Learn About Oracle Reading
IT'S EXCITING TO SEE THAT a whole new generation of curious minds has found their way to the world of divination decks. It has become common to find articles about tarot online and in the mainstream media, as more and more people become interested in this ancient form of cartomancy for dealing with modern life issues. At the same time, we’re seeing a proliferation of oracle decks coming into the marketplace, with a wide range of themes and topics from angelology to witchcraft. Oracle decks can be portals into other cultures and the many realms of nature, magic and spirituality where we discover messages of insight, inspiration, affirmation and empowerment. With oracle decks coming more and more into the public consciousness, we are often asked to explain to our customers the difference between oracle decks and tarot decks, and how to go about using oracle decks. Though most oracle decks come with a booklet or guidebook that includes some instructions, we’ve created this guide for customers browsing through the many decks available as they consider what might be their first purchase of an oracle deck product.
The first thing to know is that, unlike with tarot, Lenormand or other established divination systems, oracle decks do not typically follow a system of prescribed images or meanings. Instead, the art and the descriptions or messages are mostly subjective and are often simply suggestions or prompts to inspire readers and activate their personal associations and intuitive insights. Yet, there are some effective practices that will help readers get the most out of their work with oracle decks. I’ve outlined some suggested methods, starting with the simplest and easiest approaches.
First, choose an oracle deck that appeals to you because of its theme, subject matter, energetic vibe, or even style of art. Before turning to the booklet, flip through the deck and just absorb its energy and allow it to receive yours. As you examine each card, try to be mindful about your emotional responses to the imagery. Notice what emotions and feelings come up for you. Do some cards make you feel hopeful and energized while others feel more soothing? Pull out a few cards that seem to have a strong impact on your feelings. Before bringing your attention to the message on the card, if there is one, take a few more moments to reflect on each individual card image, noticing the details like colors and composition. Now read the card messages, which may be keywords or phrases, affirmations or suggestions. The messages on the card may not always seem to match up with your own emotional response or personal associations with certain elements. For example, someone who has had a frightening encounter with a certain kind of animal is going to react differently than someone who has a fondness for that particular creature. Each person has their own past experiences that may consciously or unconsciously affect their interpretation of a card. It’s important for readers to remember that there is no right or wrong interpretation in oracle card readings.
Oracle cards help readers recognize these feelings that come up and encourage them to explore their significance and acknowledge their validity. In fact, one of the many benefits of working with oracle decks is that readers learn to listen to and trust their own intuition. For this reason, the practice of oracle deck reading can be both enlightening and empowering.
One of the most commonly suggested approaches to oracle deck usage is the single card reading for daily inspiration or affirmation. You can either draw a random card from the deck or select one that expresses a meaning that resonates with you. To get the most out of the session, it helps to do focused meditation work with the card. First, gaze at the card, taking in all the details in the artwork and the message. Next, close your eyes and sense any emotional responses that surface. Practice mindfulness, allowing awareness and acceptance of any thoughts or feelings that arise, without any judgment, censoring or self-criticism. Looking again at the card, if there is an affirmation or inspirational phrase on the card, you may choose to recite it aloud one or more times, as a mantra or simply as a reminder to hold onto this thought throughout the day as needed. The card can be placed somewhere on a personal altar, in a sacred space, or brought along with you to carry its energy.
A single card reading can also be a helpful way to confront a question or issue the reader may be dealing with at the time. A specific question can be articulated or brought into focus before drawing the card. The reader should pay close attention to their emotional response to the card, as their own feelings and reactions can be more telling than the message on the card itself. That is, the reader may not find direct advice on the card, but it might instead stir up some feelings about the issue that had been previously unknown or unacknowledged. For example, if a reader is mulling over a dilemma and draws a very encouraging card, whether the reader sees that as realistic or unrealistic is an important clue in the reading.
The initial encounter with a card, particularly while doing mindful focus work, can bring up all kinds of complex feelings. To help explore and process these thoughts, many readers opt to journal about the card reading, jotting down any impressions or observations about the card itself or about the emotional associations that may come up. This exploration of feelings not only helps the reader get the most meaning out of an oracle reading session, but also gives the reader a record to come back to at a later time. This is especially helpful if there is a particular issue the reader is dealing with. The same card can elicit different feelings after some time has passed. It can be very empowering to discover that something that had seemed overwhelming no longer has that oppressive effect.
An interesting and productive method for gauging one’s feelings about a matter is to engage in free association with one or more cards. There are lots of different ways to do this exercise. After pulling a few cards, you can state out loud first impressions of the cards, or features you notice such as the colors or mood, or a simple synopsis of what is happening in the scene. Then you might identify your own feelings or impressions based on these observations. This might include memories of people or events. Or the focus might be on internal feelings that arise. It can be helpful to simply identify the emotions, for example, “this rabbit reminds me of my childhood,” or “this unicorn fills me with hope.” Writing down these random thoughts can also bring things into perspective. Again, it helps to journal these impressions to assess how they might change or evolve over time. Working with oracle decks in this way reminds us that just because we may be feeling bad about something today, it doesn’t mean we will always feel that way.
A related exercise to practice with a group of oracle cards is storyboarding, which can be accomplished with either a randomly pulled set of 3-10 cards, or a handful of cards selected from the deck because they resonate with you at that moment. Depending on the number of cards drawn, they can be laid out in one or two lines, left to right. The idea is to simply look at the cards and verbally create a story about what is happening in the images. You can situate yourself within the story using the imagery as prompts, or remain in the role of the narrator or storyteller, much like telling a “Once upon a time” story to a child. Try to be as spontaneous as possible, just letting imagination and intuitive responses guide the way. After the storytelling is concluded, you can make notes in your journal about any insights or feelings that came up. To keep the focus on the spontaneous internal responses rather than the composition itself, storyboarding should be done primarily as an oral exercise.
A separate activity that is useful for going into more depth about the meaning of individual cards is to use one or more cards as a writing prompt. The exercise can start with describing what’s visible in the card(s), but the focus of the writing should be about what feelings and emotions are activated. This can be done in the form of poetry, prose, or simply phrases that capture what each card means to you.
THREE CARD READINGS
Most of the activities described above allow for free-form engagement with the oracle cards. Another common approach to working with oracle decks in a more structured way is to do readings with simple card spreads. The cards may be pulled randomly from the deck or deliberately chosen because they seem particularly relevant. The most basic yet effective readings can be done with three cards. Three cards are laid out in a line, left to right, as shown. The cards can be read in a number of ways. Shown are three examples, though you may want to devise your own spreads. The message in the guidebook may be consulted for insights into the meaning of each card, or you may rely on your own personal, impressionistic responses.
For card readers who work with other cartomancy systems, single or multiple cards from a favorite oracle deck can be integrated into their tarot readings. The chosen oracle card can be consulted to provide further clarity or an additional perspective on the reading, particularly at the conclusion of the reading. Since tarot reading can be approached as storytelling, adding an oracle card at the end of a reading can be thought of as an epilogue.
Lynn Araujo is the creator of Pastoral Tarot Deck & Book Set, Botanical Inspirations Deck & Book Set, Backyard Blessings Inspiration Cards, Angel Connections Message Cards, and co-author with Stuart R. Kaplan of The Artwork and Times of Pamela Colman Smith.