What’s the Difference Between Tarot & Oracle Cards?

So you’ve heard of Tarot cards (obviously!) and you’ve probably also heard of Oracle cards. Are they the same thing? Or are they totally different? And which is better?

This is a question I get asked all the time. And it’s not always easy to explain. But let me do my best…

Oracle cards and Tarot cards are similar in that they are both used for the same purpose – doing readings, exploring oneself and divining the future.

The two differ in their structure

A Tarot deck follows a particular formula. An Oracle deck is more free-form.

harlequin-novelA Tarot deck is similar to a Harlequin Romance novel. There’s a formula and structure to it. Certain things have to be present.

For example, the traditional Harlequin novel always features a virginal heroine. The hero she falls in love with is always rich and oh so manly – he is usually either a cowboy, billionaire or tycoon. Never a school teacher, chef or janitor. Can you imagine the novel on the left being called Between the Gas Station Attendant’s Sheets? Didn’t think so! But I digress…

Like a steamy Harlequin, A Tarot deck must follow a particular structure. There is always five suits – the four minor arcana suits and the major arcana.

A Tarot deck has 5 suits…

The minor arcana consists of cups, swords, wands and pentacles. This can vary depending on the deck as some decks get crafty with renaming the minors. There might be coins instead of pentacles or bows instead of wands. But essentially, the gist of each suit is the same.

A Tarot deck has 22 major arcana cards numbered 0 through 21. For a complete list of all the major arcana cards, go here. Some decks will have an extra card that is unique to that deck. For example, the Crystal Visions Tarot has an extra card called “The Unknown Card”, making it a 79-card deck, instead of the standard 78 cards.

Just as some decks will rename the four minor arcana suits, the major arcana cards can also be renamed. In my Druidcraft Tarot, the Wheel of Fortune is called The Wheel and The Devil is called Cernunnos. But the general meaning of the card stays the same.

Don’t let alternate card names get your panties in a twist…

I know this concept is really confusing, but think back to the Harlequin novels. Underneath all the details of a steamy bodice-ripper – like character names, job titles and location – lies a storyline that is pretty much identical from novel to novel.

One romance novel’s heroine may be called Chastity Dewstorm, while a different novel’s heroine is named Vanessa Lovejoy. But they both fall in love with a high status male by the novel’s end, despite their breathy protests and desperate mews.

Another element that all Tarot decks share is that there are four court cards – King, Queen, Knight and Page – for each minor arcana suit. So there are 16 court cards in total. Again, some decks get creative with the names and might have prince and princess instead of Knight and Page, but the meanings of the cards do not change.

Now onto Oracle cards!

Oracle cards can be anything – there are no rules that must be followed. If a Tarot deck is like a Harlequin, then an Oracle deck is like a novel that just happens to have romantic elements in it. Perhaps there are even some Harlequin-type aspects to it, but it does not follow any set formula to a tee. Maybe that’s not the best analogy….

Okay, think of Tarot cards and Oracle cards as being non-identical twins (like me and my slutty other-half Veronica!). The Tarot deck is prim, proper and follows the rules. She wants to marry, have children and pay her taxes.

The Oracle deck is the rebel who makes her own rules, traveling wherever the wind takes her, spending time in communes and ashrams, embarking on sexual escapades and making pottery while high.

This is NOT to say that Oracle cards are more interesting than Tarot cards, only that they are not bound by any rules.

An Oracle deck can have any number of cards in it. Most of them tend to be less cards than a Tarot deck, but some can have more. Some Oracle cards will have phrases on it – something that is rare for a Tarot deck – but some decks might only have images and no words.

Most Oracle decks have Tarot-inspired cards in them. So if you get to know your Tarot cards really well, you will spot some similarities in your Oracle decks.

Angel cards are a popular form of Oracle cards – these are basically Oracle cards with an angelic theme. Most Angel cards have uplifting phrases written on them, making them easy to use for beginners and gentle enough to use on those days when everything’s total shit.

So which is better? Tarot or Oracle cards?

This totally depends on you! Learning Tarot requires more time and energy, while Oracle cards are easy to read right off the bat for most people since the meanings are usually written on the cards.

Some people find Tarot cards intimidating and “scary” with their dramatic images of crumbling towers and scythe wielding skeletons. In that case, its best to start with a gentle Oracle or Angel card deck.

So why bother learning Tarot at all?

Tarot has a depth to it that Oracle cards often lack. Reading Tarot is more challenging, forcing you to flex your intuitive muscles.

Think learning Tarot requires tons of boring memorization? Think again! And check out my 7 Tips for Learning Tarot Card Meanings.

Going back to the romance novel analogy, Tarot cards are like a leather bound copy of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, while Oracle/Angel decks are like a Harlequin paperback with a glistening cowboy on the cover. Yes, it’s comforting and it’s boatloads of fun, but don’t neglect the classics!

Now that I have thoroughly confused you by saying Tarot is like a Harlequin, I mean no, its like a romantic classic, I would love to hear your thoughts…

Which do you prefer? Tarot or Oracle cards? Or do you like both? Share your opinions in the comments below!

