A question that will very naturally occur to persons of an enquiring
turn of mind in regard to the figures and symbols seen in the tea-cup
is: Why should one symbol necessarily signify one thing and not
something quite different?
The answer, of course, is that the meanings given to the symbols are
purely arbitrary, and that there is no scientific reason why one should
signify one thing and not another. There is no real reason why the
ace of clubs, for instance, should not be considered the 'House Card'
instead of the nine of hearts, or why the double four in dominoes should
signify an invitation instead of a wedding, like the double three.
It is obviously necessary, however, in attempting to read the future by
means of any kind of symbols, whether pips, dots, numbers or anything
else, to fix beforehand upon some definite meaning to be attributed to
each separate symbol and to hold fast to this meaning in all events.
In the case of tea-leaves, where the symbols are not mere 'conventional
signs' or numbers but actual figures like the pictures seen in the fire
or those envisaged in dreams, there is no doubt that the signification
of most of them is the result of empyrical experience. Generations of
spae-wives have found that the recurrence of a certain figure in the
cup has corresponded with the occurrence of a certain event in the
future lives of the various persons who have consulted them: and this
empyrical knowledge has been handed down from seer to seer until a
sufficient deposit of tradition has been formed from which it has been
found possible to compile a detailed list of the most important symbols
and to attach to each a traditional meaning. These significations have
been collected by the writer--in a desultory manner--over a long period
of years chiefly from spae-wives in both Highland and Lowland Scotland,
but also in Cornwall, on Dartmoor, in Middle England, in Gloucestershire
and Northumberland. Occasionally it has been found that a different
meaning is attributed to a symbol by one seer from that given it by
another. In such cases an alternative signification might, of course,
have been given here, but as the essence of all such significations
is that they shall be stable and unvarying, the writer has fixed upon
whichever meaning has been most widely attributed to the symbol or
appears to have the best authority for its adoption, so that the element
of doubt may be excluded.
Although included in their alphabetical order in the list which follows,
there are certain figures and symbols which are of so common occurrence
and bear such definite interpretation that it is advisable to refer to
them here in detail. Certain symbols are invariably signs of approaching
good-fortune: certain others of threatened ill-luck. Among the former
may be mentioned triangles, stars, trefoil or clover-leaves, anchors,
trees, garlands and flowers, bridges or arches, and crowns. Among the
latter, coffins, clouds, crosses, serpents, rats and mice and some
wild beasts, hour-glasses, umbrellas, church-steeples, swords and guns,
ravens, owls, and monkeys are all ominous symbols.