Overcoming Five Common Tarot Reading Frustrations #4: Oracle and Angel Cards

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

This is part 4 of my weekly series on addressing the frustrations I heard from the attendees of a talk I did for a meetup group a few months ago. The participants described their tarot holdups as:

  1. Reading clearly for yourself without being pulled off track by seeing what you wanted to see
  2. How to manage psychic impressions when doing readings
  3. Finding patterns in the cards to help you tell the story
  4. Choosing between oracle, angel, or tarot cards (Today’s post!)
  5. Working with the most useful spreads

I soon realized that I could write a full blog post on each topic, so over the next several weeks you’ll see my advice concerning each of these common tarot reading frustrations.

If you want to follow the series without missing anything, I encourage you to sign up to receive email notification when a new post goes up by signing up on the top right of this page (totally free and you will only get notifications of my blog posts, published 3-4 times a month). If you’d like to subscribe to my once-a-month newsletter with notifications of classes, talks, meetup groups, special events, and a recap of my blog posts from the month, please sign up here or through my Facebook page.

Common Tarot Reading Frustration #4: Oracle, Angel, or Tarot Cards: How to Choose?

Another question that came up is how to choose between tarot, oracle, and angel card decks. Suiyin said that when you’re new to tarot cards, they can be scary. Kendara asserted that oracle cards are simply easier to read. I’ll give you the same disclaimer that I gave the group: I’m a tarot reader and my intention is to promote tarot. That said, I have a few oracle decks that I’ve worked with and once or twice I tried out an angel deck. But I’ll try to be fair to each before I proselytize for tarot.

The Down Side of Tarot

The thing that holds people back from tarot is the belief that due to the complex structure, it’s difficult to learn. The common belief, unfortunately promulgated by many tarot teachers (but not all!) is that the first thing you need to do is memorize 78 card meanings (156 if you’re reading reversals!) This is overwhelming in itself, and if you think that down the line you’ll be expected also to learn esoteric systems like numerology, astrology, and qabalah, it seems like it would just be so much simpler to pull an angel card with an inspiring verse on it.

If that’s not enough to scare you away, don’t forget that tarot has negative cards. We’ve got our usual suspects, the freak-out cards: Death, the Devil, the Hanged Man, the Tower. Certainly nothing good could come from those!

And other cards are challenging or confrontational, like the bandaged man glowering in front of a fence of wooden staffs; the silhouette of someone reaching toward cups floating in the clouds, some of which contain jewels, some dragons; or the forlorn and ragged beggars walking barefoot in the snow while above a church window is warmly lit. Not to mention the suit of swords, with the man with ten swords stuck in his back; the three swords piercing a heart in the pouring rain; the woman bound and blindfolded, feet in the incoming tide, swords stuck in the ground all around her.

Tarot is too hard, tarot is too scary, tarot is too negative! So let’s take a look at some of the gentler options.

Oracle Cards

Joy’s oracle deck collection.

An oracle is any message or advice that comes from the Divine or from beyond our realm of physical manifestation. The root of oracle is “to speak,” and derives from a person who serves as the instrument of the gods. In this sense, all types of divination cards, including tarot, and those who read them are oracles. However, the term oracle cards has come to indicate in its broadest sense any fortune-telling deck that does not follow a pre-determined structure. Tarot, Lenormand, Kipper, and playing card decks could all be considered oracle decks, but due to their standardized structure generally are categorized into the more specific system they utilize.

Oracle decks tend to have fewer cards, generally in the 30-45 card range, although decks with as few as 20ish or as many as 60+ can be found. More often than tarot, they feature key words or verses that aid in understanding the image or provide context. The primary focus is usually the art, not the symbolism. And oracle decks often have themes that tie them together, such as dolphins, mermaids, animals, fairies, crystals, astrology, sacred geometry, and so on. (Angel-themed oracle decks are called angel cards.) These qualities generally make oracle cards easier to read right out of the gate without any study or training.

Some oracle decks, like the Transformation Oracle by Sonya Shannon, or the Sacred World Oracle, by Kris Waldherr, are divided into suits based on the four elements. And occasionally an oracle deck will integrate numerology, like the Transformation Oracle, or include esoteric symbolism, but this is rare and, although adds valuable layers of interpretation, in some ways undermines the simplicity embraced by the oracle deck tradition. Most oracle decks have no governing structure, so each card stands alone, independent of the other cards in the deck.

