"A Highland Seer". Tea-cup Reading, and the Art of Fortune-Telling by Tea-Leaves. (New York: G. Sully, 1921.)

In the 1920's two books were published on tea leaf divination: the Highland Seer's Tea-Cup Reading (1921) and Cicely Kent's Telling Fortunes by Tea Leaves (1922). Both were "how-to" books about the charming folk practice of reading tea leaves. The idea that you can catch a glimpse of the future or pick up on hidden energies from the dregs of a teacup will, of course, be scoffed at by the learned and sophisticated. Fat lot they know. If something works, says William James, you use it. And once you get the hang of it, reading tea leaves happens to work. Indeed, in my humble opinion, all those old biddies who relied upon nothing but their ordinary tea leaves to divine the future probably had a better grasp on reality, made better decisions, and lived lives more in harmony with natural forces than your average moron occultist who thinks he's discovered something valuable in all those mysterious hidden esoteric magical Egyptian/Tibetan/Atlantis secrets...

Both these books will provide you with excellent introductions to the practice. They are well-written and mercifully free of mumbo-jumbo. The one weakness in both is that the two authors go to considerable lengths to tell you "what the tea leaves mean". Apparently you're not supposed to figure out on your own what a particular symbol means--you have to look it up in the book. While it is interesting to see that there are a lot of similar definitions in both books (Kent probably had the Seer's book in hand when she wrote her own book), both authors suffer under the delusion that they are giving the one and only true definition of each particular symbol. Well, it doesn't quite work like that. One thing I have learned over the years is that divinatory symbols always mean different things to different people. If you want to read tea leaves successfully, forget about memorizing definitions--you're better off discovering for yourself what manifests in your life whenever you see a particular symbol in your cup.

I think the Seer's book is definitely the better book. First, she clearly has had extensive experience reading the leaves for herself--you get the feeling that this woman has done it for years (and I'm assuming that our anonymous author is a woman). So she most definitely practices what she preaches, a quality not always found in other "experts". The Seer also seems to be much more familiar with authentic folk traditions than does Kent. Her experience of Scottish "spae-wives" sounds genuine. Finally, she is very much aware of the dangers involved in taking money for divination. She states:

Now it is an axiom, which centuries of experience have shown to be as sound as those of Euclid himself, that the moment the taint of money enters into the business of reading the Future the accuracy and credit of the Fortune told disappears. The Fortune-teller no longer possesses the singleness of mind or purpose necessary to a clear reading of the symbols he or she consults.

Thank you, Seer, for these words (and so far she is the only 20th century writer on divination I have discovered who makes this point). She is absolutely correct: divination and money simply do not mix. The all-but-universal belief that it is perfectly legitimate to take money for a psychic or divinatory reading is as wrong and as stupid as it gets. Fortunately anyone can learn how to divine on their own with the help of books like these.

A final note--there is one Greek word in the text: κοταβος. This refers an ancient Greek divinatory practice called "kottabos", which was a way to divine the future by examining spilled wine. I have not been able to find much more information about the practice, but my guess is that worked much better than dialing a psychic hotline number.

Read Tea-Cup Reading here