How to Use Oracle Cards, the Simpler-to-Read Cousin of Tarot That Helps You Tap Into Your Intuition and Gain Insight

Photo: Getty Images/Helin Loik Tomson
You don't need to spend years studying tarot cards and memorizing all the different card meanings in order to read them, but interpreting the messages can be tricky nonetheless. The cards you pull may leave you with more questions than you had to begin with. If this sentiment resonates with you, you might be interested in learning how to use oracle cards, the simpler-to-read cousin of tarot.

Think of these helpful tools like more directive and intuitive versions of tarot cards. For this reason, people from oracle card beginners to cartomancy experts can glean insight and meaning from these decks. Read on for tips from experts about how to make oracle cards part of your spiritual self-care routine.

Experts In This Article

Key differences between oracle decks and tarot decks

Both useful tools, oracle cards and tarot cards differ in some key ways. First off, most oracle cards plainly state their meaning and symbolism right on the card, which removes the interpretation required when reading tarot cards. Their structures are different, too: tarot decks are based on a fixed system and typically includes a set of 78 cards, each with its traditional meaning. Of these 78 cards, a tarot deck always includes 22 Major Arcana cards, or the named and numbered cards that represent larger themes and concepts, plus 56 Minor Arcana suit cards that carry specific messages and symbolism.

Oracle decks, on the other hand, don't necessarily follow a set structure. “Oracle cards are really at the deck creator’s discretion in terms of how many cards there are, what they say, and what they look like,” says Maria Sofia Marmanides, astrologer and author of theThe Women of Myth Oracle Deck and The Oracle Card JournalIn an oracle deck, the creator and artist of each deck selects all the details on the cards, including the theme, imagery, number of cards, and the meaning of each. Having the meaning plainly stated can make it easier to understand your reading, which can help you focus more on the insights you’re seeking.

As for when to choose oracle over tarot? That depends on exactly what you are trying to find out. “When I pick up a tarot deck it’s often about [ascertaining the] underlying psychological factors that are influencing a situation, whereas oracle cards can be a little more outcome oriented,” says Marmanides.“If I want something that’s hyper specific about what I should do I might turn to an oracle card because it’s more direct and decisive, but I might turn to a tarot deck to see what’s coming up or the underlying factors of my behavior and emotions.” She says you can even use oracle cards and tarot cards together; ask a broad question and draw a tarot card, then draw an oracle card for more targeted guidance.

4 oracle card decks to try

"The Women of Myth" Oracle Deck — $20.00

This oracle card deck features images and themes related to 50 mythological beings, including goddesses and monsters. It’s designed to channel the wisdom and skills of these fantastical figures and comes with a booklet to help guide your reading.

"The Universe Has Your Back" Oracle Deck — $22.00

This oracle deck includes 52 cards and is meant to help you access safety, direction, and joy when you use it.

"The Moon Deck" Oracle Deck — $44.00

This oracle deck and its accompanying guide draws on lunar gifts and insights to help you gain insights and find clarity. It includes 44 cards.

"The Starseed Oracle" Oracle Deck — $19.00

This oracle deck and guidebook contains 53 cards with stellular themes and guidance.

The benefits of using oracle cards

Don’t let the simplicity of oracle card decks trick you into underestimating their utility and insight. The easy-to-decipher meaning makes this a great tool for clarity, guidance, and introspection. Use your oracle deck to tap into your intuition to help you solve problems and answer questions about your personal growth. Marmanides says oracle cards carry all the same benefits as tarot cards, with less knowledge required to use what you learn. “I can pull an oracle card just as easily as I can pull a tarot card and all those same benefits are available [no matter] which one you choose,” she adds.

"Oracle decks support emotional and spiritual health by attuning the user to their intuition and a deeper inner knowing that we can sometimes forget during the busyness or transitions of life."—Aarona Lea Pichinson, author and oracle card set creator

Oracle cards are also great tools for accessing a moment of calm and introspection when you need it. "Oracle decks support emotional and spiritual health by attuning the user to their intuition and a deeper inner knowing that we can sometimes forget during the busyness or transitions of life," says Aarona Lea Pichinson, ritual wellness teacher, and author and founder of oracle card set The Moon Deck.

