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10 Tips for Giving Dynamite Tea Leaf Readings

This article was written by Caroline Dow
posted under Divination

Chances are that you are reading this article because you are a tea buff captivated by the pretty patterns made by the leaves left at the bottom of your favorite cup of Darjeeling. You know that tea leaf reading has been practiced as a form of divination, probably ever since the first cup was brewed, and you are intrigued to try your hand at it.

In the many tea cup reading workshops I have delivered over the years, I’ve found that my students eagerly listen to my explanations, can hardly wait to prepare their first cup for reading, and then . . . .stare in consternation at the soggy mass left at the bottom of the cup and lament, "How am I supposed to make sense of that?"

To help lift you over the hump—that clutch moment when you fear you’re floundering in a red sea of Rooibos—and onto the path toward giving dynamic readings, here are 10 easy-to-put-into-practice tips. When putting these tips into practice, remember that your objective is to tell a good story to which the person you’re reading for can relate.

  1. You don’t need to interpret every image you see. The clump opposite the handle that looks like something the cat left, and from which no definable symbols can be extracted, probably means you put too many leaves in your inquirer’s cup. Since leaves plump up a lot after they steep, a half teaspoon of dry leaves is plenty. (The inquirer, by the way, is the person for whom you are reading.) If you get involved with trying to include every image you find in your interpretation, the tale you tell may veer off course, and your inquirer will become mystified about what you’re communicating. So, at least initially, only talk about the images that fit the story you are putting forth. If your inquirer broaches other questions or seeks a clarification, then you can point to some of the other images.

  2. Only interpret the images that relate to your inquirer’s question. The best time to ask your inquirer to share concerns is while the person is drinking the tea so that these thoughts more thoroughly infuse the leaves. Also, when you have the question in mind before you take a peek at the cup, your intuition will guide you to elicit the significant symbols. Once when I went for a reading for myself—not a tea leaf reading, but an intuitive reading—the psychic waxed on and on about my husband and how intelligent, kind, romantic, and athletic he was. Now I happen to think my husband is rather wonderful, but I was going for a reading to find out about my own professional concerns, not his. Needless to say, when my stated question was never answered, I left unhappy.

  3. Ease yourself into the interpretation by concentrating on the larger, well-formed images. These are more important than tiny, light, sketchy looking ones.

  4. Develop a systematic plan for finding symbols. First, see if you recognize any special tea leaf reading symbols. These images occur frequently in cups and hold special significance for tea leaf readers. For example, a single dot, which when coupled with an image emphasizes its meaning. Blobs warn of disappointment (unless you put in too many leaves!), an arrow indicates a message forthcoming, lines harbinger journeys, and dashes indicate movement in affairs. Next, look for images that represent concrete, realistic things—the sorts of items that surround us in everyday life. Houses, cars, dogs, hats, human profiles, apples, birds, computers, feathers, trees, and flowers represent typical items that appear in cups. Only after you have identified common objects should you move on to discovering more complicated images such as numbers, letters, words, geometrical forms, and universal symbols.

  5. Don’t try to memorize a dictionary full of symbols. Your inquirer, who is probably your cousin, co-worker, or friend, doesn’t expect you to become a symbols maven overnight, and won’t mind if you need to look up something. While it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the significance of some common symbols, such as a crown for victory, a heart for love, and an apple for knowledge, you’ll find that you will instinctively be aware of many definitions, as they often follow common sense. Besides, the more readings you perform the more symbols you will remember. Note that there is a danger in overemphasizing precise, bookish symbolic meanings. Such inflexibility can interfere with your interpretation and cause your inquirer to say, "What?" "Come again?" "I don’t quite understand you." Along the same lines, if after you have exhausted every possible way to explain the images in the cup, and have given every possible meaning for the symbols, and your inquirer still requires more information, you might try using another form of divination to clarify the issue. A woman once came to me with a complex question about her ballet studio. She didn’t know how to drum up more business. Should she advertise more, if so, where? Was her business partner the right one or should she rely more on her manager, or even change managers? Would it be better to sell the studio? If so, who would be the best buyer and when should she do it? Obviously, the tea leaves couldn’t unravel all these complexities in a single cup, even though I read from China Black tea leaves, which render more images than most kinds of tea. After I completed the reading, I brought out my tarot deck and drew three cards for each question that the leaves had left unanswered. The cards showed my inquirer’s past experiences, the current situation, and the probable outcome. If you feel it is helpful, you may also add a pendulum to your tea leaf reading, especially when the inquirer has many questions that can be answered by "yes" or "no."

