (now a part of Inner Traditions). Originally published as a 44-animal deck in 1988, the deck was re-released by St. Martin’s Press in 1999 with an additional 8 animal cards.

Version Basics

As far as I can tell, there are really only three basic packages in which the cards were sold to consumers: the original 44-animal deck with companion book; the 44-animal pocket deck with no book; and the revised and expanded 52-animal deck with companion book. Each of those versions may have had many re-printings and editions in which the book or deck may have changed slightly, but essentially those three versions seem to be it.

>> Original 1988 Version — Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Way of Animals

Medicine Cards - original 1988, 44-animal deck with red book Eagle card from new Medicine Cards deck

  • Published in 1988 by Bear and Company
  • Package details: The cards and book came in a cardboard slipcase that features the image from the Bear card.
  • Card dimensions: 3″ x 5.5″, with a white border
  • Deck consisted of 44 animal cards, 9 blank shield cards, and a title card, for a total of 54 cards.

The cards in this and the 1999 expanded version do not have the descriptions that are printed on the pocket deck, just Angela’s artwork and numbers along with the animal names. (The numbers help you to locate the cards in the companion book. Like the Druid Animal Oracle, the card meanings are not easily located in the book without a helping aide.)

The version I have has a notice that the cards were “printed in Canada by International Playing Card Company”. The slipcase also has a sticker that indicates that over 600,000 copies were in print at the time.

>> 1997 Pocket Deck — Medicine Cards: Just For Today

Tuck box for original version of Medicine Cards Eagle card from original Medicine Cards deck Card back on old Medicine Cards deck

  • Published in November 1997 by Bear & Co
  • ISBN: 1879181460
  • Package details: Cards come in a small tuck box.
  • Card dimensions: 2.5″ x 3.8″, with no border
  • Deck consists of 44 animal cards plus one blank shield card for Unlimited Potential

Each card of this deck features the name of the animal and a small image of Angela Werneke’s artwork above text describing the meaning of the card. Presumably it was intended to be used on its own, without a companion book, much like the Wolf Pack Tarot. This deck also includes one blank shield card titled “Unlimited Potential” that appears to have a different purpose than the nine unnamed, blank shield cards included with the original and expanded decks — the blank cards in those decks exist so that you can create your own extra animal cards; the “Unlimited Potential” card has its own meaning and, as a result, doesn’t really appear to be usable for an additional animal.

>> 1999 Revised, Expanded Version Published by St. Martins Press — Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Way of Animals

Book/cards case for expanded, 52-card version of Medicine Cards Eagle card from new Medicine Cards deck

  • Published in July 1999 by St. Martins Press
  • ISBN: 0312204914
  • Package details: I haven’t seen a copy in person, but judging by the pictures, it comes in a slipcase similar to the original version, though with Eagle on the cover instead of Bear.
  • Card dimensions: 3″ x 5.5″, with a white border
  • Deck consists of 52 animal cards, 9 blank shield cards, and a title card, for a total of 62 cards.

The new deck contains eight additional animals: Blue Heron, Raccoon, Prairie Dog, Wild Boar, Salmon, Alligator, Jaguar, and Black Panther. It also includes the same nine blank shield cards that the original deck did (so that you can create cards for any additional animals that aren’t already included) and the companion book.

>> Other versions?

There is also supposedly a US Games version, published perhaps in 1997 that I haven’t seen but I believe is essentially the same as the St. Martin’s Press version.

Card Comparison

Eagle card from original, 1988 44-animal Medicine Cards deck Eagle card from pocket-sized 44-animal Medicine Cards deck

The image above does a fairly decent job, even taking into consideration that scans never perfectly reproduce the real thing, of showing you how the cards differ from one another.

Differences:

  • The large cards are 3″ x 5.5″; the pocket size cards are 2.5″ x 3.8″
  • The pocket deck was intended to be used alone, without the companion book, so the meanings of the cards are written on the card faces.
  • As you can see, the colouring on the large cards is much lighter than the colouring on the pocket deck. The blues and greens of the backgrounds are also different.
  • The large cards have a thin white border; the pocket deck cards have no border.
  • The large cards were numbered, making is easier to find information about them in the companion book.

The images below show the card backs.

Back of the large-format cards in the Medicine Cards deck Back of the pocket-format cards in the Medicine Cards deck

The Companion Book

The book has been printed dozens of times (over 30 just for the original 44-animal version published by Bear and Company). The original book appears to have been published in red and teal editions (both with gilded lettering), though I don’t know if there is a pattern to when or where each colour was used. The expanded edition book was initially printed in purple (with and without gilded lettering).

I’ve seen several different versions of the companion book that seem to differ only in the color of the cover binding — purple (with and without gilded lettering), teal with gilded lettering, and red with gilded lettering — and quality of the printing.

Teal with gilded lettering

Early printing of the original 44-animal book

  • Published in 1988 by Bear and Company; or May 1992 by Bear & Company
  • ISBN: 093968053X
  • 224 pages
  • 5.g inches by 8.5 inches 22.9 x 15 x 3.8 cm

Seems to have been sold as a separate book in May 1992 publication (per Amazon.co.uk).