How to choose an oracle card deck

As Desiree Lanz, a Los Angeles-based intuitive reader, channeler, and medium, previously told Well+Good, the best oracle card deck for you is whichever one holds your attention and draws you to it. Whether you're shopping in person at a metaphysical shop or browsing online, pay attention to decks with themes and images that resonate with you. Remember, you also can acquire and use as many decks as you want; just be sure you have some connection to all of them for the most accurate readings.

In other words, think of oracle cards as your always-available spiritual advisor. Ready to give oracle cards a try? Keep reading for tips and a step-by-step guide on how to use oracle cards to tap into your intuition.

5 tips for accurate oracle card readings

1. Store your oracle cards in a respected place

Oracle cards are sacred intuitive tools, so Pichinson advises you treat them as such and keep them on an altar or designated shelf in your home, alongside any other spiritual tools you have.

2. Don't overthink it

While intuitive messages may not always make a ton of sense, remaining open to them is kind of the point. Rebecca Campbell, creator of the Work Your Light Oracle and co-creator of the Starseed Oracle decks, strongly encourages fighting overthinking or dismissing your intuitive insights when they arise; instead, thank yourself for the boost and request more. "Following your intuition takes trust, faith, and an openness and a willingness to be surprised," she adds.

3. Create card reading rituals

To step up your oracle-card-reading game, Pichinson recommends making your oracle card pulls a ritual. Set aside a couple minutes each day to pull one or two cards so you get in the habit of doing so. Bring the cards out to play on special occasions, such as when you're hanging out with friends or for a new moon ritual.

One easy way to create a ritual is to pick a timeframe to pull a card and stick to it. Every week, Marmanides pulls one oracle card to get a better idea of what she should focus on in the week ahead.

4. Ask clear, specific questions

In terms of which questions to ask, be sure to be as specific as possible. “The more focused you can have your question, the better,” says Marmanides. To narrow your focus, she recommends considering the situation you're asking about then really nailing down what insights you're hoping to gain. Let's say you went on a great date; instead of asking "Are they going to ask me out again?" ask 'Is there potential for a relationship here?' if that's what you want to know. Need ideas? For Marmanides’ weekly pull, she asks some variation of “what is the best use of my energy this week?” or “what is something I need to pay attention to?”

5. Don’t pull too many cards

Sometimes more information isn’t always best, especially if you’re just starting with oracle cards. Pulling one card initially is an easy way to focus on the experience and messaging tied to it; Marmanindes says you could pull as many cards as you want to, but realize that more cards could muddle the takeaways. To prevent this, ask a new question for every new card pulled.

Marmanides says she now intuitively knows when to stop pulling cards, but you may need more practice until you get there. “The more you work with [your deck] and trust that it’s answering your question you will intuitively know when you’ve received the answer so you can stop pulling,” she adds.

If you need more information, pull a spread of oracle cards. Try pulling a five card spread, which can correspond to five questions and give you deep insights into your situation. “Card one is going to answer the question of what is the situation, card two is what do I need to do, card three is what is something I don’t know, card four is what is this other person bringing to the situation, and card five is the outcome,” explains Marmanides.

7 steps for using oracle cards to tap into your intuition

1. Infuse the cards with your energy

To create a strong relationship with your oracle cards, Pichinson recommends first infusing them with your energy by playing with them or even carrying them around with you. "The more you use your decks and touch them, the more they work for you and with you," she says.

How might you do this? Marmanides says she used to carry her oracle decks in her purse and sleep with them under her pillow. Do whatever feels right to build a trusting relationship with your deck so it can give you the clarity you seek.

2. Be clear about what you want guidance on

Like with tarot cards, the power of the intel you receive will depend on how good the question is. That's why Campbell recommends first getting really clear on what, specifically, you want to receive guidance on and form a question around it. Remember those clear questions mentioned above? Now’s the time to ask them.

