Oracle Cards vs. Tarot Cards: The Difference

April 14, 2022

Tarot cards consist of 78 cards with two different sections: Major and Minor Arcana. Oracle cards offer a different perspective when used in readings. Both of these types of divination stem from the ancient art of cartomancy–let’s take a closer look at some of their roots, uses and practices.

Oracle Cards Definition

Oracle cards differentiate themselves from the standard Tarot deck in that their symbolism is often channeled through the artist or creator. While Tarot relies on 78 cards that use specific symbolism to tell a story, Oracle cards have varied meanings and uses—all depending on the deck.

“Oracle cards are a deck of cards that can be consulted any time we have a question that we would like additional insight into, advice on, or answers to,” Maria Marmanides, astrologer, Tarot reader and author of The One Card Tarot Journal, says. “Based on the keywords, symbols, images, and themes of the deck we are using, we can gain greater insight and access otherwise inaccessible information simply because of the Oracle card’s ability to help us see and understand what we couldn’t before.” 

Similar to Tarot, Oracle decks also offer us an opportunity to flex our psychic muscles and tap deeper into our intuition. “Oracle cards are a type of divination that helps the reader connect with their higher selves, spirit, and intuition through creative depictions, storytelling, and deep self analyses,” mystic mentor Crystal Michelle says. The variety of decks and art on Oracle decks offer a new lens of storytelling for us to receive intuitive insights and guidance. 

Tarot Cards Definition

Tarot cards are a set of 78 cards that are used for divination purposes. The deck is split up into two sections: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana.

Every card in the Major Arcana depicts karmic life lessons and challenges we experience throughout our lives. The messages from these cards can sometimes be seen as guidance from our spiritual team. An acknowledgment that we are about to embark on a life-changing journey.

The Minor Arcana cards represent more of our everyday situations, challenges, and celebrations that we experience here on Earth.

In Tarot, there are four suits: wands, cups, pentacles and swords. Wands are representative of fire, passion and action. Cups represent more of our emotional and internal processing. Pentacles signify earthly matters, material possessions, and work. While swords represent our mental faculties and communication.

Fun fact: Each Tarot card is also associated with an astrological placement or zodiac sign. For example, the Lovers card is associated with the sign Gemini.

The Difference

Tarot cards have a deep, mysterious history—there are reports they first showed up in Europe in the 14th century. Some believe they were invented in Italy during this time, based on the standard playing card deck. Others believe the deck has deeper origins and links to ancient Egypt, Iran, India and even the iChing.

Oracle cards are channeled by the creator of the deck. There is no particular rhyme or reason. Every single deck is unique. 

“Tarot cards tend to be more traditional and each suit has a specific meaning that stands true no matter the author of the deck,” Crystal Michelle says. “Tarot cards are structured, matter of fact, and foundational. When using Tarot cards, a reader can pretty much know quickly what direction a reading is going.”

Oracle cards offer a different experience. “Oracle cards on the other hand are much more free-flowing, creative, and supportive. Unlike Tarot cards, Oracle cards can have different meanings for each deck.” The theme of the deck is up to the creator, she adds, themes can vary from “plants, goddesses, animals, angels, and the list goes on. These creative themes give the reader space for intuitive interpretations of the divine messages.”

The history and structure are what set these two types of divination tools apart. “Tarot is where we get to interact with well-known archetypes of Death, The Lovers and The Tower, for example,” cosmic creatrix and astrologer Kasandra Martinez says. “Oracle cards on the other hand, don’t have any structured symbolism apart from what the creator of the oracle deck gives them. This opens up a whole new world of interpretation and symbolism for experienced and novice readers alike.”


How many cards in an oracle deck?

There is no set or standard number of cards in an oracle deck. Unlike Tarot’s traditional 78-card deck, Oracle cards are less structured and rigid. 

“Oracle cards are like Tarot cards in that they are both cartomancy tools, meaning using cards to divine meaning of past, present, or future events,” Maria Marmanides says. “Tarot cards are based on a 78-card system with both Major and Minor Arcana cards with traditional meanings. Oracle cards, however, are more up to the individual creator’s discretion in terms of number of cards, as well as the symbols, artwork and other imagery.”

These divination tools can also offer us different insights. “Typically, Tarot cards shed light on underlying psychological or emotional energy,” she says, adding, “Oracle Cards can be used for much more direct, clear-cut, yes/no kinds of questions and advice.”

What is an oracle reading?

Oracle readings offer us intuitive insight into a current question we are grappling with. Their layers of varied and unique symbolism also help us interact with our intuition in a new way. “Much like a Tarot reading, Oracle card readings only require that we come with a heartfelt question we’d like an answer to and an open mind to receiving the answer from our Spirit Guides,” Marmanides says. “After meditating on the question we want clarity on, we shuffle the deck, draw a card, and let the wisdom of the Universe wash over us.”

Working with Oracle decks also draws on your immediate senses and reactions to the symbolism. Where in Tarot, we’re translating historical symbolism, Oracle cards offer a more personal lens for our intuition. “When connecting to spirit with oracle cards the reader relies on their trust of their intuition to help translate the messages coming through from the cards,” Crystal Michelle says. “These messages can be translated by sensing the energy from each card, how the reader is feeling internally, and using one’s senses. Oracle cards are a great tool to deepen the connection and trust in our intuition.”

If you’re looking to start a relationship with an Oracle deck, starting with grounding or meditation practices can be incredibly helpful, Kasandra Martinez says. “I personally start my Oracle readings with some meditation first, just to tap into my psychic gifts. From there I like to shuffle while I hold my personal questions or my client’s questions in my mind. I pay attention to my thoughts and feelings, jumper cards (the ones that pop out while you shuffle!) and use the imagery on the cards to guide my intuition. I try to allow whatever comes to mind to flow out and not judge or second guess my instincts. From there it really is incredible the kinds of messages that can come through!” 

Related Articles:

Gemini Tarot Cards: The Lovers and More

Tarot Card Symbols: Imagery, Suits, Hidden Symbols

List of All Tarot Cards in Order