Tarot readings have a certain flow to them. Before I even pull your cards I have cleared space, physically and mentally, helped you refine your question, and decided on a spread, and chose the deck. I’ve mixed up the cards in some way, usually by shuffling and cutting, and I’ve actually laid out the cards! But I’m still not ready to answer your question!
The 30,000 Foot View
First I take a look at the cards as a whole. I’m looking for Major Arcana, Minor Arcana if the cards are more reversed or upright and if one suit is dominating. Take a look at this spread:
Here we have the Knight of Cups, Nine of Cups, and The Moon. Right off I see that there is a Major Arcana card, which tells me the client is dealing with an over-arching theme or a lesson that needs to be learned. I also see two Cups cards, which tells me the reading is about emotions or intuition. The question in this case was a relationship issue.
Here is another spread:
In this spread, we have two Major Arcana, two Wands, one Cup, one Pentacle, and one Sword. Two of the seven cards are reversed. This tells me that there are significant themes being addressed in this spread. Because I read reversed cards generally as internal actions or energy, I can see that the spread refers to mostly outward issues rather than internal issues.
And finally, this spread:
Lots of Swords in this spread – three out of the five. This tells me that there might be communication or judgment issues. Two are reversed and there is one Major Arcana card.
Symbols and Positions
Next, I look for recurring symbols in the spread. For example, in the following spread I’m seeing lots of red in the lower-left quadrant:
Depending on the reading this could mean enhanced emotions. At this point I just notice it. I also look at the position of the figures in each card; where are they looking? How are they faced? How do they interact? In the spread directly above, none of the figures are looking directly out, but they aren’t looking at each other either, except for the Knight on the right who might be looking at the Wheel of Fortune in the center. He is also riding towards the Wheel, just as the Seven of Pentacles (top) is reaching down towards the wheel. This tells me to make sure and look at the lower-left quadrant and upper-right quadrant together.
In the next spread, look at the strong downward movement of the three center cards. Even the card on the right feels like she is crawling downward.
In this spread, the center line of cards draws my eye. When I laid this out I had chills, and I hadn’t even started interpreting yet! That Sword is aimed right at the center card, dividing them as they reach out to the Sun card at the bottom. This sun card in its reversed position reminds me of a demented person, Ophelia dancing her way to the stream.
How I Use the Overview
If I feel the overview is significant, I include it in the reading. The overview is also used when I call on my intuition to interpret the reading. It gives me a general view of the reading before I even start interpreting the cards. It helps me know which cards are important and which are calling to be read together, as a unit.
Once this is done, the “real” reading can begin!