Oracle Cards vs. Tarot Cards

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Tarot and oracle cards are marked both by striking similarities and crucial differences. Both types of cards are used for cartomancy – which is just another way of saying divination or fortunetelling using cards.

From an outside or novice perspective, oracle and Tarot cards may seem very similar, perhaps even interchangeable. But once you scratch the surface and get to know the cards a little better, it becomes abundantly clear that, although the two kinds of cards are used for the same purpose, they are as different as night and day.

Any experienced fortuneteller will tell you that the difference between Tarot cards and oracle cards is their tone of voice, their intrinsic vibe – their personality. While an oracle reading is likely to provide gentle guidance and uplifting and encouraging messages, a Tarot reading is more likely to tell it like it is. Some prefer the Tarot’s unfiltered tone, while others connect more with the softer, gentler energy of most oracle decks.

Both types of divination decks rely on the reader’s intuition, but while each of the 78 Tarot cards have traditional interpretations that are bound to add layers of deep meaning to the individual reader’s interpretation, readings with oracle decks tend to rely more on the individual reader’s intuition than on the inherent messages provided by the cards – although this can vary depending on the specific oracle deck the reader is using.

This is not to say that one type of divination cards are better than the other – as with so much else in life, whether you connect most with one type of cards or another is simply a matter of personal taste and preference.

A brief history of cartomancy

Cartomancy is the art of divining or fortunetelling using a deck of cards as a divination tool.

Although the history of cartomancy is somewhat shrouded in mystery, we do know that cards have been used as a divination tool for hundreds of years. The first recorded instances of cartomancy stem from 14th Century Europe.

Throughout the centuries that followed, there was no clear distinction between the cards one would use for a card game and the ones fortune tellers would use for divination card readings. To this day, some fortune tellers use a standard set of playing cards for divination, rather than Tarot or oracle cards.

It is clear to see how both Tarot cards, oracle cards and the playing cards we know today have grown from the same root, as they mirror and reflect many of the same symbols. For example, the Joker card included in every standard deck of playing cards is like a parallel version of the Fool Major Arcana Tarot card.

Today, more and more card decks created specifically for the purpose of divination are getting published – they are like more and more fresh shoots sprouting from the same original root.

Walk into any physical bookstore with a well-equipped spirituality section (or its online equivalent) and you will have a smorgasbord of options at your fingertips.

Key similarities between Tarot and oracle decks

Tarot and oracle cards share a number of significant similarities. Let us look at those before we look at the (significantly longer) list of differences.

Tarot and oracle decks are both divination tools. Evolving from the same root the two forms of divination decks serve the same purpose.

Intuition is the magic ingredient that makes cartomancy work, regardless of which type of deck you are using. Oracle card readings, in particular, rely on the reader’s intuition to string together the meaning of the cards and make the reading sing.

Both types of divination decks provide spiritual guidance and deliver specific messages related to life’s biggest questions, including questions about relationships, careers, money and personal development.

This is where the similarities begin to fizzle out. Some oracle decks borrow heavily from the traditional Tarot structure and card meanings while others follow their own rules and rhytm.

Key differences between Tarot and oracle decks

While the Tarot cards and oracle cards are used for the same purpose and may look similar at a glance, the difference between Tarot card readings and oracle card readings is significant. Here are some of the key differences between the two types of decks.

Tarot decks adhere to the same formal structure while oracle decks don’t. Although there are many different types of Tarot decks, each deck reliably consists of 78 cards that divide into the Major Arcana (meaning ‘greater mysteries’) and Minor Arcana (meaning ‘lesser mysteries’). Before you have even opened the deck, you can be sure that you are going to find a 22 card Major Arcana suit, and that it is guaranteed to include a Fool card, a High Priestess and a Devil. You also know that you are going to find a Minor Arcana consisting of four suits, each headed by four court cards. Unlike the Tarot, oracle card decks don’t have a set number of cards, and most decks don’t follow a particular structure.

