One type of inquiry we get quite often here in the forum is about reading symbolism as a form of divination. Reading symbols, finding their meanings, and applying those meanings back to your question can be tricky, especially for beginner witches.
So come along on a little journey as we walk through the steps of a simple a Tea Leaf Reading session and do some reading practice. You’re warmly invited for tea!
Quick Jump Navigation:
- Reading Symbolism in Different Types of Divination
- Tea Leaf Reading: Preparing for a Divination Session
- Tea Leaf Reading: Divination Magick
- Tea Leaf Reading: Finding Symbols
- Tea Leaf Reading: Interpreting Symbols
- General Divination: Relating Things Back to Your Question
- Additional Divination Resources
Before we begin, it may help to see how this style of reading can be applied to many different forms of divination.
There are many methods of divination out there to explore, and this can be intimidating for someone just starting on their journey. It may help to organize the many methods out there into the main two types of divination.
Fixed Image Divination: Divination methods such as Runes, Tarot, Oracle, and Lenormand use fixed images- although decks can vary from one to another and each card can hold a vast assortment of potential meanings, the images themselves are fixed. Your trusty Magician card will always display the same shapes, colors, lines, and patterns.
The most common way to divine using methods of divination with fixed images is by studying and memorizing the meanings associated with each fixed image. In the case of Tarot, this usually means learning the traditional meanings of each card.
Free-Flowing Divination: Divination methods such as Tea Leaf Readings (and their sibling Coffee Ground Readings), Smoke Readings, Candle Wax Readings, and Flame Readings do not use fixed images, and instead involve a free-flowing material. Every time you pour that cup of tea or burn a spell candle, you are likely to see different shapes, patterns, etc. You may spot repeat imagery or themes over sessions (which tells you that something is important!), but the material itself is shapeless and free to form in any way.
Reading divination that involves free-flowing material is done by looking for images that appear within the materials- shapes, symbols, sigils, numbers, etc. These images are then interpreted to answer the diviner’s question or inquiry.
Today’s practice of reading symbolism in tea leaves applies for free-flowing methods of divination, but it should be noted that the final step of the process - relating your interpreted symbols back to the diviner’s question- applies to all methods of divination.
So are you ready? Let’s make and read some tea!
A tea reading session begins much the same as any other tea time- you will get your chosen tea leaves, a cup, and boil some hot water. The main difference between a divinatory tea leaf session and a regular afternoon cuppa is that all-important backbone of magick- your intention. When you want to divine answers or seek guidance, hold that intention clearly in your mind throughout the session.
Choosing Your Tea Leaves:
Most types of tea will work for tea leaf readings, but some will make it easier on you than others. The best type of tea leaves to use are large, loose tea leaves. Ground teas (such as powdered matcha) will mix with the water and will not leave much for you to read at the bottom of the cup.
While opening a pre-packaged tea bag can be used in a pinch, the tea leaves in tag bags are usually very fine and can be both difficult to interpret (and make drinking your tea a bit of a messy challenge )
Reading with Company:
If you work with any deities or spirit guides, you may choose to invite them to your tea session. While everyone’s relationship with their guides differs, if you choose to invite the divine to your table it is recommended to clean the space and be extra respectful (as you would with any tea time guests!). When invited, deities and spirit guides can watch over, guide, and assist you with your divination work.
Familiars, animal buddies, and fellow witches can also be invited- tea leaf readings can be as serious or as fun as you want them to be! As long as you keep hold of your intention, it’s okay to relax and enjoy the experience
Scoop your tea leaves into your cup and cover with boiling water. If you are using a lid, cover and allow the leaves to steep, according to their specified steeping guidelines. If you’re in doubt, 3 minutes is generally a good amount of time to let leaves steep.
As the leaves are steeping, hold the mug in your hands (or, if it’s too hot, keep it close in front of you) and focus on your intention. You may speak your question or focus aloud or hold it clearly in your mind.
Traditionally, the tea used for tea leaf readings is drunk directly from the cup. Tea with loose tea leaves in it can require a bit of maneuvering to consume- although most kinds of tea leaves are edible, they are not particularly pleasant to eat!
If you’re not in the mood to have soggy tea leaves all over your teeth and mouth, you can transfer the liquid tea into a secondary vessel and drink it from there. I’ve found that a tea lid/cover is the best method for doing this, as it avoids the need to remove and then replace the tea leaves back into your original cup. With a tea lid, the leaves are handled in the same way as if you drank directly from the original cup.
When you have just a small amount of liquid left, pick up the cup with both hands. Gently swish the cup three times in a clockwise motion while focusing very intently on your intention.
That’s it- now it’s time to find some symbols!
