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Tarot Cards vs Oracle Cards: What Makes Them Different?

Updated: Jan 8

When I first ventured into the world of spiritual readings, I had no idea that tarot cards were different from oracle cards. To me, they were all cards with pretty pictures each giving a different message.

It was only when I started exploring shamanism that I became aware that tarot cards were completely different from oracle cards. This didn’t mean one was better than the other but they each play unique roles when being used for readings.

When I started doing spiritual readings seven years ago, I began with both tarot and oracle cards. I found they complemented each other whenever I did a reading for a client. If you’re trying to decide which deck to get, read on and find out more about the two types of cards. I will also share my favorite tarot and oracle cards with you.

What’s the Difference Between Tarot Cards and Oracle Cards?

Tarot has been around for a very long time! Since ancient Egypt in fact, if not before. During the Middle Ages, tarot was used as a divinatory tool for predicting the future and tapping into the “mystery” of the spiritual world.

Traditionally, tarot cards are made up of 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. Sometimes, a tarot deck may have a few more to make them unique but most times you can expect to find 78 cards in a typical tarot deck.

Each card portrays a picture with its own message. While different decks may use different imagery, the same theme runs through each tarot deck. Tarot card readings use various spreads to interpret the messages of the cards pulled. Altogether, you can create a “story” behind the question being asked.

Oracle cards, on the other hand, can have as many cards as the designer chooses there to be in a deck. You may find one deck contains 100 cards while another deck may only have 22 cards. There’s no common theme running through the deck of oracles.

People will often use oracle cards to pull an inspirational message every day. However, you can also use different spread layouts to interpret the messages of each card pulled depending on where they fall in the spread.

Other ways that make the two decks different are:

  • Tarot cards are normally smaller than oracle cards.

  • Oracle cards often include keywords and short definitions or interpretations of the particular card.

  • Tarot cards are representations of psychological archetypes and certain attitudes of a person.

  • Tarot cards follow a structure and the Minor Arcana cards are divided into four different suits. The Major Arcana cards follow a story format known as the Fool’s Journey.

Can I Use Tarot and Oracle Cards Together?

I like to use both decks in reading but I use the tarot cards to give me the full picture of a situation while I use an oracle card to end off a reading with something inspirational. Most times, the oracle card sums up the story presented in the tarot card reading! Should I be surprised?

Sometimes, I will use one set of tarot cards to give me a generalized impression of the person asking the question then switch over to another deck of tarot cards to get answers on a relationship. At one point, I was only using Oracle cards for readings as they resonated deeply with me and my business at the time.

Tarot Cards vs Oracle Cards: How to Pick The Right Deck of Cards For You

With so many different decks of tarot and oracle cards available, you may be left feeling a bit overwhelmed. It really depends on what you want the cards for. If it’s to do in-depth self-reflection and exploration of yourself, tarot cards are perfect for this purpose.

Tarot has more structure and some users, may find this difficult to grasp initially. However, I always encourage everyone to give the tarot a go and take the time to explore it. I use tarot cards to help my clients who are doing inner work.

I prefer to stay away from “future/fortune-telling” and instead use the tarot deck to get to the bottom of what makes a person tick.

Oracle cards are great for daily inspiration and can also be used to help a person gain more spiritual and emotional insight. With oracle cards, there are fewer “rules” to follow and rely a lot on your intuitive insight. However, I do also use my intuition when reading tarot.

I always say go with your “gut feeling” when picking a deck of cards for spiritual readings. While learning the tarot did take time, I enjoyed the experience. I certainly found oracle cards easier to use at the beginning but I did start with tarot first.

From the perspective of getting the “whole” picture or story, I find tarot is better. However, I love the oracle deck of cards for quick insights into a situation and for whenever I need some inspiration and hope.

My Favorite Tarot and Oracle Cards

Here’s a list of my favorite cards, both tarot and oracle cards.

Osho Zen Tarot: The Transcendental Game of Zen

My first deck was the Osho Zen Tarot: The Transcendental Game of Zen. I was introduced to this deck when I went for my first spiritual reading many years ago. I fell in love with the imagery and how it mirrored what was happening within me.

To this day, I use this tarot deck with all my clients undertaking their inner journeys.

Medicine Cards – Jamie Sams and David Carson

When we explored totem animals in our shamanism course, our teacher told us about this deck of oracle cards. These beautiful cards each represent the spiritual medicine or message of an animal.

There are 52 animals in each deck. The creators of this deck intend to help people explore their connection with Mother Earth and all of her creatures.

Using the Wisdom of Trees Oracle – Jane Struthers

When I started giving readings to people, I called my business “The Journey Tree”. I strongly believed in the magical and mystical energies of the trees and wanted to convey this to others.

Imagine my excitement when I came across this wonderful deck of oracle cards. It’s made up of 40 cards and each is beautifully illustrated with a tree. They are divided into four suits focusing on a specific area of a person’s life.

The Mythic Tarot – Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene

I was gifted this deck of tarot cards by a very special lady. Based on the Rider-Waite imagery, it took me quite some time to get into the pictures and interpret the messages.

While they follow the typical structure and common theme of the tarot deck, I love the additional divinatory messages given for each card. I often use this deck when dealing with relationship-type questions.

Final Thoughts

Both tarot and oracle cards are a wonderful way to explore your deeper self. They can give you clarity, ease anxiety around a stressful situation, and help you unpack limiting aspects of yourself. You can certainly use them to give you a sense of what’s ahead but I rather encourage readers to use them to understand themselves on a deeper level.

There are distinct differences between the two decks. If you’re nervous about starting with tarot, then pick a set of oracle cards that resonate with you. Once you gain some more confidence using cards then you can venture into tarot cards.

But, I do find using both types is a fantastic tool to empower myself and others to grow and transform one’s life for the better.

This post was originally published on March 11th, 2021, and updated on June 24th, 2022.

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