Throughout history, humans have sought ways to connect with the divine and seek guidance from a higher power. One of the most popular methods of divination and affirmation is through the use of cards, specifically oracle and tarot cards. While both types of card decks are directive tools that may serve a similar purpose, there are distinct differences between the two.
Depending on your point of view, for some people tarot cards can be more direct and confronting than many oracle decks. However, one thing all decks have in common is that they’ve been used by various cultures and spiritual traditions for centuries, with tarot being much older than oracle cards. They both can act as a compass during times of transition, when guidance is needed, or when it’s time for connection and pause within. Both oracle and tarot cards offer allegorical interpretations for questions, desires, intentions, dreams, dilemmas, or specific life events while serving as a guiding light for clarity and understanding.
As various card decks continue to gain increasing popularity, it’s helpful to know what to look for and how to discern between what you do and don’t resonate with.
Oracle cards are not a fixed tool like tarot cards, as there’s no set number of cards, specific themes, or necessary spreads one must use. The maker of an oracle deck generally creates the meaning through the words, intentions, and art used. Which can then be used as a tool for guidance, clarity, self-reflection, personal growth, and deeper connection with your intuition. In other words, they are less predictive and more directive, and tend to be more accessible and versatile than tarot.
The most common style of oracle cards we see today is said to have appeared in France in the 19th century, with the first oracle deck designed and developed by a French fortune teller, Madame Lenormand for divination purposes. Because of their accessibility, oracle decks became a popular choice long after the birth of tarot.
A powerful oracle deck will have a sense of cohesiveness and depth throughout, offering the user deeper connection and clarity. It may even offer its own style or technique for clearer readings. For example, each card in The Moon Deck has a write-up and ritual attached to it, so it prompts action and accountability in your own development and healing.
Oracle decks can be less traditionally archetypal than tarot, with the illustrations and words combined taking on a life of their own. They can come in all shapes and sizes, function in various ways, and carry different purposes. Oracle cards often come with a guidebook to help deepen the meaning of the messages and guide you to more effectively learn and interpret the insights.
An oracle deck is a tool for receiving messages and insight from a higher power (or your spirit guides, ancestors, or intuition), and can provide guidance on any aspect of life - such as relationships, career, and personal growth. They can be used for reflection and meditation, intuitive learning, and tarot-inspired spreads.
Pronounced ‘teh-row’, tarot cards have a more structured and defined set of rules than oracle cards. They’re more fixed when it comes to the standard meanings of the cards with their respective symbols, and which spreads to use for interpretation.
It’s said that the tarot was originally created in the 15th century in Italy as a card game, and was later adopted by occultists and astrologers as a tool for divination. However, there is also some speculation that they may have originated in or were influenced by other parts of the world. One of the most popular ‘newer’ tarot decks (compared to its origins), is the Rider-Waite deck from 1909. It was illustrated by a female artist, Pamela Colman Smith, who was commissioned and whose name was only learned in later years. This particular tarot deck was created with the intention for divination and paved the way for many newer decks.
A traditional tarot deck is classically 78 cards divided into two sections: the Minor Arcana and Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana is comprised of 56 cards divided into four suits, similar to a standard deck of playing cards (wands, swords, cups, pentacles). These cards speak to a person’s daily life story from their past, present, and future - and represent a different element or aspect such as emotions, intellect, or material possessions. The Major Arcana contains 22 stand-alone cards that represent strong archetypes and guides playing significant roles in the recipient’s life (themes such as The Fool, The Magician, and The High Priestess)
With the tarot, the reader shuffles the deck and draws cards in a specific spread or layout, with great significance given to the position, suit, image, and relationship between the cards.
SO, WHAT'S THE VERDICT?
While both oracle and tarot cards can provide valuable insights and guidance, they have different strengths and uses. So, it’s really up to you to decide which one you want to explore and add to your library. Some collectors want them all.
Keep in mind that either card set will not necessarily show you the future, but instead help you to understand your current perceptions and experiences, and help you pivot or adjust accordingly.
Remember - oracle cards are typically more flexible and can be used intuitively. They’re also more accessible to beginners as they do not require any specific knowledge or experience. Tarot cards, on the other hand, can be more difficult to learn, require more practice and study, and have a more structured approach. Both can provide a deeper level of insight and reveal hidden aspects of a situation for more direction and understanding.
One last side note, to crush some superstition. Gifting yourself a deck is not ‘bad luck’. It’s true, receiving or giving a deck is an auspicious and special gift. But if you’re feeling a strong pull towards a deck of cards, sit with the feeling. If you’re feeling a clear yes, go for it. Imagine all the things in life you opened the door to when listening to your intuition. An entire world opened up, didn’t it?
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