Say It With Tarot

Everything you want to know about Tarot--especially for self-empowerment, personal growth and creativity--from Tarot expert, author and deck co-creator Janet Boyer.

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Tarot Cards, Oracle Decks and Lenormand – What’s the Difference?

When pagans want to learn divination, especially cartomancy (cards), they are faced with hundreds (if not thousands) of choices.

It can be overwhelming, I know! Here’s a broad overview to help get you started.

Tarot consists of 78 cards: 22 Major Arcana, 40 Minor Arcana and 16 Court Cards. It’s become a complex, esoteric system of cartomancy. The Major Arcana contains familiar images like The Fool, The Lovers, The Wheel of Fortune and The Sun. They are considered by most to be the “big picture” cards spanning universal archetypes.

The most recognized Tarot deck is the 1909 Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS). Rider refers to the publisher (Rider & Son). Occultist Arthur Edward Waite commissioned the deck that Pamela Colman Smith illustrated. The Tarot de Marseilles (TdM) style decks feature static Minor Arcana cards (i.e. 4 of Cups shows four actual cups, 10 of 

Now, there are loads of Tarot decks on the market, many themed. There’s the Coffee Tarot and Snowland Deck (that my artist husband and I created), herbal-themed Tarots, decks dedicated to a specific culture or spiritual traditional (Hippies! Voodoo! Vikings!), pop culture decks (like Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Wizard of Oz), circus-themed, cat-themed, goddess-themed, literary, zombies, crows, vampires, herbs, Gummy Bear…whew!

With so many creative independent artists out theremany who can be found on Etsythis is truly the golden age of Tarot.

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The Minor Arcana and Court Cards of Tarot consist of four suits that are connected to the four elements (Fire, Water, Earth and Air). These are often designated Wands (Batons/Clubs), Cups (Chalices/Hearts), Pentacles (Coins/Diamonds) and Swords (Blades/Spades)—although deck creators may take liberty with the suit names.

The Minor Arcana are considered the “rubber meets the road” cards—the stuff of everyday life. The Court Cards are often “face” cards, designated King, Queen, Knight and Page…but, again, deck creators use creative license with titles. Some insist these cards indicate actual people, while many believe they reflect personality traits or styles of action.

Oracle decks can be anything the creator wants them to be, including how many cards. Oracle cards might be dedicated to flowers, crystals, animals, trees, chakras, angels, colors, etc. Some decks have over 80 cards (like Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards).

A few deck creators have created “Tarot” decks with an extra suit (or two). Technically, this would be a Tarot deck with an oracle deck (or two) on top of it.

Some Oracle decks are hundreds of years old and have their own specific designations. One of the most popular is the Lenormand deck. (Tarot happens to have its origins in a 15th century Italian game called Tarocchi).

Lenormand cards consist of 36 cards that connect to regular playing cards, with titles like Fox, Bouquet, Mountain, House, Ship, etc. Unlike Tarot, Lenormand is rather simple, with interpretations based mostly on proximity of cards in a layout. While a reading, itself, can be complex (as in, rich with details)—especially with layouts like The Grand Tableau—the cards themselves are usually interpreted with more narrow meanings (compared to Tarot). Lenormand decks, too, can be themed (in fact, my husband recently finished his Alien Lenormand deck...soon to be published).

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Tarot card meanings can be weaved as stories, replete with symbolism and psychological import. They’ve become a helpful therapeutic tool for many Tarotists. (Still, some use Tarot for basic fortunetelling using traditional meanings). Lenormand, however, is pretty much strictly fortunetelling—straightforward and basic.

Some cartomancers use regular playing cards (poker deck) to read fortunes, and there are other historical decks like 18th/19th century 52-card Sibilla decks (click here for a great article about them) or 36-card Kipper decks (from 19th century Germany), as well. So if you want a less-complicated fortunetelling tool, Lenormand is your best bet—or one of the Sibilla or Kipper decks.

If you crave a more complex, nuanced and symbolic form of cartomancy, Tarot might be a great fit for you—especially with the myriad themes and art styles available.

-- Janet Boyer, author of Back in Time Tarot, Tarot in Reverse, Naked Tarot and the companion books to the Coffee Tarot and Snowland Deck

The Trippin' Waite Tarot can be found at the Tarot Collectibles website. Tierney Sadler's Keywordy Lenormand is out of print.

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Janet Boyer is the author of Back in Time Tarot (Hampton Roads), Tarot in Reverse (Schiffer Publishing) and Naked Tarot: Sassy, Stripped-Down Advice (Dodona Books). She's the co-creator (with her husband, artist Ron Boyer) of the Snowland Deck and Coffee Tarot, and authored both companion books to those decks. A Renaissance Soul, she is also an award-winning cook, mixed media artist, jewelry artisan and journal maker. Next to creating, her favorite thing to do is spend time with her beloved husband, son and 5 cats at her rural home in Pennsylvania.

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