Steeped in Superstition

Tea as a beverage is thought to have been discovered in 2737 BCE by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, when some leaves from the Camellia sinensis tree fell into the water his servant was boiling. Tea-making and drinking has since become popular, fashionable, in many cultures revered and ritualized – and sometimes (as in my case) even addictive! There are bags and bags of lore associated with the consumption of this most royal brew.

Prosperi-tea:

An expensive import from Silk Road countries such as China and India, tea has always symbolized fortune, wealth and protection.

  • adding tea leaves to a potion or herbal sachet helps attract money
  • carrying tea leaves on one’s person is thought to protect against evil and misfortune
  • drinking hot tea incorporates all four elements: earth (the pot), water (brewing tea), fire (heat and steam) and air (the tea’s aroma)
  • to ward off evil spirits, sprinkle dried tea leaves on your front doorstep
  • accidentally dropping loose leaf tea is good luck for the woman of the house
  • unintentionally spilling a little tea water while making tea is considered lucky
  • to attract a new friend, make overly strong tea
  • a leaf or stem standing upright in your tea is a sign of good luck; this stems (ahem) from the fact that tea merchants, having trouble selling leaves with stems on them, started telling customers that upright ones were lucky!
  • to promote good luck, always stir tea deosil (clockwise)
  • undissolved sugar at the bottom of the cup means someone is sweet on you
  • throwing used tea leaves on the fire helps keep poverty at bay

Trouble’s Brewing:

According to folklore, if you don’t prepare, serve or sip your tea the correct way, you’re in for pots of trouble!

  • breaking a teapot is an omen of losing a loved one
  • pouring boiling water into a pot without tea leaves or bags brings misfortune
  • don’t stir tea inside the pot; it means you’ll argue with a friend
  • if the tag falls off the teabag while it’s in your cup, you will receive bad news or lose something within the week
  • two people pouring from the same teapot is very unlucky
  • never “be mother” (i.e. pour the tea) in another person’s house – it’s an insult to their hearth and hospitality and is generally a bad omen
  • you risk crossing love’s path if you put milk in your tea before sugar
  • stirring tea with anything but a spoon invites bad luck
  • stirring someone else’s tea means you’re stirring up trouble for them
  • emptying the teapot on the day a fishing boat sets sail portends tragedy for the fishermen (capsizing, drowning); crew who empty a teapot on board are “pouring away” all the fish they hope to catch and will come home with empty nets

Tea is for Tasseography:

Tasseography or tasseomancy (a.k.a “reading the cups”) is the practice of reading tea leaves for divination. A teacup with a light, unpatterned interior is best, and the method of preparing it for a reading is quite precise. There are dozens of interpretations for the shapes made by the remaining tea leaves – too many to go into here. But generally, it’s a bad omen if most of the tea leaves are left at the bottom of the cup; leaves spread evenly around the cup is a much better sign. Other prophetic tales tea can tell include:

  • forgetting to put the lid on the teapot can portend numerous events: the arrival of an ominous stranger, that you’ll be sent for, or a doctor will be required before the day is out
  • tea spilling from the spout while the pot is being carried means a secret will be revealed
  • bubbles around the edge of your teacup means you will soon be kissed; each bubble represents one kiss
  • bubbles in the centre of your cup signify money; the more bubbles, the wealthier you’ll be
  • if you can transfer the bubbles from cup to mouth without the bubbles touching the side of the spoon, you’ll soon receive an important letter
  • the more tea leaves that end up in your cup, the fuller your life will be
  • a single tea stem, known as a “stranger”, floating on the surface of your tea presages the arrival of a visitor; a hard, woody stem means the visitor will be male; if the stem is soft, female
  • a teaspoon dropped on the floor is a sign a child will visit the house
  • two spoons accidentally placed on the same saucer predict an imminent wedding, or that the drinker will marry twice or have twins with tea-coloured hair
  • when two women are drinking tea together, the woman who pours will become pregnant within the year

So next time you brew up that delicious pot of tea, mind the details — and good luck!

Turn the ill omen of a broken teapot (in this case, the lid) into something serendipitous! Make it into a vase or planter; if the pot is cracked, line it or insert an inner container before adding water or soil. Use as a rustic holder for kitchen utensils, cutlery, napkins, paint brushes, etc. Knitters, pop a ball of yarn into the clean, dry pot and thread the end up through the spout for an instant dispenser.

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