Pity poor Professor Trelawney. In the most wildly popular series of books ever to truck with magic, she is one of only a few characters depicted as a fraud. Professor of Divination at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Sybill Trelawney keeps her position on the sufferance of a headmaster who realizes that he simply must keep her employed in order to keep her safe. We are to understand, however, that when she goes, divination will no longer be taught at Hogwarts.
She got it right about The Grim, though, didn’t she, when she read Harry Potter’s tea leaves?
I had the image of Harry’s teacup fixed in my head as I began to think about potential topics for this month’s posts. Although I am firmly in the camp of skeptics when it comes to matters of divination, I had always taken umbrage with how Professor Trelawney is depicted, and of all the wonders and curiosities we thought about exploring, I most wanted to have a go at tea leaf reading.
And I am so glad I did. I met with Amy Taylor, as grounded and well-informed a tea reader as you could ever hope to meet. She has been reading tea leaves professionally since 1993 and teaching since 2000, and she shared with me some of her wealth of knowledge about the history and the art of tasseomancy, or tea leaf reading. We chatted over a lovely cup of Rooibos tea, and as she read my cup, she also answered some of my questions about tasseomancy.
By far the most powerful image Amy conjured was the comparison of tea leaf reading to cloud busting: you see shapes and from those shapes you intuit meaning. The more relaxed you are, the more you will see. There is meaning to the shapes the leaves create, but also to the white space between the leaves, so the entire canvas of the cup holds information. Anyone can learn to do it, but the most successful will be those who trust intuition and imagination.
Amy became interested in tea leaf reading as a teenager, when after dinner in a Chinese restaurant she looked into her sister’s cup of green tea and saw a pattern that suggested a shape and a meaning to her. From there, she went to the Toronto Reference Library to learn more. (Funny thing: I first heard about Amy right across the street from the Toronto Reference Library. I went into Tao Tea Leaf, had a lovely chat with the owner, and I asked if he could recommend a tea leaf reader. It was Amy’s card he gave me.) She did not apprentice with anyone, but after reading as much as she could find on the subject, she did go to several psychics who advertised tea leaf reading as part of their repertoire, and from those meetings she learned both what and what not to do. Amy not only practices but also teaches tasseomancy, saying that it’s important that her students have a mentor who can guide them through their learning. She hosts student teas so that her students can come together to work on their reading skills.
Amy’s approach to reading is intuitive and personal. She will not do remote readings by Skype or Facetime because she wants to be in the room with the person. The energy of the interpersonal exchange is integral to its success. Private readings cost $40 for 45 minutes, and they consist of a chat over a cup of tea followed by the reading. My experience was relaxed and friendly, and after I drank the tea (leaving 1/4 inch of liquid at the bottom of the cup), Amy swirled the leaves around, patted out the excess liquid and began the reading.
It’s important to have a handle on the cup from which the leaves are read: it orients the reading. With the handle at the bottom, the cup is divided into three segments of past/present/future, moving clockwise from the handle. It’s helpful if the inside of the cup is pale so that the leaves stand out against it. My cup looked particularly crowded, and Amy began by saying that I was a busy woman with a full life! She got that right!
Amy does not identify as a psychic, and says, rather, that readings are an opportunity to see things from another person’s perspective. She is emphatic that readings can give you information, but how you respond to that information and what you do with it is up to you. She calls it like she sees it, but she will not try to frighten anyone. She won’t say that an outcome is negative, only that there are challenges ahead. Readings are not meant for long-term divination, and are useful for a 6-18 month period.
It used to be that tea leaves were read daily, a morning ritual, and in the late 1800s and early 1900s, English potters made teacups with symbols printed on them to facilitate the daily read for home use. Amy had one of the cups on display, and it’s fascinating to ponder its provenance and history, the stories it has held. The earliest references to tasseomancy in Europe are from the 1600s, and it’s thought that the Roma brought tea leaf reading to Europe from the far east. Although there is no proof that tea reading began in China, it is part of a global tradition of geomancy, finding meaning in symbols.
It strikes me that this kind of work is similar to counselling, and I asked Amy what she does for self-care when the work of reading is done. At the outset, she did not have an effective way to get her work out of her system and would often feel either wound up or completely exhausted. She had to learn to leave the work behind her, and she says she remembers people but works hard to forget the details of their readings.
I asked Amy for her recommendations on how to find a reader: research and gut instinct. Google can give you contact information, but also reviews. Read them. If it does not feel right, don’t do it.
And as for my own reading, I went into this with openness and curiosity. I share Sarah Henstra’s opinion that readings, whether of the tarot or the leaves, are stories, and stories can lead to wonder, curiosity, introspection and connection. The story I heard from my tea leaves was comforting and affirming, and, for now–knock wood–the future looks rosy!
You can find plenty more about Amy and tea reading here.