I’ve been a tarot reader for about twenty years now. Over the years, I've seen many new readers entering the space and a lot of the same questions being asked. The most common one I see is some variation of, "Are tarot cards and oracle cards the same thing?"
It's easy to figure out why this question gets asked so much. Tarot and oracle cards tend to live in the same section of the book store. Both are used for cartomancy (or divination with a deck of cards). Both can provide insight into one's past, present, and future. The same kinds of spreads can be done with both decks. There are even some oracle decks out there that are just the Major Arcana of the tarot separated from the rest of the deck.
Given how easily the line between the two gets blurred, it's sometimes difficult to tell if there actually is a difference between the two. Not only that, but when one goes to purchase a reading from a diviner, both tarot and oracle readers will use the same keywords in order to make sure their listing gets seen. This only further increases confusion for people.
So what is the difference between tarot cards and oracle cards? Is there even a difference? And if there is a difference, is one better than the other?
Let's find out together.
Believe it or not, the tarot deck as we know it today evolved from your standard set of playing cards and was originally used to play a variety of card games. The first recorded instance of the tarot deck wouldn't hit Europe until the mid-15th century in Italy. Eventually, new trump cards with various allegorical illustrations were added to the deck. Over time, these new cards would become what we now call the Major Arcana. At the time of their creation, however, this was not their intended purpose.
It wasn't until the 18th century that there began to be records of people utilizing tarot cards for divination. The Rider-Waite deck's publication in 1909 led to more people taking an interest in tarot, although it was hardly mainstream at the time of publication. During the hippie movement of the 1960s, people began to take an interest in more esoteric practices. The 1970s saw people creating their own artistic interpretations of the cards and more books on tarot hitting the market, while the 1980s and 1990s saw people turning to tarot for personal introspection and growth. Tarot cards have been fairly popular ever since.
Now that you know a little bit about the history of tarot cards, let's look at what a tarot deck actually is.
For the most part, a deck of tarot cards has a set structure. Each deck typically contains 78 cards, divided into 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Minor Arcana is further broken down by suit (Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles), all of which roughly correspond to the suits of a standard deck of playing cards.
The card meanings of the entire deck are fairly standardized. Once you’ve mastered one deck, you can essentially read any tarot deck you might come across. The reason for this is that the majority of the tarot decks on the market tend to be derivatives of the Rider-Waite deck. Some decks do like to be a bit different and may change the names of certain Major Arcana cards or the suits of the Minor Arcana to fit the deck theming, but the variations of that meaning typically hearken back to the Rider-Waite deck and include some of the same symbolism.
Where tarot decks have a long and rich history, oracle decks are a slightly more modern phenomenon and were designed specifically for fortune-telling from the moment of their creation. Oracle decks have become increasingly more popular in the modern day when people started taking an interest in the New Age movement in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Unlike tarot cards which tend to adhere to a set structure and a standard number of cards, oracle decks do not. Oracle decks do not have a set number of cards, and you can have decks that range anywhere from only 12 cards to something as complex as 100. There also isn’t a shared set of symbolism between decks. There might be some common elements if, for example, you have two decks that are themed around similar things, but for the most part, even similar-themed decks are as different from each other as they are from any other deck of oracle cards in existence.
In fact, there are only two similarities between an oracle deck and a tarot deck. The first is that both can be used for fortune-telling or guidance. The second is that when you buy them, both come with a set of cards and a guidebook. But that's about it.
Are tarot cards or oracle cards better?
Unfortunately, there isn't one answer to this question, and everyone is going to answer it a little bit differently. Some people find oracle cards more approachable than tarot due to the lack of a standardized structure. Others prefer the complex history and symbolism of the tarot. And there are others still that will use both tarot and oracle cards together in one reading.
In my opinion, tarot and oracle decks both have a place in cartomancy. Neither one is truly "better" than the other. The "best" deck is one that speaks to you personally.
So when next you're in a store and you find yourself staring at the shelves of tarot and oracle cards debating which kind to purchase, take some time to consider which feels more right for you. Don't think you need to pick up a deck of tarot cards because it’s what "every other diviner" might be doing. Choose whatever works for you.
Trust me. You will be happier for it.
About the Creator
A gamer, streamer, storyteller, and tarot reader.
Find me elsewhere online at https://beacons.ai/thyanel.
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Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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