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37 Responses to What’s the Difference Between Tarot & Oracle Cards?

  1. surbhi says:

    I am very eager to learn card reading.please guide me for which should I go for Tarot card or oracle cards?
    Thank u

  2. So the way I’m seeing it is that the Tarot is more like catholic religion. Strict rules, all our ducks in a row and if you miss a Sunday your doomed. Oracle cards are non denominational but still with a higher power in mind. I prefer oracle cards. they seem more relaxing and less intimidating. :>

    • Kate says:

      That’s a great analogy, Julia! I find that the longer I work with Tarot, the more I bend the rules – and I’m sure there’s plenty of Catholics who do the same 😉 So I don’t actually find it to be as rigid as I make it out to be in this article. But yes, Oracle cards do feel more free sometimes.

  3. Odile says:

    I personally prefer oracle cards. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had anyone to sit down and teach me how to use tarot, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around them. Oracle cards are also more in line with how I think since they’re so vague. But of the few readings I’ve done, I always completely get what my cards are telling me. I feel like I might get a bit confined if I were to try Tarot.

    • Kate says:

      I completely understand what you’re saying here, Odile – the beauty of Oracle cards is that they aren’t too specific, so they leave a lot open to interpretation, letting your intuition do the work :)

  4. great explanations ! And your pretty humorous ! Love It !

  5. Strophoria says:

    I much, much prefer tarot to oracle cards. They’re more organized – and I find that makes me more creative and intuitive when reading. Like how a good creative writing or improv prompt will have limitations on it – learning how to create within and around limits is often easier than being handed a blank canvas. Structure makes it easier to fill in the gaps, instead of having to imagine a story out of nothing

  6. mixed bag says:

    Ur contrasting between the two types of dexks was genius. I fit them both i loveeed the line about oracles cards are like the sister making pottery while high!!! I hardly ever comment on blogs but that was just so worth it haha. Im both a tarot n oracle personality but for spiritual reasons…so far i go with oracle. But i used to be a hard core taroter in the day.

  7. Alexandra says:

    Hello Kate, I recently had a reading done and was told that I had a strong intuition and that I have always followed it and was recommended about oracle cards, this is all new to me. I am highly considering it, but I don’t know what kind of deck is perfect to start with? Please help, thanks.

    • Kate says:

      Hi Alexandra,
      That’s so exciting that you are about to get your first oracle deck :) What deck you will enjoy depends on your personality – you can have a look at my deck reviews page: http://www.daily-tarot-girl.com/tarot-deck-reviews/ – If you scroll partway down the page I have reviewed a few oracle decks and you can get a feel for these decks to see if they are for you. I like Doreen Virtues oracle decks – they are beautiful, easy to use and perfect for beginners. Lucy Cavendish also makes fantastic oracle decks – just google her and you’ll see what I mean.
      Good luck and let me know what deck you decide on!

  8. daryl says:

    nice article thanks-i like my oracle cards and am just now ready to graduate to tarot,now where do i find veronica

  9. Abigail says:

    This article really helped!
    I bought Oracle cards thinking they were Tarot cards and I was very disappointed when I opened them, not knowing the difference.
    Now that I know the difference I have found reading Oracle easier then Tarot, though I prefer Tarot I find that if I started with Oracle, Tarot would of been easier all along!
    Thank you for the wonderful article!!!

  10. Simone says:

    I use Oracle cards as I find them to be more gentle in their messages. That’s not saying the readings are all softness and goodness, but I receive information in a way (pictures/words/thoughts) that’s easier for the client to accept. I don’t usually use the books either (or very seldom), as I’m more of an intuitive reader. I will also pick from more than one deck if I feel drawn to do so.
    I have 11 decks that I use for clients (and myslef if drawn to do so) and 2 decks that I only use for myself.

  11. shane says:

    I am new at useing cards but I like oracle cards more because they feel and look more comfy and easyer to use and it feels like you bound with them but tarot cards are good to my uncle used them I have the Dream oracle cards and I love them

  12. Greta says:

    I am trying to educate myself on tarot and oracle reading, and am interested in learning how to do both. Does one need to be clairvoyant in any way in order to do this? I have always been very open, but certainly not psychic in any way (even though I wish I was!) sorry if this is a silly question. I just don’t know if this reading skill is something the “average” person can do. Thank you!

    • Kate says:

      Hi Greta,
      You will be happy to know that you don’t need to be psychic in order to read Tarot or Oracle cards. I found that when I started reading Tarot, that I became interested in developing my psychic skills, so it really opened some doors for me, but you don’t need to be psychic to be a good reader. However, we are all psychic to some degree and so I think you will find that once you start reading the cards that you will surprise yourself with how much intuitive ability you do have. This is a really good question, though. But yes, even the “average” person can learn Tarot and be good at it!

