I studied Tea Leaf Reading and it is no easy feat. For those who have often wanted to try their hand at tea leaf divination but couldn't remember all of the configurations, there are "trainer" cups with patterns designed to help you along. Anne Ewbank, writing for Atlas Obscura, gives us the low down --
Tasseography, or tea-leaf reading, has been practiced for centuries. Keen-eyed fortune tellers, it’s said, can derive a wealth of meaning from different shapes formed by tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. But what about the amateur fortune-teller, who can’t tell a skull from a set of stairs?
Enter the fortune-telling tea cup, which first emerged in the early 20th century. Thanks to its paint-by-numbers approach to tasseography, anybody could tell a fortune. Soon, a number of porcelain-makers in the U.S. and England were making their own versions. From the outside, some fortune-telling cups looked like elegant, normal cups. But on the inside, they contained arcane symbols. Wherever tea leaves landed indicated a fortune-telling clue.
The cups were part of a craze for all things occult that lasted well into the 20th century. With new discoveries and technological wonders discovered daily, the mystical didn’t seem that crazy. Having one’s fortune told became a party game, and even an industry. In the 1920s, fortune-telling cafes sprang up in urban centers, and many offered tea leaf readings. So it’s not a surprise that porcelain-makers got in on the trend. Fortune-telling cups were sold in small magazines and even books: One 1907 juggling tome sold a cup “marked with the signs of the Zodiac, all arranged in a certain mystic order.” Interested readers could also buy a crystal ball and “mesmeric discs.”
Fortune-telling cups came in various designs. According to The Mystic Tea Room, an online museum of fortune-telling cups, there are four typical patterns. Astrological signs, numbers, playing cards, or meaningful symbols, called “omens,” are usually printed on cup interiors. Other cups occasionally have designs on the exterior or even the saucers. One common design came with a couplet written along the edge: “Many Curious Things I See, When Telling Fortunes In Your Tea.” Cups were often sold individually, with instructions on their use for fortune-telling amateurs. These days, manufacturers are few and far between, and many older models are sold online as antiques.
One such pamphlet, published in 1924, laid out the rules for discerning a fortune from a “Cup of Knowledge,” which had a playing card design. After drinking the tea, the cup was to be turned three times, then flipped upside-down on a saucer. After most of the tea had trickled away, the leaves sticking to the cup could be read. Leaves closer to the rim indicated that predicted events would happen soon, while leaves atop each card could denote anything from “a dance” (the nine of clubs ) to “happiness and prosperity” (a Joker, oddly). But particular sets of cards together had their own meanings too. Readers were cautioned to watch out for the “evil intentions” denoted by two Jacks.
What is interesting to me is the close relationship between tea leaf reading and tarot. Maybe I need to get one of these cups....
Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy. He has compiled a list of some of generally known the forms of divination.
Here is his list. How many do you know?
Shamanism is widespread all over the world, particularly among societies made up of hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists. Tribes without rulers, as I have called them in another book. Imported into modern cities, especially those of the so-called Third World, in many places it is active even today. At the root of shamanism is the assumption that, to look into the future, it is necessary first of all to leave the “normal” world by entering into an altered state of consciousness (ASC). The methods used to do so vary enormously from one culture to another. Among the most common are music (especially drumming), dancing, prayer, solitude, fasting, long vigils, sexual abstinence (or its opposite, engaging in orgies), breathing exercises, alcoholic drinks, hallucinogenic drugs, and many others.
In each of these cases, the objective is to embark the shaman on a mysterious voyage which will take him into a different country, realm, or reality. One in which the difference between present, past and future is eliminated and the last-named becomes an open book to read.
Also known as revelation, prophecy of the kind many of us are familiar with from the Old Testament in particular is little but a more institutionalized form of shamanism. The difference is that it is not the spirits but God Himself who supposedly reveals himself to the prophet and speaks through his mouth. Sometimes, as in the famous case of Jonah, he does so even against the prophet’s will.
Whereas shamans were almost always illiterate prophets tended to spend their lives in societies where either they themselves or others were able to read and write. Often the outcome was a more detailed, more cohesive, idea of what the future might bring.
3. The interpretation of dreams.
Like prophecy, the interpretation of dreams goes back at least as far as the Old Testament. It, too, rests on the assumption that, by entering upon an ASC, people will be enabled to see things which, in their waking state, they cannot.
As the Biblical story about Joseph shows, dreams were supposed to deliver their message not in simple form but with the aid of symbols. Lists of such symbols are known from ninth-century century BCE Assyria and continue to be published today. Note, however, that interpreting the dreams and relating them to future events was the task, not of the person who had them but of specialists who approached the problem in a cool, analytic manner. Before delivering their verdict, they often took the dreamer’s age, sex and personal circumstances into account.