The vast majority of modern Tarot decks are based on the Rider-Waite Tarot, first introduced to the world back in 1910. Even the Tarot decks that deviate form the classic Rider-Waite design, such as the Crowley/Thoth Tarot deck, still include the same number of cards, and the cards still share the same or similar titles. Oracle card decks, on the other hand, don’t necessarily share symbolic references, card titles or archetypes.

Tarot decks draw on a number of spiritual traditions and references, including astrology, numerology, mythology, Christianity and Judaism. When it comes to oracle cards, different decks might draw on vastly different references and inspirations, some of which have roots in spiritual or religions traditions while others don’t.

Commonly asked questions about Tarot cards and oracle cards

Can I read both Tarot cards and oracle cards?

One of the myths circulating about oracle cards vs Tarot cards is the you have to pick one and stick to it. This is not true. If you like, you can become adapt at fortunetelling using both oracle and Tarot decks.

You may find that Tarot cards work best for some types of readings, while oracle cards work better for other. In other words, you can mix and match oracle and Tarot cards exactly as you wish. If you feel called to read with both types of divination decks, why limit yourself?

Can I use Tarot and oracle cards together in the same reading?

You can absolutely use Tarot and oracle cards together, even in the same reading. Because they have such different energies, you may find that the messages brought forward by the oracle and Tarot cards compliment and build on each other, each deck adding shades of nuance to the reading that the other cannot.

Only your imagination as a reader limits how you can combine the two forms of divination cards into one reading. A simple and easy way of doing it is by letting the person you are doing the reading for pick one card from the oracle as a supplementary advice card at the end of a Tarot reading – or vice versa.

Do Tarot cards or oracle cards give the most accurate and useful readings?

While it is impossible to say which type of divination deck is able to provide the most accurate readings, it is safe to say that the Tarot, generally speaking, delivers messages with more detail, more in depth and more punch. A tarot card reading is likely to give you the unfiltered, potentially brutal truth, while an oracle card reading shows you the silver lining, or gives you vital encouragement.

There is a big difference between the messages provided by either card deck, but it is impossible to say which is most useful. It depends on what type of advice you are looking for, and how you prefer it delivered.

Are Tarot cards or oracle cards more beginner friendly?

An oracle card deck is always going to be more approachable and easier to get to grips with than Tarot. A Tarot deck simply requires more of an upfront investment of time, energy and effort.

Unless you want to keep referring to a guide book, memorising each of the Tarot’s 78 cards is an unavoidable part of becoming a capable Tarot reader. With oracle decks, there is likely less you will have to memorise. Not only does a typical deck of oracle card include significantly fewer cards, the cards also contain much fewer symbolic details that have to be committed to memory and brought out in the interpretation.

However, if you may encounter a different kind of challenge when learning your way around oracle cards; allowing your intuitive mind to flow and trusting it to carry you. While the Tarot’s detailed, traditional meanings can be a mouthful to get your head wrapped around, they also provide a solid scaffolding for your reading to stand on. Not so with oracle decks.

What is the best Tarot deck for beginners/What is the best oracle deck for beginners?

If you are just starting out with cartomancy, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of decks on the market. Which one should you chose? Here are some pointers that will help you choose the best beginner Tarot deck or oracle deck.

Reading Tarot cards is complex, until you get the hang of it and have internalised all of the cards and their meanings. When you are first starting out, go with the classic Rider-Waite deck of cards. If you don’t vibe with the traditional deck itself, pick one of its many derivatives, such as the After Tarot, the LS Universal Tarot or the Morgan Greer Tarot.

The reason you want to start out with the Rider-Waite is that it is the core, the root, the shared symbolic foundation on which almost all other Tarot decks stand. If you internalise the Rider-Waite deck, you will be able to pick up almost any Tarot deck afterwards and be able to use it right out of the box.