Oracle cards generally are positive and uplifting, with messages that inspire, calm, reassure, and motivate. They speak to us kindly, appeal to our emotional needs, smooth ruffled feathers. Most oracle decks are created to be beautiful. They capture fantasy worlds, vintage settings, or impressionistic dreamscapes. They transport us beyond the limitations of everyday existence and bring us before the fairies, animal totems, and divinities to receive uplifting support from Spirit. They encourage us take a piece of the beyond back with us to calm us in troubled times.

Many people like to use oracle cards for a daily card draw, a meditation focus, or as positive encouragement when they need to hear something good. Some will use a specific deck such as a goddess deck or animal deck to connect with a particular spirit for guidance or to develop rituals or spells. Some readers or teachers will use an uplifting oracle deck to pull a card to end a reading or class on a positive note.

Angel Cards

The first deck titled Angel Cards was published in 1992. They were simple cards with playful illustrations and uplifting keywords. Now angel cards form a significant percentage of oracle decks available, and cover every facet imaginable: angel healing, daily angel affirmations, angel therapy, angel guidance, soul angel, indigo angel, voice of the angels, angel messages, and angel inspiration. There are also several decks of angel tarot cards.

Angel cards focus on artwork and positive keywords and verses for inspiration. Simply put, they are oracle decks with the theme of angels, and sub-themes such as healing, messages, romance, and inspiration.

One unique evolution in divination cards is the recent advent of angel tarot cards. These are advertised as being as accurate as tarot cards, but also gentler and sweeter, more motivational, safer, and more trustworthy. They are particularly directed toward highly sensitive people who feel distrustful of the symbolism of the tarot.

Although I’m disappointed that Doreen Virtue, one of the primary authors of angel card decks, feels so threatened by tarot cards, I find it amusing that her own marketing materials say that tarot is more accurate than other oracle decks. I find that I receive very accurate and often surprisingly personal responses from any system I use. Tarot is more detailed than oracle or angel decks, addresses a wider variety of situations, and is more direct and to the point. But I have found all systems to be accurate.

My Angel Card Reading

I did a couple readings with sample angel decks and would like to share one with you to show you how it works.

I used the Messages from Your Angels deck and asked “What do I most need to know right now?” That kind of vague question doesn’t go over well with tarot, but is purported to work well with oracle and angel cards. I found that it did. I received the card “Adriana” which shows an angel with a torch leading two children up a dark and shadowy staircase. The wind is blowing and clouds fill the background. The verse said, “I am leading you toward the answer to your prayers. Please listen to and follow the steps I am communicating through your intuition, thoughts, and dreams.”

Joy’s angel card reading.

My intuition has never been very strong, so I asked the cards, “What can I do to increase my intuition?” I drew “Desirée,” who was standing on an impressionistic beach by a pastel ocean with peaky waves and the sun hidden behind foggy clouds. This card also looked breezy. (Apparently the cards want to confirm that I don’t find angel oracles to be warm and fuzzy, but rather cool and goosepimply.) Desirée told me, “No, conditions aren’t favorable right now. Wait, or look into other options; and ask the angels to help, guide and comfort you.” Ok, thank you Doreen Virtue for being the first person to tell me that my intuition sucks. This proves that all my supporting, loyal friends who say the opposite have been lying all these years!

I asked, “So if I can’t develop my intuition, where can I find guidance?” This is where the cards became very personal, with an answer that was perfectly clear and relevant to me. I pulled a card titled Bridgette. I have been a flamekeeper for the goddess Brigid for many years, and she has always, going back twenty-five plus years, been one of my favorite goddesses. I have a strong connection with her and always feel her presence and receive guidance from her when I pray to her. So that night before bed I got out my Brigid mala and said my prayers to her.

Comparing Tarot, Oracle and Angel Cards

Incidentally, it’s important to note that the verse on the Bridgette card was meaningless to me. It said, “Caution is warranted. Look deeper into this situation before proceeding further.” This proves the point I most want to make. The cards–any cards: tarot, oracles, angel cards–are meaningless without the context of a question, the person who asks the question, and the relationship to other cards. If I had said, that can’t be my Brigid, the name is spelled differently or if I had simply gone by the verse, I would have believed that getting guidance was something not appropriate for me at this time. So much for angel cards being softer and gentler! No matter how blunt and direct or coy and veiled the message, we are the ones who hear it, and if we are sensitive or have low self-esteem or feel victimized, even angel cards will support our own beliefs.

