The difference between Tarot and Oracle decks
By Stacey Sproule
There’s a question that surfaces every once in a while around the difference between tarot and oracle decks. Because I read and teach tarot I usually focus on answering the tarot side a little more but that’s not to say that oracle decks aren’t as valuable. On the contrary! They are just a different tool, and as there is no set format for oracle decks that means there is a lot of variance in what their applications are.
So I want to introduce you to some of my favourite oracle decks and the uses for them that I find most useful! But first- What’s the difference? So Tarot is a set system of 78 cards- 56 suit cards (which can vary slightly but the four suits represent that four elements and are some iteration of wands (fire) cups (water) swords (air) and pentacles (earth). And there are 22 Major arcana cards. Of course, within the deck, there are artistic changes, and evolving interpretations, but there is a generally agreed upon neighbourhood of meaning for each card that holds true across decks. So if you learn one deck, you can pick up any other deck and with reasonable knowledge understand it in a short amount of time. All decks are based on either the Rider Waite Smith deck, the Thoth deck or Marseilles decks, taking the stylistic and ordering cues from those decks.
Oracles are the wild west of decks. They come in many shapes and sizes, for a variety of purposes and applications and with a multitude of formats. The idea with oracle decks is to use the tool of chance and randomization to light up an idea, concept, or symbol and derive meaning from it and the synchronicities. Oracles are like a more robust magic 8 ball, or a poetic roulette wheel. There are overwhelming amounts of oracle decks but I’ve chosen a handful to talk about here.
So my most used, most treasured oracle deck is one that is relatively new to me – Kim Krans’s Archetype deck. This is a circular deck of 78 cards divided into 4 categories – People, places, tools, and initiations. The deck has an accompanying guidebook which is beautifully written and references music, art, and film with so many great rabbit holes to fall down and deepen your study of archetypes. What I find wonderful about this deck is that it is instantly insightful. It is written in a way that is not overly esoteric but still leaves space for interpretation, and the deck really makes you consider the variety of ways that archetypes are useful. I find this deck has really helped me to widen my perspective and reminds me to embrace the paradox.
*TIP- With any deck be it oracle or tarot, if you are using it on a regular basis it can be helpful to track your cards- that way you can start to see patterns emerge with your recurring characters and work with those concepts on a rolling on-going basis, rather than just a one and done sort of thing. (Read more about pulling the same card over and over again)
This is an older deck and I had never heard of it until someone gifted it to me. There is a little bit more learning that goes into using it but the book is quite helpful for framing the tool. The deck is split into planets, signs, and houses and it is based on astrology. So you pull a card from each category to receive a response to a question. Because I don’t use questions in my tarot practice this is a really helpful tool to come to with a question. It’s of course ambiguous but I think the reason we ask questions is not to receive a solid answer but to understand why we asked the question in the first place. I’ve always found this deck has revealed my secret intentions and hopes to me and has allowed me to temper my expectations of any situation. It’s also a great way to brush up on your astrology knowledge! Each card has a section of a sentence on it in three categories, Spiritual, Mental, and Physical and one half of the card will give you action and the other half is outcome. So reading from left to right each card a sentence will form. For example if I pulled Mars in Gemini in the 2nd House the Action sentences would be –
For Spiritual: Energize what you want to be known patiently
For Mental: Confront what is believed about what you want
And for Physical: Force yourself to use the quickest way and get what you want
This is a deck that is less known in esoteric circles and more known in music circles because it was written by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. What I love about Oblique Strategies is that it was specifically written to work with challenges in creativity, and music making but it is also very interesting when applied to life challenges because after all most problems require creative solutions. This deck is entirely text based so you are left to your own devices to interpret it but it truly is filled with creative wisdom. Some of my favourites include- “When faced with a choice, do both” and “the most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten” Even just pulling a card each day to use as a writing prompt would be a fantastic way to use this deck. This deck is also a huge influence on Phoebe in creating the Okay Oracle, which can be used in the very same way as oblique strategies.
So in really exploring the different formats oracle decks can take the Tessera is a fantastic example of thinking outside the box (or cards in this case) Tory’s deck is comprised of a growing number of enamel tessellating tiles that can be purchased as a full set, as a smaller collection, or as individuals. They can also be worn as talismans or amulets. Tory’s intention with the deck was to make truly universal symbols with no gendering, and no bodies, that was quick to learn, easy to work with and very flexible in application. The Tessera are all archetypal images with deep and varied meanings and have an open-ended quality to allow our imaginations to expand into further realms of wisdom. I also love the modular and portable nature of the Tessera, to be able to carry a symbol on your person is a powerful act – and it’s much harder to do with traditional cards without causing damage.
This is the oracle deck I’ve had the longest, and still holds a place in my heart. Written by Jamie Sams and illustrated by David Carson the deck uses animal wisdom from Jamie’s Cherokee heritage to teach about awareness and understanding our role in the grand scheme of things. I find that the animal symbolism is really potent in this deck and the guide book is very robust. Often I refer to it when I see consistent animal sightings and want to find meaning from these coincidences. Jamie’s deck has a multitude of applications and provides a framework for us to wake up in time and place. Because the knowledge contained in these cards is Indigenous in source I think its always important to make reference to where these ideas come from and to use the deck for personal use. I feel it is not appropriate for me as a white settler to benefit monetarily from the knowledge of Indigenous People, Indigenous knowledge is for Indigenous people to make their livelihood on.
What are the oracle decks you use? And do you use oracles differently than tarot in your own practice? I’d love to hear about it!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Stacey Sproule (she/her) is an artist, florist and tarot reader. She uses the tarot as a tool to help others see themselves clearly. Working with the stories and archetypes of the cards Stacey's process involves drawing in collective experience, seasonal wisdom, mindfulness philosophies, and the insights held in the unconscious. She teaches tarot as well. Stacey reads from the Wild Unknown deck and is based in Picton, ON.