The Spirit of Thea

The songs she sings,
Altering synapses,
Turn my body to her dream
And everything her earth had held
Is now holding me.

F.H.Murphy / The Spirit of Tea / 2008

I bought myself a Christmas present. Not that I would love Christmas that much, but I like presents and keeping my inner child happy, so I bought myself a book. I have been reading it for a few days now and I would like to share my insights as I find the book quite an interesting read. 

It is not an ordinary book about tea. Sure, you can find here information about the typical tea groups and etc. However, this book is much more than that. It actually is quite personal. I can imagine some people might have hard times accepting what the author tried to get over. Mr. Frank Hadley Murphy seems to be a very interesting person and although I do not agree with everything the book describes, in general it shows an approach similar to mine (and probably not that common among tea lovers). 

The author describes his experience from the spiritual perspective which, of course, is a thin ice - something that cannot be proved nor battled. We as individuals create our own worlds, adore our divine beings, and Thea - the original botanical name for present Camellia - can be one of them. 

One of the reviews that I read clearly shows the reader's disapproval of some of the most sensitive aspect of the Murphy's personal - almost shamanic - experience with tea:

Tea calls to our deepest selves and invites us to celebrate with it. Any plant that can do all of these things must have an element of holiness about it. You may think that this is a lot for a plant to do. You may think that I imbue tea with charms it does not possess. You are not alone. [...] Sometimes I wonder if what appears as steam rolling off the surface of my cup is not really the individual soul of each leaf rising heavenward. Sprinkling a little water over your tea leaves before you brew them awakens them from their slumber, but we may awaken them further with prayer. Call upon the soul of the species. Invoke the devas of the tree. Enlist their aid. They are there to help us. (Murphy, 2008: 21-23)

I imagine for some readers this could be just far too much. Not for me. I welcome that Murphy gives, with almost autoethnographic rawness, some most personal details about his experience. The book introduces some scientific facts too - a detailed part about the caffeine and the stimulant effect of tea, facts mentioned in order to support the author's feelings. It is however evident that the facts are not what really matters, it is his personal experience. He describes how his life was transformed through a deep and profound encounter. That it was a plant and not a human being or an event could be irrelevant, however, it is not. I guess Murphy tries to point out the fact that we were given a gift and we might be unaware of its real value. That it is pure, transformational, divine .. whatever you want to call it. And that it is a gift that should be treated the way it deserves.

Mr. Murphy found a special place in his heart for a lovely devotion of this kind and wrote a book about it. I totally respect it and find it very inspiring. What I appreciate even more is however the fact that despite his own needs for ritualizing his practice and approach to tea drinking he is in no way critical of hundreds of other approaches as he is aware of the fact that there is no ritual to be learnt or adopted unless you feel it goes right from within. There is a sentence that had quite an impact on me - a quote from the I Ching and I understand how important this message has been throughout my whole life so far:

The deepest mysteries are found without any teaching.

The quote says a lot and I run out of words when trying to touch the meaning of it. I feel it within but this experience is probably difficult to get over in words - you either understand or you don't. The chapter Thunder in the middle of the lake includes an interesting part on I Ching. I enjoyed similar chapter on tea and tao in Aaron Fisher's book The Way of Tea as both of them try to uncover a wider context of Chinese history that is tea related, society, and more. It is educational as well as interesting, especially when we share puerh as a common joy and passion, the tea that gets older when left to age and ripe, the tea that keeps its history within its leaf and when you have a chance to taste it, you are overwhelmed with years of lived experience in one cup. That is fascinating to me every time I sip even semi-aged tea. 

For me the encounter with tea was a life-changing experience. I strived for finding peace and tranquility in my life and every time I found time for gong fu cha, I found it, maybe just for a few seconds but it was there, waiting for me to get closer, giving me hints how to let go off everything I was carrying on my back. I am grateful for having that experience and I recommend this book to everyone who knows what I write about.


  1. tea is your mind
    tea is you
    tea is your toungue
    there is no tea
    only you

  2. I really enjoyed that book as well.
    Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life by Solala Towler is on my opinion one of the best books on Tea and Wisdom.

  3. I was considering buying that book too when ordering this one. Now you've helped me decide, thank you for your recommendation!


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