I’m a tarot reader and have never had much use for oracle decks. But earlier this year when I was preparing a presentation on accessing your intuition and finding your answers using tarot and oracles, I came across The Sacred World Oracle by Kris Waldherr. I have always liked her artwork—she designed The Goddess Tarot in the late 90s based on her 1996 picture book of goddess images. And I found her online apps (here and here) to be useful and to show off the beautiful artwork of her cards. For the first time, I became enamored of an oracle deck.
I immediately liked what I saw in the Sacred World Oracle. The artwork was beautiful, the thematic thread of the deck, primarily nature and animal based, conjured up multi-cultural myths and folklore for each animal illustrated, adding deepening layers to the simple images. And like a tarot deck, it was divided into four suits corresponding to the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Here was an oracle deck with intriguing possibilities.
The deck, published by US Games, comprises forty-four cards, 4 5/8 inches tall by 3 5/8 inches wide, shorter and wider than a standard size tarot deck and probably a little smaller than many oracle decks. The images are clear and detailed without seeming overwhelmed by the intricate decorative border that frames them and that showcases, along the lower edge of the illustration, the suit emblem (leaves for Earth, a wave for Water, clouds for Air, and curling flames for Fire). Across the bottom of the card, below the border, is a Roman numeral and the card title. The usual verses included on so many oracle decks are not printed on the cards, but keywords and card meanings can be found in the accompanying little white book (LWB).
The cardstock is firm, a little stiff at first for shuffling, although I don’t think oracle readers usually shuffle as vehemently as tarot card readers do. This seems more the type of deck to fan out and thoughtfully select one card at a time. The card backs, non-reversible, are the brown of an old, worn leather book, with small, gold decorative crescents in the corners and a sprinkling of stars of different sizes. Centered on the back is a circle, divided into four quadrants, each containing one of the suit illustrations. The words “As Above So Below” curve around the edge of the circle.
The little white book that comes with the deck is, like most LWBs, pretty spare. It provides keywords for each card, and a short paragraph that gives a slightly more in-depth analysis for interpretation. My favorite aspect of the LWB is that for each card it suggests appropriate myths, literature, religious stories, fairy tales, artwork, and even ballets from around the world—fodder for further research. There is a brief history of the development of the deck and a bio of the artist and author at the back of the LWB. Also included are two card spreads, including the clever Black Swan, White Swan spread developed by Thalassa of Daughters of Divination, the organization that hosts the Bay Area Tarot Symposium, the longest running tarot conference in the world.
It seems like dolphins and rainbows are requisite images for oracle decks, and this deck does not disappoint. Centered on card XVII, Dolphin in the Water suit, is a dolphin, breaching out of waves that crash against hull-crushing rocks. His graceful curve and strong tail indicate that he is just playing and can rocket away from the rough water at any time. His friend in the distance leaps up toward a rainbow that reflects the top arch of the card border. This card is perhaps the definitive card of the deck—it uses what I’ve come to expect as standard oracle imagery, but by placing the friendly dolphin in a challenging position, it gives us an example of how to honor difficulty in our lives, transforming it into a game with the rainbow promise that nothing is too great a challenge.
All of the imagery is gorgeous, but a favorite is XXII, Carp, also in the Water suit. The shades of orange and gold lend richness to this card, which symbolizes financial prosperity. The open-mouthed carp twists in the currents of a shallow, clear stream, broken by occasional rocks and tall grasses. Dragonflies dart in and out. An old, gnarled oak branch adorned with blazing fall leaves cuts across the frame of the image, deepening the perspective. The image reminds me of the time I sat at the Denver Botanic Gardens watching the fish in Dragonfly Pond.
XXX, Butterfly in the suit of Air is the image that doubles as the box cover illustration. A winged fairy in a soft neo-classical gown floats against a backdrop of pink and salmon colored clouds while dozens of colorful butterflies flutter below her. The card isn’t so much about transformation, as most tarot readers see the symbol of the butterfly, as it is about lightness, movement, and protecting what is delicate and precious.
