Oracle Cards


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.

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10 responses to “Oracle Cards

  1. Elizabeth Singh

    This was sooo insightful. I have been wanting to get a set of Oracle cards but wasn’t clear on how they would differ from my tarot cards making me unsure if it would be worth the investment. Now that I have a clear understanding on what they are and how the decks differ I will be making the investment. Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

  2. I seem to be arriving 5 years late!
    Talking of negatives, Rainring Cards has an entire (four-sided) card dedicated to reversal – on all four sides. This is from ‘A guide to Rainring Cards’
    Reversal Umpire explores the anatomy of reversal: each element
    of psyche must, eventually, undergo change.
    Card readers apparently often want to avoid reversal. Some refuse to use it at all, some packs of cards even avoid disturbing and painful – ‘negative’ – cards altogether. Rainring does not go down this road. Indeed, we have an entire four-sided card devoted to the anatomy of reversal. To explore this, we return to the game of life and to the cricket field. [refers to the illustrations]. When this card appears, change, including possible loss, is afoot.
    This card may of course bring good news – things have been difficult for you, but there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Fine! The problem, however, is when you get a message of unwelcome endings.

    We humans crave the familiar, even if it is painful – as adults,
    we feel safer being hurt with the selfsame hurt we knew as
    children. Change – reversal – is deeply disturbing. Yet reversal is
    of quintessential importance for personal growth, and a so-called
    map of the psyche in which it was missing would be a sham. In
    sport, we accept the possible pain of losing: not only in the hope
    of winning, but for love of the game. Reversal umpire challenges
    us to approach the game of life in the same spirit.
    South: Edge
    Change is afoot – welcome or not, going all the way into reversal
    or not – the precursor signs are there. How do you react? With
    relief, excitement, apprehension or dread? Edge may be useful – warning you not to let things slip; or sending an advance notice of the inevitable.
    DIVINATION: Disturbance of status quo; state / situation on the brink; change imminent: bad to good, or vice versa; ■ emotional upheaval, nothing can be taken for granted; ■ on-off status (possibly temporary) of umpired card’s vibration.
    West: Loss
    You pass the frontier – the loss is confirmed. You will be leaving behind either a pleasurable or a painful state, so your reactions will vary and you are likely to experience different, even contradictory emotions. Loss, even if painful, always brings with it new opportunities.
    DIVINATION: A complex, bittersweet emotional experience – pain, distress, along with eagerness for the new; possible fulfilment at a bad situation put behind you; self-recrimination and guilt; loss or change in relationship.
    North: Waiting
    Here, you face a big challenge. The temper of the modern age almost invariably leads us to action as the solution to difficulties. The art of doing nothing is altogether more subtle and further from the psyche of our times. You are required to perform active waiting. You have not given up, turned your back. You are fully engaged – in biding your time!
    DIVINATION: Wrong timing, so need to step back, immerse yourself in something else; use patience, avoid obsession; let go of self-assertion; let intuition tell you the moment to try again.
    East: Regain
    To reach Regain, you have gone through the cathartic experiences of Loss and Waiting. Now comes the time of re-evaluation, a ‘change of mind’. The driver for this, nevertheless, is the Unconscious (Vision). In view and attitude, you are at 180° from your starting point.
    DIVINATION: Powerful impressions lead to re-evaluation; established patterns of behaviour turned around; unconscious forces drive new views.

  3. I reblogged your article because I found it very helpful in explaining the differences between the two systems. Thank you very much 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Peace Tarot and commented:
    Great article about the differences between Oracle Cards (also known as Angel Cards in some cases) and Tarot Cards. Yes, I do now own two Oracle decks – but it will take me some time to get used to them.

    Anyways, I hope this answers any questions people might have on the differences between the two different but similar systems.

  5. When it comes to reversals on oracle cards i rarely do them 🙂

    When you pull them and they are upside down, see if the exact opposite of the card is going on or if it’s difficult to achieve. Start by reading yourself. For tarot, read the book Tarot Reversals by Mary Greer. It will teach you what you need to know.

  6. This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of
    your great post. Also, I have shared your site in my social networks!

  7. Great post. I must admit, I would rather have my Oracle Cards than Tarot anytime. I guess it is because I prefer not to know what could await me in the future. I have two Oracle decks, one is more ‘ fluffy bunny’ than the other, but i love them both. Both of mine comes with a guide book and I have always used those books, until recently when I received a deck without a book. I was surprised when a friend asked me to do a reading for her with my new cards. At first I just looked at her as if she was crazy, but then I started to really look at the cards and realized that I don’t need to use the books. Since then I have not opened a guide book for any of my readings, with any of my decks.

  8. Yay for Oracle cards! I agree. People can definitely be proficient and comfortable with both Tarot and Oracle.

    Both my Oracle decks come with books. I have Lucy Cavendish’s Faery Oracle, which is kind of funny, because I turned my nose up at faeries for a while (so not “occult” enough!), but this deck really speaks to me and I’m very grateful for it. I stand corrected and humbled about faeries. lol.

    The other one is called The Answer is Simple by Sonia Choquette. It’s the deck I turn to when overanalysis would be fatal. That’s what it’s designed for: clearing the head, focusing on a powerful pinpoint message, to cure those of us who think or worry too much. 😉

    Love the posts about cards. ^_^ And now that I know you’re into Native stuff, I’ll hook you up if I hear about another local class or sweat lodge or anything you’d be welcome to.

    Starting with this! Great times! Frybread too! http://omse.umd.edu/annual-native-american-indian-powwow.html

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