Have you ever had a Medicine Card Reading? I can tell you, it's an amazing and insightful experience. I recently wrote an article on this type of divination and wanted to share it with you.
In recent years, I have found myself more and more drawn to Native American culture and religion. Through that interest, I discovered Medicine Cards and have used them ever since as an alternative to more traditional tarot decks,
especially for gaining insight into my own or someone else’s abilities, talents, and challenges. In this deck, the animals or other species represented emulate the characteristics of the inquirer, giving the reader great insight and a tool for self-reflection.
The word “medicine” in the Native American way means “anything that improves one’s connection to the body, mind, or spirit.” Using Medicine Cards allows you to call upon the power of nature and, specifically, an animal or species, to gain understanding and wisdom about how we fit into the universe or “Great Mystery” as it is called in Native American culture. These animals can teach us many lessons!
The cards are beautifully illustrated and I own two different versions of this deck -- the “Just for Today” deck, which is considered a collector’s item and includes a brief meaning on each of the 44 animal cards and 1 “unlimited potential” card, and the Sams and Carson (1999) book and set of 44 plus 9 blank cards. The cards are used similarly to tarot cards, with reversed cards (called “Contrary” cards). Contrary cards indicate “an imbalance in the medicine of that card” and suggest (to the practiced reader) the proper energy needed to restore harmony to resolve the imbalance.
One question might be how is this deck different from a traditional tarot deck? I would suggest that it provides an uplifting, yet grounded reading that allows for insights with a very different perspective – one that appeals to me as a biologist, but also tells a story about Native American culture, while at the same time, allowing me to really explore who I am and the meaning of each card. Traditional tarot decks have generally accepted meanings, which some might find more restrictive. If you are looking for something different, I definitely recommend this deck.
The power of this deck, in my mind, is the variety of spreads presented, including the Father Sky/Mother Earth spread (2 cards drawn to help when life is hectic and you need to clarify issues and find some balance and harmony), the Medicine Wheel spread (4 cards that examine your personality and what you are learning in this life/Earth Walk) and the Nine Totem Animals spread. The latter identifies for the inquirer the nine power or totem animals that “represent the medicine they carry in their Earth Walk.”
After the initial connection I felt with the deck, I found the Nine Totem Animals spread to be the most powerful in terms of giving me guidance and insight on my life’s path. The Totem Reading should be done only once in a lifetime – and kept with you as a reference throughout your Earth Walk.
So how is a Totem Reading done? As you begin your Earth Walk, your physical body is surrounded by 7 directions – East, South, West, North, Above, Below, and Within. These are represented by the Medicine Cards and laid out in the reading in a semi-circle. In addition to these 7 totem animals, 2 cards are also placed to each side that identify the two totem animals that walk beside you at all times; the animal to the right side protects your male side, while the animal to the left, your female side. This type of reading can be done only once, as these 9 totem animals do not change – they are part of you and with you for your entire lifetime.
Here is an abbreviated sample reading:
East: This animal guides you to (and guards) your greatest spiritual challenges.
13. Coyote – the Trickster: The Coyote has many magical powers, but the end result can be either good or bad – he can even trick himself! He can represent humor and failing to learn from one’s mistakes. Through his folly, we often see our own foolishness. (My) Interpretation: This person’s path to spirituality may be filled with changes in direction, tricks (or tricksters) and reversals in thoughts or ideas. The Coyote encourages us to laugh at ourselves and stop being so serious. This person may need the Coyote around as a reminder that spirituality is one’s own journey - not everyone that you meet along the way has honorable intentions.
South: This animal protects the child within and reminds us when to trust, balancing our innocence.
9. Butterfly – Transformation: The Butterfly teaches us that we are in a never ending cycle of transformation. It brings clarity to our mental purpose and helps us find the next step in the cycle at each point in time throughout a life’s journey. Interpretation: This person has an ability to see things as a child, with innocence, yet also with crystal clear clarity and a sense of purpose. Change is embraced and often seen as energizing.
