Oracle Decks as Myth-Making
I like to think of an oracle deck as the intertwining of two personal mythologies : mine as the artist-creator with the end user or collector's.
But first, what is an Oracle Deck?
An oracle deck is often confused with the tarot but the difference lies in its structure. An oracle deck is free-flowing and can be of any content, unlike the tarot which is defined by its traditional structure and common meanings. The oracle deck can be anywhere from 12 to 100 cards but a tarot deck is usually 78 cards. It's also common to use an oracle deck side by side with the tarot for an intuitive reading. An example would be to pull an oracle card to set the 'theme', energy or feeling of a situation, and then a tarot spread for more detailed interpretations or advice.
A great way to compare the oracle deck with the tarot is to consider the former as defining a personal mythology, with the tarot being a specific journey within the mythology.
The Oracle Deck and the Personal Mythology
As an artist-creator, I’ve found it very helpful to think of oracle deck creation as sharing this personal mythology.
A personal mythology can be defined in so many ways : the world that our art lives in, the way we see the world, a set of guidelines for living life in a certain way - rituals, practices, symbols. The more personal yet archetypal it is, the more it will resonate on a deep level with our intended audience.
Because the oracle deck is so open-ended, it really benefits from having a distinct and specific structure that is guided by a personal mythology.
Creating An Oracle Deck from the Inside Out
My 'Deck for Wonder-Walking' is an oracle deck of 48 cards for re-connecting to nature and our creativity, something I have found my soul craving in a life filled with so much indoor screen time. One would draw a card from the deck to inspire a walk outdoors, opening fresh ways to look closer and find magic in their everyday surroundings. It embodies my life philosophy - to live a mindful and enchanted life, in which art is inevitable. I initially released it last Fall as a very limited 1st Edition of 100 decks which quickly sold out and inquiries poured in asking for another edition.
The 2nd Edition of 2000 decks is now fully-funded and in the last week of Kickstarter. It's one of the key milestones and proudest achievements in my creative career so far, a feat I wouldn't have dared without having attended the 1F Workshop 2 years back.
But the interesting thing about this project is that I didn't really set out to create an oracle Deck in the first place ( I really had my eye on the tarot!)
The deck manifested itself after an intense few years of personal myth-making when I found myself lost and burned out from commissioned work. I was in the thick of seeking my bliss when I stumbled upon the metaphorical Labyrinth of Enchantment and started walking and painting outdoors to re-ignite meaning and creativity in my life. It was in this state of mind and several filled sketchbooks later that the deck idea jumped into my lap and begged to be made.
And looking back, I'm so glad I paid attention to this Call for Adventure because this is the perfect way to lay foundation for my Personal Mythology - the world I'm building around my life and art, in which wonder and everyday magic plays a big role. The perfect precursor to future decks and work. For all superhero movie fans, you know, the Origin Story.
The mood paintings that went into the original deck may have been created in a time-frame of a few months, but the world behind A Deck for Wonder-Walking was years in the making. I couldn't have planned for a better debut project for sharing my mythology. Trusting the creative process is indeed a magical thing!
Lessons of Creating An Oracle Deck From the Inside Out
Because I interpret the oracle deck as an invitation for the end user to weave their mythology with mine, I'm really inviting others to see the world as I do, and to act and make decisions intuitively through a set of parameters I've outlined as a gentle guide.
While an oracle deck can simply be a collection of beautiful imagery for intuitive or divinatory purposes, I think there's so much potential in such a project to tap deeper into spiritual topics of meaning-making and way-finding.
So depending on where you are in your myth-making, it can be harder or easier to start with an oracle Deck. Here are some lessons I've learned.
Steps for Creating an Oracle Deck
What is the Big Idea? What is the underlying theme or philosophy behind the deck's creation? What is the personal myth you're creating?
Why is it important to you? Why does it matter that your deck is out in the world? There are so many oracle decks out there and unlike the tarot, with its built-in audience of passionate practitioners and collectors, oracle decks get less attention. So being super-clear about the mission behind your deck is important for it to stand out in a sea of options. Great art is important, but a strong message or philosophy can carry the deck beyond your circle of fans into other excited communities. (This is also the one of the best ways that I've found to reach folks beyond the art community.)
Create lots of mind maps on large paper on how all the bits and pieces fit together - the storytelling, the art, the mythology, the end user experience...
Try not to dilute the Big Idea when communicating what the deck does. With my Wonder-Walking Deck, I had to work on hard on keeping the focus on the deck's main purpose - for reconnecting to nature and creativity. Otherwise the message would be lost amidst the art and the other implied uses.
Be prepared to explain things a bit more than when creating a tarot deck. Communicating what your world is about, why they should engage it, and how it will benefit their lives is important in creating an oracle Deck because the traditional structure and common meanings aren't built in.
Familiarize yourself with archetypes and symbols in world mythology and spirituality. It helps so much when creating an oracle deck to know the existing orders that organize history's many tarot and oracle decks. Being able to communicate corresponding worlds help tremendously in building the tribe around your work. In my Deck for Wonder-Walking, I discovered that the 4 Realms I had stumbled upon corresponded to Alchemical and Jungian systems, and this helped me reach folks who otherwise wouldn't have known about my deck.
Benefits & Opportunities : Why Create an Oracle Deck?
A great exercise in fleshing out what we stand for, our life's values and philosophies, and the symbols and metaphors that illustrate them.
A mini portfolio of your work and philosophy in a handy, travel-friendly size, great for shows and retail outlets. Think of it as seeds to scatter out to invite others into your world, to build connections through shared values and interests. In my case, I've found so many kindred spirits through my Wonder-Walking deck, especially since the Kickstarter began. Earth scientists, outdoor adventure guides, fellow artists, spiritual teachers, etc. Different communities united through the love for wonder and nature!
A warm-up to the tarot. Creating the tarot of the Enchanted Labyrith (you read it here first!) is one of my dream projects. I know it will happen one day, but in order to get there, I would like to have the Mythology of the Labyrinth fleshed out. I'm not ready for a tarot project, and so an oracle deck like my Wonder-Walking Deck is a perfect place to begin.
Because an oracle deck is open-ended, there are wonderful opportunities for expanding the world beyond the original deck. Expansion Sets (in future releases) is a great way to keep your collectors excited about your deck through the years.
Crossing genres : An oracle deck is a great opportunity to unite interests across genres (playing card communities, game communities, tarot and oracle communities, and in the case of my Wonder-Walking deck, the nature and walking/hiking communities).
Building a tribe: through an oracle deck, you're sharing your vision of the world through a deck of cards. You've outlined a philosophy for navigating life and there is nothing stronger for building your tribe than showing the world you're taking a stand with your art.
Open Doors : since I launched my Kickstarter, I've been invited to collaborate on retreats, workshops and creative projects by folks I've long admired from a distance. It's been nothing short of amazing how many doors open when you take a stand with your art.
My Favorite Oracle Decks :
I don't own a lot of oracle decks because I'm more of a tarot deck collector but here are my favorites :
I find myself reaching for this beautiful vivid deck when I'm feeling the blues. It's surprisingly accurate and the large square size really help bring the flowers to life!
Uusi is a rockstar in the indie tarot, oracle and playing card world. They are designers and artists extraordinaire with many successful Kickstarters under their belt. Their latest deck, loosely based on Jungian philosophy, is my current favorite. It's a monochromatic deck, both modern and ancient all at the same time, due to the powerful language of the Jungian world.
This is a beautiful deck, a lovely gift from a friend, with dreamy, ethereal imagery, poignant keywords and an in-depth guidebook. It's very archetypal so the words and imagery resonate deeply with me.