Using oracle decks in tarot readings

Is it okay to say that I’m not that into oracle decks?

(But if you are, you’ll find a growing collection of guest posts about oracles here!)

The oracle decks I’ve come across are a little too ‘angels and pastels’ for my taste, plus I really (really) like the ‘system’ of tarot, with its discernible journey, four suits/elements and (usually) 78 familiar cards.

I don’t generally like words written on my cards, either – a feature of most oracle decks I’ve seen.

I get that this can make cartomancy (using cards for divination or self-exploration) more accessible. Tarot can seem so impenetrable, elitist even, with its symbols, its history, its emphasis on ‘learning the traditional meanings’, whereas it feels like you can pick up an oracle deck without any prior knowledge, draw a card, and get a dose of wisdom right there and then.

Which is great! Just…not my main jam.

That said, I do have a couple of oracle decks!

One is Dori Midnight’s Dirty Tarot Cards.

These cards are THE BOMB. Seriously. I want to cry when I use them, they feel so right, so full of kindness and wisdom and celebration of the everyday mess that makes up my life.

Dori-Midnight-Dirty-Tarot-Cards

As Dori writes in her introduction:

I call this deck dirty because it is not in any way ethereal or pure; instead it is a collection of symbols of things that we have, touch, desire, or tend to in our messy lives.

Cards in this deck include ‘Tattoo’ – representing physical change to indicate something going on inside, ‘Grandma’s Handbag’ – symbolising the preparedness of your ancestors and the tools they once used that you still probably need to get by (including tissues). Then there’s my personal favourite: ‘Batter’, which Dori describes as ‘creative energy in raw form.’

Dori-Midnight-Dirty-Tarot-Cards-2

These cards were created in 2001 and are no longer for sale, but I MASSIVELY recommend you spend some time with Dori by checking out her blog, Midnight Apothecary, or peruse her lovely website, Dorilandia.

Also, here’s a useful post about where to buy her amazing magical-herbal goods – her Boundaries in a Bottle inspired my own Secret Soul Shield, and her Witches, Bitches and Hos is a supportive tincture for edge-dwellers and nonconformists.

The other oracle deck I own is the Wolf Pack Tarot

Again, this is not a tarot deck. The Wolf Pack Tarot, created by Robert Petro, is illustrated in pencil crayon by Pat Morris and contains 78 cards – unusually, these are landscape.

Wolf-Pack-Tarot

These cards go further than the single key-word – there is a whole meaning written on every card. I’m not sure how I feel about this (one of them says you will find love and marry within 12-18 months!! Er…) but I just love the idea – human experiences being illustrated through these graceful, wild, beautiful creatures.

Wolf-Pack-Tarot-Cards

How I use oracle decks in my tarot practice

I’d never use an oracle deck alone when working with a client. I’m a tarot reader, and a tarot reading in the sort-of-traditional sense is what you get. But lately, I’ve started turning to my oracle decks (especially Dori’s cards) to round off a reading.

I don’t believe in predictive tarot, and for this reason I reject the ‘outcome’ card that appears in so many spreads, including the ubiquitous Celtic Cross. Here’s a whole post I wrote about alternatives to ‘outcome’ cards – most often I substitute ‘advice’, ‘clarification’ or similar.

Increasingly, though, I’m using an oracle card in this position. providing a simple, quick-and-dirty final word on the matter. It closes a reading nicely and adds a lovely variety to the reading too. Where tarot cards can sometimes (not always, by any stretch!) be ambiguous in their meaning, an oracle card has a knack of saying ‘here you go. Suck on that’ which I really, really appreciate.

As a reader, this helps me to draw my email readings to a close.

My readings are long, and I often find myself going back over, adding additional thoughts and ideas to paragraphs written earlier. Pulling an oracle card protects me as a reader, giving me a bookend, saying ‘that’s enough now.’ And for my querents, faced with a long reading full of all kinds of ideas, it can be something to focus on while the rest settles in.

Longer does not mean better – my tarot readings are long because I”m verbose, because I get lost in the cards, because I’m really interested in you, because one thing leads to another and I always have too much to say. This practice of drawing an oracle card is an act of generosity towards both you – the querent – and I – the reader – by succinctly summing up in a word or two the key thing that must be known.


What about you?

