Gretchen Lawlor writes about how to read tea leaves: Wisdom in a Teacup

Gretchen Lawlor writes about how to read tea leaves: Wisdom in a Teacup

At this moment in our lives, who isn't curious (or desperate) to know what the future holds. The future can seem unsteady, dangerous, even. If only we could learn how to see into the future...Tea Leaf Reading (or Tasseography) is an ancient practice used to do just that. What does the future hold? What is happening in the here and now, and am I headed in the right direction?

Gretchen shares how her family practiced reading tea leaves,
and shares some tricks of the trade

This article, titled "Wisdom in a Teacup" appeared in We'Moon 2018. Gretchen is a regular writer for the We'Moon planner and the We'Moon wall calendar.


Sharing tea with a friend, gazing at the leaves remaining in the bottom of an ordinary china teacup may seem humdrum, but the cup itself can become a numinous space, a threshold through which you see—what? Images, symbols, stories, inspirations, solutions. Kitchen shamanic journeying.

In my family, whenever there was a crisis, someone would “go put the kettle on” for a comforting cup of tea all around;

Reading the leaves would follow to sort things out. You might think of it as a way of opening the psychic channels through the calming, contemplative ritual of having tea together.

Hathor Pours Cosmology © Lindy Kehoe 2017 image of Hathor pouring a cup of tea

Here's how I learned to read tea leaves:

Now, here's how to go about it. Start with a well-made cup of tea, preferably served from a preheated teapot without a filter, as you’ll be reading the patterns made by the leaves remaining in the bottom of the cup once you’ve had your tea.

The cup should have a white interior and a handle (tea is said to taste better served in good English china).

Tea-Leaf-Reading-in-YarrowTea in Yarrow © Leah Markman 2020

What kind of tea to use for reading tea leaves:

A medium-sized loose-leaf tea such as Darjeeling, Earl Grey, green or mint provides evocative, easy to read leaves, and it’s fine to add milk or sugar.

What if I don't have loose leaf tea on hand? Can I read the leaves of tea from a teabag?

Yes, it’s possible to read the leaves from a torn teabag, even, sprinkled into a cup of hot water, if you must.

Badger Knows All Things in the Earth; Hawk Knows All Things in the Sky  ¤ Sophia Kelly Schultz 2012 Image of two women drinking tea together

You, the server (always known as “Mum” in my Irish/Scottish family) and your friend (the “Guest”) take tea together.

Remind the Guest to leave just enough liquid in the cup to swirl the leaves.

When you’ve both had your tea, direct the Guest to swirl, then upend the cup onto a saucer, spin the upside-down cup three full turns in a clockwise direction, then hand it to you with the handle facing them.

As the cup is spinning, Mum silently asks to be a clear and helpful channel for _______ (naming the Guest).

Look into the cup with soft, unfocused eyes to let the images take shapes. Share your first impressions, before reason begins to filter or censor.

This is important, even essential. In a very early reading, when all I could see was a duck, my startled and impressed Guest told me that ducks held particular significance for her. With that quirky encouragement, I’ve opened with my first impressions ever since.

The bottom of the cup contains the central messages, with the leaves found on the sides adding details or leading into the future.

Shapes in Tea LeafsTea Leaf Tea Cup © Leah Markman 2020

Trust that the images will speak for themselves, and hold meaning for the Guest. You are the channel, you do not need to make sense of what you see. As you gain experience more stories, insights, even emotions may accompany the images.

Taking turns reading each other's leaves is easier than reading your own;

the gift appears to work best—as a gift to others.

Betty LaDuke art "Nunca Mas"

Don’t break your concentration to look up symbols.

Better to uncover your own meanings. It’s fine to free-associate or ask questions of the images, for example, “What’s the duck doing or feeling? Where’s the duck going? Is the duck alone?"

In the beginning the Guest should listen in silence, though with practice you will learn to hold your deep concentration while responding to questions.

When you have no more to offer, break your gaze, give thanks for what you’ve received, and give yourself a moment to return to this world.

Eat chocolate or something salty if you have trouble closing your intuitive channels. Encourage your Guest to take notes, during or after the reading, for insights that often follow further reflection.

This portal! How remarkable that it’s there in your kitchen.

The wonder of gazing down that rabbit hole, that well of wisdom—into fantastic pictures, to stories that lead around the cup and up the sides, beyond the daily to magical, often humorous, luminous inspiration—through the tea leaves remaining in a cup.

Gretchen Lawlor © Mother Tongue Ink 
from page 26 of We'Moon 2018
For encouragement, more information: EMAIL GRETCHEN



Here's a recap on how to read tea leaves in 13 steps:

  1. Make a cup of tea (in a cup with a light colored interior) for the Guest and the Server (or reader) with loose leaf tea (herbal or black tea is fine, even a torn tea bag will work)

  2. As you take tea together, consider the question at hand, even talk about it with your tea companion if you like.

  3. The Guest should leave just enough liquid at the bottom of the cup to swirl the leaves around.

  4. The guest then upends the cup onto a saucer.

  5. The Guest spins the upside-down cup three full turns, clockwise.

  6. As the Guest spins the Cup, the Server / Reader asks for spirit guidance, clarity, and to be of aid.

  7. The Guest hands the cup to the Server (or Reader), handle first.

  8. The Reader then gazes unfocused into the cup, similar to scrying or crystal ball gazing. 

  9. The Reader may go into trance and can share stream of consciousness the energies and impressions they are picking up. 

  10. After all first impressions and messages from the spirit realm have been exhausted, the Reader comes back into present time slowly.