      Happy Tarot reading,

  13. Deana Close says:

    Hey there,
    I understand from reading these posts that tarot is the most preferred way… I just bought The Daemon Tarot (which are actually oracle cards) before I did too much research. When I went to the store I held all of the tarot/oracle books etc and THIS ONE was the one that pulled all of my vibes and energy. I needed that one… why do you think that is if tarot is more of the preferred choice? My first reading to myself & my boyfriend was enlightening and confirming for me… For him it was dead on about his fear. I feel these cards are very powerful & have hardly used them yet.
    Couldn’t it be possible to see & feel to the extent of tarot thru my deck? (Is any of my ramblings even making sense?)
    D. Close

    • Kate says:

      Hi Deana,
      That’s great that you have such a strong feeling with this deck. I don’t think it matters if your deck is a Tarot or Oracle – if you feel connected to it, that is what counts. I don’t know if I answered your question or not, but if your readings feel good with this deck, then I wouldn’t worry that its an oracle deck and not Tarot.

  14. Highland Hedgewitch says:

    Hi Kate, I was just wondering, I read somewhere that you were not suppose to give oracle card readings for others? Not even sure why….I can’t see the problem with that myself….
    Wondered what your take on it was.

    • Kate says:

      That’s weird! I haven’t heard that one before. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving Oracle readings to others. Maybe whoever said that meant that Oracle cards were meant more for self reflection rather than reading other people?

  15. Amy says:

    I use both. I have several tarot decks and only one oracle deck at the moment (Gateway Oracle Deck by Denise Linn). I do a weekly oracle card reading and it sets my week up in a positive way. I like oracle/angel cards because of their uplifting and positive messages. I use tarot for daily draws and specific questions. I find that oracle cards are like warm and fuzzy friends who try to encourage you, while tarot cards are the friends who keep it real and can offer the hard, cold truth even when you don’t want to hear it!

    • Kate says:

      Absolutely! That’s a great way of looking at it – Tarot and Oracle decks do have distinct personalities and it just depends what you feel like – do you want honest (but possibly hurtful) advice? Or do you want to be comforted?

  16. Sunny says:

    I liked your analogies for both types of cards. My answer for the favorites question would be like your analogies. ‘The classics are always nice because thats where the creators of the spin-offs get their own ideas from.’ Meaning they both have ups and downs. But classics are worth ‘reading.’ Hope that made sense. Nice article.

  17. Hi Kate,
    haven’t worked a lot with Oracle cards as I love the Tarot so much!

    Thinking about it, your analogies to books and characters is so spot on and maybe telling me to lighten up a bit and play with the oracle cards instead of being so intense—
    Thanks as always. love your posts.

  18. Jamie Morris says:


    This post is amazing. I’m just inspired, interested, engaged both as a taro-ist and as a writer to see how you differentiate. I especially love (LOVEEEEEEE!) the analogies to different kinds of books and types of people. Fantastic.

    You are a rock star!

  19. Aina says:

    Hey Kate, love your all articles. They are like nuts and snacks – small, light, simple and addictive! Love getting your newsletter everyday 😀

    I do not think I CAN read Tarot right now. If anyone asks for a reading, I first try to make them change their mind.
    In any case I do lots of readings when I’m on my own with imaginative people or stars or about stars and thing on the papers. It’s called “learn while comparing”. So I love Tarot but it’s “difficult”. You’re right about the “intuitive muscles”.

    I just have some oracle cards and I think oracle can be good to sometimes sum up a Tarot reading or get a divine advice from an ascended master. Oracles are easier and, I think, better when use less often than Tarot. One phrase can be worth working on for a month or more!

    So I like both but Tarot the most!

    • Kate says:

      Thanks for weighing in here, Aina – I also sometimes feel that Oracle cards, especially angel cards seem like messages from the divine. I am curious why you don’t feel like reading Tarot lately? I get that way sometimes too, if it feels like whoever I am reading for has really heavy questions and they see the Tarot reading as “the answer” to their problems.
      Thanks for the compliment – I am very delighted that my posts are addictive!! :)

  20. EG says:

    I like both. If I want to have more depth, more clarification on an issue, or on a special situation, I use Tarot. But for example for daily advice I think, Oracle decks are excellent.

  21. Ellen says:

    I like both type of decks. For me oracle decks are like sweet candy. They taste yummy; I can’t get enough of them, but in the end they don´t sustain me long enough. Tarot decks are more like whole wheat bread. Sometimes hard to chew on but o so nourishing. You never grow tired of bread. Lately I tend to stick more with tarot, because you can always learn more about the decks you already have. I have noticed that with oracle decks I am like a sugar addict: I want more of them; I like de pictures of almost every new deck that is published, but in the end they wind up on the shelf while I am playing with my tarot cards.

    • Jamie Morris says:


      I’m in complete agreement with you on every point! I’ve finally had to make myself stop buying oracle decks (but not tarot decks!) for just that reason.


    • Kate says:

      Ellen – wow, you summed it up well – I feel very similar to you in that I feel like I absolutely have to have every new oracle deck that comes out, but often the cards really don’t have the depth that Tarot has. So many oracle decks feel like just a pretty picture and a positive message. Fun and happy, but like cotton candy, doesn’t keep you satisfied very long. By the way, I love your food analogies!!!!

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