If you’re not familiar with tarot cards and you’ve ever gone to a book store to buy your first deck, the experience can be overwhelming. Today, there are multiple varieties of cards which look like tarot cards but aren’t real tarot cards at all. If you’re searching for a little clarity, here are the different types of tarot decks — and other kinds of decks which aren’t tarot at all.
Broadly speaking, personal insight cards fall into three categories.
Here are three basic tarot deck types
- Traditional Tarot Cards: These are true 78 Card tarot decks. There is a 56 card Major Arcana and a fully illustrated, 78 card Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is divided into 4 suits.
- Marseilles Tarot Cards: These are old, French-style tarot cards. Marseilles tarot cards are very similar to traditional tarot cards, but the Minor Arcana cards are not fully illustrated and use playing-card style “pip cards” instead.
- Oracle Cards: These highly illustrated cards are technically not tarot at all, but are used in a similar way. Oracle cards are used for divination and personal insight do not adhere to the traditional 78-card format of tarot decks. Typically they do not have a Major Arcana and a Minor Arcana, and just consist of “trump cards”. Oracle cards include “Angel cards” which are a popular type of oracle card which uses illustrations of angels.
Traditional tarot deck structure
This diagram shows the traditional structure of a tarot deck with a Major and Minor arcana, and the Minor Arcana divided into 4 tarot suits.
If a deck of insight or divination cards has the structure shown above, but the Minor Arcana cards don’t feature full illustrations, then the deck is probably a Marseille tarot deck. If a deck has more or (probably) fewer than 78 cards, it’s likely an oracle deck.