West: The animal to the west leads us to our personal truth and shows us the path to our goals.
45. Blue heron – Self-Reflection: The Blue Heron is about discovering oneself and facing our challenges. The Heron asks us to follow our intuition and begin our journey toward self-realization. Interpretation: This person is willing to look at themselves and change when they are “stuck.” They are capable of deep introspection and use the knowledge gained to face and overcome challenges again and again.
North: The North animal reminds us when to speak and when to listen. It reminds us to be grateful for our blessings.
7. Skunk – Reputation: The Skunk is about respect – where skunks go, they earn the respect of those around them by respecting themselves and holding their own heads high. Interpretation: This person has a strong ability to draw others to them, but they also repel those that take energy from them without sharing this gift. They are experts at reading and using energy flow and tend to attract and project self-respect.
Above: The animal Above teaches us to honor the Great Star Nation. It reminds us that we came from the stars and it is to the stars we will return. It also guards our Dreamtime-our personal access to the other dimension.
21. Owl – Deception: Owls hunt in the dark, seeing what others cannot. It is because of this that Owls cannot be deceived by others, no matter how others may try to disguise their actions. The Owl is also associated with clairvoyance. Interpretation: This person is able to see the motives and intent of others. This person may receive powerful messages in dreams or through meditation and often recognizes signals that are not visible to others.
Below: The animal Below teaches us about being grounded and on the path.
31. Turkey – Self-Sacrifice: To many native peoples, the Turkey is known as the “Give-Away Eagle.” It is recognition that the sacrifices of both self and others must be made for the common good. Interpretation: This person accepts that all are one and embodies the “spirit of giving” through their actions. They aspire to help and others and understand that what they do for others also enriches their soul.
Within: The Within animal teaches us how to find our heart’s joy and how to be faithful to ourselves. It is also the protector of our sacred space, the place that is ours alone and never shared, unless by invitation.
11. Moose – Self-Esteem: Moose is an animal of great strength. It also is an animal that is not afraid to bellow loudly to the world when its hard work has resulted in an accomplishment. It is a joyful sharing of its feelings. Interpretation: This person not only finds joy in hard work and accomplishment, but also shares themselves by encouraging others to succeed. They are quick to recognize those that have mentored them and find joy in sharing their passion with others in the same way.
Right: This animal protects our male side and serves as our “Father-protector” from within. It also carries our courage and warrior spirit.
1. Eagle (male): Eagle medicine is the power of the Great Spirit. Eagle represents a state of grace achieved through hard work, understanding, and the completion of many tests -- the lows and the highs of life experience. Interpretation: The person with the Eagle to their right is reminded that they can conquer their fears. The Eagle will support this individual throughout their Earth Walk, encouraging them to connect with their higher mind and with the wisdom of the Eagle – as their spiritual tests in life will require Eagle’s courage and grace.
Left: This animal protects our female side and teaches us to receive abundance and to nurture ourselves and others. This animal also teaches us about relationships and mothering.
10. Turtle (feminine): The Turtle is the oldest symbol for planet Earth. It is the personification of the goddess energy and reminds us to give back to the Earth Mother as she has given to us. Interpretation: This person is well connected to the Earth and the natural world. Like the Turtle, which buries its eggs in the sand, this individual develops ideas thoroughly before bringing them to the surface. No matter the situation, this person has an ally in Mother Earth. Throughout their Earth Walk, the Turtle will keep their feet planted firmly on the ground and focused on the slow and steady accomplishment of their goals.
As you might have guessed, this is my Totem Reading. As it turned out, I discovered that the animals that appeared were very familiar to me – some had repeatedly surfaced throughout my life, validating the reading and leaving me feeling very connected to both the cards and deck. It was definitely a grounding (and humbling) experience! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Dr. Carol Pollio
Director, Intuitive Investigations
Images: Raven - “Just for Today” Medicine Cards, and Snake - Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams, David Carson, and Angela C. Werneke, published by St. Martin’s Press.