Updated: Nov 3
I often get asked what the difference is between tarot cards and oracle cards. Others may have a different interpretation here but for me, the difference is:
Tarot cards have a defined structure and oracle cards have a more fluid structure.
This is not a hard rule though - there are certain factors to consider here so let's explore and go deeper.
Tarot Card Structure vs. Oracle Card Fluidity
Tarot card decks typically follow the Rider Waite structure of 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards, for a total of 78 cards per deck. The Major Arcana cards typically portray the story of The Fool's Journey. The Minor Arcana cards are then divided into four suits with 14 cards each - wands, swords, pentacles, and cups. Within those four suits, the first 10 cards are based on numerology and the last four are court cards (so page, knight, queen, king). Each card in these tarot decks has a specific meaning and sometimes numerology and symbolism that help tarot readers to interpret the card. These elements create the structure of a classic Rider Waite tarot deck. There are some exceptions to this but you will usually find tarot decks like this.
Oracle cards, however, can have any number of cards per deck and do not follow any arcana or suit structure. Oracle card decks can be specific to a theme, style, aesthetic, topic, or guidance. The lack of structure with oracle decks creates a sense of fluidity when it comes to reading the cards.
Tarot Deck Artwork vs. Oracle Deck Artwork
The Rider Waite artwork/style of tarot decks is well known because of its symbolism and ties to the meanings of the cards. Many more modern tarot decks expand on that style of artwork or deviate from it completely.
One of my favorite tarot decks is the Mystic Mondays deck by Grace Duong - you can see her style of artwork in the image above with the Ace of Pentacles card. Grace Duong's artwork is an example where the tarot art deviates from the traditional Rider Waite style while still retaining the classic tarot deck structure and tarot card meanings.
Oracle card deck artwork depends on the creators and/or artists involved with each oracle card deck. Most oracle decks have a specific theme or aesthetic and any number of cards per deck. Some oracle card decks have focus words and/or brief messages to help a card reader interpret the oracle card.
One of my favorite series of oracle card decks is the Seasons of the Witch Oracle decks by Lorraine Anderson, Juliet Diaz, founder of Spirit Bound Press, and artist Giada Rose. All three of these people participated in the creation of each oracle deck in the series. The Seasons of the Witch Oracle deck series is based on Pagan holidays, including Beltane, Mabon, Samhain, Yule, and Imbolc. You can see some of Giada Rose's artwork in the Cow oracle card to the right from the Seasons of the Witch: Beltane Oracle deck.
Another oracle deck artwork example is from The Divine Energy Oracle by Sonia Choquette. You can see an example of the "Embrace Your Joy" card from this deck in the image at the top of this post. As you can see, this card artwork and style is very different than the Seasons of the Witch decks. Not only is the artwork and style different but The Divine Energy Oracle doesn't utilize numerology and uses a guiding phrase instead of symbolism and a written prompt like the Seasons of the Witch decks.
Tarot Card Readings vs. Oracle Card Readings
When it comes to the actual card readings, I have found that there is not a big difference. A benefit of tarot readings is that you can look up different meanings of the same card on your own time. This is useful if you don't quite understand the tarot reader's interpretation or want more details. And while a seasoned tarot reader is not fully bound by the structure of a tarot deck, a benefit of an oracle card reading is that one card can be interpreted for an infinite number of scenarios and situations.
For the readings I offer to clients - I go through the same process on my end and with you regardless of whether you're receiving a tarot or oracle card reading. I reach out to your ancestors and ethereal team and invite them to participate in your reading as I shuffle the cards. I firmly believe that whoever or whatever energy shows up for your reading is coming directly from your ancestors and guides specifically for you.