Oracle cards. What are they? How do they work? How are they different from tarot, and how do you use them? These are the sorts of questions I’ve been hearing ever since I picked up my deck of oracle cards in Sedona and started using them.
First of all, what are oracle cards. Oracle cards are a set of cards used for divination. They are not divided up into suites like tarot–in fact, most oracle deck don’t have any divisions at all. Each card has a picture and a name, and nothing else. No suites, no elemental associations, no numerological or astrological associations aside from what’s given to the reader in the painting itself. There is nothing outside of the oracle card to tell you what it means. What I mean by that is, there is no association telling you that pentacles is connected to earth element and implies stability and fertility. What’s in the picture is all you get to figure out the card.
How do you use these cards? Pretty much like you would use a tarot deck. You decide on a layout–one card, yes/no, three cards, crosses or lines, etc.–and phrase a question. Shuffle how you wish and then lay out or pull the cards. There are no reversals in oracle cards as far as I can tell. Reversals would strike me as rather pointless, since oracle cards tend to emphasize positive occurrences by their very nature. Then you read the cards to find the answer.
Because oracle cards don’t have number, elemental, or suit references to help read them, the reader is forced to be more intuitive in order to gain insight into an answer. This is the aspect that I both like and dislike about oracle cards. On the one hand, oracle cards are easier to read in that there are no outside associations for you to learn. You have to learn the cards themselves rather than the associations with the elements or suits, etc. On the other hand, there is nothing to tell you what the cards mean. You’re pretty much on your own and have to trust your own instincts and intuition. It can be a little intimidating to realize this.
Unlike tarot, oracle cards tend to emphasize positive thought. You won’t find something like the swords suit in an oracle card deck. There are some cards that look negative on the surface, but if you look closely, they are actually framing that negativity differently than expected so that it is positive. Which is very, very interesting to work with.
Decks come in all different sorts. A lot of them feature angels, fairies, mythological creatures, mermaids, etc. The deck I have is one I absolutely love–Mystic Art Medicine oracle cards. These cards have a Native American feel to the artwork even when the main feature of the picture is Christian or Buddhist or Hindi or something else. I like that because Native American beliefs and traditions very much speak to me and have for a long time. I can connect with the images on the cards and understand what they say. I think it’s very important when buying an oracle card deck to really look at the pictures and find a deck that speaks to you, which isn’t that much different than buying a tarot deck. The difference here is really in the pictures, because the picture is all you get to read the card, so you’d better find a deck that speaks to you and that you can understand.
I won’t be abandoning my tarot deck any time soon. Oracle cards tend to emphasize positive thought, which strikes me as being very Fluffy Bunny. It doesn’t leave as much wiggle room to acknowledge the negative aspects of life that are inevitable, not in the same way that tarot cards do in the swords suit and the Tower card. Having said that, I also can’t deny that I’ve done some good readings with oracle cards. While they do not have the same balance as tarot cards do between Dark and Light, the deck I use is not so positive-leaning that it completely discounts any negativity. Rather, it acknowledges the negative and then gives a positive spin. For example, in my deck there is a card called Fear. It’s a frightening card with a depressing picture–but when you look at it, really look, it’s not so frightening. There is hope and Light in the Dark. That, I think, is the real advantage and real lesson of oracle cards. Yes, they are more positive-leaning, much more so than tarot, but I think it is simply another way of framing the Dark in your mind in order to meet it head on.
Tarot cards have their advantages as well, and I see no reason why a reader couldn’t be equally familiar and comfortable with both types of decks.