Crystal balls or coffee cups: 11 fascinating ways fortunes are told in the MidEast

Published May 14th, 2015 - 12:22 GMT

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Many in the Middle East have been to a fatta7a, or fortune-teller, at least once in our lives - as an occasional guilty pleasure, for a one-off joke, or because we were unable to escape an odd auntie who claims to have the “touch” and peers into our drained coffee cup after each feast.

It’s a standard side-trip for newly-arrived expats, involving an exciting venture into an unknown part of town, usually older, often poorer. The classic fatta7a will speak only Arabic, so decoding her messages largely depends on your bilingual friends. That’s a lot of local color for a few JD, with a cup of murky Turkish coffee thrown in for free. Continue reading below »

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The origins of predictive readings from hot drinks stem from the ancient Chinese art of reading tea leaves. The centuries-old practice was later adapted to coffee grounds by the Arabs, who discovered the brown beans around 600 AD. We wonder if either culture predicted the arrival of Starbucks?
Reduce

Image 1 of 11:  1 / 11The origins of predictive readings from hot drinks stem from the ancient Chinese art of reading tea leaves. The centuries-old practice was later adapted to coffee grounds by the Arabs, who discovered the brown beans around 600 AD. We wonder if either culture predicted the arrival of Starbucks?

Enlarge
What's in a coffee cup for you? Sipping coffee often turns into a cup-reading session for Arab women, where the future's predicted from sediments left in the cup. Believed to have started with the Turks' famous sludgy brew, once the drink is drunk, the cup is flipped and resultant grinds patterns read. So is this a perfect love match, auntie?
Reduce

Image 2 of 11:  2 / 11What's in a coffee cup for you? Sipping coffee often turns into a cup-reading session for Arab women, where the future's predicted from sediments left in the cup. Believed to have started with the Turks' famous sludgy brew, once the drink is drunk, the cup is flipped and resultant grinds patterns read. So is this a perfect love match, auntie?

Enlarge
Hands up! Palm reading dates back 3000 years in Persia and Mesopotamia. It’s founded on the fact that handprints are unique, even our right and left hands differ. It doesn't rely on “sixth sense,” instead involves interpretation of lines, bumps and creases to tell your future and even predict your date of death! So will I live to retire?
Reduce

Image 3 of 11:  3 / 11Hands up! Palm reading dates back 3000 years in Persia and Mesopotamia. It’s founded on the fact that handprints are unique, even our right and left hands differ. It doesn't rely on “sixth sense,” instead involves interpretation of lines, bumps and creases to tell your future and even predict your date of death! So will I live to retire?

Enlarge
The future ain't free! Some fortune tellers, usually Moroccan, patrol old town streets stopping passersby, telling stories about the strangers’ past, trying to extract cash for their mystical messages. They’ll peer into your eyes, grab a hand, or ask you to sit so they can cast shells for a better view into the unknown.
Reduce

Image 4 of 11:  4 / 11The future ain't free! Some fortune tellers, usually Moroccan, patrol old town streets stopping passersby, telling stories about the strangers’ past, trying to extract cash for their mystical messages. They’ll peer into your eyes, grab a hand, or ask you to sit so they can cast shells for a better view into the unknown.

Enlarge
Arabic folklore (and the Qu’ran) is full of references to the Jinn, mystical creatures that are good or evil. In Ouija board-style, some fortune tellers claim to have the Jinn on speed-dial, able to call on them to locate things you lost, or tell if your beloved is cheating. Most take this method with a grain of salt (or a jinn-and-tonic!).
Reduce

Image 5 of 11:  5 / 11Arabic folklore (and the Qu’ran) is full of references to the Jinn, mystical creatures that are good or evil. In Ouija board-style, some fortune tellers claim to have the Jinn on speed-dial, able to call on them to locate things you lost, or tell if your beloved is cheating. Most take this method with a grain of salt (or a jinn-and-tonic!).

Enlarge
The Quran warns people from fortune tellers, but ironically, the holy book is sometimes used exactly for that purpose! It’s a variation on numerology, in this case mystics use Quranic numbers (no. of verses, etc.) as a basis for prediction of international events like earthquakes and war.
Reduce

Image 6 of 11:  6 / 11The Quran warns people from fortune tellers, but ironically, the holy book is sometimes used exactly for that purpose! It’s a variation on numerology, in this case mystics use Quranic numbers (no. of verses, etc.) as a basis for prediction of international events like earthquakes and war.

