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Home > Blog > Tarot Card Readings: Oracle Cards vs. Tarot Cards
Oracle Cards

Tarot Card Readings: Oracle Cards vs. Tarot Cards

More popular now then ever are “oracle” cards, also called “message” cards, streamlined fortunetelling decks less complex than Tarot cards and easier to use and read.

A Tarot deck has 78 cards. Oracle cards have as few as 22. Oracle cards usually have pretty images, but not the complex symbolism that images on Tarot cards do. Many oracle cards have their meanings printed right on them; Tarot cards don’t. Like Tarot cards, oracle card decks often have themes, but oracle cards have more playful or faddish themes: angels, animals, goddesses, Native American symbols, King Arthur cards, Psychic Tarot (which is an oracle, not Tarot), the phases of the Moon, and crystal healing cards, to name a few.

Tarot Cards

More accessible than Tarot cards, oracle cards are gaining in popularity. An oracle-card reader seems like a Tarot card reader – although oracle readers are almost never professionals but amateurs. Occasionally a professional Tarot reader will have an oracle as a back-up deck or a novelty. Oracle-card readers I know say that people they read for are delighted that the cards are spot-on and very satisfying.

Oracle cards can be good for answering quick and non-consequential questions. I can ask my Totem Animal oracle “What kind of day will I have today?” Then I shuffle, and pull one card. Let’s say I’ve pulled the Turtle card. In case I am unsure about what a turtle symbolizes, the card might be printed with advice to think first and act later, or to expect slow but steady progress. There – I have my message for the day in 15 seconds, and it did not require me to think.

Tarot Cards

Can I Get a Full Reading?

There is no “classic” method for reading oracle cards, although methods might be packaged with certain brands of oracle decks. If I ask about my future and pull up The Wolf, The Horse, and the Turtle cards together, are they telling me in order, what will happen or how I will feel? Does the Horse, as the biggest animal, have the most influence over the message? Does the Turtle mean persistence, or does it mean fear and withdrawal? Without a framework I will have to make the message up, and then it is a game, not an oracle. Tarot uses time-tested card spreads or frameworks, some as complex as the Celtic Cross or astrological wheel, and others as simple as Past-Present-Future.

A full classic and professional Tarot reading can be shortened to 10 minutes if need be, but Tarot consultations truly should last at least 20 or 30 minutes, with time for answering the clients’ questions.

So the oracle cards crowding your New Age stores are the express version of Tarot cards, easy to use, requiring no books (although decks often come with printed guides) or time spent in study, and no teachers. This fast-food version of Tarot fits our modern lifestyle.

Are Oracles True?

If someone asked “Do Tarot cards tell the truth about you and your future?” I would say “Yes – but accuracy depends on the Tarot reader.”

The same is true of oracle cards. Did you buy your Ascended Masters oracle cards this afternoon, and have not taken time to familiarize yourself with them? Do you know who all the Ascended Masters pictured on your cards are? Do you know, for example, who Carl Jung is? Do you really know – could you pass a quiz about — what the Buddha taught? If the reader doesn’t know these things thoroughly I would say, “No, your oracle cards do not give the truth.” That’s not because the oracle is bad. It’s because its reader is a newbie, in a big rush to know her future from cards she is not familiar with, and assumes oracle cards work like a Pez dispenser.

Tarot Cards

When addressing important issues, and other people’s lives, readings should be done responsibly, with all your intelligence and for entertainment purposes only. It is possible to be both responsible and have fun.

No matter what cards she reads, a well-prepared reader who knows her cards intimately has an enormous advantage. Scary stories relate that at some slumber party or other teenage gathering someone brought Tarot cards and, pretending to read a friend’s fortune, dealt a card that turned out to be the Death card and predicted “You will die soon,” frightening the friend so badly she suffered for years from fear and emotional scars – and, by the way, lived to be very old.

Tarot Card Reading

That “reader” misunderstood the nature of cards and card reading – also called “cartomancy,” an art practiced for at least 600 years. I do not assume that the turtle card predicts I will meet a turtle that day, or that I will turn into a turtle. The Death card does not mean physical death. One must be mature enough to understand symbolism and metaphor.

Oracles Are Supposedly Safe 

Several oracle-card decks have angel themes. Angel cards were introduced around 1996, and are the most popular type of oracle card.

Why? Because Christians, who believe fortunetelling is blasphemy and the Tarot is the devil’s gateway, are comfortable with angels and embrace angel cards. Because they play a large role in Christian texts and tradition, angels are “safe.” No one imagines that angels bring evil or incorrect messages. Angels seem to have God’s and the bible’s approval. Native Americans, Celts and Aztecs, Tibetan shamans and so on, all with their own oracle decks, were pagans or heathens. About goddess cards – every woman knows she is a goddess, but Christianity has only one god, who happens to have multiple angel helpers. Angel cards are better than animals, less goofy than unicorns, less “hippie” than Mother Earth cards.

The problem with angel-card oracles is trusting them more than other cards when in fact the requirements for and consequences of reading them are no different.

Good card-reading is an art and science. We don’t wake up one morning as experts at anything. For oracle cards to work for you and your friends, spend time with them, handle them, be patient, learn all you can – and if they don’t serve you, get another deck. In Tarot, it is said that cards know when they are being handled by uncaring people and deliberately give false messages to keep them away.


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