The Difference between Tarot Cards and Oracle Cards

The Difference between Tarot Cards and Oracle Cards

When considering which to learn or purchase, either for oneself or as a gift, the question often comes up "what is the difference between tarot and oracle cards?"

Key Differences 

The order in which they were invented

The first main difference between Tarot Cards and Oracle cards is that the Tarot Cards existed before Oracle Cards. In actuality, according to this article from Wikipedia, Tarot was originally a deck of playing cards which "first entered Europe in the late 14th century, but the origin is unknown". They also state that "the earliest evidence of a tarot deck used for cartomancy.." , i.e. fortune-telling or divination, "comes from an anonymous manuscript from around 1750.." There are however differing opinions on where Tarot Cards actually originated with "The early French occultists.. " claiming that the "tarot cards had esoteric links to ancient Egypt, the Kabbalah, Indic Tantra, or the I Ching .." Either way, it is safe to say that the Tarot came long before the Oracle cards of today.

Because of this, Tarot cards have a much more regimented usage and can be shrouded in traditions such as keeping them in a pine box or wrapping them in a Tarot Cloth. In fact there are many Tarot cloths that have the Tarot layout printed on them for the specific purpose of divination. 

Oracle Cards do not share the same rich history as the Tarot cards. Oracle cards didn't arrive on the divination scene until the Lenormand deck which is considered by many to be first oracle deck. According to  The Tarot Conservatory,  the "earliest version of the deck we know today date(s) back to the German publication of the The Game of Hope in 1799".

To some, this may give Tarot cards greater authority. To others, Oracle cards may offer greater flexibility in usage and interpretation but really it's just like saying that we discovered apples before oranges- they are two slightly different things so they should probably be treated with the respect that they deserve individually.

The number of Cards in a deck

The standard Tarot deck consists of 78 cards. It is broken up into the Major arcana consisting of 22 cards and the Minor arcana with 56 cards. Tarot decks can vary in the number of cards in a deck depending on the publisher. 

Oracle Decks do not follow the standard Arcana and tend to have a wider variation in the number of cards that they contain. You may get a deck of Oracle cards with as few as 40 cards, such as the Forest Fae Messages Oracle , or you may get one such as the Animal Kin Oracle which is a 65-card deck. Oracle decks usually have less than 78 cards, however this can vary.


A Tarot Deck involves a much more structured way of reading and usually has rules governing the layout for specific tarot spreads. The Tarot cards also have individual meanings that make up the answers to the question that you have asked. For instance, the question "will I find love?" can involve a tarot spread with up to 6 cards, all looking at different aspects of the question such as roadblocks to finding love, as well as the best way to approach finding love, before you reach the answer you were seeking. This may be a good way to gain further insight into your life or that of someone else's if you are performing a spread for someone else.

Unlike the Tarot cards, the oracle cards usually answer a larger portion of the question in one card. You may have a deck where you ask the same question "will I find love" and you may get a one card answer such as "the time is not right at the moment, caution is warranted". This may be a good way to gain quick answers but if you want to delve deeper into the question the tarot cards can be more insightful. 

Takeaways- Which deck should you purchase/ use

At the end of the day, as with all things in life (except maybe death and taxes) it is up to you to choose which deck suits your style and preference best. If you are the type of person that likes to pick a card daily, Oracle cards may be the better solution.

If you are the type that wants to delve a bit deeper into learning how to perform readings, tarot may be better.

If it is for a gift, unless you know that the individual you are purchasing for is interested in Tarot, then Oracle cards may be the way to go- especially if they have a favourite theme such as fairies, animals, crystals etc. This is where personally I think Oracle cards shine brightest!

Oracle cards are a good way to dip your toes into the world of divination. They can also be a good way to start a reading- you may ask a question of the Oracle cards and then do a Tarot spread for further information with your favourite Tarot Deck.

If you are interested in purchasing a new deck for yourself, or as a gift for someone close, check out our collection of Tarot Decks and Oracle Cards.

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