How we read the world shapes our lives. Whether we are reading the sun’s place in the sky to tell time, the weather to understand harvest cycles, or animals’ behaviors to tell us about the weather, how we read natural events as well as our own experiences shapes our perceptions and actions in the world. Although we are constantly “reading” the world, some people have created conscious methods of doing so. Many of these methods – Tarot cards, palm readings, hypnosis, and tasseography (tea leaf reading) – involve reading not only the present, but the future and the past. All of these ways of reading involve trying to get in touch with the subconscious mind to answer questions about our life.
Reading tea leaves may conjure up a variety of associations – perhaps of gypsy fortune tellers or ancient Chinese dynasties. As tea has traveled, so has the art of reading its leaves. Cultures from Asia, ancient Greece, and the Middle East have all traditionally, and independently, practiced tasseography. Today, Scottish, Irish, and European cultures also practice reading tea leaves. To do so, brew a cup of tea using loose-leaf tea and no strainer. After drinking most of the liquid, with just a little left at the bottom of the cup, turn over the teacup and drain the contents onto a saucer. The images and patterns created by the tea leaves are read to respond to a question the tea drinker contemplated as he/she drank. There are a variety of web sites and books that describe what the images and patterns in the cup might mean. The idea involves the tea drinker moving into a meditative state as he/she consumes the tea and reads the leaves’ traces. The drinker’s energy naturally affects the shapes the tea leaves assume in very subtle ways – how the cup is held, how slowly or quickly the tea is consumed, and how the water is swirled around. The idea is that an answer to the question the drinker has in mind will reveal itself in the tea leaves, as they are inextricably linked to his/her subconscious mind. Someone practiced in tasseography can read others’ tea leaves as well, which involves both the meditative state of the reader and the natural energy of the tea drinker.
As with all kinds of reading, imagination is a key element. I do not mean “invention,” but simply the recognition that anything we read involves imagination and understanding its relation to reality. For instance, tracking an animal, even with visible prints, involves imagination – building a narrative out of what’s seen. A Tibetan Buddhist practiced in the art of reading a pulse can diagnose diseases both by understanding the science as well as imaginatively seeing the person’s whole life and story. As with any art, tasseography involves both practice and imaginative engagement.