Tuesday, 25 December 2012

1up or der glückspilz

This vintage German New Year’s greeting card is just exuding good fortune with all the lucky paraphernalia featured, the greeter riding a pig jumping over a stand of mushrooms (Glückspilze) and armed with a horseshoe and four-leaved clovers. About the only talisman, at least in German traditions, not shown is a chimney sweep (Kaminkehrer). I am just as curious as to why this profession and not butcher, baker or candlestick maker is considered auspicious, but what strikes me first is how the chimney sweep comes bearing the same toadstool.  Deconstructing the symbols of luck is a bigger challenge than the turns and transpositions of holiday customs, and it is remarkable how many ways the inscrutable language of fortune infiltrates culture, yet remaining humble in its portrayal like this archetypal mushroom—everyone’s generic idea of what a mushroom should look like but having strange powers and a mysterious past. The Caterpillar from Alice’s adventures through the looking-glass holds court from such a tuffet, the Brothers Mario gain size and power from these bonuses, the Smurfs (les schtroumpfs, die Schlümpfe) lived in such mushroom houses—not to mention a staple in fairytales. A mushroom rendered in such a universally distinctive way can only be the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), a poisonous and unpredictably psychotropic fungus, which surely caused some fretful parents to condemn the Smurfs (and their underwater counterparts, the Snorks) as promoting drug use, like the same concerned group thought that the Care Bears were a satanic gateway organization, and although the mushroom grows anywhere that pine trees grow, it was considered highly dangerous to ingest (although most drugs I think are unpredictable) and there is only evidence in use in the far eastern reaches of Russia, restricted to the shaman caste or religious purposes.
I wonder how such an exclusive yet ubiquitous substance was translated to some universally hoped for but escapingly rare commodity as providence. It is strange what can develope in abject isolation.  It’s no explanation, but the luckiness of the chimney sweep, who introduced industrial cancer and labour reform to the world besides, seem to operate under a similar logic—a reminder that one’s hearth and home had not burnt down, due to a poorly maintained fireplace, but still representing a kind of forbidden and untouchable skill, like for those who live in psychedelic houses.