How to Read Tea Leaves

Tea leaf reading and divination is an ancient social art, suspected to have existed for as long as the invention as the tea cup itself! Tea leaf reading is also known as Tasseomancy, (“tasse” is French for cup, and “mancy” is Greek for divination), and Tasseography, (“graphy” is Greek for writing). Although there is documentation of tea divination in England, Scotland, and Ireland, its point of origin is credited to China, where tea was first commercially grown. Tea was, in fact, a secret in China, until some stolen seeds were transplanted in India. From there on, it spread throughout Europe and North America.

As women during World War I and II sought acceptable careers and a means for generating income while their spouses were away at war, many women proprietors opened “tea rooms,” and tea reading soon became a well known and socially acceptable form of divination. It was an easy art to learn. There are were no scientific learning curves as in astrology, and none of the occult fears or superstition associated with the Tarot.

Overnight, tea rooms began popping up. For a nominal fee, one could come into a quaint, plush room inviting conversation and relaxation. Plain white china cups were used, but with the soaring interest in tea reading, designers, including Alfred Meakin, Royal Kendal, and Aynsley, began producing special fortune-telling cups depicting astrological and celestial images on the interior walls.

During the tea room experience, the hostess would check in with the patrons, often with the intent of eavesdropping to discover a little personal information about the customers to later incorporate into the “psychic” tea reading. Upon finishing the cup of tea, you may have been chosen as the “lucky” patron, blessed with the novelty of a foretold future, filled with predictions of wealth, or finding love, wowing the customers!

Are you ready to call up some girlfriends, have them over for a cup of tea, and wow them? Well, here’s how you can bring a bit of tea room nostalgia into your dining room.

You will need a tea cup, preferably a cup with a gently sloping wall as compared to the more modern, straight-walled cup of today. The sloping walls allow for easy swirling and make it easier for the tea particles to adhere. Also, you will need some tea, not the packaged tea bags, but the chunky, twiggy loose tea.

1) Take a small pinch of the loose tea and place it into the cup. Pour boiling water over the loose tea, and allow the tea to steep for approximately five minutes.

2) Now you may drink the tea, trying not to swallow any of the particles, just the liquid. This is trickier than it sounds. No wonder the tea bag was invented!

3) When you are down to the last sip, grasp the handle and swirl the remaining tea particles and liquid three times in a counter-clockwise movement.

4) Next, with your left hand, turn the cup upside down onto the saucer, situating the cup so the handle (known as the “home”) is pointing towards your chest. Turn the cup once in a counter-clockwise motion.

5) Lift the cup and return it to its upright position. Some leaves will fall onto the saucer, and the remaining tea particles will be stuck to the cup’s wall. Don’t worry about the shed particles on the saucer, as you will be focusing on and reading what little tea remains inside the cup.

6) Take special note should a thick twig or stick appear. This is known as the “stranger in the cup” and read as a good omen that a visitor or lover will soon enter into your life.

7) Again, holding the cup with the handle facing your chest in the position of “home,” the cup is now ready to peer into and read. Meditate, or stare into the cup as you would gaze into a crystal ball and to let your mind wander and identify images. Look for any pictures, numbers, letters, and shapes that jump out at you.

Following is a list of possible images you may decipher and their divinatory meaning.
Acorn: men, youth, improvement in health, continued health, and strength
Airplane: travel, new projects
Anchor: voyage, rest, a lucky sign, success in business and love
Angel: good news, especially good fortune in love
Apples: long life, gain by commerce
Arrow: misfortune overcome by patience, difficulties overcome, news
Basket: gift, an addition to the family
Baby: new interests
Bat: fruitless journeys or tasks
Bear: a long period of travel
Bees: industry, frugality, hard work
Bell: celebrations, marriage
Bird: psychic powers, movement, motion, good luck, a lucky sign
Boat: discoveries, a friend will visit
Book: wisdom
Bouquet: one of the luckiest of symbols, a happy marriage
Broom: cleanliness, femininity, domesticity, purification, healing, warfare with negativity
Building: a removal
Car: approaching wealth, visits from friends
Cat: wisdom, intellectualism, aloofness, difficulties caused by treachery
Cauldron: transformation, great change, women, new beginnings, endings
Chain: an early marriage; if broken, trouble in store
Chair: an addition to the family
Circles: money or presents
Clock: death, time in any manifestation, change
Clover: a very lucky sign; happiness and prosperity
Compass: a sign of traveling as a profession
Dog: love, fidelity, faithful friends
Egg: increase, fertility, luck
Eye: introspection, inspection, evaluation
Fish: sexuality, riches, lucky speculation, good news from abroad
Flag: danger from wounds inflicted by an enemy
Flower: good fortune, success, happy marriage
Frog: success in love and commerce
Gun: pistol, rifle: discord, disaster, slander
Hammer: triumph over adversity
Hat: rival, honors, success in life
Heart: love, pleasures to come
Horse: strength, travel, grave, desires fulfilled through a prosperous journey
Horseshoe: luck, protection, travel, a lucky journey, success in marriage
Hour glass: caution, imminent peril
House: success
Human figures: judged by what they appear to be doing
Key: mysterie
s, enlightenment, security, prosperity
Knife: a warning of disasters through quarrels and enmity
Ladder: turmoil, sun, ascent, descent, evolution
Lion: influence, royalty, power, strength, ferocity, greatness through powerful friends
Lines: journeys and their directions
Moon (as a crescent): prosperity and fortune
Numbers: very lucky, long life, good health, happy marriage
Ring: marriage, containment, eternity
Rose: love, lost love, richness of life, the past, a lucky sign denoting good fortune and happiness
Scales: balance, justice, lawsuit
Scissors: quarrels, separations, illness, separation of lovers
Serpents: spiteful enemies, bad luck, illness
Shark: danger of death
Ship: increase, travel, news, successful journey
Spider: very good fortune, cunning, secrecy, hidden things, a sign of money coming
Spoon: luck
Squares: comfort and peace
Star: excellent luck, divine protection, fortune
Straight Line: a very pleasant journey, peace, happiness and long life
Triangle: one point up means good luck and unexpected legacies, one point down means bad luck
Turtle: sluggishness, fertility, retreat, stagnation
Umbrella: annoyance and trouble
Wavy Lines: losses
Wheel: seasons, reincarnation, completion, endings, forever
Windmill: success in enterprise

The interior layout of the cup is as follows:
– The area near the handle represents the home, your family, and what is immediately occurring in your life. The opposing side represents outer influences, and situations to come in the future.
– For timing, the cup’s wall is read in layers. The closer an image appears at the top rim, the sooner it will occur. The farther down the wall the image appears indicates events that can take up to a year or longer to unfold.
– Images seen at the bottom of the cup can often be the most daunting or negative. Because of this belief, designers often embellish the surface with protective symbols, like an anchor or star, to combat any possible negativity seen in a reading.

Remember, tea leaf reading originated as a social art and novelty that flourished among lonely women seeking to overcome the anguish of war in the 20th century. In performing this exercise, there should be no strain, no worry, and no pressure. If this exercise reminds you of the innocence of cloud-gazing as a child and discovering images in the sky, you are performing this exercise correctly.

Drink deeply from the cup of knowledge!


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