Before a reading is performed, the cards are shuffled by the person receiving the reading. Some say this transfers that person's energy to the deck. The person receiving the reading should also be concentrating on the question or area for which they want guidance while he or she shuffles the deck. In some more traditional circles, a more elaborate sorting and separation of the cards is performed (see The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Web site for this version).
Once the cards are shuffled and the deck has been cut, the reader lays out the cards in a pattern called the spread. Each position in the spread has a meaning, and there are many different types of spreads, ranging from those that incorporate a single card to spreads that include all 78 cards of the deck. Which spread is used is up to the reader and the specific type of question or reading. Some spreads focus more on a specific type of information. For example, one spread might focus more on emotional matters, while another might bring in more information about the influences of others. One of the most common spreads is the Celtic Cross:
There are many more spreads for Tarot card reading, and readers can even make up their own. For more Tarot card spreads, see Angel Paths.
Below, using the Celtic Cross spread as an example, you can see that there is an order in which the cards are laid down for the spread and that each card position within the spread has a meaning. There are many different meanings that each position can have -- it all depends on who you ask. This set of meanings comes from the Angel Paths Tarot and Healing Web site. The card meanings (see Individual Tarot Cards and the next section) are combined with the position meanings. In addition, combinations of cards or card pairings also affect meanings.
In the next section, we'll step through a reading to show how the card meanings can be combined with positions and pairings to reach an interpretation.