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Aug. 2, 1896: How to read tea leaves

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • August 3, 2012 - 3:38 PM
 
I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that one or two gifted tasseographers in the five-county area foresaw that I’d post a Minneapolis Tribune piece today on how to read tea leaves. But I doubt anyone could have predicted that I’d use “tasseographers,” “tassologists” AND “tasseomancers” in the introduction. Or that I'd link to this site, and this.
 

YOUR FATE IN A TEA CUP


How Summer Cottages May Spend Rainy Days Studying Their Fortunes.

 
REQUIRES A GOOD IMAGINATION.
 
Three Dots is Your Wish, and if Near the Top You Get It – A Ring Means Marriage, a Small Speck a Letter.
 
(Written for the Tribune.)
 
The latest aspirant for honors in the art of foretelling the future, which seems to stand for the fad of the hour, is a slender little gray-eyed priestess, who announces on her card, “Fortune telling by tea grounds, clairvoyantly.” Of all the methods of an elder day art which are in survival, fortune telling by tea grounds may be said to be the oldest method known and the one believed to be the truest. Our grandmothers had many superstitions connected with the turning of the cup, superstitions which are now part of today’s creed.
 
 
  These four fine ladies of Atwater, Minn., had a tea party in about 1875. At least, that's what the Minnesota Historical Society caption says. But you can tell from the hokey background screen that they were posing for a photographer. (Photo courtesy of mnhs.org)
In the first place we must drink a little of the tea, which should be hot, and then turn out the rest, being careful not to turn out the grounds at the same time, and also being careful not to look at them, as this is considered to bring ill luck.
 
Having turned the tea all off, turn the cup completely over in order that not a drop of water remains, for this would mean tears. Then having turned the cup slowly around toward you three times, at the same time wishing the wish of your heart, set the cup down a moment, resting it against the edge of the saucer or any convenient plate. It is very necessary that the cup should rest in this manner a moment, as putting it flat down upon the table would be a tempting of ill fortune, according to tea grounds tenets. Another means of courting ill luck is to interfere with anyone else’s fortune by presenting your cup while the other is being read. Only one person’s cup at a time must be read. Another unlucky omen is to look over the fortune teller’s shoulder when she is consulting your cup or to look in your cup at all. A person versed in the laws of teacup witchcraft will never point out anything in the cup with her finger, but will rather use a convenient spoon, fork, match, pencil, etc., for to point with the finger brings ill luck.
 
According to all authorities, three small dots in a perpendicular row always stand for the wish, and the nearer they are to the top of the cup the quicker the wish will be obtained. Three small dots that form a triangle mean unlooked for good luck in the fulfillment of the wish. A triangle is always a fortunate sign. So also is an anchor, a horseshoe, a cross and a flag. A flag means that something of unusual advantage to the person is about to occur, or some unexpected good news. Where the grounds are well bunched together and it is clear all about them, it promises that everything will go well with the seeker after the future. If on the contrary the grounds are scattered about confusedly there will be much confusion over some event, or something disastrous will happen to the fortune seeker. The grounds surrounded by fine, dust-like particles signifies trouble, and drops of water standing in the cup stand for tears. The same fine, dust-like grounds bunched together at the bottom or side of the cup is a sum of money. A small ring in the midst of the regular grounds means an invitation.
 
 
  Mina Dove and Martha Ohlaug looked like they were about to peer into the future over cups of tea in about 1907. (Photo courtesy of mnhs.org)
A large, very round ring perfectly closed means an offer of marriage to a single woman, some fortunate undertaking to a married woman and a business offer to a man. Should the ring enclose a number of small specks it means an offer of marriage from a wealthy man, or a business transaction in which money is concerned. A very large opening stands for a body of water and a broken ring signifies a disappointment. The straight stick like grounds are supposedly people, light or dark according to their color and short or tall according to their length. A very small stick means a child. To have the stick or person in a horizontal position is sure to mean illness, and should the larger end of the stick, which is supposed to be the head, be lower than the other end it signifies death. The tea grounds often form in semblance of a person generally standing for the person whose fortune is being read, especially if found on the right side of the cup. Should the grounds bank up in two distinct places the person is about to make a change to another place, large or small as the banking may indicate. A long trailing line of very fine grounds foretells a large journey, and if connected with a large opening of the grounds a journey by water. A boat also foretells traveling by water.
 
A fish is said to bring good luck in business and it is also supposed to be a suitor in marriage. A small speck near the top of the cup means a letter, larger ones standing for a package, or trunk if with a person. Look out for the person with a small bunch of grounds at his back. He is coming to you with a lot of gossip or will talk about you. A bird flying upward in the cup signifies a pleasant letter, but flying towards the bottom it is the bearer of unpleasant news. A horse running is hasty and important news. A horse is always a friend; so also is a dog. In fact, most every animal signifies good luck. A rooster crowing is great success of some kind. A turtle signifies a long life or exceptionally good health. An eagle is a friend in need. A dangerous enemy is a snake, especially if it appears at the top of the cup. If it is in the bottom of the cup, supposedly under foot, it can do no harm, but warns one to be on his guard. If it is particularly thick in appearance it is a woman.
 
A bridge is an important undertaking or a departure of some kind which will be successful if the foundations at either end seem strong, otherwise it will be disastrous. For the grounds to form themselves into a pyramid is extremely lucky; so also if they form into flowers. A wreath of flowers signifies a valuable present, either money or jewels. A half moon or a star foretells a lucky investment or unexpected money. Perhaps the very luckiest formation of the grounds is in the form of a tree. This foretells all manner of success and is especially fortunate if well balanced in shape, and if a person, one’s own self presumably, is protected by it.

 

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