Tarot and Oracle Cards: What’s the Difference?

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Tarot and Oracle Cards: What’s the Difference?

If you’re delving into the world of divination, two things you’ve likely heard of are Tarot and Oracle Cards. Both are decks of cards with images on, both can be used for readings, but how are they used and what’s the difference? Here’s a quick rundown.

Let’s start with what’s similar:

The similarities 

Both the Tarot and Oracle decks are a form of oracle. An oracle is a tool used to aid divination, working via synchronicity or meaningful coincidence when used and read correctly by a practitioner.

Asside from Tarot and Oracle decks, other examples of oracles are rune stones, crystal balls and I –Ching (a form of Chinese oracle that uses coins). All oracles work using a system of symbology to access information that the subject is wanting to question.

The differences

Origin

Tarot is a lot older than modern oracle cards, dating back to 15th century Italy, whereas the oracle cards we most commonly see today came into popularity in Europe during the early 1900s. Oracle cards can be traced back to the 19th century in France where the first  deck is said to have been developed by Madame Lenormand.

Deck structure

Tarot has a traditional structure that runs through almost every deck, even if the artwork differs.

Packs of tarot typically consist of 78 cards: the Major Arcana - 22 cards which are considered the most significant in terms of meaning, and the Minor Arcana -  56 cards in four different suits: Wands, cups, swords and pentacles.

Whatever the imagery, tarot tends to share common messages and interpretations, usually derived from the Rider-Waite deck, the most popular and widely known Tarot across the globe.

While tarot has a rich history which over time and has formed a fixed system with associated rules, oracle cards are a bite more freestyle and fluid. There is no set number to an oracle deck, and they can be more diverse and unique in terms of theme and content.

The reading

Both Tarot and Oracle cards are ‘directive tools’ used for divination. However, while Tarot has a more rigid structure that needs to be learnt, oracle decks are a little more flexible.

Reading The Tarot

Tarot is a ‘fixed’ tool and has set meanings and ways to use it. As mentioned previously, each Tarot deck has: 78 cards: ( 22 Major Arcana, 56 Minor Arcana) and four suits.

Each tarot card has a standard meaning:

  • Major Arcana cards represent forces that are outside of our control.
  • Minor Arcana represent things within our ability to change.

Tarot has a variety of spreads (ways to set out the cards in a reading), which vary from simple 4 card spreads, to much larger ones for more experienced users. Examples include the 7 card Horseshoe Spread, the 10 card Celtic Cross and the 21 card Gypsy Spread.

In each spread, cards in certain locations will represent certain aspects of a person’s life, such as romance, finances, health and happiness and careers.

Cards are laid out face down and then the reader is asked a question. Cards are then turned over one by one and analysed individually. Once all cards have been revealed, their meanings are observed as a whole.

When turned over, the direction of the card influences its meaning.

  • If the card is facing the reader it’s a positive card.
  • If the design is upside down or reversed, it’s a negative card, representing conflict.

When looking at the overall spread, Major Arcana carry more weight than Minor Arcana, which are used to help clarify the bigger picture.

Reading Oracle Cards

As we’ve mentioned, oracle cards are a lot more flexible, both in the number of cards in the deck, their meanings and their design.

Oracle cards are not a fixed tool, generally, they’re used more as a way to offer guidance and provide clarity to things.  An oracle reading may help tease-out something the questioner might already know deep down, by giving an outside perspective.

Oracle cards can be used for a second opinion or for a different take on a subject, they could even be used in combination with Tarot.

Each oracle deck will differ from the next as the vocabulary and system the oracle deck operates on is dictated by the author. These rules are commonly called a Lexicon.

  • Some oracles work by reading a single card a day.
  • Some are ‘true divination systems’, performed with readings akin to The Tarot.
  • Some are cards used to help enable self-reflection and build emotional wisdom.
  • Some oracle card decks are affirmations.

Which is better?

No one divination system is better than the other. Mostly, it’s down to personal preference; what resonates most with and works for you.

Different types of divination tools such as tarot and oracle cards can be used together. For example, one method would be to draw an oracle card to understand an overall feeling or an influence on a situation (giving the ‘bigger picture’) and then to use a tarot reading with multiple cards to examine the situation in finer detail.

While Tarot Cards have a fixed system that can be studied and practised, oracle cards are more fluid which can make them more accessible to some people, while others might find Tarot's fixed system easier to navigate.

Oracle decks are abundant in variety, with many systems and designs to choose from, learn and collect. While a practised reader of the Tarot could pick up most tarot card decks and perform a reading once mastered.

Both Tarot and Oracle are printed in a variety of engaging artwork and designs nowadays, meaning there’s ample opportunity to find a set of cards that resonates with you.

There’s some very talented artists working together with publishers to print out a variety of eye-catching decks. If you’re just starting your divination journey and after your first deck, or an experienced reader, looking for a new set to add to your collection


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