  11. You may both, then inspect and analyze the arrangement and shapes of the tea leaves, recording shapes and symbols you find for further research.

  12. Give thanks to your spirit helpers and release them to go if they will and stay if they wish.

  13. Enjoy a bit of chocolate and conversation to ease yourselves back into the reality of here and now.

detail of Tea with the Girls ¤ Carol Wylie 2005 image of the reflection of a woman's face on the surface of a cup of tea

Here are some common symbols and their meanings that you may see in your tea leaf reading:

  • Crescent Moons are a sign of success in the material realms.

  • Full Moon shapes are a sign of success in emotional well being.

  • Birds mean lucky breaks and unknown blessings already on their way.

  • Mountain shaped tea leaves tell us that you have a powerful friend on your side.

  • Bunches of Flowers mean extra good luck, especially in relationships with friends and lovers.

  • Orbs, Ovals and Circles: good things are in your future, materially.

  • Anchor: Stability of income and relationships.

  • Squares reassure future or present ease and happiness. Contentment.

  • Triangles mean good luck or that something valuable may be coming your way. 

  • Fish suggest that you may be getting good news from abroad.

  • Mushrooms may warn of bad juju in your love relationships. Clear up disagreements, or let the relationship dissolve amicably. 

  • Cars mean unknown blessings are on their way.

  • Eagles suggest that you should consider a change of housing.

  • Umbrellas warn you to take cover. There may be trouble ahead. But just like raindrops, they will be minor annoyances, and the clouds will eventually pass.

  • Snakes are a warning sign. Tread carefully or change your plans.

  • Kites indicate that success and respect, and long or far journeys.

  • Labrys, Axe or Hammer: ability to overcome obstacles. Focused intention can help you solve problems.

  • Daggers indicate someone will be helping you, or you should ask for help from others.

  • Bridges indicate that you will be going on a fun journey or a successful trip

  • Candles indicate insight. Trust your inner knowing.

  • Hourglass shapes are warnings that you may need to act quickly to avoid bad, even dangerous situations. 

  • Elephants promise longevity and a healthy life.

  • Hearts, as you might guess, mean happiness in relationships, maybe even new love or new commitments in your current love relationship.

  • Horseshoes affirm good choices, especially in regard to friends and lovers.

Painting of Tea with the Girls ¤ Carol Wylie 2005

Practice reading tea leaves with a friend or in a group.

It's a sweet way to connect and help each other gain enlightenment about your present situations, check out the wisdom of plans for the future, and may even help you avoid some pitfalls in money, business, housing and relationships. 

This is wonderful practice for developing intuition, and learning to recognize your own powers of divination.

As you read the leaves in a tea cup, trust your intuition. As a beginner, try not to take yourself too seriously, or to hold too tightly to the hope or expectation that you will see mystical visions or get a download of information from the other side. That may happen.

Water Color painting of two women having a conversation over tea called Precious Moments by Melissa Harris
Precious Moments © Mellissa Harris 2001 from We'Moon 2020

But as with most everyday magic, and just like your cup of tea, the sparks of insight can take some time to percolate.

A seemingly inconsequential comment from the reader may take on new meaning days or weeks later. So, as a reader, go ahead and share whatever comes to the surface for you, as meditate on the leaves. It may mean nothing from your perspective, but as Gretchen shared in her article, it may be very significant to the person that you are reading for.

Tea in Yarrow by Leah Markman
Tea in Yarrow © Leah Markman 2020

What are the cultural origins of tea leaf reading?

According to Wikipedia: "Tasseomancy followed the trade routes of tea and coffee and was practiced by Romani Gypsies.

Western tasseography can be linked to medieval European fortune tellers who developed their readings from splatters of wax, lead, and other molten substances.

"Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England have produced a number of practitioners and authors on the subject, and English potteries have crafted many elaborate tea cup sets 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/Greek coffee turned over onto a plate."

Every edition of We'Moon Gaia Rhythms for Womyn includes informative and educational articles about astrology, tarot reading, Chinese astrology, how to use herbs for health and magical insight.

Interested in exploring more? Visit our Journey into Astrology blog post collection to browse through our constantly updated collection of interesting and informative posts about astrology and celestial influences like:

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This article explores the influences of the 12 signs of the zodiac in relation to the world, the moon and you.

Solar and Lunar Eclipses that are Coming Up, and How They Influence Us

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This article goes over all of the eclipses, both lunar and solar, for the year, their dates and times, and theri specific, unique affects.

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