By April 2, 2015 Folk Magic, Seership 8 Comments


“The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second shatters my loneliness.
The third causes the wrongs of life to fade gently from my recollection.
The fourth purifies my soul.
The fifth lifts me to the realms of the unwinking gods”

Chinese Mystic, Tang Dynasty

My Scots-Canadian Grandmother taught me how to read tea leaves. I now possess her tea cup collection of bone china, gold paint, delicate handles, and endless colours and patterns. Sitting at her dining room table, which sits now in my kitchen, she showed me how to brew with just the right size of loose leaf tea. To let it steep and to drink it without eating the leaves, filtering them through your teeth. She taught me how to flip the cup onto the saucer with just enough force to cause patterns. Then she would carefully turn the tea cup upright again, full of spiralling shapes of dark tea leaves from far away lands. With great solemnity she would look at me and say “and now you bullshit.”

At first I thought she was being mischievous, but after years of reading tea leaves I realized that she was indeed quite serious.  Tasseomancy, or reading tea leaves, is an act of scrying. There is no book or list of meanings that can truly help you, though they may get you started. You are your own dictionary of symbols and your own interpretations. No two diviners will see or say the same things about the same tea cup of messy wet leaves. Even though the words that fall from your lips may sometimes sound like bullshit to you, you will often be amazed at how those you are reading for react – “how did you know!”

tea-3The handle is the present, the future a year ahead in sections of months clockwise around the cup. Leaves close to the rim are things close to the surface, obvious things, things you are or will soon become aware of. Leaves at the bottom of the cup are the unknown, surprises, secrets, your subconscious. You can see anything in the leaves; animals, insects, plants, symbols, objects, letters, numbers… maybe the whole cup is one image with one big meaning or maybe the leaves are broken down into tiny ones with many fortunes to tell.

Tasseomancy is a divinatory art to be practiced in person with the subject in front of your eyes. It is a tactile art. Touch the cup, turn it around in your hands and view it from every angle. Look at the person you are reading for. Are they eager and excited to hear their fortune or are they sad and defeated before you’ve even spoken? Each person’s cup you read for will be completely different. I remember reading tea leaves at the local Pagan Pride Day and having a formidable line-up of people awaiting their fortunes. Each pattern of leaves was completely unique and no two fortunes were the same.

You don’t find too many witches or seers who read tea leaves these days. Maybe it seems too quaint and not authentic or hardcore enough. The funny thing is that tasseomancy is closer to ‘traditional’ than many of our witchcraft practices today. It and reading playing cards rather than tarot cards.

It’s how the back alley folk magicians, East Coast kitchen witches, old snaggled toothed grannies, and the neighbourhood spaewives of the past few centuries would have divined people’s fortunes. Not with fancy tools or elaborate methods, but simply what was on hand: a cup and a teaspoon of tea or coffee, a pack of playing cards, a pot of water and some melted candle wax…

tea-2Why not take up reading tea leaves? Practice. Have friends over for a tea party to make it fun. Up the ante. Have friends over for a spiked tea party of hot toddies or fun pairings of loose leaf teas and sweet liqueurs. Sometimes a little booze makes divination come more naturally. What a fun coven night that would be!

Whether you interpret the leaves for friends or strangers, remember that tasseomancy is also a social art which blends well with charm, kindness, empathy, and of course, wit. The best and most practiced tasseomancers will put you at ease, draw you in, sound assured, and relay your fortune like a talented storyteller or poet.

Now come on into the kitchen and I’ll put on a pot of earl grey with lemon and honey.


* Tarot deck shown is The Wooden Tarot by A.L. Swartz.

Author Sarah

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Antoinette says:

    I so enjoyed this post. Such a wonderful explanation of tasseomancy – I didn’t know it was actually called that!

    And might I say, your tarot cards, as well as that sublime teacup and saucer, are making me drool with avarice.

    • Oona says:

      Antoinette that deck is the Wooden Tarot from Skullgarden, it is available on the skullgarden etsy page!

  • What an excellent post on tasseomancy. As someone who loves a good cup of tea, I’ve always been interested in this art. Your pragmatism cuts right to the heart of the matter. Thanks!

  • Raevyn DreamWalker says:

    This is something that I have been interested in for a long time. Perhaps, I should get over my distaste for tea in general, find something I like and starts reading. I read people already. But, having a cup of tea with someone seems like a cozy, ritualistic and very relaxing thing to do.
    Thank you for posting this and sharing your knowledge and experience. That, alone, is priceless.

  • Diane says:

    Sarah, your method of reading the leaves is the best I’ve ever read/heard, thank you! You break it down perfectly!
    I read a cup or two now and then and have been asked how I read the leaves – I think from now on, I will explain it your way (and credit you, of course!) instead of how I used to do it…your way makes much more sense!
    LOVE your blog and everything you share on facebook ~
    thank you for your generosity!

  • Mary Kate says:

    I live in Ireland and my Irish Mother in law read tea-leaves; but, she died before I knew her and I suspected it was a kind of scrying; so, I really appreciate the way you’ve experienced reading leaves. And in a way isn’t everything a kind of scrying if one is open to the metaphysical background of everything? I ended up on your blog again today, just because I had the “thought” , “I wonder what Sarah” is up to? I found you through another herbalist looking for incense recipes a few years ago and fell in love with your site. It’s gorgeous in every way–You have Duende! We are looking into moving to Andalusia–the heart of the Gypsy (Gitano) diaspora because the music is calling to us. And, just yesterday as I was looking into the history of the Roma (Gypsy) in light of a history of reading tea leaves…you mentioned wax and prior to that it was the molten residue from smelting as well– a trade most common among the diaspora. AND The patron Saint of the Gypsies is St. Sara. Do you know where your grandmother came from? And was the stunning bone china tea cup with the raven on the fox saucer hers? It is very evocative of your art work. Thank you for all you do, Sarah.

    • Sarah says:

      Alas, no “travellers” heritage here. One of my grandmother’s many passions was genealogy. The black and white tea cup shown was a gift from a friend, it is definitely a favourite!

  • Lee Shawnus says:

    One of the elder HPSs in our Coven, Lady Alsace Isa Brie, was born in Australia and grew up a “bush baby” out in the wilds playing with lizards and such. When she grew older some Gypsies were passing through and she learned the Artes of reading palms, tea leaves and regular playing cards. She is amazing and starts “reading” you as soon as you come in the door, then reads your palm as the tea is brewing, then you have a cup of that tea with her until, like you wrote, a teaspoon is left with the leaves, which she then reads. BTW I remember somewhere some small booklet i saw one time that explained what the shapes mean in the leaves. Then she does a reading with her regular playing cards, the whole session lasting about 1.5-2 hours. Since i am her HPT she never takes money from me, but using the bathroom to refresh before my 2 hour drive home when i can i hide a $20 spot somewhere on the sink LOL. Blessings Sarah and TY for this post which i will link in an upcoming post.