Enlarge
New year, new fortune! New Year’s Eve is rife with fortune tellers, with people gathering in front of TV screens to watch them predict events that will happen in the year ahead. Mystics such as Maggie Farah and Laila Abdel Latif foretell celebrity deaths, changes in leaders, and major world events. Pity the stars who hear their time is up!
Reduce

Image 7 of 11:  7 / 11New year, new fortune! New Year’s Eve is rife with fortune tellers, with people gathering in front of TV screens to watch them predict events that will happen in the year ahead. Mystics such as Maggie Farah and Laila Abdel Latif foretell celebrity deaths, changes in leaders, and major world events. Pity the stars who hear their time is up!

Enlarge
Card reading has been around for centuries, believed to have begun in medieval Egypt. Many use ordinary playing cards, but decorated Tarot decks are becoming more popular. Pick a card, any card, and learn if that new job in Dubai is coming your way!
Reduce

Image 8 of 11:  8 / 11Card reading has been around for centuries, believed to have begun in medieval Egypt. Many use ordinary playing cards, but decorated Tarot decks are becoming more popular. Pick a card, any card, and learn if that new job in Dubai is coming your way!

Enlarge
All that snoozing in midday heat is conducive to dreaming, which in turn is open to interpretation. Prophet Joseph was known to analyze the images and themes of nocturnal imaginings, and there are shelves full of books to help milk meaning from them today. Bread = death, cutting hair = bad news. But what about that cat playing piano?
Reduce

Image 9 of 11:  9 / 11All that snoozing in midday heat is conducive to dreaming, which in turn is open to interpretation. Prophet Joseph was known to analyze the images and themes of nocturnal imaginings, and there are shelves full of books to help milk meaning from them today. Bread = death, cutting hair = bad news. But what about that cat playing piano?

Enlarge
See someone wearing a suspicious-looking pendant? Beware, it could be an amulet containing a magic spell for good luck, but most likely it’s meant to protect against evil or, erm, spread it! Specially-mixed potions are believed to serve the same purpose. So slather on some magic lotion or wear a powerful charm and keep the Evil Eye off your back!
Reduce

Image 10 of 11:  10 / 11See someone wearing a suspicious-looking pendant? Beware, it could be an amulet containing a magic spell for good luck, but most likely it’s meant to protect against evil or, erm, spread it! Specially-mixed potions are believed to serve the same purpose. So slather on some magic lotion or wear a powerful charm and keep the Evil Eye off your back!

Enlarge
Mum (or rather her name) can predict the future! When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “what will I be?” and fortune tellers in the Arab world can answer that Q and more using just your mama’s name!
Reduce

Image 11 of 11:  11 / 11Mum (or rather her name) can predict the future! When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “what will I be?” and fortune tellers in the Arab world can answer that Q and more using just your mama’s name!

Enlarge

1

The origins of predictive readings from hot drinks stem from the ancient Chinese art of reading tea leaves. The centuries-old practice was later adapted to coffee grounds by the Arabs, who discovered the brown beans around 600 AD. We wonder if either culture predicted the arrival of Starbucks?

Image 1 of 11The origins of predictive readings from hot drinks stem from the ancient Chinese art of reading tea leaves. The centuries-old practice was later adapted to coffee grounds by the Arabs, who discovered the brown beans around 600 AD. We wonder if either culture predicted the arrival of Starbucks?

2

What's in a coffee cup for you? Sipping coffee often turns into a cup-reading session for Arab women, where the future's predicted from sediments left in the cup. Believed to have started with the Turks' famous sludgy brew, once the drink is drunk, the cup is flipped and resultant grinds patterns read. So is this a perfect love match, auntie?

Image 2 of 11What's in a coffee cup for you? Sipping coffee often turns into a cup-reading session for Arab women, where the future's predicted from sediments left in the cup. Believed to have started with the Turks' famous sludgy brew, once the drink is drunk, the cup is flipped and resultant grinds patterns read. So is this a perfect love match, auntie?

3

Hands up! Palm reading dates back 3000 years in Persia and Mesopotamia. It’s founded on the fact that handprints are unique, even our right and left hands differ. It doesn't rely on “sixth sense,” instead involves interpretation of lines, bumps and creases to tell your future and even predict your date of death! So will I live to retire?

Image 3 of 11Hands up! Palm reading dates back 3000 years in Persia and Mesopotamia. It’s founded on the fact that handprints are unique, even our right and left hands differ. It doesn't rely on “sixth sense,” instead involves interpretation of lines, bumps and creases to tell your future and even predict your date of death! So will I live to retire?

4

The future ain't free! Some fortune tellers, usually Moroccan, patrol old town streets stopping passersby, telling stories about the strangers’ past, trying to extract cash for their mystical messages. They’ll peer into your eyes, grab a hand, or ask you to sit so they can cast shells for a better view into the unknown.

