Tarot Q&A - with Steve Hounsome

Updated: May 24, 2020

1. David asked: “What is the difference between Tarot and Oracle Working?”

Steve replied: “It’s something really, that for me, a Tarot Deck is something quite specific, not necessarily the number of cards, but in the structure of it. The standard format with Tarot is that it has 78 cards, but it’s not the number of cards that’s important, it’s more the way that the Tarot deck is constructed.

Although historically very different, nowadays, the Major Arcana consists of 22 cards, going from The Fool, who has either no number, or numbered zero, and then The Magician as One, and High Priestess as Two, and so on, through to The World card as Twenty-one. Then you have the four ‘suits’, which go under different names, but Pentacles, Cups, Swords and Wands are the most common, which are really based on the four elements.

For me, one of the big things that sets Tarot apart from Oracle decks is that that structure aligns itself with the structure of the human being! We are each made up of those four elements, every human being is part of those four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, which is what the four suits are based on. Pentacles relates to earth, so our physical bodies. Cups relates to Water, so our feelings and emotional level. Swords, I relate to the element of Air, which relates of our mental level, our thought processes, what’s going on in our heads. Wands or Fire, is our spiritual, our inspirational, creative, motivational level, the fire inside of us. When we add those together, we get the complete human being, and that’s what the Major Arcana represents.

So when we are working with Tarot in that light, what we are working with, is basically a human being. We are working with our selves or our client, if we are reading for someone else. So it’s that structure that sets it apart from an Oracle Deck. An Oracle Deck works with whatever its theme may be. One of the things that can work really well, is combining the two types of decks. For me, the Tarot will always be central to the way that I work, but an Oracle deck, depending on what it might be (and there are thousands of different decks out there, as there is Tarot these days), one of the things that can work well, is the combination.

So there may be, say, a particular card that stands out as a key card in a Tarot reading, or whatever it is that you are carrying out at the time, and so you might like to select a card, or more than one from whatever Oracle deck, to give a greater dimension if you like, a greater depth, or to look further into issues, the energies that that particular Tarot Card is expressing for you, so they can work in combination.

I did read something very interesting a while ago. It was from another Tarot creator actually, she said that for her, she had always preferred Oracle decks, because they are feminine, whereas with the Tarot, it’s more masculine. That is an interesting view point, in some ways I agree, in some ways I don’t, because obviously one of the main creators of the most popular Tarot deck in the world, properly known as the Rider Waite, but better known as the Rider Waite Smith Deck, was Pamela Coleman Smith, who was the Artist for it, and had a lot more to do with it, than a lot of people realize. But that’s an interesting perspective anyway.”

2. Bob asked: “What are your thoughts on using second hand decks?”

Steve replied: “There is an old gypsy tradition with Tarot, which says you should never buy your own deck. Personally, I’ve bought loads of them! I do have lots of second hand decks, alongside with lots of new ones too, in fact, over 200 Tarot Decks, so I personally have no problem in using second hand decks.

That said, I’m very much into this idea that, when we are working with the Tarot, we are working with something quite sacred, because as I’ve always said, the Tarot reflects us, it reflects the human being, so my feeling is that we could, or should, have that regard for the Tarot when working with it, and treat it as a Sacred object, much as I hope you all treat yourselves.

In the light of that, if you do gain a second hand deck, it can be good to cleanse it, and there are lots of different ways to do that prior starting to use it. You can smudge it, in some incense, perhaps for Druids, it can be purified by fire in that way, you could sprinkle a little tiny bit of water on it, by just flicking with your hands, in the same way cleanse it by water as well, and air, by breathing on it, perhaps just wafting the deck through some Sage. You can leave it out inside, overnight during the period of a Full Moon, 5 nights of that in all (2 days and nights before the Full Moon, and 2 days after).

You can ‘wash’ your decks as well! Not by popping them into the washing machine, or with soap and water, but merely by taking and spreading the deck over a surface and running your hands over the cards, moving them randomly about. This is a good practice to do every now and then, simply to shift any stale energies.

These are a few purification ideas to carry out if you do happen to get a second hand deck, and you can hold it in your hands and simply ask for it to be cleansed, and blessed to whatever gods, goddesses you may work with or deities, and you may well see a shift or a difference there. So second hand decks? Yes, bring them on!”

3. Bob also asked: “What are your thoughts on reverse cards?”