Reading Tea Leaves

Kelli Fox
Reading Tea Leaves

The next time you’re enjoying a cup of tea or coffee, or even a glass of wine, don’t simply set it aside when you’ve taken your last sip. Instead, swirl your mug or glass three times, let the dredges settle, and then peer down into the bottom. The bits of tea leaves, coffee grounds or wine sediment have a story to tell in the shapes they form — a warning, perhaps, or an omen of good fortune to come.

Reading tea leaves, also called tasseography or tasseomancy, is a method of divination that is documented to date back over four hundred years, though many say its wisdom has existed for thousands of years, as long as tea has been a part of the human diet. There are a variety of methods of reading tea leaves to reveal the future, including several time-honored, traditional methods that are still used today.

One method of reading tea leaves is almost entirely intuitive: The reader simply looks at the shapes formed by the leaves in the bottom of the cup, concentrates, and lets his or her imagination take the lead. If familiar shapes are suggested, such as a house or an animal, the reader interprets what their meanings might be, based solely on his or her own vision. Intuition is the primary guide in this type of fortune-telling, which is one reason traditionalists frown upon it: They believe an individual reader’s intuition is too subjective for a reliably accurate reading. Instead, they trust in the wisdom of standard shapes and symbols with meanings that have been passed down through generations.

Here are some of those more common standard symbols and their meanings:
· Acorn — an improvement in health or continued good health
· Airplane — an unexpected journey
· Angel — good news or good fortune in love
· Basket — a pregnancy or baby
· Bell — wonderful news; a wedding (several bells together)
· Bird — good news; happiness
· Bow and arrow — malicious gossip
· Candlestick — a need to look at things from a broader perspective
· Crown — success; honor
· Dragon — great, sudden changes
· Eagle — long-awaited, beneficial changes
· Egg — a birth; a new plan or idea
· Eye — depth of character; solving problems
· Feather — achievement, success (for an author, literary success)
· Feet — time to take a step forward
· Fish — good news from overseas, or a move to another country
· Flowers — good friends or a happy marriage
· Gate — an opportunity awaits
· Hat — success in business, or a visitor is coming
· Horns — a powerful enemy, or someone with animosity toward you
· House — a successful transaction, or a move to a new home
· Key — things will become easier; your path will become clear
· Knife — beware of arguments with friends
· Ladder — travel, professional advancement, or good fortune is on the horizon
· Mermaid — danger related to the ocean or boat travel
· Mirror — pay close attention to your dreams for important information
· Monkey — misfortune in love; scandal or gossip
· Oak tree — a long life, good health and a happy marriage
· Owl — an omen of approaching illness, poverty or other misfortune
· Raven — disappointment in love; separation
· Snake — disloyalty; a bad omen
· Spade — hard work and disappointment
· Star — great luck and honor
· Turtle — wealth and luxury
· Umbrella — trouble is coming (if open); bad luck will be avoided (if closed)
· Vulture — an enemy; tragedy or sorrow is coming
· Wheel — an inheritance is coming (though a broken wheel signifies financial disappointment)
· Wreath — marriage and happiness

The above symbols often appear in combinations, and should be interpreted within the context of all the shapes present. For example, while a bird is generally a symbol of happiness or good luck, a bird in a cage signifies obstacles that stand in the way of true happiness. A bird that appears to be flying out of an open cage door, on the other hand, symbolizes obstacles overcome and happiness on the horizon.

In order to read your own tea leaves or a friend’s, brew a cup of loose-leaf tea and take time to enjoy it while calming yourself and gathering your thoughts. Once nearly all the tea has been drunk, the questioner — the person whose fortune is being told — should swirl the cup three times in a clockwise direction, then set the cup down for the reader — the person interpreting the leaves and their meaning — to view. Remember, reading tea leaves requires concentration and focus, so an environment free of extra noise or distractions is best. Also note that, while some believe you can’t read your own tea leaves, others believe that this, along with several other aspects of leaf-reading style, is a matter of personal preference that is ultimately up to each questioner and reader.

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