Do you use oracle decks? Maybe oracle cards got you into tarot in the first place? Do you have a favourite? Or are you as prejudiced against them as I am!?

As always, I’d love to hear your views :)

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17 comments

  1. Kate says:

    I don’t really like oracle decks either, for most of the same reasons you give – and plus, they just don’t have the…. comprehensiveness of tarot, and tend to be, or feel, very personal to the creator, and biased.

    I often use a runestone in the “wrap it up” position, myself. Or sometimes three. Runes, for me, like I Ching, seem to come out with very straightforward, matter-of-fact advice or insight, while Tarot takes more thinking and storytelling. (In general. Depending on the deck.)

    (Thank you for recommending the Silicon Dawn deck, btw. I got it, and it is my current favourite – I call it my Bad Friend deck, although it isn’t really – but it definitely does have a certain “yes, it IS a good idea to walk through this neighbourhood at midnight and climb this abandoned building!” spirit to it. The Wild Unknown, on the other hand, isn’t my deck at all. Very attractive but I think I may have to give it away to someone else.)

    • Beth says:

      Y’know, I’ve never tried runes. Embarrassingly, I’ve never even held a rune in my hand! I do love the idea though.

      We’re at odds with our tarot decks Kate! I got hold of a Silicon Dawn Tarot but can’t get on with it – too many wild cards! Though I love and totally get what you mean about abandoned buildings :D

  2. I have been trying to use oracles more so I can decided how I really like them. I’m still a bit back and forth, they never seem to be dead on like tarot is for me. I think that may be the reason I haven’t been able to stick with my guidance readings on the blog lol I just really don’t like to pick them up as much as tarot. Though maybe it’s because I haven’t found “the one” deck yet that really calls to me.

  3. Beth says:

    I know just what you mean Jess. It wasn’t until someone on the TABI forum suggested that they use them to finish up a reading that I really had any time for oracle decks. At first I thought I was being a tarot snob but it’s just about how you like your messages to come to you! I’ve had the Wolf Pack deck for years but I never really want to pick it up, you know? But using Dori’s cards in this way really works for me :)

  4. SatMiter says:

    I love oracle cards – but maybe that’s because I don’t get tarot yet :)
    Their weakness, I think, is that they’re not that versatile, and you can’t use the same deck very often, or you’ll end up “getting married” or “manifesting your dreams to reality” all the time. Many are icky-tacky with just awful pictures of angels…
    Cheryl Lee Harnish has a style I find approachable – no writing, even the pictures themselves don’t mean anything, but there is a book explaining the meaning IF you feel that you need clarification.

    • Beth says:

      Oooh don’t get me started on the angels stuff. I respect Doreen Virtue’s work and the profound effect it has on people…but my god that’s not my thing at all.

      I just checked out Cheryl Lee Harnish. I like what you say about her approach – though I don’t like her style particularly I appreciate this not having keywords/meanings shoved in your face :) Thanks for sharing!

  5. Leah Reddell says:

    I use the Druid Animal Oracle deck from time to time… I LOVE the art on this deck, and sometimes for the semi-skeptic at an event, the animals can be MUCH more accessible for imagery and ideas than a regular tarot deck. I always carry this deck with me as kind of a “back up” alternative deck!

    • Beth says:

      Hey Leah! Ah yeah – I had completely forgotten about this deck – much beloved in TABI (a tarot org I belong to) and illustrated by Will Worthington who made the Wildwood Tarot. You know, I might actually have to invest in this one – it really does look amazing, and I completely agree with you about the genius of using animals to inspire ideas. Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Joanne says:

    I, too, remain ambivalent about oracle decks. I get stuck trying to figure out how to employ them, but I do like the idea of using them as “finishing” cards for at tarot reading.

    I do like the Faerie oracle system. They’ve got a nice grounded-yet-etherical system based on Brian Froud’s artwork that I find nicely “in your face” and often humorous but with spiritual overtones at the same time. Mainly, though, I just like the art.

    The use of traditional angel imagery in decks I find very Disney-fied for the most part and a bit shallow. But that’s just me.

  7. I do own an oracle deck. Its the only one that ever appealed to me and as it was OOP I never thought to find one. However, my cousin happens to be a fantastic researcher and found an affordable copy at some obscure site and ordered it for me.

