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Tasseomancy is the reading of tea leaves and dates back to the British Isles and the Gypsies. At the heart of it, reading tea leaves is looking at symbols formed. These symbols were fairly well established with dripping hot wax (ceroscopy) or lead (molybdomancy) into water. With the introduction of tea in the 1600s, tea drinking and the symbols found there became a popular form of divination.

The essence of tasseomancy involves the seeker drinking a cup of tea and leaving a small amount of the liquid at the bottom. Please note that this is 'free tea' where the leaves and other material are free in the water rather than the now classic tea bag that carefully prevents the tea itself from getting into the cup.

Once the tea is drunk and only a small amount of liquid remains, the cup is inverted on the saucer. The inside of the cup is then examined. The shapes the tea leaves take indicate the future, and the placement of the symbol within the cup indicates the time frame - the closer to the rim, the more immediate the event. The handle often represents 'home' or proximity and nearness. A symbol opposite the handle would be more distant to the seeker than one close by.

The proximity of symbols to each other is also important, especially in the case of letters which indicate a name. While the interpretation of symbols varies from reader to reader, there are many standard symbols for which the interpretation is fairly well agreed upon. The following is a list from http://www.geocities.com/Paris/9832/Reading.htm, though many others can be found elsewhere.

  • Abbey, future ease and freedom from worry
  • Acorn, improvement in health, continued health and strength
  • Aircraft, unsuccessful projects
  • Anchor, a lucky sign, Success in business and love
  • Angel, good news, especially good fortune in love
  • Apes, secret enemies
  • Apples, long life, gain by commerce
  • Apple Tree, change for the better
  • arch, a journey abroad
  • Arrow, a disagreeable letter from the arrow's direction
  • ass, misfortune overcome by patience; or a legacy
  • axe, difficulties overcome
  • Badger, long life and prosperity as a bachelor
  • Basket, an addition to the family
  • Bat, fruitless journeys or tasks
  • Bear, a long period of travel
  • Beasts, other then those mentioned, foretell misfortune
  • Birds, a lucky sign; good news if flying, a fortunate journey
  • Boat, a friend will visit
  • Bouquet, one of the luckiest of symbols, a happy marriage
  • Bridge, a favorable journey
  • Building, a removal
  • Bull, slander by an enemy
  • Bush, an invitation into society
  • Butterfly, success and pleasure
  • Camel, a burden to be patiently borne
  • Cannon, good fortune
  • Car, approaching wealth, visits from friends
  • Cart, fluctuations of fortune
  • Castle, unexpected fortune or legacy
  • Cat, difficulties caused by treachery
  • Cathedral, great prosperity
  • Cattle, prosperity
  • Chain, an early marriage; if broken, trouble in store
  • Chair, an addition to the family
  • Church, a legacy
  • Circles, money or presents
  • Clouds, a serious trouble; if surrounded by dots financial success
  • Clover, a very lucky sign; happiness and prosperity
  • Coffin, long sickness or sign of death
  • Comet, misfortune and trouble
  • Compass, a sign of traveling as a profession
  • Cow, a prosperous sign
  • Cross, a sign of trouble, delay or even death
  • Crown, success and honor
  • Crown and Cross, good fortune resulting from death
  • Dagger, favors from friends
  • Deer, quarrels, disputes; failure in trade
  • Dog, faithful friends
  • Donkey, a legacy long awaited
  • Dove, a lucky symbol; progress in prosperity and affection
  • Dragon, a great and sudden change
  • Duck, increase of wealth by trade
  • Eagle, honor and riches through change of residence
  • Elephant, a lucky sign; good health
  • Falcon, a persistent enemy
  • Ferret, active enemies
  • Fish, good news from abroad; surrounded by dots, Immigration
  • Flag, danger from wounds inflicted by an enemy
  • Flower, good fortune, success, happy marriage
  • Fox, treachery by a trusted friend
  • Frog, success in love and commerce
  • Gallows, a sign of good luck
  • Goat, a sign of enemies, and misfortune to a sailor
  • Goose, happiness; a successful venture
  • Grasshopper, a great friend will become a soldier
  • Greyhound, good fortune by strenuous exertion
  • Gun, a sign of discord and slander
  • Hammer, triumph over adversity
  • Hare, a sign of long journey or return of absent friend
  • Harp, marriage, success in love
  • Hat, success in life
  • Hawk, an enemy
  • Heart, pleasures to come
