Whether you’re simply looking for spiritual guidance or want to give psychic readings, oracle decks and tarot cards are two types of divination tool that can come in handy. But there are differences that make each one suited for different reading tasks.
In this post, we’ll explore the difference between oracle cards and tarot cards, and how to make the right choice in any given reading along your spiritual journey.
Tarot Cards: A History
Tarot cards have a rich history. The origin of the tarot is uncertain, but most historians believe they likely emerged in 15th century Italy or possibly France. Beginning as humble playing cards, the tarot evolved into a tool used for divination–seeking knowledge of the future and a the higher power–and for self-discovery and spiritual-growth.
The tarot deck as we know it today is called Rider Waite tarot, or sometimes, the Smith Waite tarot to give recognition to the artist, Pamela Colman Smith, who illustrated the deck in the early 1900s. (Rider was just the guy who commissioned the deck.)
The original Smith-Waite deck has a specific structure and consists of 78 cards, divided into two main sections, the Major Arcana–which is 22 trump cards–and the Minor Arcana, consisting of 56 cards in 4 different suits.
Traditional Structure of the Standard Tarot Deck
These 78 cards within the traditional tarot deck each has a picture which is meant to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. Each card includes imagery and symbolism to help the reader understand this “Fool’s Journey” as the path through the tarot is often called.
Meaning of the Cards: Major Arcana Cards
The Major Arcana has 22 cards, which represent major life events, spiritual lessons, and significant milestones on a person’s spiritual path. It begins with the Fool, innocent and excited, taking their first steps in this journey, and culminates with the World, card 22, a card of wisdom and spiritual understanding. A tarot reading with a strong presence of Major Arcana cards often shows a period of profound transformation and spiritual growth through significant life events.
Notable Cards in the Major Arcana
While I won’t cover every single card here, I do want to comment on a few.
For example, the Magician is the master of manifestation, with all the spiritual tools on his table to bring into creation that which he wants. The High Priestess is the epitome of internal knowing and feminine intuition.
The Emperor and Empress are the peak of masculine and feminine power, respectively. And the Devil shows a temptation that has to potential to keep you at a lower frequency.
The Tower and the Death card are often the most feared, representing something crumbling down that you must rebuild and the end of something, respectively.
Each card has a distinct energy, inviting people to explore the depths of their consciousness and confront the truth.
RELATED ARTICLE: The 10 Worst Tarot Cards to Draw in Any Reading
Minor Arcana Cards
The 56 minor arcana cards are divided into 4 suits: Cups, Swords, Pentacles, and Wands. (Sometimes they have different names, for example, Pentacles might be Coins or Disks, and Wands might be called Rods.)
The Cups suit is related to water and helps display things that may be happening within our emotions. Swords (air) is known as the mental suit, often displaying the worries and toil we carry on a mental level. Pentacles (earth) represents material things such as wealth and abundance, and Wands (fire) is representative of our drive and energy.
Unlike the major spiritual aspects of the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana cards focus on details of everyday life. When a majority of cards in a reading are minor arcana, it might suggest that this is a period of spiritual rest or that there is a higher focus on your day to day activities and life.
The minor arcana suits are also separated into 1-10 numbered cards as well as “court cards,” which are often representative of people in your life or archetypes which you are meant to embody.
READ MORE: 20 Best Tarot Decks for Beginners
Types of Decks: Tarot
While the Smith-Waite is seen as the standard or traditional tarot card deck, there are many other tarot decks that may or may not be based on its 78-card structure.
For example, I have a 62 card tarot deck with both Major and Minor arcana that is complete removed from the Smith-Waite structure but that has its own “Fool’s Journey”. I have another 84-card deck that is based on the Smith-Waite but does not have any court cards.
Different decks are good for different readings depending on the needs of the individual you are reading for.
Check out these reviews of my favorite tarot decks:
Tarot Card Readings
Reading tarot is a highly personal and spiritual practice, and it is often seen as a conversation with the cosmos or with Spirit. While each person practices their own unique way, a tarot reading usually consists of choosing a deck of cards and selecting from any number of card spreads, like the Celtic Cross, single card, or past-present-future spread.