Red with gilded lettering

34th printing of the original 44-animal book

  • Published in 1988 by Bear & Company? Sold as set with original cards, it seems, with bear on cover of the set box
  • At least 34 editions of this version of the book were printed. The package I have, which contains the 34th edition of the book, includes a sticker that indicates that over 600,000 copies were in print at the time.
  • 224 pages
  • Features information about only the 44 original animals.

Purple with debossed lettering

First edition of revised deck book, with debossed cover

  • Published 1999 by St Martin’s Press. This is the initial look of the companion book that came with the revised, expanded edition of the card deck.
  • ISBN: 0312204914
  • 256 pages
  • 6.3 inches by 9.3 inches
  • Description: The lettering on the spine is gilded, but the lettering and image on the cover is just debossed, with no gilding. The first edition of this book was fairly poor in quality when compared to the original book. For example, the print on some of the pages is slanted slightly and offset incorrectly on the page (presumably that’s due to a problem with the machine that trimmed the pages), and Angela Werneke’s name is misspelled in her biography at the back of the book. I don’t know how many reprints it took them to correct those problems.

Purple with gilded lettering

  • Published 1999 by St Martin’s Press
  • ISBN: 0312204914
  • 246 pages

The Animals

    01. Eagle      12. Porcupine      23. Opossum    34. Grouse
    02. Hawk       13. Coyote         24. Crow       35. Horse
    03. Elk        14. Dog            25. Fox        36. Lizard
    04. Deer       15. Wolf           26. Squirrel   37. Antelope
    05. Bear       16. Raven          27. Dragonfly  38. Frog
    06. Snake      17. Mountain Lion  28. Armadillo  39. Swan
    07. Skunk      18. Lynx           29. Badger     40. Dolphin
    08. Otter      19. Buffalo        30. Rabbit     41. Whale
    09. Butterfly  20. Mouse          31. Turkey     42. Bat
    10. Turtle     21. Owl            32. Ant        43. Spider
    11. Moose      22. Beaver         33. Weasel     44. Hummingbird

    45. Blue Heron 47. Prairie Dog    49. Salmon     51. Jaguar
    46. Raccoon    48. Wild Boar      50. Alligator  52. Black Panther

Related Links:

  • Jamie Sams – Jamie Sams’ personal site. Includes information about her other works.
  • Medicine Cards – David Carson’s site for the 52-card version of the Medicine Cards deck. (It’s interesting to me that he doesn’t mention Jamie Sams or Angela Werneke anywhere on the site — you’d swear he was the sole creator if you went by what you see there.)
  • River Light Media – Angela Werneke’s portfolio at Creative Shake.
  • Aeclectic Tarot – Brief information, sample card images, and a review.
  • Learn Tarot
  • Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson – Review of the 52-card deck by Lauren D’Silva at BellaOnline.

My Thoughts

I was given this deck by a friend. I’m still not sure if it was a permanent gifting or just a temporary one so I’m presuming I have temporary stewardship until she asks for it again. The deck, in a very dilapidated tuck box, came to me with a purple hardcover companion book. Other than flipping through the cards a couple of times, I’d never really looked at the deck or the book. Recently, while reading “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pet Psychic Communication” (one of the exercises suggests working with this deck), I was reminded that it was sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to take a deeper look at it. I’m not sure how the original deck and the new companion book came to be paired in my possession — as far as I know, the book was never available for sale separately. Perhaps the original owner bought the original deck and the new deck, decided she didn’t need the book, and passed her original deck and the unneeded book to my friend.

The backs of the cards are very homely: solid royal blue background with a simple, white lightning bolt on the pocket deck and solid turquoise blue background with a yellow lightning bolt on the larger deck. The size and simplicity of the cards make it easy to underestimate the power of the deck, but it’s still surprising to me, now that I look closely at it, how cheap and almost comical the card backs make the deck look. (Jamie Sams uses the yellow lightning bolt on her Web site as well and I just don’t get it.) I’ve read comments by other people who love the card back so perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste.

I admit to being a little disappointed that the fetishes on the cards are just adornments that don’t have any actual relevance to the animals or concepts in question. Given the importance assigned to the nine totem animals that each person supposedly has, the fact that the nine different fetish arrangements on the cards have no significance and are just repeated in order through the deck seems a waste of potential. It would almost have been better to have the same fetishes on all cards so there wouldn’t be an expectation of meaning where none exists; they would just be seen as the decorative accents they are.

The pocket deck cards are a perfect size for shuffling and riffling, even if you have small hands. The larger cards are a fairly decent size for handling, though clearly not as small and handy as the pocket deck. Though it is advertised as a divinatory deck, I see it more as an exploration deck or perhaps even an affirmation deck, depending on how you use it. I like it for simple, one-card draws — the spreads in the book look enticing but I just haven’t had time to really try any of those out. I plan to do the Nine Totem Animals reading, which you are advised to only ever do once for a person, soon. And I’ll try the other spreads when I have a chance. For now, I’m giving this a 3/5 just because it doesn’t seem to visually live up to its potential. I may change that rating after I’ve done a few readings with it.