Image 4 of 11The future ain't free! Some fortune tellers, usually Moroccan, patrol old town streets stopping passersby, telling stories about the strangers’ past, trying to extract cash for their mystical messages. They’ll peer into your eyes, grab a hand, or ask you to sit so they can cast shells for a better view into the unknown.

5

Arabic folklore (and the Qu’ran) is full of references to the Jinn, mystical creatures that are good or evil. In Ouija board-style, some fortune tellers claim to have the Jinn on speed-dial, able to call on them to locate things you lost, or tell if your beloved is cheating. Most take this method with a grain of salt (or a jinn-and-tonic!).

Image 5 of 11Arabic folklore (and the Qu’ran) is full of references to the Jinn, mystical creatures that are good or evil. In Ouija board-style, some fortune tellers claim to have the Jinn on speed-dial, able to call on them to locate things you lost, or tell if your beloved is cheating. Most take this method with a grain of salt (or a jinn-and-tonic!).

6

The Quran warns people from fortune tellers, but ironically, the holy book is sometimes used exactly for that purpose! It’s a variation on numerology, in this case mystics use Quranic numbers (no. of verses, etc.) as a basis for prediction of international events like earthquakes and war.

Image 6 of 11The Quran warns people from fortune tellers, but ironically, the holy book is sometimes used exactly for that purpose! It’s a variation on numerology, in this case mystics use Quranic numbers (no. of verses, etc.) as a basis for prediction of international events like earthquakes and war.

7

New year, new fortune! New Year’s Eve is rife with fortune tellers, with people gathering in front of TV screens to watch them predict events that will happen in the year ahead. Mystics such as Maggie Farah and Laila Abdel Latif foretell celebrity deaths, changes in leaders, and major world events. Pity the stars who hear their time is up!

Image 7 of 11New year, new fortune! New Year’s Eve is rife with fortune tellers, with people gathering in front of TV screens to watch them predict events that will happen in the year ahead. Mystics such as Maggie Farah and Laila Abdel Latif foretell celebrity deaths, changes in leaders, and major world events. Pity the stars who hear their time is up!

8

Card reading has been around for centuries, believed to have begun in medieval Egypt. Many use ordinary playing cards, but decorated Tarot decks are becoming more popular. Pick a card, any card, and learn if that new job in Dubai is coming your way!

Image 8 of 11Card reading has been around for centuries, believed to have begun in medieval Egypt. Many use ordinary playing cards, but decorated Tarot decks are becoming more popular. Pick a card, any card, and learn if that new job in Dubai is coming your way!

9

All that snoozing in midday heat is conducive to dreaming, which in turn is open to interpretation. Prophet Joseph was known to analyze the images and themes of nocturnal imaginings, and there are shelves full of books to help milk meaning from them today. Bread = death, cutting hair = bad news. But what about that cat playing piano?

Image 9 of 11All that snoozing in midday heat is conducive to dreaming, which in turn is open to interpretation. Prophet Joseph was known to analyze the images and themes of nocturnal imaginings, and there are shelves full of books to help milk meaning from them today. Bread = death, cutting hair = bad news. But what about that cat playing piano?

10

See someone wearing a suspicious-looking pendant? Beware, it could be an amulet containing a magic spell for good luck, but most likely it’s meant to protect against evil or, erm, spread it! Specially-mixed potions are believed to serve the same purpose. So slather on some magic lotion or wear a powerful charm and keep the Evil Eye off your back!

Image 10 of 11See someone wearing a suspicious-looking pendant? Beware, it could be an amulet containing a magic spell for good luck, but most likely it’s meant to protect against evil or, erm, spread it! Specially-mixed potions are believed to serve the same purpose. So slather on some magic lotion or wear a powerful charm and keep the Evil Eye off your back!

11

Mum (or rather her name) can predict the future! When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “what will I be?” and fortune tellers in the Arab world can answer that Q and more using just your mama’s name!

Image 11 of 11Mum (or rather her name) can predict the future! When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “what will I be?” and fortune tellers in the Arab world can answer that Q and more using just your mama’s name!

Reduce

Not a coffee-drinker? There are other ways to peek into the unknown. Tea leaves can substitute for coffee grinds. Card reading has been around for centuries, believed to have begun in medieval Egypt. There are many Moroccan “mystics” who accost you on the streets in Balad (downtown), give you a few free messages from beyond, then move on to pitch fuller readings for prices that are also out-of-this-world!

Rich or poor, local or foreign, we all wonder what the future has in store for us. Looking for an alternative to the ho-hum daily horoscopes? But in all things paranormal, buyer beware! It’s illegal in the Arab world to charge for telling fortunes.

Dare to dip into the future Middle East-style with these 11 facts about fortune-telling? If you do, report back from the great beyond and tell us how it went!

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