(Investigator 68, 1999 September)

Of all the auguring methods, the art of tealeaf reading is comparatively new, going back only a matter of two hundred years.

Although it is one of the simplest methods of divination, remembering the meaning of some three hundred symbols is not for the amnesiac. There are also certain conventions to observe according to the practitioner; the cup should be white, have a wide mouth and belled sides, and China tea should be used to give the best results. Each symbol should be considered individually, then in toto, to ascertain an overall picture. The distance from the top or bottom of the cup gives an approximation of the time frame – the closer the leaves are to the top of the cup the nearer the event, leaves at the sides in the predictable future, and leaves at the bottom of the cup make predictions regarding the distant future.

The importance of a symbol is determined by its clarity and relative size, and its true meaning may be literal, traditional, or may need to be interpreted as in dreams. Care must be taken where the shape of a tealeaf is not clear cut, for example, an indistinct round shape could be interpreted as a balloon or a ball. Ball and balloon having two different meanings could put you on the wrong track.

The best approach is to first seek out the symbols of good omen – anchor, angel, ark, bird, bridge, circle, crown, dog, fish, flower, horse or tree, to mention some; then look for the bad omens, among them are, bat, coffin, flag at half mast, dagger, gun, monkey, rat, skeleton, sword, snake or wreck. This can help you judge the general trend of the prediction.

Next look for the tea leaves that form the most distinct patterns or symbols, thus if we see an aeroplane near the top of the cup this could indicate a successful business trip in the near future, or if close to the bottom of the cup the trip could be further away in time. If it appears to be surrounded by clouds this could portend obstacles either in the form of delays, disappointments or failure of purpose. A well defined anchor the right way up and near the brim of the cup is a good omen, and could indicate immediate travel by sea or loyalty from a loved one. Upside-down however, or surrounded by small leaves, could mean an interrupted journey or a difficult relationship.

Once the main shapes have been interpreted and jotted down on a note pad, the other peripheral symbols together with the use of intuition can be woven into the story to produce a cohesive prediction. Tealeaf reading has declined in popularity in today's more sophisticated world where pseudo-science is employed to enhance credence in certain types of auguring, not to mention the advent of tea-bags! Basically however, it follows the usual and ancient pattern of allocating omens to certain shapes, sizes and configurations, in this instance tea leaves in a cup. The method has no rational or scientific support, and like all its diverse auguring counterparts, relies on fixed standard interpretations and the ability of the reader to weave a plausible story.

If any credence could be had in the predictive capabilities of the system, a simple test to prove it would be to drink several cups of tea to see if the tea leaves took up the same shapes and configurations each time. I don't suggest you try it because the odds against that happening are so great that you'd die of tannin poisoning first!


Brent, P. 1977. Past Present Future. Chartwell Books Ltd.
Gibson, W.B. & Gibson, L.R. 1988. The Complete Illustrated Book of the Psychic Sciences. Bell Publishing Co. New York.
Hill, D. 1982. Fortune Telling. Hamlyn Paperbacks. UK
McCormack, K. 1972. Fortune Telling. Collins/Fontana.

[From: Edwards, H  A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]

Science, common-sense and the investigative way –

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