A Tarot reading is a divination (intuitive) practice using a deck of Tarot cards. These cards are divided into 2 main groups: the Major Arcana cards and the Minor Arcana cards.
The Major Arcana consists of 21 cards which, when laid out sequentially, tell the story of The Fool's Journey through one cycle of life. This is the archetypal journey that we all take. These cards are often the more symbolically rendered in the deck and carry more weight in a reading than the Minor Arcana cards. They are also often referred to as the Trump cards. (No, no relation to Donald.)
The Minor Arcana is broken down into four smaller suits, much the way our traditional poker playing cards are done. The four suits, as they are most commonly represented, are Wands, Swords, Cups and Pentacles (Coins). Each suit begins with an Ace and increases sequentially to Ten, followed by the court cards. Court cards are most commonly represented as Page, Knight, Queen and King. Each suit has its own set of correspondences, the most universal being that of the elements (air, fire, water, earth).
The reading of Tarot cards relies heavily on both symbology and intuition. There is a bond that often develops between a reader and their cards that makes for a sort of shorthand during readings. There are many, many styles and variations of Tarot decks available. Some tarot readers will remain loyal to one particular deck indefinitely, while others will develop relationships with a number of decks. There are no absolutes when it comes to reading Tarot.
Tarot cards are read in what is called a spread. A spread is simply a pattern in which cards are laid out to determine the order and the significance in which they are interpreted. Spreads come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very simple and others are extremely complex. Some use one card and others use multiple decks. There are no limits to what kind of spread can be concocted and used by a reader. It is simply the key to reading the map of information that lies within the cards.
Many people associate Tarot reading with fortune telling. This is flawed thinking. Human beings have the great gift of free will. This gift means that we are able to actively participate in the shaping and creating of our destinies. The Tarot is merely a tool to help connect us to the Divine Subconscious, also known as the Akashic Records, where all knowledge resides outside of time and space.
If this language is a little too 'out there' for you, we can use quantum physics to help make it a little more scientific. Quantum physics tells us that everything is connected. We are all energy. Our thoughts are all energy. Our actions are all energy. Anytime we think a thought or perform an action, we affect the fabric of the entire Universal energetic web. Butterfly wings make hurricanes, and all that. All that energy just exists. It exists separate from time and place. Time and place are merely constructs we've created to help us understand how to exist in and navigate the mortal experience. We can, if we can expand our minds enough to allow it, connect with the 'all that is' to gain insight and information on our current life trajectories. The Tarot is one tool to help us do this. It can help us to tap into that Universal information to learn more about how the path we are currently on might be likely to unfold should we do nothing else to change it.
It can get a little heady, for sure. The good news is that you don't need to understand all that stuff to benefit from a Tarot reading. It's a great way to touch base with how you're doing in your current life situation. It's a good way to help make decisions, as it can get you thinking about possibilities that you may not have considered otherwise. If you're feeling stuck in a certain area of your life, you can receive information on how to move through your blockages. These are but a few of the ways that Tarot readings can be of benefit. Most importantly, in my opinion, Tarot readings have a beautiful and mysterious way of helping us to learn more about ourselves.