4. The Greek oracles.
Oracles were extremely popular in Greece and Rome. To use the example of Delphi as the most important one of all, it centered on the Pythia. She was a woman who, sitting on a tripod in a dark subterranean abode, came under the influence of foul gasses emanating from a split in the earth. Going into a sort of trance, the Pythia let forth confused gibberish which was supposed to contain the clue to the future. Next, a special college of priests interpreted her words. Oracles, in other words, resembled the interpretation of dreams in that prediction was divided into two stages, each of these was the responsibility of a different person or persons.
The best-known case of necromancy (from the Greek, nekros, dead, and manteia, divination) is the one described in the Old Testament. King Saul, wishing to learn the outcome of a battle which will take place on the next day, asks a witch to raise the spirit of the prophet Samuel from the dead. Whereupon Samuel tells Saul that, tomorrow, he and his sons too would be dead. Necromancy also occurs in Greek and Roman sources. Virgil in particular has Aeneas visit the underground abode of the dead where he is shown the future of Rome over a period of about a millennium, no less. The basic assumption underlying necromancy is that the dead, having crossed a certain threshold, know more than the living do. Even today in some cultures, procedures for raising the dead and consulting them concerning the future are commonplace.
Along with shamanism, astrology is probably the oldest method for trying to look into the future. Its roots go as far back as Babylon around 3,000 BCE. That is why, in Imperial Rome, it was known as the “Chaldean” science. At the heart of astrology is the proposition, so obvious as to be self-evident, that the sun and moon (which, before Copernicus, were classified as planets) have a great and even decisive impact on life here on earth. Building on this, its students try to make that impact more specific by also taking into account the movements of the remaining planets, the fixed stars, and the relationships among all of these.
Even today, almost one third of Americans are said to believe in astrology. True or false, that does not change the fact that, unlike any of the above-mentioned methods, it is based not on any kind of ASC but on observation and calculation. Of the kind that is practiced, and can only be practiced, by perfectly sober people in full possession of their faculties. So mathematically-rooted was astrology that it acted as the midwife of astronomy, helping the latter become the queen of the sciences. This position it retained right until the onset of the scientific revolution during the seventeenth century.
As Cicero in his book on the topic makes clear, neither the Greeks nor the Romans ever took an important decision without trying to divine its consequences first. Both civilizations also maintained colleges of specialized priests who were in charge of the process. The most important types of divination were the flight of birds on one hand and examining the entrails of sacrificial animals on the other.
Like astrology, but unlike shamanism, prophecy, dreams, the oracles, and necromancy, divination did not depend on people becoming in any way ecstatic, mysteriously travelling from one world to another, and the like. Instead it was a “rational” art, coolly and methodically practiced by experts who had spent years studying it and perfecting it. Today the same is true for such techniques as numerology, Tarot-card reading, etc.
If you peel back the layers of wallpaper in any older New York City apartment, you’re bound to find something intriguing—even if it’s only more ugly wallpaper. A decade ago, though, renovations at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side led to something more mysterious—an advertisement for a “palmist and mind reader,” Professor Dora Meltzer. Charging 15 cents–and up!–(about $4 today), “Professor” Meltzer could not only guess your name and age, but also give you advice.
Who would need the “Professor’s” guidance? Everyone, really. Someone with old-world clout who had been in the U.S. a few years was an obvious go-to for newly-arrive immigrants. But fortune-tellers also served the powerful: Abraham Hochman, who specialized in finding missing husbands, also gave Timothy Sullivan, a Tammany Hall operative, some good advice at the racetrack. (Hochman later sold haggadahs with advertisements for his services.)
As Julia Boccagno writes,
As the world carries on with its normal routine despite his prediction that the world would end this past Saturday, Christian numerologist David Meade clarified that the end of the world is still imminent. Specifically, Meade says the world's end will begin October 15, 2017. That's when, Meade says, "Jupiter crosses the womb region of Virgo." "That's when the action starts," he continued. "Hold on and watch -- wait until the middle of October and I don't believe you'll be disappointed." Clarifying his earlier prediction, Meade says the "mainstream" got it wrong in thinking something "visible" would happen on September 23. "I don't believe that. The actual event of the beginning of the Tribulation occurs on October 15," he said. Meade's previous apocalyptic prediction garnered public attention last week when he said the solar eclipse on August 21 acted as a precursor to the end of the world. In an interview with The Washington Post, Meade explained that his prediction was based on an analysis of biblical verses and numerical clues.
Meade believes in the decades-old conspiracy that a 10th planet dubbed Nibiru will cross or collide with the Earth, which would lead to a seven-year period of rapture, followed by a millennium of peace. But NASA has repeatedly debunked the conspiracy, denying the existence of a 10th planet. NASA's director of planetary science said most recently on September 20 that it is too early to confirm the existence of the so-called Planet X.
Unless I am missing something, my calculations say that the world will still be here on October 16......