“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
y 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!”
The 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…
Why 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.