What's the Difference Between a Tarot Deck and Oracle Cards?

What's the Difference Between Tarot and Oracle Cards - Gifts for Card Players

Working in a metaphysical store with one of the largest selections of card decks I have ever seen, I get asked this question a few times a week by tentative tarot-newcomers, who are either fascinated by them or subtly horrified - or both. 

It's intriguing to watch which cards people gravitate to. One can usually get a fair idea of their spiritual leanings and inner landscapes. Will be it fairies, unicorns or angels today? Shakti/Shiva or Quan Yin? Runes or iChing? Demons, animals, cosmic consciousness? The card universe runs the gambit.

"I need a deck for my neice you know, she's 15 and it can't be anything scary". Ah yes! The Good Tarot is a soft and beautiful excursion with absolutely no negative cards. 

"I'm looking for this deck that my roommate had a few years back. She got rid of it because she got scared that tarot was too 'witchy'". Too witchy I exclaim? No bother! Here's Doreen Virtue's Angel Tarot. No witches, and we harm none. 

"I'm looking for something real and dark. I'm sick of the new age stuff. I need gritty." Ah-ha, ever heard of Aleister Crowley? His Thoth Deck should do the trick.

I get a kick out of finding just the right deck for each appetite. But what's the difference between them all?

If you’ve been interested in reading cards or considered buying a card deck for divination, this question must have occurred to you - and it’s a good place to start. There are a mountain of decks out there so it’s no wonder people get confused. When just beginning to read cards, the sheer volume of options is intimidating at the outset.

The Main Difference Between Tarot and Oracle Cards

Tarot decks follow a definitive framework, whereas oracle cards are different from deck to deck. Oracle decks come in a wide variety of different topics and themes, with some having their own histories just as rich and mysterious as the tarot. But when comparing modern oracle and tarot decks, some general differences between the two are:

  • Tarot can be more challenging to learn than oracle decks, especially with older tarot decks. However, using tarot cards can bring good results when seeking guidance around complex life issues.

  • Oracle decks can be easier to learn, although some have occult systems and symbolic languages of their own. Oracle decks generally are good for daily guidance, single card readings, and positive affirmations.

Of course, there will be exceptions to the above points as they’re general observations. Still, they’re useful when navigating the tarot and oracle world for the first time. Let’s take a closer look at tarot and oracle decks separately.

What Even Are Tarot Cards?

Tarot is a system of divination using cards and therefore is a form of cartomancy (the end word “-mancy” is Greek for “divination by means of”). The most widely accepted theory around the tarot is that they originated as playing cards and were brought into Europe by Islamic soldiers and later on, were used as a form of divination by the French. Now, people read the cards like one would “read” a palm, tea leaves, or the clouds - any such thing that can help one see into the past, present, and future. Today, tarot is especially used for personal insight and psychological development. For the most part, people no longer use tarot to play card games, though there is occult significance for the game format that tarot takes.

Are All Tarot Decks the Same?

The short answer is yes and no. In one sense, all tarot decks are the same in that they follow a 78 card format, consisting of a major arcana (archetype cards) and a minor arcana (4 suits with pip and royalty cards). Most modern decks on the market are based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. With this iconic deck, he same symbolic language and card interpretations have been used and expanded upon for over 100 years. Because of these two factors, many tarot decks on the market today are essentially the same within varying degrees of artistry and interpretation.

However, this isn’t exactly the full story. Tarot has a rich history beyond the Waite-Smith deck, and there are of course other influential decks beyond this one. Generally speaking, tarot decks fall into 4 different categories: Marseille inspired decks (c. 16th century), Waite-Smith inspired decks, and Thoth inspired decks (Crowley) - and with the 4th category being for decks that follow their own system or universe entirely but still fall within the 78 card format (like the Osho Zen or the Voyager Tarot, for examples).

What Are Oracle Cards?

Oracle cards are also a form of cartomancy, like tarot, except structure wise they are much more free-flowing. Often times the messages are printed on the back of the oracle cards themselves. Oracle deck artwork is also more-or-less self-explanatory (and less steeped in occult symbolism like the tarot). Because of this, many feel that oracle cards are more accessible and easier to read. Oracle deck themes are surprisingly varied and wide-ranging and are usually organized around a specific topic or some type of spiritual tradition, like Shamanism, goddesses, Druidism, crystals, or chakras.

Many oracle decks out there are considered angel cards (which may be confusing, because they don’t always feature angels). More often than not they do, but they can also feature mythical creatures like mermaids, unicorns, and fairies - really anything that conveys the pure love and light that angels ultimately represent. However, these cards tend to be extremely positive in their messaging and don’t always have cards that represent life’s more challenging emotions, behaviours, and events.

Is that a problem? Absolutely not. People need different things at different times in their lives. One could argue that using angel cards frequently helps change your vibration by subconsciously changing your thoughts because, as per the Law of Attraction, your thoughts create your reality.

Obviously, you want to find a deck that resonates with you, that feels right, and that you enjoy using. Whether it be a tarot, oracle, or something in between, follow your desire and intuition when choosing a deck! It will never lead you astray. 

Can You Buy Your Own Oracle or Tarot Cards?

Of course you can! It’s unknown where this superstition originated, but that’s all it is - a superstition. If everyone who wanted to start reading tarot or oracle cards waited until someone gifted them a deck, then they would be waiting for their whole lives! Not only that but choosing decks is such a personal process. It’s highly unlikely the person buying the gift will choose the perfect deck for you. Only you know what’s good for you. Only you can decide.

We’ve Done the Shopping for You!

Here at Gifts for Mystics, we’ve lovingly curated a selection of tarot and oracle decks to make finding your spiritual tools an easier, more enjoyable experience. Whether you’re interested in tarot or oracle, modern or historic, your next deck is here waiting for you to discover!

by Chloe Traynor and Sky Bray