Its In The Cards

Jeff Oxford

Some of us like to know that which is unknown. Doing so creates a sense of predictability and with it, stability, and an easing of anxiety. Since before the Middle Ages, folks have used all kinds of methods to foresee the future and / or gain certain knowledge about their current situations and / or seek guidance and inspiration. Whether it is through casting dice, beans, bones or runes, or reading patterns of tea leaves at the bottom of a cup, we want to know what’s ahead and one way to do is through divination.


There are innumerable methods of divination, some centuries old. Consider a few examples:

  • scrying: consisting of gazing into reflective objects, such as mirrors, crystals or water.
  • somatomancy: reading features of parts of the human form such as skulls, hands, soles of the feet, or faces.
  • chartomancy: reading things on paper including the subsets of
    • cartomancy – card readings
    • stichomancy – reading books or lines from books
    • bibliomancy – reading random passages of the Bible


Reading Tarot and Oracle cards is a form of cartomancy or card reading. And the reading of tarot cards has its own category called taromancy or tarotmancy.


What’s the Difference?

Consider this simple chart showing some differences between the two types of card decks and readings:


Tarot Cards Oracle Cards
Usually 78 Cards per deck, but some variation occurs Any number of Cards per deck depending on the contributors
Traditional Structure, common meanings Free form structure
Common themes across decks based on life’s journey No intended common theme across decks
Major Arcana has 22 cards without suits. Minor Arcana has 56 cards in 4 suits cups, pentacles wands and swords, of 14 cards each No prescribed organizational structure or rules
Cards follow prescribed format and organization No prescribed format. Can make your own cards.
Artwork depicts the Major arcana trump cards and minor arcana suits Artwork designed around any theme or deity, e.g., Angels
Decks come with books to aid in understanding meaning and interpretation Decks come with instructions on how to read and interpret cards.
Reading provides detailed interpretation Reading gives insight into the greater sense of what is going on
Has unique energy depended on source, design, printing process Intuition guides reading rather than structure of deck
Measure outcomes and influence. Offers insight on situations Meant to give advice
For long term type questions of the human condition or journey For short term type questions that require inner reflection and soul searching.
Readings can be lengthy and detailed Quickly read, more open to individual interpretation
Takes some study and practice. Easy for beginners. No training required. Meaning appears on cards and/or in accompanying booklet.
Only images appear on the card Include images and may contain phrases, meanings, reflections
Can be used to create and read different spreads Can be used to create and read different spreads
Readings can be combined with Oracle cards Readings can be combined with Tarot cards


Your Strong Suit

If you wish to become a reader, let your selection of card type come by intuition. Some readers only read one type of deck: either Tarot or Oracle cards. Some readers do both kinds of readings or even creatively combine the cards. Many of today’s readers say these cards are not for fortune telling, rather they are meant only to nudge the querent toward behavior or choices based on their own intuition and guidance as given by a reading of the cards. Much like a pendulum, some readers believe that the Tarot cards will not give guidance if one is asking the wrong question. And sometimes the cards present an answer to the real question that should have been asked. In any case, if you feel called to work with this type of cartomancy, again let your intuition guide you to one or more decks that resonate with you.