• Erin

Tarot vs. Oracle Cards: What's the Difference?

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

One question I frequently receive is “what is the difference between tarot and oracle decks?” So, my friends, this one is for you!

Oracle decks tend to provide affirmations or thoughts on which to reflect.

Both decks are great for activating your interpretation. The major difference lies in uniformity and interpretation. Tarot decks are more structured while oracle decks are a bit more free flowing.

Tarot cards

Tarot decks have a rich history that is quite contested. I won’t delve into that here, but the tarot is technically devised of two decks: the major arcana and the minor arcana. In total, there are 78 cards. 22 cards comprise the major arcana that tell the story of the Fool’s Journey.

Usually major arcana will have a number displayed in roman numerals somewhere on the card. These numbers and associated cards are standard across all decks with very few delineations. The most common ‘difference’ that you may encounter is whether your chosen deck assigns the Strength Card and the Justice Card the value of 8 or 11.

Personally, I strongly prefer decks that assign Strength as 8 and Justice as 11 as that makes more sense for my purposes.

The minor arcana are the remaining 56 cards and resemble the cards in a playing deck. These are also called the pip cards (the number cards) and the court cards (the face cards). There are four suits, which are traditionally the pentacles, swords, wands and cups. Variations on the suits exist, but there are certain correspondences that carry through.

All the cards in a tarot deck have some standard interpretations. Of course, practitioners can extract additional meanings beyond the traditional interpretations based on the context of the cards in a given reading, but be very careful about what value you assign to a card as it can impact your accuracy over time!

If you are interested in learning more about the structure and associations found in tarot cards, please check out one of my classes.

Oracle cards

Where tarot decks are consistent, oracle decks are anything but. There is no standardization in number of cards, suits nor interpretation. Everything is at the discretion of the artist and what they wish to convey through their decks.

Generally, oracle decks will be highly stylized and inspirational in nature. Fairies, angels, gods and goddesses, animals and mythical creatures are common themes.

Oracle cards are usually meant to be affirmational or give you a message to meditate or reflect on, rather than any sort of prediction. While you do not need a reference book for tarot decks (assuming you understand the basics of the system), you will likely need the artist’s guidebook to interpret the full intention or meaning behind the cards in an oracle deck. Alternatively, you can go straight with your intuition and see how the card speak to you without the need to rely on traditional conventions.

In addition to tarot and oracle cards, there is another variation of cartomancy known as Lenormand cards. I'll cover this variation in a future post.

In short, while using a new tarot deck can be like discovering a new aspect of an old friend, getting to know a new oracle deck is akin to learning a new language. Either way, pick up a deck and connect with your intuition!

Which deck do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below!

In love & peace,


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