Which is better, a tarot or oracle deck? Maybe you could use both? We’re examining the pros and cons of each system. Both kinds of decks are used for near enough the same purposes: for divining energetic influences, spiritual development, and examining life situations. Both offer insights and guidance. Both have the capacity to shed light on the past, present or future. So which should you choose? A tarot or oracle deck?
The Differences Between Tarot and Oracle Decks
The main difference between tarot cards and oracle cards is that tarot has a structure or framework built in to it. Oracle cards are usually free form, or have a structure according to the deck creator’s vision and the theme of the deck.
Without going into too much detail, there are 78 tarot cards divided into two sections: the 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana. The Minors are split into four suits, and each suit represents a journey through the element that it represents. So, for example, the suit of Cups describes a journey through the realms of emotions, feelings, love, relationships; and everything connected to those. The Major Arcana represent levels of spiritual development and lessons we learn throughout life.
Oracle decks don’t have a built-in structure unless the person who created the deck assigned it one. Whereas tarot decks tend to follow the same system and patterns. Oracle decks don’t.
Learning Tarot vs Learning an Oracle Deck
Studying tarot in order to be able to read the cards fluently is a full-blown commitment. It requires hours of focus and practice. You absorb the meanings of the cards on two levels: what you see and what you feel. Combining the two is tricky sometimes, and although anyone can learn the tarot, you do need a certain aptitude to become an accurate reader.
On the other hand, you can pick up an oracle deck and start reading with it straight away. Often they have their meanings printed right on them. In some cases, the reader has to look the meanings up in an accompanying book. And, of course, it’s possible to learn a a more complex oracle system inside out. However, it’s usually impossible to transfer your knowledge of one oracle system to another as they are all so different.
Different Types of Tarot Decks
Once you learn tarot (and it is a lifelong process; you never really stop learning) you can generally use different decks, as long as they are based on the same structure. There are some outliers which don’t conform to the usual system. Examples of those are:
- The Elemental Tarot
- The William Blake Tarot
- The Shakespearian Tarot
There are also some decks which do conform somewhat, but bring in concepts personal to their creator (writer and/or artist). Examples are:
- The Osho Zen
- The Sacred Circle
- The Voyager Tarot
- The Celtic Wisdom Tarot
A reader who wanted to read accurately with those decks, and there are many others also, would have to either override the deck’s unique qualities with what they have learned with more traditional decks. Or they would have to simply immerse themselves in that particular deck/system. In some cases, those decks are able to combine tarot and oracle together. And after all, tarot itself, could be thought of as a complex oracle system.
How Oracle Decks Work
Oracle decks are unique to their creators. There is no overall structure, so to use an oracle deck effectively, a reader would have to learn that particular system. Some are extraordinarily complex. Yet others are far more simple; often there is nothing to learn because the meanings of the cards are printed on them and all the reader has to do is expand on them and relate them to the seeker’s life situation or question. Examples of widely varying oracle decks are:
- The Moon Oracle (72 cards), based on lunar astrology and moon phases. Would be useful to have some prior knowledge of astrology.
- The Celtic Tree Oracle (25 cards), based on an interpretation of a Druid Ogham alphabet and species of trees. Complex and difficult to learn. Would require further study to really get the best out of it.
- The Power of Surrender Cards (52 cards), no prior knowledge or further study required. It’s complete in itself. There are many similar decks to this one, such as Angel Oracle cards.
- The Druid Animal Oracle (33 cards), another Druid-themed deck, but this one is much easier to learn. The accompanying book contains the interpretations in full.
Themed Tarot Decks
As more and more tarot decks are created, they tend to have certain themes and concepts, which can enhance or support their interpretation. After all, how many redrawings of the Rider-Waite can we take? It has to be said that some are downright annoying, but we won’t mention those.
Types of themes are cats, children, dragons, Christianity and other religions, Arthurian legend, crystals, astrology, paganism, witchcraft, mythology, and even housewives (and that’s a mythical concept, right there). Themed tarot decks are useful when matching a deck with the seeker’s personality and interests. Examples of themed tarot decks:
- The Mythic Tarot
- The Witches Tarot
- Tarot de los Duendes, based on fairies.
- Angel Tarot, not to be confused with the Angel Oracle
Generally speaking, if you have a basic grounding in tarot, you will be able to easily transfer your knowledge to any themed deck as long as it follows the conventional system.
So What Should You Choose? An Oracle or Tarot Deck?
If you are serious about reading the cards, you should probably choose a tarot deck, first and foremost. Learning the structure and symbolism of tarot permeates your whole life. However, if time is limited and you can’t devote hours to study, but still want to read cards, then an oracle deck is fine. Choose one carefully, based on your own personal preferences.
Which do you prefer and why?