Big Deck Energy: How to Choose the Best Tarot or Oracle Cards for You

Photo: Erin Magner for Well+Good; Wild Unknown Animal Spirit cards by Kim Krans
From women's circles to wellness retreats, tarot and oracle card decks are positively everywhere right now. And if you've ever tried to buy one of your own—because why wouldn't you want to be your own fortune teller?—you'll know that the number of options is super overwhelming. Starchild vs. Wild Unknown tarot. Angel cards. Decks emblazoned with crystals, spirit animals, goddesses, mantras. Like, where do you even start?

According to Desiree Lanz, a Los Angeles-based intuitive reader, channeler, and medium, it's simple—if you walk into a metaphysical store (or are scrolling on social) and feel drawn to a certain deck, that's the right one for you. "Our intuition will lead us to themes and imagery that we resonate with, feel emotionally connected to and can benefit from," she says. "It’s really just a matter of what we enjoy looking at, holding, and developing a working relationship with." Working with a deck you like is one of the best ways to make learning how to use oracle cards fun and useful.

Picking a deck based on your intuition is good practice since that's really the whole point of tarot and oracle card decks. They're essentially designed to help you get in touch with your own inner knowing—and, some believe, the divine energy that informs that inner knowing. "The more tools we have to receive intuitive information, the more assistance, signs, and messages we can pick up on," says Lanz.

The idea is that your intuition (slash the universe) guides you to pull the card with information that will help lead you toward a certain path to follow or energy you need to cultivate within yourself. "Our intuition interprets the messages and images we receive from the cards, determining which parts are relevant to us, whether the messages are metaphorical or literal, and what area of life they are referring to. [Pulling cards] is like giving our intuition a really wide vocabulary with which to express itself," Lanz adds.

And to make that vocabulary as rich as possible, Lanz actually recommends building up a library of different card decks, as each one has its own nuanced ideas to offer. "When we pull from more than one deck, we can receive additional messages that complement an answer we may have already gotten from other cards," she explains. "Or we may pull a very similar message that provides strong confirmation."

To get you started, I asked Lanz to break down the differences between the main categories of card decks and to give tips for using each one. But let me just warn you now, tarot and oracle cards are kind of like sneakers—it's a little too easy to reach hoarder status, so start planning your storage solutions now.

Read on for the down-low on buying tarot or oracle card decks.

The different types of spiritual card decks, explained

First, let's break down the difference between tarot and oracle cards. Tarot follows a predictable structure: While you'll find a lot of different tarot card designs, most decks based on the Rider-Waite system (the most common one today) contain the same 78 cards, with meanings that broadly remain consistent across all decks.

When we say "oracle cards," however, we're referring to pretty much every other type of spiritual card deck. With these, there are no rules. The number of cards, themes, artwork, and messaging usually varies widely from deck to deck.

As Lanz mentioned before, it's best to follow your intuition and choose sets of cards that you're drawn to, above all else. But, as you'll see below, there are a few differences between the various categories of decks. And those distinctions can also help to guide you toward the cards you'll vibe with best.

Tarot cards

Tarot cards offer the deepest level of detail and storytelling out of all the card types. Each card represents a certain aspect of the human experience, and readers often create spreads of several cards to help shed light on the inner workings of people and situations. (Although you can get plenty of information from pulling just one tarot card—more on that in a minute.)

"Tarot cards are an incredible tool for understanding the dynamics in relationships, receiving advice for the day, seeing what’s going on both within us and in our external circumstances, and making predictions," says Lanz. As you can imagine, it can be hard to wrap your head around 78 metaphorical card meanings, so if that stresses you out, you may want to start with a smaller and more straightforward oracle deck. "Reading Tarot requires some training and practice," Lanz says. "[But] like any other oracle method, our intuition is what translates the symbolism of the cards into the advice that answers our questions."

Recommended decks: The Wild Unknown Tarot ($23), Mystic Mondays Tarot ($20), Starchild Tarot ($65)

Spirit animal cards

If you're the type of person who stops to pet every dog you see on the street, you'll probably be really into spirit animal cards. I like to use mine in the morning—I look to them for insight into what aspect of my personality I may need to bring forth for that day. For instance, if I pull the deer card, I'll keep it by my computer as a reminder to be gentle and gracious no matter what my inbox throws at me. (And if I pull the lion, I might take that as a sign that I shouldn't be afraid to speak up for myself, if necessary.)

"Spirit Animal cards communicate attributes that animal archetypes embody, such as courage, adaptability, or loyalty," says Lanz. "These aspects are helpful for us to integrate into our experience in order to conquer an obstacle or facilitate a manifestation." She adds that they can also represent a situation or a part of yourself that's already at the forefront of your consciousness, which is like a cool wink from the universe.

Recommended decks: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck and Guidebook  ($25), The Spirit Animal Oracle ($19)

Angel cards

Angel cards are considered a channel to communicate with—you guessed it—angels and archangels, the latter of which is considered a higher-level angel in certain religious traditions (Christianity and Judaism included). "They may suggest calling upon a particular angel or archangel to assist in what we’re asking about," says Lanz.

For instance, if you pull a card depicting Archangel Michael, the angel of protection, you could mentally ask him to watch over you that day. "Angels are happy to help and send signs when we ask by choosing to connect with them, praying, or calling upon them," says Lanz.

Recommended decks: Daily Guidance from Your Angels Oracle Cards ($16), Archangel Oracle Cards ($11)

Affirmation Cards

Is your Insta grid filled with art-directed inspirational quotes? Affirmation cards would probably be a good starting point for you—they're decks filled with mantras that you can incorporate into your day. (And they look really cute tacked up around your room or office.)

"Mantra cards [give us] a programming statement that can be helpful in bringing us into balance," Lanz explains. "For example, if we’re being hard on ourselves, we may receive the statement, 'I allow unconditional self-love and acceptance into my life.'" Again, these are great cards to pull first thing in the morning, to help set the tone for your day.

Recommended decks: The Universe Has Your Back by Gabby Bernstein ($15), Affirmators! 50 Affirmation Cards to Help You Help Yourself—Without the Self-Help-Yness! ($12)

How to do an easy reading with tarot or oracle cards

So you've fallen in love at first sight with a tarot or oracle deck. Now what?

Using them is actually super simple—it can be as basic as pulling a single card. The key is to work with your deck on the reg, as it will help you build a more personal relationship with the cards and their meanings.

Lanz suggests making a mini-ritual out of it. "Before pulling a card, choose to connect to source and your higher self," she suggests. Take a moment to take a few deep breaths and get present, and then formulate a question you'd like to have answered. "Some of my favorite questions to ask are: What do I need to focus on today? What do I need to hear for my highest good? How can I overcome this obstacle?" says Lanz.

Then, grab your deck. "Shuffle the cards and allow one to fall or jump out," Lanz says. "You can also pull three cards and place them in a line, interpreting them as a story that answers your question." If you're just starting out with your deck, she says you can consult the booklet that comes with it for insight into the cards' meanings. But there's also something to be said for interpreting the cards with your intuition first—looking at the pictures and words on the card, noticing what associations your mind automatically makes, and thinking about how they might apply to your situation. Best case, you'll have a few new flashes of insight about some aspect of your life. And if nothing else, you (and your deck) will definitely be the hit of your next women's circle.

If you're intrigued by tarot cards, here's a more in-depth guide to reading them. And while you're at it, why not learn how to do a crystal grid, too? 

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