It was a grey, bitter cold Sunday morning at yoga teacher training. After class, a group of us were sitting around and talking about the practice I shared with them that morning. One of my friends and students came up to me with a big box and said, “I bought this for myself, but it wasn’t what I thought it was, so I thought that I would give it to you because you could use it.” When I turned it over, I saw that it was a copy of the Animal Totem Tarot by Leeza Roberston, and illustrated by Eugene Smith. It was impossible to contain my excitement – I had that box open and in seconds was holding the deck in my hand.

Slightly smaller than other decks (the cards measure 2 1/2″ by 4 1/2″), they fit nicely in my hands and the light cardstock made them easy to shuffle and deal. The smooth finish of the cards felt wonderful and light as I flipped through them and gazed at the images.

The images. This is what really got me, straight out of the box. Each illustration is full of rich, colorful imagery, and the depth of the symbols goes far deeper than just the four suits. As someone who feels a resonance with the Animal Medicine Oracle cards and sometimes feels just the tiniest bit put off by the patriarchal images on most traditional Tarot decks, the animal images and messages in the Animal Totem Tarot gives the energy of the cards an undeniably esoteric, earthy feel.

Eugene Smith, the illustrator of the Animal Totem Tarot, did a magnificent job of capturing the energy of the traditional Rider-Waite Tarot, but with a non-human perspective. Each card embodies both the centuries-old interpretation and numerology of the more traditional Tarot decks and the animal medicine messages of each featured creature. You’ll find all kinds of animals here – llamas, stingrays, elk, pigs, spiders, owls, horses, and some lesser-known species like Raccoon Dogs, Harrier Hawks, zombie toads, and even an echidna.

Because of the close ties to the energy and symbolism of the traditional Rider-Waite deck, more experienced Tarot readers can use this deck straight out of the box. For those of us who want to explore more about the medicine and energy associated with each animal, there’s a lovely 347-page guidebook that accompanies the deck with full descriptions of each card, examples of Tarot spreads, suggestions for getting to know your new deck, and basic information about the history of Tarot and how to get started doing your first-ever reading.

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As a way of working with your deck for self-study, each card description includes 3 journal prompts. Best of all, each description of the minor arcana (pip) cards includes one full blank, lined page for jotting down your notes as you work with each card! (This is huge – I usually write my notes all over the pages of my books, but this makes it so much easier to find notes all in one place!)

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For a wonderfully fresh, deep, and non-human perspective on the Tarot, I highly recommend this deck both for readings and self-study.

The Animal Totem Tarot is published by Llewellyn.

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