    It is the Oracle of the Goddess by Sylvie Winter and Jo Dose` artist), published by Carte Mundi. Its a 33 card deck I discovered on Ann Murkett’s My Divination website years ago and I’ve found it to be beyond price for discovering the ‘motivating’ force behind events. Not often, but occasionally.

    For example, almost a year ago, my youngest granddaughter (10 years old) began to describe a guardian she felt around her and was very explicit about how the woman looked and ‘felt’. I was totally stumped so after focusing on the subject, shuffled and pulled the African Goddess, Mawu from the deck. She is the Creator of the World and rode the globe in the maw of Aido, the huge snake. She had announced herself as my granddaughter’s current guardian and promised she would be safe until things settled. She more than kept her promise.

    Soon after, I kept tripping over winged lions. I finally broke down and bought a garden statue of a winged lion (on sale and noticed as a single ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated it as I walked to and from a store). Clueless as to what I was being told, I just kept my eyes and ears open and waited. About a week later, I had a mini-melt-down and had walked outside to sit with the towering evergreens that live in my front yard. As I sat on the steps trying to catch my breath, I felt a woman sit down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders. I could feel her warmth and comfort and ‘see’ her as a mature woman with dark hair and eyes and a rather exotic look. She wore a red shawl that covered part of her long hair and a soft yellow gown. She half smiled and said ‘I’ve got you.’ I sat bolt upright as it was so very real. Then I took a few minutes to breathe and found I felt entirely at ease and clear for the first time in weeks. Of course when I came back inside, I picked up the Goddess Oracle, spread them out, and as I passed my hand over them one stuck. That’s when I met Ishtar, Goddess of the Sky, whose companions are often depicted as winged lions.

    This is the only oracle deck I own or use. Not often but on several occasions when I need clearer communication with what’s happening.

  8. K says:

    I only just started learning Tarot this summer and intentionally kept my distance from oracle decks. Tarot has been a big enough thing to tackle, I didn’t want to make more work for myself by adding on oracle cards too.

    And then I discovered the Mother Mary Oracle Deck. I am a Marian Catholic and this deck leaped out at me across the internet. Early November, I visited my grandmother’s grave for the first time since she died ten years ago. She’s been a spiritual guide for me and it was then that I decided to purchase the Mother Mary Oracle Deck. I love it, I love learning about it and letting the brightly colored, painterly artwork wash over me and connecting cards to different parts of my life.

  9. Emmelia says:

    I’ve got several oracle decks, which I mostly use as a daily slice o’ wisdom sort of thing. One thing I’ve come to realize in using Oracles is just how much I appreciate the structure of Tarot. However I like that I can work mostly with my intuition when using Oracle decks. One of my new favorites is a deck I just bought called The Oracle of Shadows and Light. It’s not really the typical “love and light” oracle deck, which I love. Here’s what some of the cards have written on them:

    Strangely Lonely: “Holding on way too tight”
    Ghost in the Pumpkin Patch: “Count your blessings” (This one just sounded kinda ominous to me)
    Death and the Maiden: “Invasion, boundaries violated, dominance”
    Violet Duchess: “Stifled, bored, and stuck”
    Fairy of the Divine Hand: “Intoxication, distorted view, overindulgence”

    I like that this deck, as its name implies, also includes “Shadows” and a balance between dark and light. Already it’s kind of reminded me of the Tarot. Even when I read with it I use a bit of numerology since the cards are numbered. Your Dirty Tarot deck reminded me a lot of my Oracle of Shadows and Light!

    What I tend to be ambivalent of, though, are oracle decks with Tarot in the name. Even Doreen Virtue’s tarot deck strikes me as something that would probably be closer to an Oracle deck since (and even I can admit this despite owning two of her decks) she can be very fluffy-bunny. One of the above commenters mentioned Oracles being “shallow”, and I can somewhat agree. As a mermaid enthusiast it gets under my skin to see Doreen Virtue in her mermaid deck describe mermaids as being goddesses who are all loving and whatnot. Some goddesses are mermaids, yes, but not all mermaids are goddesses. And if she thinks mermaids are all loving, she must have never heard of the Ben Varrey!