If, on the other hand, you start with a more niche deck, you are starting out with a branch on the big Tarot tree. You might still be able to deliver high-caliber and incisive readings with a niche deck, but you might be missing out on a shared understanding of the Tarot that you may then have to catch up to later.

I am speaking from personal experience here. When I first started learning the Tarot, I used the Thoth Tarot, designed by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley at around the same time the Rider-Waite was created. I can’t say I regret it, but looking back I can see how I would have found my way around the Tarot much quicker had I stared out with the Rider-Waite.

Now, let us look at the most subtle oracle decks for beginners.

Unlike Tarot, oracle decks don’t share the same structure and references. This is both a blessing and a curse when you are learning, because you can’t pick up one oracle deck, learn it, and expect it to translate into just about every other oracle deck. On the other hand, it means that you are free to roam the many exciting oracle card deck options that are out there.

Most oracle decks are beginner friendly. A good example of an approachable oracle deck is the 44-card Moonology oracle, which comes with a guide book to help get you started, but there are many other beginner friendly options out there, too. Trust your intuitive mind and let it guide you to the deck that resonates the most with you.

How long does it take to learn how to read Tarot cards/oracle cards

It is impossible to give a clear, one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how long it takes to become a proficient card reader. The individual answer is going to come down to a number of things, including how much time and energy you are able and wiling to dedicate within a concentrated amount of time, whether you are a fast learner, whether memorising and channelling the messages of the cards comes to you easily or not. Another factor that could have a significant impact on how quickly you are able to learn the cards is whether you start with the right deck – that is to say, a deck you connect with and that has great utility.

There is inevitably going to be a difference in speed of learning, depending on whether you are picking up the Tarot or oracle first. Learning to read the Tarot cards is inevitably going to take more time.

How to get started if you are new to divination using Tarot cards and oracle cards

If you are brand new to divination using cards, it can be difficult to know where and how to begin. Hopefully the following is going to provide you with the stepping stone you need.

Decide whether to start with Tarot or Oracle cards

If you want to learn cartomancy but are unsure of where to start, start at square one; deciding whether to learn the Tarot or the oracle cards first.

You can always pick up the other one later. Or never. It’s up to you. Just as there are no rules about whether you can or cannot read both Tarot, and oracle cards, there also are no rules saying that you have to. If you are interested in one but not the other, trust that, and go with that.

Find your teachers

Whether you are sinking your metaphysical teeth into a Tarot deck or oracle deck for starters, you want to make sure you surround yourself with learning materials and teachers. I strongly advice against getting all of your material or learning from one source, as absorbing all of your learning from only one perspective doesn’t allow you to develop your own style of reading as much as if you cherry pick the very best and most resonant information you come across from different sources.

Find teachers and resources that you resonate with, and absorb all of the learning you can from them. Synthesise the knowledge you gather from courses, guide books, blogs and YouTube videos into your own unique style of reading.

Find your guinea pigs

As soon as you are beginning to gain an overview of the deck and have some idea of what you are doing, go looking for guinea pigs. Do a bunch of readings for anyone that will let you.

This is where the rubber really hits the road in terms of your learning.

Keep learning and growing

There is never any point at which you will be able to definitively say that you have mastered Tarot card readings, or oracle card readings for that matter.

Internalising the messages of each card is not the same as mastery – it is, in fact, only the beginning. Becoming a masterful fortuneteller is an ongoing project, one that is never completed. Keep on learning and growing, safe in the knowledge that you will never complete your learning. Each reading you do teaches you something new.

Lucius Nothing

Lucius has been slinging tarot cards professionally since 2014. He’s taken the tarot to places most wouldn’t think of: His best-known patrons include Torture Garden, The Dark Circus Party, Handel & Hendrix, A Curious Invitation and The Candlelight Club, where he has been resident tarot reader for the past half-decade. His writing on divination, magic and creativity has been published in Sabbat Magazine and on Medium.

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