Only a few cards feature human figures. VII, Lion (Earth) is a beautiful portrait of a lady in a blue Renaissance gown seated outdoors before a seemingly out-of-place tapestry displaying a scene of a castle. She looks up from the book she is reading and brushes her wind-blown hair out of her eyes while a lion dozes contentedly at her feet. The girl in XXXIX, Firefly (Fire) looks like she has ascended to the stars, surrounded as she is by glowing lightning bugs that she gathers into a paper lantern that illuminates her satisfied smile. XXXVII, Dragon (Fire) illustrates St. George and the dragon, with admittedly more emphasis on the dragon slayer than the fire-breather himself.
Dragon is not the only fictional beast included in the deck. Although most of the cards feature real-life animals, birds, fish and insects, mythological creatures such as the Centaur, Chimera and Phoenix take their place in this artistic menagerie.
There are four cards that are analogous to the Aces of the tarot deck. The first card of each suit exemplifies the element involved. I, Earth shows a landscape extending from an ancient, thick trunked tree in the foreground, through hills and valleys into tall mountains in the distance. The colors are greens, grays and browns. Tree tops take the shape of bears and mountains reveal crouching cats. In XII, Water, shadowy marine flora wave in the sparkling currents of the blue and green depths. Contemplation of the image brings the outlines of seals, and perhaps other creatures lurk in the dark deep as well. XXIII, Air shows dim storm clouds and bright lightning. One of the clouds morphs into the strong wings and noble head of an eagle. Flaming orange and yellow mythological beasts—dragon, phoenix and chimera—form the wildfire that crackles through the red and brown prairie grasses and pines in XXXIV, Fire.
Even though this deck functions as a standard oracle, to be read intuitively or via the keywords provided in the LWB, the division of the deck into four suits and the addition of cards that represent the essence of each element opens up numerous possibilities for reading. Laying out multiple cards, you can take note of whether there is a preponderance of a suit—for instance, many fire cards would indicate the need for energy and change, whereas a majority of earth cards would suggest that your goals are being manifest.
You could also read elemental dignities with this deck, a technique normally associated with esoteric tarot. Fire and Water are contrary, and Earth and Air are contrary. Earth and Water are friendly. Air and Fire are friendly. Same suits always support. Other combinations are neutral. With multiple cards laid out, look to see which cards support or intensify each other (friendly) and which undermine each other (contrary), or which are neutral. This alone could add a great amount of depth to your readings! Try it with the Black Swan, White Swan spread (in the LWB), checking to see if the magic feathers are supporting or undermining your swans.
The allusion to religion and myth even allows the Hero’s Journey, associated with the Major Arcana of the tarot, to be layered onto the cards. So in any given reading it might make sense to simply read the imagery and the symbolism of the animal, or by following your intuition, it might be appropriate to take the reading deeper and pull from the ancient tales.
One reason people like oracle decks is that disturbing and challenging imagery is at a minimum. But in this oracle it is present, which to me recommends this deck. The Snake twisted and knotted in tree roots. The fire-breathing black stallions stumbling off a cliff in the Horse card. Spider in its web. A cloud of bats swooping down between bare-branched trees while far away a tower rises above all. The forest fire could be a trigger for some, especially for those of us in Colorado who have suffered from the destruction of extreme weather this year. Of course, in the proper place, forest fires are necessary to clear out underbrush and even to cause certain seeds to sprout. And so each of these cards, although perhaps not as warm and fuzzy as the smiling bunny sniffing around the bushes or the clutter of cats climbing on the statue of the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet, nevertheless has its place and appropriate power.
This deck hasn’t converted me to oracle decks, but it certainly is one of the most intriguing, not to mention beautiful oracles I’ve seen.
To see more card images and a video, or to order this deck, visit Isis Books and Gifts.
To see a sample reading with this deck, please refer to my blog post, Tarot vs. Oracles.
Joy Vernon has been teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for over twenty years. She is one of the Psychics of Isis in Denver, Colorado and reads at Northern Lights in Fort Collins. She teaches Tarot, Astrology, Qabalah and Traditional Japanese Reiki. She is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association. Her specialty is Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which helps her clients break through blocks and align with their higher purpose. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2013 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.