Tarot vs Oracle: Understanding the Difference
With so many different kinds of decks on the market, it can be difficult to know exactly
what you’re buying or even if it’s right for you. By and large, tarot decks follow a fixed system
and have been in use in various forms long before oracle decks came into being. If a deck calls
itself tarot, it should have 78 cards split into the 22 Major Arcana cards and the 56 Minor Arcana
cards. Each arcana should generally follow the same symbol and ordering system. Depending on
the author of a particular deck, one can expect some slight variation in the psychology and
artwork of the cards, but as you continue to use tarot decks you will become familiar with the
long tradition of interpretation behind each card and their meanings, which generally do not
deviate drastically from deck to deck.
Oracle decks, on the other hand, have no set tradition or structure. It is thought that the
first oracle deck came about in the early 1800s with the creation of the Lenormand Oracle Deck,
first used as a parlor game much like tarot was before it. Each author of an oracle deck is going
to have created it for its own unique purpose, personally deciding how many cards it will contain
and what kind of artwork, symbols, and wording (if any) will make up the deck. Like tarot cards,
an oracle deck should have an accompanying booklet to aid the reader in both use and
interpretation; however, unlike tarot decks, there is far more room for personal interpretation and
use with oracle decks. Because each deck is unique, there is no system to learn or interpretations
to memorize when familiarizing yourself with an oracle deck. For this reason, many people
choose oracle decks as their first set of divination cards to familiarize themselves with the
practice of cartomancy (fortune-telling or divination using a deck of cards) before delving deep
into rich tradition and literature of tarot decks.
Oracle decks can be used and created for a variety of purposes. Some decks will be a
series of daily affirmations to help guide our intentions. Some decks are made to pull one card a
day to help set a tone or theme for the day. Other decks are made to provide the reader with
thoughtful words and/or imagery for emotional reflection and insight. The diversity of oracle
decks available for purchase lends itself to an easier accessibility for those just entering the
practice and can be incredibly useful guides as well for more seasoned tarot card readers.
Furthermore, both tarot and oracle can be used in conjunction. Some individuals will pull a card
from an oracle deck before doing a tarot reading to see what kind of overarching theme the tarot
reading will have. Others will pull an oracle card after a tarot reading has been done to further
guide the recipient of the reading down the path that the tarot reading has just illuminated.
All in all, oracle decks are wonderful tools on their own for those of us seeking extra
guidance on our paths of inner wisdom and also serve as an inspiring supplement to a traditional
tarot deck. There is no “right or wrong” here to choose from, and if you find that oracle decks
speak more to you than a tarot deck, trusting that inner voice is going to help you progress
further than forcing yourself into something you don’t feel as connected to.