Last night I watched the first episode of Outlander. Yes, I know, where have I been the past year? I’m not quite sure if I’m going to like the series or not, but I must admit there was one scene which caught my attention … Claire and the minister’s assistant sitting in the kitchen having tea and then reading the tea leaves left in Claire’s cup.
Tea leaf reading, or Tasseography (from the French tasse, for cup, and the Greek suffix graph, for writing), is the ancient art of predicting the future by reading images formed from the tea leaves left in the bottom of a teacup. The origins are a bit unclear. Was it the Chinese or was it Greek gypsies who saw the “future” in these images? What is clear is that you must be a bit of a mystic or clairvoyant to accurately interpret these images.
By the 17th century, tea leaf reading had traveled, along with tea, up through Europe into Great Britain. “Tossing the cup” as it was called in Victorian England had become a very popular parlor game, but in Scotland, it was taken a little more seriously. One of the oldest books on the subject, TEA-CUP READING AND FORTUNE TELLING BY TEA LEAVES, was written anonymously by a Highland Scotsman. From the book, “… (reading tea leaves) is one of the most common forms of divination practised by the peasants of Scotland and by village fortune-tellers in all parts of this country.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the tea-leaf reading scene was included in the tv series.
To read the tea leaves, you must first prepare a good pot of loose leaf tea. No, you cannot use teabags. You must use loose leaf tea and let it steep in the pot without infusers or tea balls. I love this passage from TEA-CUP READING … “China tea, the original tea imported into this country and still the best for all purposes. Indian tea and the cheaper mixtures contain so much dust and so many fragments of twigs and stems as often to be quite useless for the purposes of divination, as they will not combine to form pictures, or symbols clearly to be discerned.”
Before serving, stir the tea in the teapot and then pour a cup. You also must use a “proper” teacup with saucer – not a mug. The inside of the teacup must be white to see the leaves clearly and have sloping sides. The person who drinks the tea and wants to know the future is the “seeker”. The person who will read the leaves is, obviously, the “reader”. The seeker is asked by the reader to concentrate on what question she wants answered, or what she wants to know.
After the seeker has finished the tea and left the dregs behind, the reader takes the cup in her left hand, and turns it counter-clockwise three times, swirling the dregs, and then turns the cup over onto the saucer. After a moment or two, the reader picks up the cup to see what images have been made by the tea leaves left in the cup. The interpretation of these symbols is, of course, based upon the talent and divining abilities of the reader. He or she must be intuitive, focused and creative. Seeing images in the tea leaves takes quite an imagination.
The reader begins reading from the rim down. The rim signifies those events happening soonest, while the images closer to the bottom will be further in the future. The tea leaves which settle closer to the cup’s handle suggest home and family.
Anchor: a good sign, symbolizing prosperity.
Arrow: a disagreeable letter coming from the direction it points to.
Bird: a flying bird indicates good news; a resting bird symbolizes an end to a journey.
Boat: an upcoming journey or a removal of something from the seeker’s life.
Circles: money, gifts or presents are expected.
Clover: a very lucky sign; happiness and prosperity.
Cross: a sign of trouble and delay or even death.
Dog: a begging dog indicates someone will ask for a favor; a sad dog represents an injustice.
Heart: love and affection
Horse-shoe: a lucky journey or success in marriage and choosing a partner.
Human: people in a positive stance is a good sign; aggressive stance signifies evil.
Line: a straight, unbroken line means good progress; a broken line challenges the journey.
Numbers: must be looked at with other symbols; numbers could signify days of the week, time, or amounts.
Ring: at the top, means offer of marriage; at the bottom means long engagement; if broken means engagement broken off
Snake: spiteful enemies; bad luck; illness.
Square: being boxed in, limited or oppressed.
Sun, Moon, Stars: all signify happiness and success.
Turtle: a slow but profitable journey.
If you are interested in learning about tea-leaf reading, there are many books and websites on the subject. Tea-leaf reading teacups, with the symbols on the inside of the cup and on the saucers and an instruction booklet, are available for sale online and at book stores. Great fun if you want to have a tea leaf reading party at home.
I’ve been to many tea rooms which offer Tasseography, as well as Tarot card reading, Palmestry and other forms of seeing into the future … all of which I find absolutely fascinating. Whether I believe it or not certainly doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of, not only the tea, but the experience. For a fun afternoon, I recommend visiting a tea room where they have Tasseographers and enjoying a little divination from the leaves.