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Divination - Tasseomancy

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Tasseomancy (also known as Tassomancy or Tassology/Tasseology), one of the simplest of the psychic arts, is the reading of patterns of tea leaves coffee grounds, or wine sediments in the bottom of a cup or glass based on the shape they form.  In more modern practice, residues of other beverages such as hot chocolate, beer or juice can also be read and interpreted.  The terms derive from the French word ‘tasse’ (cup), which in turn derives from the Arabic loan-word into French tassa, and the Greek suffixes -graph (writing), -logy (study of), and -mancy (divination).


Tasseomancy followed the trade routes of tea and coffee and was practiced by Romani Gypsies.  Western tasseography can be linked to mediaeval European fortune tellers who developed their readings from splatters of wax, lead, and other molten substances.

England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have produced a number of practitioners and authors on the subject, and English potteries have crafted many elaborate sets of teacups specially designed and decorated to aid in fortune-telling.  Cultures of the Middle East that practice divination in this fashion usually use left-over coffee grounds from Turkish coffee/Lebanese coffee turned over onto a plate.

In the old industrial areas of Britain, the traditional teapot used for tea leaf reading is a plain dark brown pot known as the Brown Betty.


Tasseomancy is one of the most popular forms of fortune telling, depending largely upon psychic intuition, the tradition being passed on (usually through the female line) by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers.  After pouring a cup of leaf tea, without using a tea strainer, the tea is drunk or poured away, leaving a small amount in the bottom of the cup.  The cup is then turned upside down on a saucer.

It is traditional to read a cup from the present to the future.  Time frames, i.e. past, present and future, are estimated by the proximity of the leaves to the rim at the handle of the cup (leaves closest to the rim representing the immediate future).  The diviner will pick up the cup and 'read' the pattern formed by the dregs, allowing the imagination to play around with the shapes suggested by them.  They might look like a letter, a heart shape, or a ring.

The shapes are interpreted intuitively or by means of a fairly standard system of symbolism, such as: a snake, which is a bad omen meaning enmity or falsehood; a spade, signifying good fortune through work; or a house, which means change or success.  There are countless meanings to countless symbols which can be 'seen by the diviner' in the tea leaves, a few of which are shown below.  Should you wish to learn more, there are numerous sites on the internet listing symbols relating to Tasseomancy along with their 'meanings'.  Leaves are read by starting along the rim and following the symbols downward in a spiral manner until the bottom is reached, which symbolises the distant future.  Most readers see images only in the dark tea leaves against a white or neutral background; some will also read the reverse images formed by seeing the symbols that form in the white negative spaces, with a clump of dark leaves forming the background.

Types of Fortune-telling Cups

There are dozens of individual designs of fortune-tellers' cups, but the three most common types are zodiac cups, playing card cups, and symbol cups.

The three most common types of fortune tellers' cups
Type Definition
Zodiac cups These sets contain zodiacal and planetary symbols.  Typically the interior of the cup contains the planetary symbols, while the saucer has the astrological sign symbols, but there are many variations and exceptions to this common pattern.  The placement of these symbols allows the reader to combine astrology with Tasseomancy.
Playing card cups These cups carry within their interiors tiny images of a deck of scattered cards, either 52 cards plus a joker, as in a poker deck, or 32 cards, as in a euchre deck.  Some sets also have a few cards imprinted on the saucers, or the saucers may contain brief written card interpretations.  The playing cards permit the reader to creatively relate cartomancy to Tasseomancy.
Symbol cups These sets are decorated with between a dozen and fifty of the most common visual clues that can be found in tea leaves, often numbered for easy reference and supplied with an explanatory booklet.  The symbols are generally displayed inside the cups, but there are also sets in which they decorate the outside or appear in the cups and on the saucers.

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Some Symbols and their Meanings

Bearing in mind that whatever is read in the tea leaves is completely random and open to interpretation by the person reading them, here is a list of some of the more generally accepted interpretations applied to signs that may be 'seen' in the eye of the beholder.  It should be patently obvious that almost any symbol can be found if you look long enough.  This list is by no means exhaustive, and others continue to be updated as new objects appear in our environment, for example, cars and aircraft were certainly not around when the gypsies first applied their trade.

Acorn If you have been ill, this tends to signify an improvement in your health with continued good health and getting stronger.
Aircraft This usually relates to a failed or unsuccessful project.
Bat Indicates fruitless journeys or tasks you are either currently undertaking or are about to in the very near future.
Boat You can expect a visit from a friend.
Car Some wealth is coming your way, or you can expect a visit from friends.
Crown Success and honour will be forthcoming.
Dagger You will get some special favours from friends.
Dove This is a lucky symbol signifying progressive prosperity and love/affection.
Elephant Another lucky sign meaning good health.
Fish Good news from abroad is on its way.
Fox Treachery by someone you trust as a friend.
Goat This is a sign of enemies, and possible misfortune to someone at sea.
Gun A sign of discord and slander.
Harp Success in love, and a marriage.
Horseshoe A journey will bring luck, or it can mean a successful marriage.
Ivy Honour and happiness can be expected due to faithful friends.
Kettle Death.
Ladder Another sign of travel.
Lion You will achieve greatness through powerful friends.
Moon Crescent Prosperity and good fortune.
Mountain One mountain symbolises powerful friends, many mountains mean the opposite - powerful enemies.
Numbers Numbers are considered very lucky, signifying long life, good health and a happy marriage.
Owl This is supposedly an evil omen, relating to sickness, poverty and disgrace.
Pear Indicates great wealth with improved social standing.
Pig A mixture of good and bad luck.
Rabbit A symbol of a fair amount of success, either in a city or a large town.
Rat Treacherous servants/workers, and/or significant losses through enemies.
Scales A lawsuit.
Shark Beware, there is danger of death.
Trees Another lucky sign meaning prosperity and happiness.
Triangles Triangles are supposed to always signify good luck and unexpected legacies.
Umbrella Annoyance, probably with trouble.
Unicorn Symbolises scandal.
Vulture Beware of bitter enemies.
Wheel You can expect an inheritance soon.
Windmill Success in a business venture.
Yacht Pleasure and happiness lie ahead.
Zebra A sign of travel and adventure in foreign countries.

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