  10. I don’t know if it’s specifically an ‘oracle deck,’ but the closest thing I use is Corina Dross’s fantastic Portable Fortitude Deck. It is a full deck of traditional playing cards (which of course can also be read, much like tarot); Corina calls them protective playing cards. I don’t read them like I would read tarot, but I use them. Sometimes I consciously look through the deck and find what sort of protection I need that day. The deck includes: Protection from Scarcity, Protection from Puritans, Protection from Binaries, Protection from Idle Hands and Empty Mornings, Protection from Heartbreak, and on and on…my personal favorite is Protection from Forgetting – the six of spades, I have a print of that one hanging above my desk). Plus, the Queens and Kings are Lynda Barry, Jorge Luis Borges, Eduardo Galeano, Zora Neale Hurston, Hypatia, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf! Other days, when I feel that I need inspiration or protection but I don’t know what, I shuffle the deck like I would tarot, feel the energy, and draw a card randomly. You can purchase the deck here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/57599834/sale-portable-fortitude-playing-cards-55?ref=shop_home_active_3

    By the way, I love Little Red Tarot. I’ve been reading tarot for nearly 20 years, and for a while, around 11 to 8 years ago, I was very into them. But then I fell out of the practice for lots of reasons, and it has only been in the last few years that I’ve started getting back into them again. I’m studying and reading a lot about them, and am about to start my own tarot blog, just for fun/practice. As soon as I have the $$ I plan on taking your eight-week course.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Hey Jessie, it’s so funny you should post this today – I have literally *just* got these decks in stock in my shop, and plan to announce them next week! Portable Fortitude decks are absolutely wonderful – I’ve had mine for years, but have never used it for divination. The main problem I find with it is that the cards are so gorgeous, I get distracted from playing the game!
      Thanks for sharing :D

  11. L. says:

    I don’t instinctively love oracle decks. I am very much attached to the system of tarot, the 78 cards, suits, majors/minors, etc, and I think am not drawn to oracle decks for that reason. I had zero interest in oracle decks until I saw Earthbound Oracle, which I pretty much bought as soon as I saw it. I connect with that deck in a lot of ways, and, in ways feel a little more free using it because as an oracle deck it doesn’t allign with the 78 card RWS system I like so much — there are 2 specific cards in the deck I really don’t care for and can’t connect with at all, but I simply set those two aside and don’t include them when I read with the deck. I don’t usually do spreads or read with the oracle deck alone (aside from one-card ‘focus for the day’ type readings in the morning) but lately I’ve been playing around with using one of the oracle cards as a significator and shuffling it in with whatever tarot deck I’m using (when I use a significator, which is not always) — this approach seems to really work for me. Even though the oracle card is never the same size as the tarot deck I’m using, this never seems to bother me and the chosen significator seems to shuffle in no problem. I find the specificity of the oracle cards lends well to using them as an anchor for a spread even if the entirety of the spread itself is with a more traditional tarot deck (I read with RWS almost exclusively these days), plus it means that in using a significator I’m not extracting a card from the tarot deck in advance.

  12. Renara says:

    I love Oracles as much as Tarot, but I don’t find they are interchangeable. I get much more information and depth from Tarot. I have also found that it often doesn’t work for me to answer a specific question with Oracles. A lot of time the Oracles cards don’t make sense or don’t answer the question.

    I have one method that I use for Oracles, a combination method, that I LOVE using for Oracles. It’s very meaningful to me because it helped me pull myself out of a VERY deep funk I was in while dealing with chronic illness issues. I choose a Tarot deck and Oracle deck that have a similar theme or artwork. I choose an Oracle card asking the simple question “what do I need to know right now?” I read the Oracle card and refer to the accompanying book if I need to. Then, I use that Oracle card as a topic for a 3 card Tarot reading. This gives me more information and depth about the topic of the Oracle card. I round off the reading with pulling a Rune, asking if here’s anything else I need to know.

    This format has helped me so much when I was in a funk, stuck at home, wallowing due to chronic illness. Using the 3 tools all at once helped keep me from putting my own mental state into the reading. It helped keep me honest and not just inserting wishful thinking. If the three tools agreed and had similar or related meanings I knew I could trust the message of the reading. Doing this form of reading for myself helped me slowly dig myself out of the hole I was in.

    I also like the idea of using an Oracle card as a closure to a reading. Im going to give that a try.

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