(Investigator 26, 1992 September)

Tea leaf reading, also called "Tasseography", began in ancient China. The ancient Romans read the sediment from wine. Nowadays, some people who dislike tea use the sediment of coffee.

Tea drinking became popular in Europe around 1500 AD. Imaginative people observed that the configuration of the leaves after the liquid was consumed sometimes resembled familiar shapes and objects. By 1500 AD divination by interpreting the shapes of drops of molten wax or molten lead already had a long history. This plus the comparative ease of using tea leaves doubtless gave people the idea of tea leaf reading.

Nowadays the cup used is usually wide, smooth, undecorated, pastel-coloured or white, with sloping sides. The cup is filled without a tea strainer. When the leaves have settled the liquid is drunk or carefully poured out. The person whose future is to be told (the "querant") swirls the remaining liquid and then inverts the cup over the saucer. The fortune teller examines the leaves sticking to the cup for patterns. Each picture she sees or thinks she sees has a meaning. There are dictionaries of what each image means.    

An air plane indicates a sudden journey; an arrow bad news; an apron a new friend; etc. The fortune teller judges the overall sizes, positions and clarity of each shape and invents a story. Past or current events in the querant's life are indicated near the top of the cup and future events nearer the bottom.

Doubtless the tea leaf reader will give a more convincing performance if she knows the querant well or/and observes for clues in their dress, manner and appearance.

Besides residues of drinks other methods of creating shapes for fortune telling include dripping lead or melted wax in cold water respectively called "Molybdomancy" and "Ceromancy".


[A True story by an Investigator reader]

Pamela Winters

(Investigator 26, 1992 September)

Half a century ago when I was a little girl of ten, I lived in South Harrow, Middlesex. My mother took me up to King's Road and around the corner to the back of some shops. Here was Rayner's Lane Christian Spiritualist Church where tealeaf and palm reading sessions were regularly held — things that Spiritualist Churches would never dream of doing now.

Mum learned to read tea-leaves and taught me. Tea-leaf reading was learned and taught in the truest senses of the words, as we were told, the art of tea-leaf reading did not come to you by way of nature. In an era without tea-bags a pot of tea was made and cups poured and drank. Then Mum — when she was learning — would tell the experienced reader what she saw in the cup and await comments. These could be that what she read was near enough or quite different to the lore of the tea-reader. If it was quite different they would talk it over and always agree: Mum never being one for arguments. And in the same way she taught me.

Mum had a hard life and never went to dances, nor the pictures, nor even the hair-dressers. Her activities at the Church were unknown to my father and my six brothers and sisters. If Dad were not at work she could only go to Meetings if he were down the pub.

Outside of her family Spiritualism (popular in England) was Mum's only interest and extra she had in life. And, quite rightly, she was entitled to something in life.

Because of potential problems at home Mum read tea-cups only at the Church. She never took money for it except as a donation to the Church. It was interesting and I could see what she meant in her readings. As a matter of common sense she never told anyone if she had seen tragedy in their teacup. I would read for Mum, but only at home, where I also often swapped cups with my Godmother whom I called Aunty Jean. I never read at the Church.

By the time I was fourteen I was working full-time as a hairdresser's apprentice as well as studying (successfully) at night-school to matriculate. I found that I had neither time nor inclination for tea-leaf reading which I had, however, found easy. In recent months I have occasionally read friends' cups for fun.

I found that a lot of what could be read was quite true but most of the people involved were from the local area and were well-known to each other. Rather than seeing a psychic power of prediction at work in tea-leaves knowing the person gave you an idea of what might happen to them. Even so it brought a good deal of happiness to many lonely people as well as being a good excuse for a cup of tea.

Ten years ago I was in England and it was a pleasure to find Rayner's lane Christian Spiritualist Church still in the  place and still a going concern. I believe it still is.

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