  6. When you see an image that puzzles you, try to view it from all angles, even upside-down. It may look like a woman’s profile from one viewpoint, and like a cat from another perspective. Both images are valid, and interconnected. In this case, the interpretation might be to watch out for a woman of a jealous, gossipy nature.

  7. Still stuck on a symbol? Don’t hesitate to describe the image to your inquirer, and get their opinion of its significance for them. We all have our private symbolic language and individual interpretations. For instance, if somebody were reading a cup for me and found a frog, they might interpret it as meaning a sudden move, possibly a change of job or residence, both of which are standard definitions. However, for me, a frog is a very positive symbol; in fact, I consider it my totem animal. So to see a frog in my cup means fertility of body, mind, and spirit, happiness, and success in my endeavors. Once I distinguished a scorpion, symbol of vicious criticism, in cup that was otherwise filled with positive signs, including a flying bird, a dolphin, the number 2, a bouquet of roses, and two birds cuddling in a nest. I asked my inquirer if a scorpion meant anything to her. She smiled and responded that she was in love with a man born under the sign of Scorpio, but that he had been studying abroad for the last year. She missed him very much and although they corresponded frequently, she was worried that they might drift apart. I assuaged her concerns with the following interpretation: Soon (because of the position of the flying bird near the handle, which represents present time) she would receive a message from her lover that he was coming home. After a safe journey (the dolphin), perhaps as early as in February (the second month of the year), he would return and declare his love for her (bouquet of roses). The couple would enter into a partnership (also the number 2), that would culminate in domestic bliss (nesting birds).

  8. Use your intuition. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many neophyte readers get hung up on dictionary definitions for symbols, and suppress the intuitive right brain. If, while you are examining the cup, your inner voice whispers that you should interpret a symbol in an unconventional way, go with the flow. Remember the woman’s profile and cat in tip #6? Those images may not point to an envious woman at all, but to a friend with well-honed psychic abilities who will help the inquirer solve a personal problem. It’s even better if you can find nearby symbols to support your interpretation. Your initial impressions are what strike you from the very first moment you gaze into the cup. Your intuition may even cause you to visualize something in your head that does not appear physically in the cup. Mention this to your inquirer as you progress with the reading.

  9. Remember that you need not interpret every image in symbolic terms. In other words, a breadbox may literally refer to a breadbox and not to the inquirer’s economic state. Once I really did see a breadbox in a gentleman’s cup. When I mentioned this to him, he told me that he had been looking high and low to buy one to no avail. The breadbox in his cup was coupled with a computer, so I advised him to go online with his search.

  10. My final piece of advice is to relax! Novice readers tend to worry too much that they’re going to be confronted with a blank wall when they gaze into the cup. This attitude sets up a mental block that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll always find something to talk about in the cup. And if you don’t, perhaps it’s because your inquirer already knows the answers to the questions.
Tea leaf reading is one of the most satisfying leisure activities you will ever enjoy. It makes an entertaining, inexpensive, and tasty way to relax and in the company of friends and family. You will find that spending time with others in the informal, cozy environment of the tea table will do wonders for you as well. Through reading the leaves, you can put yourself and your inquirer on the path to better health (because tea is good for you), expand your social network, and at the same time, perhaps discover nuggets of wisdom about your character and clues to your future. In this sense, tea leaf reading provides a user-friendly tool for self-growth and self-realization. If you are able to come up with ideas for your inquirer about how to deal with current issues and draw up plans for the future, so much the better. May your experiences unraveling the mysteries of tea leaves be as rewarding for you as they have been for me.

Caroline Dow
Caroline Dow (Boulder, CO) has been a tea-leaf reader and herbalist for thirty years, and conducts popular workshops on tea-leaf reading all over the country. She is the author of fourteen books under various pen names, and is the owner and manager of a...  Read more


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