If you’ve ever gotten a tarot reading, watched one on Twitch, or "liked" a complicated spread on Instagram, you might have seen an oracle card or two.
Oracle cards are like tarot cards' younger, chiller cousin. They can show any imagery, and there's more room for the person working with them to interpret their meaning.
Amanda Michelle Jones, who also goes by AMJ, is the creator of Brown Girl Tarot, an online community for spiritual practitioners of color. They talked to Refinery29 about oracle cards.
What are oracle cards?
They're a tool that can be used for introspection or, depending on your approach, divination.
But unlike traditional tarot decks, which come in packs of 78, oracle decks can include any number of cards. What's more, while tarot cards include a Major Arcana and a Minor Arcana arranged into suits, oracle decks don't follow this structure. There are no rules, and the possibilities are endless.
What's the difference between oracle cards and tarot cards?
Although there are different schools of tarot and variations from deck to deck, “any tarot deck you pick up will have the Major Arcana covering what we call ‘The Fool's Journey,’ — in other words, major archetypes or lessons we encounter in life — and the Minor Arcana, which covers the more day-to-day experiences,” AMJ says.
“Oracle decks typically don't follow that setup. You may find a deck with 30-something cards or 80-something cards," they add. "One oracle deck might sort of mirror the tarot, while another could have absolutely nothing to do with tarot. But overall, the big difference is in the number of cards and whether it's split between majors and minors.”
The variety is evident in two of the oracle decks that AMJ recommends. The Adinkra Ancestral Guidance Cards is a 44-card deck featuring Adinkra symbols and philosophies (used by the Ashantis in West Africa). The OKANA oracle deck, on the other hand, contains 25 cards, with five in each element (Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Spirit). It also features proverbs from the Diloggún Divination system.
How do you use oracle cards?
When using oracle cards, AMJ recommends that you “go with your intuition." They explain, “When you get a new oracle deck, you're kind of learning a new language each time. So take time to just observe and get to know the deck.”
Doing a one-card pull every day is “a great way to get to know your deck while also honing your intuition and divination skills,” AMJ says. You can use traditional tarot spreads, such as a three-card draw, with oracle cards. You can also draw an oracle card before a tarot card reading to set an intention, or after a reading to reinforce the interpretation.
“As you explore the cards, let Spirit speak to you in whatever ways you need in the moment," AMJ suggests. "And definitely make sure to journal, whether that be by hand or digitally, then compare that to the guidebook that came with the deck.”
Since oracle cards are relatively unstructured, they can sometimes be a more appealing option for beginners. But experienced tarot readers also often incorporate them into spreads too.
“Sometimes a person wants to step outside the 'boundaries of the tarot' (or at least their perception of such boundaries),” AMJ explains. “Also, some folx find oracle cards to be less intimidating than tarot, while others see oracle as an introductory way to start divining with cards. Lots of people combine oracle with tarot to provide additional perspective to their readings. The possibilities are almost endless, especially if you try to get math-y and think about permutations and combinations.”
Here, shop a few of AMJ’s recommendations for oracle decks, as well as some picks from Refinery29.