So what’s the difference between tarot, oracle and angel cards? Oracle cards and angel cards focus on the message provided through keywords, verses, and artwork.

Tarot cards communicate via artwork, symbolism, keywords, the elements as they relate to the suits, numerology, and much more.

This seems like a lot, but if you remember that tarot, exactly like oracle cards, also speaks via image and keyword, and if you let go of needing to know everything all at once, you will find that you can read tarot just like oracles, but also know that as you grow and become more familiar with the cards, they will grow with you.

To choose your first tarot deck, please do not limit yourself to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, but rather choose any illustrated deck that speaks to you. Read my deck-buying guidelines and get a list of 50 recommended beginning tarot decks (including one angel tarot!).

The (C)Up Side of Tarot 

For all the difficult images in tarot, there are many more beautiful and encouraging ones. The High Priestess, the Empress, the Lovers, the Star, and the Sun are all uplifting and inspiring. The Four of Wands and its celebratory canopy as people rush around in the background to prepare for a party, the reassuring guide poling a boat of refugees towards the safety of a new land in the Six of Swords, the continuity of a well-off multi-generational family in the Ten of Pentacles, not to mention the entire suit of cups, with lovers embracing, friends toasting, and children sharing.

Tarot represents the full spectrum of experience, and does not wince at the negative or try to tart it up and pass it off as a great new development. Tarot tells it like it is.

You have friends you call when you need to hear a positive word of encouragement and an atta-girl. There are friends you call when you need to hear the bald truth and need to make an honest assessment of a situation. Call on oracles for upbeat encouragement from someone who always sees the good in everything. Call on tarot when you’re ready to hear the truth from a compassionate and caring friend who will let you know when you’re on track, and when you’re not. That is the friend who will not forsake you in times of trouble and will guide you through the darkness toward the dawning Sun.


Special thanks to Fran and Julie, as well as Alanna, Bethany, Betty, and Paige at Goddess Isis Books for advising me on oracle and angel decks and providing sample copies to work with.


If you’d like to learn to read the tarot with no memorization or books, simply letting the cards speak for themselves, check out my upcoming Magician’s Tools: Beginning Tarot class, Sundays, February 12-March 19, 2017, 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Isis Books and Gifts, 2775 South Broadway, Englewood, CO 80113.

If you’re getting started and want to know the best beginner deck, please take a look at my post on 50 Beginning Tarot Decks.



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 the most active and one of the largest tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a psychic and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

© 2017 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five 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 grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

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  1. Joy, thank you for this excellent article comparing the Tarot, Oracles and Angel cards. You addressed salient issues for those new to divination, and your points about each of the three categories are thoughtful and helpful. I will certainly refer my students to this post!

    I’d like to address two facets of your point about numerology making an “easier to use” Oracle deck more complex. First, the numbers in the Transformation Oracle deck refer to the divined order of transformations within each element or suit. In other words, one doesn’t have to learn the symbolic meaning of the number 8 to read the “Harvest”, “Grace”, “Integration” or “Expansion” cards. Instead, the number refers to those cards being the 8th in their respective elements of Earth, Fire, Air, or Water. The divine order of the Transformation Oracle cards appears in a chart (http://transformation-oracle.com/transformation-oracle-poster/) and tends to illuminate the reader’s understanding and interpretation of the phase of transformation during the reading, by illustrating what came before and what comes after in a given element, especially if one pulls a single card.

    Secondly, while I’m not sure I agree that Oracle Card sets are organically easier to use than the Tarot, you are correct that they can appear easier to learn and thus less daunting to beginners. It’s true Oracle and Angel decks almost invariably have less cards than the Tarot, but this fact doesn’t limit their depth, subtlety, or the ways they can intersect with other bodies of knowledge, such as numerology. Your point that Tarot comes under the subset of Divination or Oracle Decks in general highlights the truth that each Tarot, Oracle, and Angel deck has its own inflections and energies channeled by the respective authors/artists. I respect your strong preference for the Tarot, yet I believe that all three types of divination cards (as well as numerous other divination systems such as Runes, I-Ching, pendulums, crystals, etc.) can be powerful, detailed, profound, accurate and helpful. In the end, I believe each reader is entitled to their personal preference for which tool works best under certain circumstances — and I greatly appreciate you bearing the flag for the Tarot!

    I heartily agree with your conclusion, that knowing the question and context for each reader are essential to interpretation. Thank you again for this intelligent and insightful piece.

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