It’s irrefutable—reading tarot cards and oracle cards are entirely different experiences. (And we’re not even getting into Lenormand.) But you want to decide if you should get tarot cards or oracle cards. While I’d recommend going with both (because why not), if you’re forced to pick then you should consider a few factors.
The short answer: You should pick whichever deck you’re more drawn to. If you find reading tarot to be a hassle then you aren’t going to reach for your deck often. Likewise, if oracle isn’t specific and hard-hitting enough for you then you will find your readings to be unfulfilling. At the end of the day, pick the deck you’re drawn to and course correct from there.
How Do I Know If I Should Read a Tarot Deck or an Oracle Deck?
Picking between a tarot deck and an oracle deck often comes down to preference, desired use, and personality. At the end of the day, decks are a tool for divination and therefore it is less about the deck and more about you as the card reader.
Go With an Oracle Deck If You Want to Dive In Quickly
You can pick up pretty much any oracle deck off a shelf and dive right in. There aren’t any rules, reactions, or reversals to understand. Often times there isn’t a major or minor arcana (but some decks do include one so look out for that when making your purchase).
Go With a Tarot Deck If You Want to Learn a System
Proper reading of the tarot comes with a lot of studying, learning systems, and memorization. The cards interact with one another, have different meanings when reversed, and are split between major and minor arcana which hold different significance.
Tarot will take you longer to learn and understand than reading an oracle deck will. Therefore, if you want to jump into the cards quickly then you should start with oracle and move into tarot as you learn more.
Your first tarot reading is likely to be overwhelming so go with a one to three-card spread to keep things simple. I also like to recommend doing a deck interview first and cleansing your deck beforehand.
Go With an Oracle Deck If You Want to Read Intuitively
Oracle decks often rely heavily on reading intuitively. There isn’t a ton of structure even if the deck comes with a guidebook. Because each oracle deck is built on its own system you may even find oracle decks that use visuals only with no guidebook, card name, or description.
For someone who craves structure and logic, oracle decks can be overwhelming and unenjoyable to read. If you’re a person who wants to learn a set of rules regarding a deck then I highly recommend going with tarot first. While it will take longer to get through your readings as you first learn the deck, you’ll be less confused by reading intuitively which may not come naturally to you.
Go With a Tarot Deck If You Want to Work With a Larger Deck
When you read a tarot deck you’ll always be presented with 78 cards. That’s 78 meanings which then bumps up to 156 if you consider reversals. Cards also have slightly different meanings depending upon where they’re at in the spread and to what area of your life they pertain (love, career, etc.).
If you want a deck that provides incredibly specific, nuances, and varied responses during readings then a tarot deck is the answer. Oracle decks mostly provide intuitive meanings you can reflect upon and overall feelings. But you aren’t often going to find an oracle deck that gets as specific or complex as a tarot deck.
Differences Between Oracle Cards and Tarot Cards
Part of picking between tarot and oracle cards comes down to recognizing their differences. Let’s take a look:
- Always 78 cards
- Has a set logic with meanings ascribed to each card
- More blunt and straightforward
- Speak to different areas in life
- Each deck is unique
- Average of 30 to 70 cards
- “Softer” than tarot with more feel-good meanings
Can You Use Both?
Absolutely! You can consult both a tarot deck and an oracle deck. You can even combine the two within one reading. (However, I’d save combo readings for once you’re a wee more advanced and comfortable—especially given how complex tarot readings can get.)
When you do get to the point of wanting to combine tarot and oracle within one reading you should use tarot as the base of your reading with oracle cards incorporated lightly throughout to elaborate on the points the tarot deck makes.
Pick Rider Waite If You Decide on Tarot
If you decide going the tarot route is right for you then I highly recommend you begin with a Rider Waite deck. This is the deck most others prescribe their layout to. Once you’ve learned the Rider Waite deck you’ll know how to read pretty much any tarot deck you get your hand son.
While there are other deck structures like Thoth and the Tarot of Marseilles, these are far less common. If you learn with one of these deck styles then you may find yourself struggling to read other tarot decks you pick up in the future.
Buy an Oracle Deck First
I 100% recommend picking an oracle deck up first before you turn to tarot. This is only partially because that’s how I got my start (promise). There is some logic behind my recommendation, which is:
- Oracle decks are generally less complex that tarot decks.
- Oracle decks get you into the feel of divination without all the memorization and logic required for tarot decks.
- Oracle decks tend to have fewer cards.
- You can find an oracle deck with a system that works for you.
I started reading oracle cards with the Work Your Light deck. (It’s still a personal favorite for nostalgic reasons but also because it’s a gorgeous deck.)