Aug 1, 2012

Fortune telling in the coffee cup

The Bosniaks are known by their countrymen as lovers of leisure and conversation. Bosniaks, regardless of age or sex, enjoy group activity and may eat, drink and converse with each other for many hours at a time. Men as a rule associate in cafes, while women visit each other in their homes, accepting frequent offers to join a coffee break which sets the stage for the old custom of coffee-ground divination or falanje u kahvu.

Bosniaks make their coffee in the Turkish style. The rich, fragrant brew is drunk from demitasse cups or the more traditional handleless "fild┼żan". The thick coffee grounds which settle to the bottom of the cup form intricate patterns when the cup is inverted, the custom when the drinker has had his fill. But the coffee break does not stop there. lndeed, from the moment the coffee is poured, the divination begins, a long process which extends and enhances the coffee-drinking session.


Bosnian coffee-ground divination is typically a three-part process. As mentioned, the divination begins as soon as the coffee is poured. Each cup gets a bit of foam, "kajmak", which rises to the top of the coffee pot in the brewing process. Sometimes the foam forms a ring or heart which float upon the coffee, and these symbols are interpreted variously — as signs of a gift or love, respectively. While the coffee is being drunk, divination subsides and conversation rules. One by one drinkers invert their cups, signaling that they've had their fill and anticipate a round of fortune telling.
Within minutes after a cup is inverted, the grounds trickle down and patterns take shape. The inspection of these designs form the major body of coffee divination.

Sometimes the grounds that flow out of the cup onto a tray or saucer may first be examined and interpreted. Beginning with the most obvious symbols, a good fortune teller can weave a narrative combining insights into an individual's character and the events that await him. Even if there is no real fortune teller among them, most men and women can interpret at least a few symbols to be able to muse over each other's cups.

Symbols representing death, illness and misfortune are usually minimized or disregarded if the least bit hazy. On the other hand, the slightest resemblance of a favorable sign is highly prized. Unmarried girls are generally preoccupied with love and will single out symbols which foreshadow rendevous (the numbers 3 and 7), kisses (coffee smudges on outside of cup), fidelity (dog), and the universal symbols of love – hearts and arrows. Cigarettes invariably accompany coffee and Bosnian girls may manipulate the butts of their cigarettes in hopes that they will reveal the initials of a boy who loves them. The wooden matches used to light cigarettes are also sources of divination. The way they burn are said to reveal whether one's sweetheart is true or loves another.


Married and older individuals are concerned with their children, the material well-being of their family, and their children, the material well-being of their family, and their relationships with their neighbors. Coveted symbols are those representing material gain (a thick clump of coffee grounds), happiness (the sun, letters M, R and S), physical strength (elephant), and steadfast friends (horse). Unfavorable signs are snakes, which represent enemies; fish, standing for worry and anxiety; a camel, meaning a burden of sorrow, doubled if there are two humps.

Aside from these isolated symbols, close examination of grounds may reveal picture- like scenes depicting people and events. Further, the patterns of grounds are interpreted as photograph negatives. White figures are said to be black, and black areas, which are the coffee grounds themselves, are said to be white. Thus, a dark figure (cluster of grounds) may represent a blond individual. Odd numbers are considered lucky, but even ones are unfavorable.

The final stage of coffee-ground divination is the making of wishes. With a finger, an individual presses any area in the cup covered by ground, usually the bottom, and makes a wish.  If the pressure leaves a full circle when the finger is withdrawn, the wish is said to become true. Sometimes the statement of fulfillment is qualified by a symbol or picture that the pressure may form, and any such signs are appropriately interpreted. For example, a wish for a letter may come true if there is a full circle, but not before five days are up if there is a number five within the circle.

Generally, three wishes are granted. Only one wish may be made, but any second wish must be followed by a third. Again, odd numbers are favored. When the wish is work, the index finger is used, while the middle finger is associated with family matters, and the ring finger means love. Any or all three fingers may be used in succession. Many people ignore these distinctions, using any finger for all wishes. When the wish-making is over the fortune telling is complete and the coffee break has finally come to an end. Aside from the procedures mentioned above, there are many superstitions connected with the coffee ritual. Coffee is never poured with the left hand. An individual must drink only from his own cup and invert it himself to make the fortune valid, though he must never attempt to tell his own fortune. Fortunes should not be told more than once a day, and no more than three wishes may be made during a session.