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Tarot vs Oracle cards

"What is the difference between Tarot and Oracle Cards?" 

This is one of the questions we get asked most often in the shop. Reading with Tarot and Oracle cards are both examples of cartomancy: divination or fortune-telling using cards. Both can give you insight into the past and present, and both can predict possible futures based on your current situation and choices in life. Both have artwork and symbols that can be interpreted and both often come with books or booklets to help you learn the meaning of the cards. Tarot and Oracle cards are also used in a similar way: you focus and ask a question while shuffling the cards and then draw either single or multiple cards to get an answer to your question. There are also some major differences between them that I'll go into now so that you can figure out what type is best for you.



Tarot cards have been used for hundreds of years for divination. Tarot actually evolved from playing cards which were first historically recorded as being used since the mid 1300s. These cards were similar to modern playing cards with four suits of batons (clubs), swords (spades), coins (diamonds), and cups (hearts). In Italy in the 1400's, trumps cards were added with Catholic, astrological, and Roman mythological imagery. Over time, the trumps cards evolved into what we call the major arcana. These playing decks were known as trionfi and the only problem the Church had with them were that they were used for gambling! However, being the amazing pattern recognising beings that humans are, the cards were eventually recognised for their usefulness as fortune-telling tools and began being used for divination.

Tarot experienced a major revival with the publication of the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith deck in 1909. The hippie movement of the 60s sparked an interest in esoteric and occult practices and artists began to publish their interpretation of the Tarot. Finally the rise of the New Age in the 80s and 90s led to an explosion of different Tarot decks. Today you can choose between an unimaginable number of different decks in any possible theme you can imagine. Ok, enough nerding out about the background and history of Tarot... Here's how they differ from Oracle cards.

The ancient Visconti Tarot: one of the oldest decks in existence.

Tarot cards have a set structure. There are 78 cards in a deck. These 78 cards are divided into 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Minor Arcana are further divided into four suits (generally: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles). The card meanings are much the same across decks so once you fully learn one tarot deck you can read from them all. However, the hundreds of years of history, numerology, and astrological symbolism that is infused into the tarot cards also means that the layers of meaning you can read into the cards continue to deepen the more you work with them. This allows you to get an in-depth description of situations, timing, and people by reading Tarot that isn't really available to the same degree in Oracle card decks. Tarot can tell you when you will meet a person, and even give you a basic physical description and star sign of the person! Tarot is also often read in traditional spreads like the Celtic Cross where each position of a card has a specific meaning relating to an area of life. 

There are unlimited books, courses, and internet content about Tarot available meaning there has never been a better time to invest in learning Tarot. And that brings us to another difference between Tarot and Oracle cards: Tarot is a bigger investment in time and learning. Being a more in-depth system, most people will need to spend more time practicing reading with them and learning the meanings than you would with Oracle cards. If you are a studious weirdo like me, studying the immense amounts of symbolism and meaning in each card is pure heaven. But don't let that discourage you if studying isn't a fun way for you to spend your free time. Even with a simple foundation of the basic meanings of the cards you can do great readings. Many decks come with a great guidebook so for those that have no desire to study the Tarot at all, you can simply read the card meanings from the book for each reading you do for yourself. 

The iconic Rider-Waite-Smith deck.



Oracle cards are a much more modern form of card divination than tarot. Designed specifically for fortune-telling, one of the earliest examples is the Lenormand deck, named after an infamous French fortune-teller. These cards had simple singular images of animals, people, and symbols that corresponded to normal playing cards. They were more popular than Tarot for a long time until the Rider-Waite-Smith deck re-ignited interest in Tarot across the world. Oracle cards became popular again with the New Age movement in the 90s and 2000s.

The stunning artwork from the Work Your Light Oracle cards

Like Tarot, Oracle cards come in a huge amount of themes. Angel, animal, and goddess Oracle cards have always been popular and Astrology and Witchcraft themed cards are in high demand right now. If you can think of a theme, someone has probably made an Oracle deck around it! Unlike Tarot, each Oracle card deck is a system of its own. The lack of history and structure that Tarot has gives authors and artists of Oracle card decks huge amounts of freedom to create cards in whatever way they feel like. There is no set number of cards, no suits, and no set meanings across different decks so each oracle card deck is a completely unique expression of the creator. What you can generally expect across the board when you buy Oracle cards is a set of cards and a guidebook that explains the meaning of each card. 

Oracle cards are great for people who want to dip a toe into the world of card divination because they tend to be simpler to understand and use for beginners. I'm a ride or die Tarot user but sometimes I want a quick and direct answer without being called out for all the unconscious patterns that I still haven't fully worked through (yep, Tarot is amazing for shadow work for this reason) and that's when I find that the right deck of Oracle cards can be really helpful. Because each Oracle deck is different, you get completely different guidance, messages, and advice with each deck so you can get a fresh perspective by working with a different set. Not every set of cards will be a fit for you and your interests so as I said in my guide to choosing your first Tarot deck, definitely make sure that the imagery and theme resonates so that you are drawn to use them.

Cosmic vibes: The lunar astrology based Moonology deck.



Hopefully this clears up any confusion about the difference between the two types of cards. Tarot has a set-structure, a depth of tradition and history, and will take more of a commitment to learn. Each set of Oracle cards are unique and can be used with the guidebook for simple messages with just one card. Whether one is better than the other is a subjective matter of personal taste so go for what works best for you and where you are at!

Happy Reading,



1 comment

  • B: April 26, 2023

    Thank you 🙏

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