When you look into your tea cup (or candle flame, or wax, etc.), you may be overwhelmed with shapes and things jumping out at you- take your time! The same advice applies for when you look into the cup and see… absolutely nothing. That’s okay too! Take your time- there is no rush. Tea is meant to be enjoyed
Sometimes it can help to rotate the cup and look at things from different angles. Let your mind be loose- follow lines and curves in the leaves with your eyes and see where they lead. Look for shapes, animals, images, numbers, icons, and anything else- there is no limit on what form the leaves can take.
If you’re struggling to see anything at first, no fear! Spotting images is a skill like any other. With time and practice, it becomes easier.
Examples of symbol spotting:
Ready for some symbol-spotting practice?
There are many ways to train your ability to spot symbols- from watching the clouds to staring into the flames in your fireplace
As a little practice exercise right here and now, feel free to examine the tea leaves in the cup. Don’t worry about interpreting symbols just yet- this is simply a practice in letting your eyes and mind find things
Give yourself plenty of time and be patient with yourself Feel free to share any images you picked out in the comments below (if you wish!)
(A note that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers when it comes to spotting symbolism- one person may see a bridge, another a skull, and a third a snake- all completely different images, yet all relating to the theme of transformation. Different symbols can point to the same underlying message! )
Now that you’ve picked out some interesting shapes, symbols, numbers, etc. it’s time to interpret them. In other words, we’re finding the meanings (aka correspondences) that are associated with each image.
A quick way to find out what each symbol means is to check with a guide, book of correspondences, or symbol directory. There is a large collection of magickal correspondence references here at Spells8 for coven members- feel free to download and/or print any you think would be useful for you!
Don’t be afraid you use your personal interpretations for symbols you see as well. While a guide or directory may associate a fox with cunning and trickery, a fox may mean something completely different to you. If you spot a fox in your cup and remember a happy memory, a favorite toy, a person who reminds you of a fox, or anything else- please take note of these associations too!
When they appear, personal interpretations are just as (or even more) valuable than the meanings in a general symbolism guide. Let your intuition help guide you as you find meaning in the symbols!
Okay! You’ve picked out some interesting shapes, symbols, and other images from your tea leaves, then you’ve looked them up (and/or considered your own personal interpretations) and now you’re ready to tie them back to your question.
For many readers, this can be the most challenging step because it often requires some out-of-the-box thinking. How does a cactus relate to an upcoming exam? Or a wave tie into a job promotion? The diviner will need to open their mind and think creatively about how to tie the threads together and weave the bigger picture.
This step is the most personal part of all forms of divination and requires the most amount of skill. But, like everything else, it can be improved and developed with practice.
Here are a few examples (including the tea leaf reading from above) as guidance if you think you’d find that helpful!
Example 1 - cactus and wave
In the two examples given directly above:
A cactus is a very hardy desert plant able to survive and even thrive in extremely difficult and stressful situations- it may mean that the exam will be really grueling, but if you stick to your roots and stay strong, you’ll weather it.
A wave can seem beautiful from afar, but when it’s upon you, it’s overwhelming and all-consuming! It could be interpreted to mean that the job promotion is going to hit hard and fast- you’ll need to do everything you can to try and stay afloat. But like a wave- it washes through and then is over. One way or another, the stress right now will not last. As for whether or not the promotion is successful, examining other symbolism nearby will give additional hints.
Example 2 - Tea leaf interpretations
The symbols I picked out from within the cup are outlined on the photo (and again- these don’t negate symbols that anyone else saw. Different symbols can point to the same underlying theme/message!)
To interpret these symbols, it’s important to know the intention. The tea leaf reading above was done with a very simple interpretation- just asking the universe if there was anything to be aware of in the coming month.
With this in mind, I would interpret the symbols I saw in the following way:
Snake - a large snake head leaps forward, mouth open wide, ready to swallow. This, to me, is the mouth of the Ouroboros- a symbol of cycles and transformation.
Fire in the Darkness - a small camp fire is surrounded by darkness. It may seem a struggle at times and it’s hard to feel all alone in the dark, but it’s actually the darkness that makes this fire seem so bright and stand out so clearly. It is our challenges that push us to be our best and brightest selves.
A Bear - a bear emerges from its cave, returning to the world after a period of rest. Today is Imbolc- a landmark reminding us that spring is on the way. It’s time to slowly emerge from our winter habits and begin planning for the warmer and productive times soon to come.
All together: It’s a period of transformation and change (snake and bear), but although it may be challenging at times, these challenges are important to become a better and brighter version of the self (fire). Remember that brighter and warmer days are coming (bear), and that this period is just one step in the grand cycle (snake).
For more details and a more thorough walkthrough of the pre-reading steps to make tea for a tea divination session, I recommend visiting the Tasseography: How to Read Tea Leaves Guide.
The following free-flowing methods of divination can also be done following the steps above.
If you feel ready for something more advanced, you might consider combining tea leaf readings with tarot or oracle card readings
What method of divination is your favorite? Do you have any tips or tricks about reading symbolism to share with your fellow coven members?
Feel free to share your thoughts, wisdom, and advice in the comments below!