A basic tarot reading involves asking a question, laying out the shuffled cards according to the chosen pattern and then interpreting the cards based on the attribute (such as "querent's past" or "future influences") assigned to each card's position within that pattern. Reading tarot cards is a combination of knowing each card's inherent symbolism, as well as using one's own intuition about the cards that are revealed during the reading. It is a complex process that requires extensive study of the cards, though if necessary one can rely on the associated guidebooks that are available.
Tarot decks are typically comprised of 78 cards, which are further divided into the Major and Minor Arcanas. The Major Arcana is sometimes known as the life cards. There are 22 in total with images meant to imply a life event. The Minor Arcana is comprised of 56 cards of four suits and is not unlike a traditional playing card deck. The various suits of the Minor Arcana represent different emotional themes. How the tarot cards are interpreted depends on how they are laid and in what order they appear in the layout. Whether they are right side up or upside down also plays a key role in readings.
Upside down cards typically have the opposite meaning to cards that are right side up. There are dozens of tarot layouts intended for different levels of reading. Some layouts, intended for discerning quick answers to questions that generally have a smaller impact on someone's life, are quick and only involve a few cards. Other spreads are large and intended to have a broader, more encompassing interpretation of the course of someone's life. It usually takes several years and many readings to become a proficient tarot reader.
When learning to read the tarot cards it is often suggested that one keep a journal. This is used to record thoughts about the process, as well as keep track of readings to compare outcomes. It is also helpful to assign a short phrase to each card that is associated with its meaning, as this makes it easier to memorize the symbolism of the card. Some decks are easier than others to interpret, so finding the right deck can sometimes make a big difference as well.