Saturday, May 12, 2012

Oracle Decks

The Tarot is quite possibly the most widely recognized system of divination, and is usually composed of 78 cards. However, there are other decks that have more or less cards, and perform a similar function. Some of these are generally classified as Tarot decks, also- some examples are the Deva Tarot, which has 93 cards, an extra Major Arcana card as well as a fifth suit, and the Fifth Tarot, which also contains five instead of four suits. Others are deviations from the Tarot, and aren't considered Tarot decks. So what's the difference? And is one superior to the other? 
To answer the first question, I have limited experience with oracle decks, but believe it's a matter of what the reader is most comfortable with. Tarot has behind it the strength of long tradition- whether or not this makes it easier to learn is again a matter of personal opinion and aptitude. 
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Tarot decks and oracle decks is that they don't follow the traditional Tarot divisions and symbolism. They serve the same purpose, but don't have the divisions that the Tarot does. Some of them are almost too simplistic- one that comes to mind is the Archangel Oracle deck, created by Doreen Virtue- it consists of 45 cards, and contains pictures of archangels (there are 15 different archangels in the deck, each one with a different area of influence) and a rather oracular message pertaining to each- the method of using them is similar to using Tarot cards, and can make a good companion tool to the Tarot.
Another example is the two decks produced by Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor, the Hidden Path deck and the Well Worn Path deck. They consist of 40 cards each, and can be used together or independently. Unlike the Tarot, they are all 'picture' cards- without a number or suit designation, and each card has a meaning related to some aspect of Paganism. It's an interesting take on using cards and symbols for divination, and not a bad one!
Perhaps the main difference between an oracle deck and a Tarot deck lies in their names- an oracle speaks not to a situation, but to a specific person. Thus, the focus of an oracle deck tends to be much more centered on the individual- instead of saying "this", as a Tarot deck does, taking into account all the factors surrounding a situation, an oracle deck will say "you", addressing the specific person, and often has a greater focus on the individual and their internal state. The oracle deck will focus on thought processes, patterns of behavior, and how a person reacts to their world, while a Tarot deck has its focus on the situation as a whole, and what external as well as internal factors influence a situation. This isn't to imply that one is superior to the other, merely to note that the different focus can assign a more specific use to each one. I've found that they can be used together, as after all, we live in one world, governed by one set of rules, complex and multifaceted though they are. 
Like in any area of similar debate, there will be people who insist on tradition- the Tarot has a long tradition of being used, and if that's what you're most comfortable using, then by all means do so. Who really can say what will resonate with each person? It's an interesting question why the Tarot has become such a widely used system. Perhaps a part of it is its portability, and a part is the fact that it's so commonly known. But it's perhaps the same reason that most churches have an organ in them- because it's traditional. Again, I'm not trying to bash tradition, or advocate it above all else, necessarily- tradition is a useful tool, as is innovation. Perhaps another factor is that to develop an oracle, one would need to plan out a system of representing all or part of human experience, and develop a symbol set to cover all of that. But again, this leaves us with the question of why only the Tarot can do this. Are there other systems that can do the same? 
There are, though again, it depends on what each person is most familiar and comfortable with. Systems like the Runes, the I Ching and even astrology all look for patterns in the world around us, and give us a means to interpret those patterns and signs. So if all these systems of symbols tap into the same world, which has throughout it the same patterns and flow, then it becomes simply a question of in what way each reader or observer is most comfortable understanding the same basic functionality, and understanding what it can tell us about the world we live in. 

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