Good question… Although their purpose is the same, they are quite different.
Tarot is derived from a deck of regular playing cards and originated in the 15th century. There are 78 cards to a deck - 22 major arcana cards and 56 minor arcana cards, which are divided into 4 suits. Within the four suits, the cards are marked “1” to “king”, as would be found in a deck of regular playing cards.
There are many versions of tarot decks, but they all follow the same layout - major and minor arcana with 4 suits. The major arcana cards have a specific progression of characters on the cards that is followed. Each has specific meaning and come in a certain order to create an evolution of self recognition and discovery.
Oracle cards are much newer, coming into popularity in France about 200 years ago. The number of cards in an oracle deck will range; being decided by the creator. There are no suits, but they typically have an overall theme of a spiritual, mystical or healing nature.
As I said in the beginning, the purpose of both types of decks are the same. They are both divination tools used to foretell the future. How both decks is where the difference lays.
Spreads (the way you lay the cards out to read them) are specific in tarot, as well as whether the card is placed upside right or upside down has specific meaning and can drastically change the outcome of a reading. As for the cards meaning, these too are specific and will be consistent across the different types of traditional tarot.
The one thing I do not like about traditional tarot and has turned me away from using them is the negative cards, like death. That being said, there are many decks of tarot popping up over the last few years which shy away from the negative cards of the traditional decks – John Holland’s Psychic Tarot or Doreen Virtue’s Angel Tarot.
Oracle decks offer greater freedom in how they are used both with spreads and card meaning. Personally I like this approach, as it allows me to do what is best for my question or client.
Depending on what you are looking for clarity about, there are many spreads available to divine the answers. (Want to learn more? Check out my class) Plus the cards typically share a positive message, even when suggesting caution, wrong direction or re-evaluate. In general there is a lot more room for personal interpretation of the meaning based on the cards message and picture, as well as how you lay them down to read.
Personally, I am more drawn to oracle decks, but have been enjoying some of the new, less traditional tarot decks lately. Check out next week’s blog – more about tarot!