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Symbols Explained

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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 empirical 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 empirical 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.