Divining Dreams: Using Oracle Cards to Access the Unconscious
Updated: Jan 31
By Melissa Grace
Angie’s eyes filled with tears. She knew what she had to do.
Our online dream circle had just spent 20 minutes hashing out the meaning of her dream, not quite getting to that “Aha!” moment. So, hoping for insight, I picked a card from the oracle deck fanned out before me.
Seventy years old, Angie (all names changed) had incubated a dream about whether or not to break her months-long self-quarantine and visit her grandchildren. When COVID came to town, she had found herself filled with something beyond dread: a strong feeling that the virus would be “the end of her.” So she trod carefully, even isolating herself from her cherished grandkids.
Her dream featured her daughter, who—now grown—appeared as an adolescent.
The 18-year-old girl had gotten married and had not invited Angie to her dream-wedding. Angie was angry, and she uncharacteristically yelled at her daughter.
The dream circle looked at the possibilities: Was she angry at the quarantine? Was she trying to rein in a rebellious inner teen? Was she mad at herself for not answering the call of her heart—which, so scorned, did not invite her to the wedding? Nothing felt quite right.
But then came the card: Aphrodite/Love. The image of the full-faced Greek goddess, plump with adoration, two pink flowers adorning her raven hair, spoke to Angie: “I have to go see my grandkids,” she said, wiping away a tear.
Sometimes dreams carry secrets so closely kept that we need a little extra help unlocking them. Divination cards can hold a key. Angie’s experience is but one of many.
A Way In
Some people think of divination as a way to see the future. However, although I am clairaudient and clairvoyant, I make a point of telling clients that my card readings are not predictive. Rather, I see the cards as vehicles for connecting the conscious mind with the Unseen.
Most people think of Tarot when they ponder divination cards. But there are many kinds of oracles that do not require knowledge of a particular system the way Tarot does. The cards I use offer unique images, multicultural perspectives, and diverse energies. Sometimes the focus or energy of one deck complements another. For instance, I may use both the Native American–oriented Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams, and Amy Sophia Marashinsky and Hrana Janto’s Goddess Oracle—the source of Angie’s Aphrodite/Love card—in one reading. The latter is great for tapping into feeling states, and the former is useful for confronting negative behavior patterns and the dynamics of power in relationships. Meanwhile, Alana Fairchild’s Wild Kuan Yin Oracle may convey the wisdom of the divine feminine, while Toni Carmine Salerno’s Sacred Earth Oracle invites contemplation of the multifaceted aspects of attributes such as Dependability, Reaction, and Influence.
Dreaming and Divining
When using oracles to divine dreams, I think of the cards as dream circle members—personalities with valuable perspectives to add to a pot of percolating ideas. I use the cards to shed light on any aspect of a dream:
1) the main conflict
2) shadow material
3) what a character may represent
4) what the dream points to in the dreamer’s waking life
5) the feeling of the dream
6) aspects of the dreamer’s past, present, and future
7) the dream’s overall meaning
Inviting dreamers to interact with the cards in the same way they would a dream image, I may ask questions such as, “What kinds of feelings does this card bring up? What are your associations? If you were the animal/person in this card, what would you say?” I also take note of a card’s anima, animus, shadow, and other archetypal imagery and allow those energies to interact with the dream. Here are two examples of what this approach may look like:
Jane, a 50-year-old woman who had struggled with under-earning and low self-esteem, used the Goddess Oracle to figure out a shadow element of the following dream: A wealthy, “power-hungry, despicable” in-law took her away from a party and back to a maid’s quarters. After the party, Jane and her real-life partner took a walk in the dark, where she saw a card that read “secrts” on their path. The word was missing an “e”—perhaps indicating that that there was a secret she was keeping from herself. Jane could not imagine what this secret might be, so she asked the Goddess Oracle for help. The Celtic goddess Blodeuwedd, who in this deck represents betrayal, arrived. Shadow material, indeed.
Blodeuwedd prompted Jane to asked herself: “How is betrayal showing up in my life? How do I betray myself? Do I fear that others will betray me, or I, them?” These questions led her back to that wealthy in-law—and a discovery: Jane desired money and power almost as much as the object of her disgust. The reason she kept this drive from herself? A fear of betraying her working-class parents and the “people before profit” ethos they had instilled in her. The Goddess Oracle helped her find her own wisdom as she contemplated how to embrace the desire for money and power in a way that was healthy and did not violate her core values.
Meanwhile, 60-year-old Joni had decided to start a new, high-powered career. She knew it was a bold move at her age, but it felt right—except for the lingering anxiety that sometimes crept in. There was a lot to learn, and she wasn’t used to being a beginner. Before the circle began working on her dream, she picked the Motion card from the Sacred Earth Oracle. And, as it turned out, her dream did indeed feature a lot of movement.
Donning a pair of white Keds—shoes she had last worn three decades ago, at the start of her previous career—she effortlessly skimmed along an expansive snowy dreamscape until she came to a remote field, where a black panther visited her. Throughout the dream, she noted that she was not afraid—not of the speed at which she traveled, or of the wild cat that came so close to her. I offered that, in the Medicine Cards, the black panther represents the unknown, while Sacred Earth’s Motion card guides us to move toward goals without fear. These were both interpretations that resonated with Joni, who sighed with a sense of accomplishment and relief. Her new career was actually unfolding very nicely. She just needed to continue to release anxiety and trust herself as she learned the ropes.
The Ancestors Speak
Sometimes divination cards open doors not just to our psyches, but also to the world of the dead and our ancestors.
For elderly Mona, the Oya card invoked the presence of her late mother. The image of the West African goddess, a harbinger of change in the Goddess Oracle, looked so much like her mom that she found herself in a reverie. I don’t even recall the question she asked of the cards, but the answer seemed to be the deep contemplation of her mother that Oya evoked.
The cards also helped Midge, a mother in her 40s, to experience the presence of an ancestor. Midge dreamed that her real-life partner handed their dream-baby daughter to Midge’s narcissistic mother. The infant had been sweetly guzzling milk at Midge’s breast, but her mother boasted that she had taught the newborn to drink milk from a cup instead. Midge was outraged: “You just taught her that because you can’t breastfeed!” she screamed.
The dream circle discussed what the baby might symbolize: Perhaps she represented Midge’s own need to be nurtured. “Is it hard for you to let others in?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, nodding. It was an issue that was especially at the fore as her relationship with her partner evolved, and she found herself battling worries of yet another romantic disappointment. It all made sense, but was there anything else she needed to know? We decided to pull a card.
Closing my eyes, I floated my fingers along the Wild Kuan Yin Oracle deck until I found a card that felt right: Grandmother Dragonfly Holds the Wisdom. Just the word “grandmother” visibly moved Midge as she remembered the woman who had actually mothered her. The card spoke of a resurrection of a dream, and, for Midge, that dream was to receive love without fear of betrayal—something her late grandmother had taught her was possible.
Whether dreams call us to connect to our ancestors, unmet needs, or secret beliefs, we can use oracles to help us decipher their meaning and tap into the magical territory where the unconscious and conscious mind meet.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of DreamTime magazine, a publication of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.