Our theme for the month of June is “snapshots.” Writers were asked to submit a piece with a cover photo that they took or created.

“Which would you rather have, telepathy or the ability to predict the future?”

I ask almost everyone questions like this. Because I’m desperately, perhaps dangerously, curious about the future. I would just like a tiny peek. It’s a loose thread on the universe, and I can’t stop picking at it. 

I’m not trying to scam my way into a lottery win or beat some tech giant to the punch with an idea worth billions. I’m only interested in perhaps a glimpse at Christmas ten years hence. I want a little taste of a good memory I haven’t made yet, something to tide me over, like chocolate in a desk drawer. 

So, I’ve done research. 

Tasseography, for example, is the practice of reading omens in the debris at the bottom of cups. Variations of it have been done with tea leaves (suggesting origins in China), dregs of coffee, or the sediments of wine (indicating it may have first been done in Turkey or ancient Greece.) It’s one of those troubadour traditions, wandering from nation to nation, offering a magical glimpse at a bigger world, bigger even than physical reality itself. 

Even its name—tasseography or tasseomancy—is an international amalgamation. Tasse is French for “cup.” But the French borrowed it from Arabic. The suffixes are Greek—graphy means “writing”; -mancy means “divination.” It all adds up to “cup writing” or “cup divination.” 

Wherever tasseography came from, it flourished in Europe from approximately the 1600s, when Dutch and English sea merchants introduced tea to European markets. Perhaps the traders made it up, an exotic ritual from the magic-steeped “orient,” invented to sell more tea.

But even if it came from the minds of greedy colonizers, it found a home in the hearts of the invisible and disenfranchised. Nomadic Romani people, known for various practices of foretelling and divination, appear to have taken the practice throughout Europe, sometimes offering it door-to-door to housewives. Tea being an intimate, domestic affair, women took to reading tea leaves, going so far as to standardize a methodology. 

You begin, typically, with loose black tea. Just pinch some into a wide, shallow cup and add boiling water. Steep. More surface area in the bottom and sides of the cup allow for bigger patterns. Light-colored cups make it easier to see the leaves. 

I’m not exactly sure how or if anything was done to strain out most of the tea leaves or how cream and sugar may have influenced the portents. I just do my best to drink the liquid but not the plant matter. 

The reasoning goes that the conversation that passes between two souls over the cups and/or the motion of the cup as it is raised and lowered from lips to table will influence the predictive patterns into which the leaves ultimately fall. 

Leave two sips in the bottom of the cup. Swirl. 

Then, you look for patterns. Several sources mention that patterns appearing toward the edge of the cup or saucer foretell the near future; patterns appearing near the center foretell events that are farther off. Individual leaves may give clues to the physical attributes of people you are soon to meet. 

The tea leaves can also tell you characteristics about yourself. According to one source, spirals indicate creativity. (Funny, because swirling the tea should create a spiral pattern more often than not. But then, anyone seeking wisdom at the bottom of a cup must have a lively imagination.)

I say this without the slightest mockery. Every wondrous realization of truth begins with making your imagination big enough to hold it. While belief is not guaranteed to be vindicated by proof, a steady commitment to skepticism is possibly the only insurance against anything miraculous ever happening to you. 

Quelling my own rationalism, I peer into my cup.

In the soggy, black clumps, I make out a ring, meaning “love,” or perhaps a crescent, indicating “change”? 

Some tea readers would interpret patterns appearing in the leaves as negative omens and patterns appearing in the space between leaves as positive. I think I glimpse some ill omen, confirmation of private fears. I feel the suspension of my disbelief slam shut. It’s all nonsense. Dead plants strained through the mesh of my mind, easily rinsed down the drain. 

But I don’t throw out the leaves. I tip them over onto a blank page in my sketchbook. I pick up a pen and begin to trace. 

Honestly, I think the hidden message of tea leaves comes to us, not from some mysterious power, but from the eyes across from us. It’s an invitation: open your life to me, hear me, let us understand each other. When I ask questions about telepathy and the future, I’m doing much the same thing—asking for a chance to know you. And even if offered high-definition video footage of my future life, I would pick the power to understand another mind every time. Tea is a bonus. I want to motion you over to the patterns in my cup or my day, and say, “What do you make of it?”

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