What’s the difference between Tarot Cards and Oracle cards?
One of the most common questions I see in the online tarot community is: What is the difference between tarot cards and oracle cards? This article will define the difference between tarot and oracle cards. It will also include a couple of other commonly used card types that you might not know about yet!
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What Are Tarot Cards?
Most tarot card decks follow a very strict layout. The artwork in different tarot decks and representations of the specific cards can vary greatly from deck to deck. Even if a tarot deck is visually unique, it will contain the following:
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana generally consists of 22 cards, numbered from 0-21. Some decks, like Dreams of Gaia Tarot, feature additional Major Arcana cards. These decks are sometimes referred to as non-traditional tarot.
There are decks that only include cards from the Major Arcana and not the Minor Arcana.<– As a reader, I can honestly say reading with this sort of deck makes EVERYTHING DRAMATIC, like typing with all caps. Even though there are some gorgeous Majors only decks out there, I generally don’t use them for my day-to-day client readings. Why?
Because tarot cards in the Major Arcana represent monumental life changes, growth and development of the person on a profound level, and circumstances or events that will change the way a person thinks.
The Zero (0) card in the Major Arcana is the Fool, and some (myself included) refer to the Major Arcana as the “Fool’s Journey” because it is so strongly related to the evolution of a person—from pre-birth to death, and beyond!
The Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana consists of four suits that are based on the elements, Earth, Fire, Water, Air. Most traditional decks use Pentacles to represent the Element, Earth; Wands to represent the Element, Fire; Cups to represent the Element, Water; and Swords to represent the Element, air. Some non-traditional decks label the Elements differently, using things like Mirrors for Cups or Stones for Earth. Ultimately, though, a full, traditional tarot deck would include four minor suits.
The Minor Arcana contains cards numbered from 1-10 for each of the suits, and also four court cards for each suit: Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings (or some variation thereof).
The Minor Arcana in tarot represents more day-to-day issues that come up in a person’s life, from finding new love to gaining confidence and feeling strong, secure, and independent. Even though these topics are important in a person’s life, they are still on a different level than those represented by the Major Arcana.
So, basically put, a classic tarot deck contains 78 cards: 22 from the Major Arcana and 56 from the Minor Arcana. Some non-traditional decks have a slight variation from this theme, which can include additional Major Arcana cards. There are also decks that represent the elements with different symbols than the traditional Pentacles, Wands, Cups, and Swords. I’ve even seen tarot decks that include a suit for ether, which is the 5th element in some earth-based belief systems.
Different Artists and Deck Creators Can Interpret The Cards Very Differently
One thing to note is there are many different artistic interpretations of tarot and each individual card. Some of the decks are distinctly different from other decks, visually.
You can find everything from Hello Kitty inspired tarot decks to Zombie Tarot decks online. Some decks, like the Wildwood tarot are influenced by pagan, earth-based beliefs and traditions, while others, like the Wild Unknown are earthy, yet abstract in a way and artistic.
One of my absolute favorites, the Mary El Tarot, is much more artistic and a little darker than some more well-known or popular decks, but I can tell you it is a stunning deck with a wealth of good, thought-provoking information in the White Book (the book that goes along with the tarot deck and is written by the author and creator of the tarot deck).
So, even if all of the decks mentioned above are adhere to the classic layout of a tarot deck (78 cards, Major and Minor Arcana, 4 suits), they might look much different from each other. They are still tarot decks, though.
Hybrid Tarot/Oracle Card Decks
There is at least one deck I know that is a mix of tarot and oracle cards. It’s called the Psychic Tarot Oracle Deck.
It doesn’t contain all of the cards associated with a classic tarot deck; it doesn’t have the court cards. What it does include, though, is 12 Chakra-based cards that you can use in a variety of different ways within your reading. So, it does have 78 cards, but it is not a traditional tarot deck.
Now that you see the structure of tarot card decks, you have a good point of comparison for Oracle cards.
What are Oracle Cards?
Oracle cards are decks of cards that really don’t have a set number of cards or structure of any sort. There are Oracle decks that consist of only colored cards (link to Color Oracle deck), with no words or pictures. Other Oracle decks have cards with symbols, pictures, or whole phrases (Gabby Bernstein).
Most Oracle decks focus on a theme, like angels, crystals, colors, plants, or even a looser theme but all similar artwork, like The Sacred Rebels Oracle Deck, one of my favorites to use.
Some decks, like the Soul Cards, don’t even come with a book that lists the potential meanings of the cards. The cards in the Soul Card decks are read 100% intuitively.
Both Tarot and Oracle card decks can be used with clients and can be laid out in a variety of different patterns, called spreads, which are used to look into a person’s life and psyche.
There are other types of decks people use for divination and introspection. Two of the more popular types are Lenormand cards and Kipper cards.
I’ve used Lenormand decks, but not Kipper, so I’m basing my writeup about the differences between Lenormand and Kipper cards on a discussion forum I read here:
To summarize, both decks most often have 36 cards and talk about more common, day-to-day issues and concerns. It seems as if the Lenormand cards take a broader world view for the client while the Kipper cards are “more thorough in regard to personal motivations and expectations, character traits….“
While some people might assume all decks used in cartomancy are the same, there are several differences between oracle and tarot cards. Tarot decks have a very specific format while oracle cards are much more free-style. Tarot decks almost always have 78 cards while oracle decks are free to include as many or as few cards as the creator would like to include. While some decks could be considered to be hybrid decks, like the Psychic Tarot Oracle deck, most are pretty distinctly different. You can use either a tarot deck or an oracle deck to get a great reading, though – or even combine the two!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on tarot versus oracle cards. Feel free to comment below!