First Night Binghamton 2007

Around the World and Home Again

GERMAN (also Central Europe including Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, and France)






Hungarian postcard of the Chimney Sweep with red fly mushrooms (c. 1930)

Amanita muscaria, or "Red Fly Mushroom


Throughout central Europe, New Year's Eve is known as Sylvester, after the Saint whose feast day falls on December 31. Two disctinct images emerged from our conversations about German customs on Sylvester: a chimney sweep and a poisonous mushroom.

Many traditions require some form of cleansing to greet the New Year. Although many of these rituals involve water in some way (see Laotion, Ukrainian, Greek) the Central European tradition invokes fire instead, or more specifically the cleansing of the chimney and hearth. The appearance of the Chimney Sweep (in German, Schornsteinfeger) on the New Year is thought bring good fortune, and this ordinarily lowly figure is met with reverence and good cheer. Folk images of the Chimney Sweep often depict him spilling forth woth tokens of good luck, including the familiar four-leafed clover and the more regional "red fly" mushroom. The Chimney Sweep bearing gifts begs comparison to another seasonal fireplace visitor, Santa Claus (from the Dutch Sinterklaas, or "Klaus of the cinders"), thought by some mythologists to be in part derived from the Norse God Thor, whose traditional altar is the home hearth. The distinctive red-and-white coloring of the "red fly" mushroom (amanita muscaria) carried by the Chimney Sweep, seems to further reinforce these connections.

The red fly mushroom is often described as poisonous, yet there is evidence that it had hullicinogenic propoerties that were valued both by pre-Christian shamans and early Christian gnostics. The noted ethnobotanist R Gordon Wasson even suggested that amanita muscaria may have been referred to in ancient Indian Vedic texts as the mystic plant, Soma, a bringer of wisdom and power to those who consume it.

We interpreted German and Central European traditions of Sylvester by creating a giant Chimney Sweep puppet surrounded by a canopy of illuminated red fly mushrooms.





Additional info and resources:




RED FLY MUSHROOM and and the sacred plant of the VEDAS:

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