Toasts and Toadstools

There are myriad good luck charms associated with the New Year, and I’ve featured many of them already, including the Scottish “First Footing” ritual and the pig and chimney sweep traditions of continental Europe. I really can’t speak to the southern traditions of eating Hoppin’ John and collard greens, and horseshoes and clover seem to be universally lucky at all times of the year, so I think I’m going to go with toadstools this particular New Year. Very prominently featured on the New Year’s postcards produced and disseminated in large quantities a century or so ago are red-and-white-capped toadstools scattered about—these are “red fly” mushrooms called Fliegenpilze in Germany (which produced most of these same postcards) and they are very lucky indeed. If you’ve ever seen one of these (the proper Latin name is amanita muscaria) out in the wild, you would understand why it is such a storied plant: it looks not quite real, wondrous, and is said to have both insecticide and hallucinogenic qualities. Despite the fact that one of my favorite King Penguin books classifies this mushroom as poisonous, it was apparently a stroke of luck to encounter one: in doing so you becomes a Glückspilz (literally a lucky mushroom; metaphorically a lucky person).  It is no wonder these ‘shrooms ended up in both Alice and Wonderland and on all those New Years’ postcards, and on this particular year, on the mantle in my front parlor: I am taking no chances with 2017!

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An assortment of New Year’s postcards from my own collection and the Digital Collections of the New York Public Library; the holly and the……..mushrooms on a Mela Koehler Christmas card from the Lauder Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Amanita muscaria in John Ramsbottom’s Poisonous Fungi (1945).

I was just down in Rhinebeck, New York for Christmas at my brother’s house, and I had about twenty minutes in one of my favorite stores anywhere: Paper Trail. There were mushrooms in the window, and the most beautiful toadstool/mushroom (I must admit that I don’t know the difference) ornaments. So inspired, I switched up my own mushrooms (+ some hourglasses–very subtle) for the deer on the front mantle almost as soon as I got home. I think I have a pig somewhere in the basement so I might pop him on there too. And a horseshoe.

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4 responses to “Toasts and Toadstools

  • Pam Keegan

    I am new to your blog, the lst time I saw it was your comments about the Christmas Salem House Tour which I missed this year but my daughter & son in law who live in Salem didn’t. I am really enjoying your blog and am learning new things every time I read Streets of Salem. Thank you.

    Pam from CT

    Like

  • Brian Bixby

    I was thinking more of a ceremonial burning of all 2016 calendars, preferably while drinking Scotch and muttering curses and maledictions over the expiring reminders of this last year.

    Given your post, it might be more appropriate to use hallucinogenic mushrooms than Scotch while performing this ceremony. But given that the General Court just snuck through a bill postponing the opening of pot stores in the Commonwealth, picking up psychedelic mushrooms legally would appear to be far in the future!

    Happy new year, and may 2017 produce many good posts for the rest of us to read and view as a sign of your own good fortune. 🙂

    Like

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