The interpretation of the cards is a balance between the universal symbolism embedded in the cards by the artist and the intuition of the card reader. You may hear tarot readers say they read “intuitively,” which means that in any given circumstance, a card may take on a different meaning from that of the card’s traditional symbolism.
The purpose of a tarot reading is not to provide foolproof answers to a person’s questions, but rather to provide guidance, reflection, and insights into the energies that are present in that situation. Tarot card reading may empower people to make informed decisions, gain clarity, and navigate life’s challenges a little more mindfully.
A journey with tarot is a journey of personal growth.
Oracle Cards: A History
Oracle cards are quite different from tarot, both in their history and their structure. Where tarot has a set structure and began as playing cards, oracle decks emerged in the 20th century as tools of divination. There is no set number of cards for an oracle card deck–the number of cards in a deck may vary from 10 cards to upwards of 60 or more. Oracle decks come in a variety of forms and frequently use a common theme, inspired by ancient mythologies or archetypes, or specific themes like animals, crystals, or feathers. Angel cards grew in popularity in the 90s thanks to the oracle creator Doreen Virtue (and Radleigh Valentine).
Because oracle cards have less structure, this has both benefits and hindrances when doing an oracle reading.
Check out reviews of my favorite Oracle Decks:
An oracle reading is similar to a tarot reading in that it is meant to give the individual a better understanding of a situation–often providing insights and helping a person navigate life’s challenges more mindfully.
While you certainly can use a tarot spread for an oracle reading, typically reading with oracle decks can get more fluid. Oracle readers will often pull cards as they feel is fit for the situation, regardless of a spread or set structure.
Due to the nature of their themes, oracle decks can get very specific and offer excellent advice on specific situations when the reader chooses the right deck. Often, they will do this intuitively.
But an oracle deck that is more specific may not be the best choice for a general life reading, because it may not offer enough cards to really get a good picture of the current life situation.
In this case, oracle decks are often used in conjunction with, or as complement for, a more structured tarot reading.
READ MORE: 20 Best Oracle Decks for Beginners
Summing Up: Tarot and Oracle Similarities
Both tarot and oracle are great tools to help you navigate life’s challenges and work on your personal growth and development.
Both decks of cards are designed to be divination tools which you can use with anything from a simple spread to a more complex spread like a horseshoe spread or Celtic cross.
Both tarot and oracle can be a great way to answer specific questions you have about the current energies surrounding your life.
READ MORE: The Best 14 Tarot Tips for Beginners
Summing Up: Tarot and Oracle Differences
But tarot and oracle are different in ways that should be taken into consideration for a reading.
The main difference is the structure: tarot is most commonly a structured system of 78 cards whereas oracle cards are much more fluid and varied. The types of card decks are widely varied, and oracle card meanings can be very specific.
Where tarot is more comprehensive and better for general readings, you can get incredibly detailed with oracle decks.
Oracle vs. Tarot Cards: Choosing a Deck
The bottom line is that these spiritual practices vary, and it is often a matter of personal preference whether you want to use a tarot deck or oracle deck for a reading.
It is common practice to use a combination of tarot and oracle in any given reading in order to get both a big picture view and details. Also, the reader may shuffle and cleanse a variety of decks and wait until just before they pull cards to see which deck speaks to them intuitively.
But the use of cards for divination purposes is a very personal choice, so you have to weight these options for yourself. Talk to your spirit guides and get a second opinion if you’d like! There is no right or wrong, as long as you follow your intuition and your heart is in the right place!
There are many different types of cards and decks, and there is no right or wrong answer when choosing what deck to work with. But the difference between oracle cards and tarot is pretty clear: tarot is far more structured and while each deck varies in artwork, the underlying symbolism remains the same.
Oracle decks, on the other hand, give a much wider variety and structure depending on their theme but each deck can be used for much more specific situations.
Regardless of your personal preference, you have a wide selection of card decks available to aid you on your journey in divination and reading for spiritual growth.
READ MORE: The Best Books for Spiritual Enlightenment