  • Heavenly Bodies signifies happiness and success
  • Hen, increase of riches or addition to the family
  • Horse, desires fulfilled through a prosperous journey
  • Horse-Shoe, a lucky journey or success in marriage
  • Hour-Glass, imminent peril
  • House, success in business
  • Human Figures, judged by what they appear to be doing
  • Interrogation (mark of), doubt or disappointment
  • Ivy, honor and happiness through faithful friends
  • Jackal, a mischief maker of no account
  • Jug, good health
  • Kangaroo, a rival in business or love
  • Kettle, death
  • Key, money, increasing trade, a good husband or wife
  • Kite, a sign of lengthy travel leading to Honor and dignity
  • Knife, a warning of disasters through quarrels and enmity
  • Ladder, a sign of travel
  • Leopard, a sign of immigration and subsequent success
  • Letters, signifies news
  • Lily, on top of cup, health and happiness, bottom, anger,Strife
  • Lines, indicate journeys and their directions
  • Lion, greatness through powerful friends
  • Man, a visitor arriving
  • Mermaid, misfortune, especially to seafaring persons
  • Monkey, deception in love
  • Moon, (as a crescent), prosperity and fortune
  • Mountain, powerful friends; many mountains, powerful enemies
  • Mouse, danger of poverty through death or swindling
  • Mushroom, sudden separation of lovers after a quarrel
  • Numbers, very lucky, long life, good health, happy marriage
  • Oblong figures, family or business squabbles
  • Owl, an evil omen, indicative of sickness, poverty, disgrace
  • Palm tree, good luck, children to a wife, marriage to a maid
  • Parrot, a sign of emigration for a lengthy period
  • Peacock, success and acquisition of property; a happy marriage
  • Pear, great wealth and improved social position
  • Pheasant, a legacy
  • Pig, good and bad luck mixed
  • Pigeons, important news if flying, if not, domestic bliss
  • Pine tree, continuous happiness
  • Pistol, disaster
  • Rabbit, fair success in a city or large town
  • Rat, treacherous servants, losses through enemies
  • Raven, death for the aged, divorce, failure in business
  • Razor, lovers quarrel and separation
  • Reptile, Quarrels
  • Rider, good news from oversees regarding finances
  • Rifle, a sign of discord and strife
  • Ring, marriage; if near clouds an unhappy marriage
  • Rose, a lucky sign denoting good fortune and happiness
  • Saw, trouble brought about by strangers
  • Scales, a lawsuit
  • Scissors, quarrels, illness, separation of lovers
  • Serpents, spiteful enemies, bad luck, illness
  • Shark, danger of death
  • Sheep, success, prosperity
  • Ship, successful journey
  • Snakes, are a bad omen. Great caution should be exercised
  • Spider, a sign of money coming
  • Squares, comfort and peace
  • Star, a lucky sign, surrounded by dots foretells great fortune
  • Straight Line, a very pleasant journey
  • Straight Lines, peace, happiness and long life
  • Swallow, a journey with a pleasant ending
  • Swan, good luck and a happy marriage
  • Sword, disputes, quarrels between lovers
  • Sword (broken), Victory over an enemy
  • Timber, Logs of timber indicate business success
  • Toad, deceit and unexpected enemies
  • Trees, a lucky sign; prosperity, and happiness
  • Triangles, always a sign of good luck and unexpected legacies
  • Twisted Figures, disturbances and vexation
  • Umbrella, annoyance and trouble
  • Unicorn, scandal
  • Vulture, bitter foes
  • Wagon, a sign of approaching poverty
  • Wavy Lines, denotes losses and vexation
  • Wheel, an inheritance about to come
  • Windmill, success in enterprise
  • Wolf, beware of jealous intrigues
  • Woman, pleasure and happiness, several women indicates scandal
  • Wood, a speedy marriage
  • Worms, indicate secret foes
  • Yacht, pleasure and happiness
  • Yew Tree, death of an aged person leaving his legacy to you
  • Zebra, travel and adventure in foreign lands
It should be fairly apparent, that most any symbol can be found, or at least guessed at. Much of the fortune telling of tea leaves was for the clients of gypsies and often deal with marriage and love, business and money, and voyages. The list continues to be updated as new objects appear in the culture (aircraft wern't about in the 1600s).

In the 1700s, this method was modified by the Italians to include coffee-grounds as part of the divination.

Today, reading tea leaves is still very common in Europe, and while not as popular within the United States, it can be found at some coffee shops.

Primary source:
http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/t/tasseomancy.html

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