3. Give your oracle cards a good shuffle

With your question in mind, shuffle your cards gently to mix up the order. Don't skip this step because it helps make sure you're not drawing the same cards repeatedly and helps deepen your relationship to your cards. Keep shuffling until you feel called to stop, which Pichinson says probably will take seven or more shuffles. Next, cut the deck into three piles and stack cards in a single pile. Let your energy merge with the cards by being present and breathing deeply as you shuffle.

Keep in mind, though, that the above method is just a suggestion. According to Marmanides, there is no wrong way to shuffle tarot cards, and the same is true for oracle cards. Personally she doesn’t like a “hard shuffle,” or really slamming or tossing the cards around, but if that method feels right to you, you're free to give it a try.

4. Spread out the cards

"Spread out your cards and hover your hand over them until you feel a magnetic pull and choose that card," Pichinson says. "You can do a single card spread, or select several cards, depending on what spread you choose to do and how deep you want to go with this reading." Many oracle decks often come with a booklet with tips on how to use different spreads. But, if you want to keep it super simple, just pull one card.

5. Sit with the card(s)

Once you've pulled a card or multiple cards, Pichinson suggests not diving into the guide book right away to search for a meaning. "Let your intuition guide the meaning for a few minutes," she says. This way, you're tapping into your deeper subconscious and relying on yourself to provide some answers.

Notice any themes, words, phrases, or symbols in the cards. Ask yourself if any images, words, sounds, or feelings came to mind as you read the cards. Was there one card that you had a particularly pointed reaction to? After Marmanides’ weekly pull, she takes time to reflect on anything she’s noticed as she goes about her days that might align with the oracle card she pulled; sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not, so don’t be afraid to set aside a bit of time to consider what this might be.

6. Look in the guide book

Once you've considered the cards for a bit on your own and picked up on the intuitive messages, Pichinson says you can then read the description in the guidebook (if the deck comes with one) to note any parallels you notice and gather additional insight.

7. Sum up the main message

Lastly, summarize the main message you received from the oracle cards based on what came up intuitively, and what you learned in the guidebook. You can meditate or journal on what came up for you. Finally, Campbell says, identify what action steps you can take based on that guidance because, what good is the universal guidance if we don’t put it into action?

Frequently asked questions about how to use oracle cards

How often should you use your oracle cards?

Just like tarot, there isn’t one set rule for how often to use your oracle cards. You could do a daily pull or even pull one card just as you might with a one card tarot pull, or you could do a weekly or monthly pull. You can also access them in any moment of duress, uncertainty, or curiosity. In short, the answer to how often to use your cards is as often as you want or need.

You may want to avoid asking the same question multiple times in quick succession, because you risk muddling their message. “With anything divination-related, the more you use it to ask the same amount of question in a short period of time the more diluted the message can become,” warns Marmanides. “By pulling it so many times, it’s almost like you’re not trusting the original response.” To avoid this, stick to asking different questions or spacing out your oracle card pulls so the message is clear.

How do I shuffle my oracle cards for the first time?

Again, there are no set rules regarding how you should or shouldn’t shuffle your cards before your initial use. The best way to shuffle your cards for the first time is whichever movement strengthens your connection to them, which you can build by touching them often.

When she shuffles her deck, Marmanides likes to separate her cards into short piles and then mix them to make sure they’re well-shuffled; when she first started reading, she'd put all her cards in a pile and gently mix them. Try out some different moves and see what feels best.

How do you dispose of oracle cards?

Sometimes an oracle card deck doesn’t quite fit your needs or you don’t vibe with it, in which case it might be time to cast it out of your life. There’s no rule saying you aren’t allowed to throw an oracle deck away, but Marmanides says she has never done it because she feels trashing them is disrespectful to this tool for introspection and divination. “If you’re scared of your deck or you feel it’s causing you harm, maybe in that case it’s okay to throw it away but I’ve never had that experience,” she says.

You might consider giving a deck you don't want to a friend, or offering it on your local buy nothing group. You could even list it for sale on a site like OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace. Before passing your oracle deck into someone else’s possession, be sure to clear your energy by waving a selenite wand over it so its new owner can start fresh.

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