As we approach the end of the year and look back on what has happened in the previous months, we also start wondering what the new year will bring. And since humans are curious and don’t like uncertainty, we want to know it beforehand and not wait for it to happen. Out of this curiosity, a tradition has evolved in Germany of asking a rather unusual oracle. The fortune teller in the case of this German New Year’s ritual is melted lead. For many families in Germany, Bleigießen is a common activity on New Year’s Eve. Most people do not take it too seriously, though, but more like a game or pastime before midnight. Especially for children, it is a great way of using some imagination to read from the pieces of lead.

How Bleigießen Works

First of all, you need the right equipment to tell you what the future holds. Special Bleigießen kits are available from December in most supermarkets across Germany. These sets include a small spoon, several different lead figures as well as a little booklet with possible interpretations.

Melted lead figurines on new year's during Molybdomancy (Bleigießen)

The person who wants to find out about their prophecy, melts some metal buy holding a spoon with a lead figure over a candle. As soon as the figurine has liquefied, he or she pours the melted led into a bowl of water where it congeals again immediately. The emerging, rather bizarr shapes serve to foresee what the new year will bring. You can either interpret the silver forms themselves or hold and turn them in the light to read your fate from their shadows on the wall. There are no limits to your imagination. Two common interpretations, among many others, are the heart meaning “to fall in love” or the flower which stands for”making new friends”.

Already the ancient Greeks and Romans performed this kind of fortune telling, known as Molybdomancy in English. The tradition has mainly spread to Germany and the Nordic countries, but is also known in the neighboring states.

Evil Tidings: No More Bleigießen Since 2018

Now, that we probably got you all excited and wanting to try out this great tradition on New Year’s, we first have some bad news. Since the beginning of 2018, a new EU regulation actually forbids the sale of Molybdomancy kits that contain lead since these surpass the limits. While the law allows a lead content of 0.3% in consumer products, the fortune telling sets reach an average level of 71%! Lead is a heavy metal and therefore toxic. Its absorption into the human body can lead to longterm damages. This can happen in different ways, for instance, through remains on the used utensils or through inhalation of the smoke. Apart form that, the liquid, boiling metal can cause severe burn injuries when not handled with enough caution. For these reasons, our initial disappointment about the ban actually turns into understanding.


And this doesn’t even have to ruin the Bleigießen tradition completely. On the upside, there is already a great alternative using wax instead of lead figures. So Bleigießen simply becomes “Wachsgießen”. The procedure is the same as wax has similar characteristics to the metal. It can be sold in small, hard figurines, which become liquid when heated over a candle and immediately congeal when poured into water. Of course, the industry has also reacted immediately to the interdiction and so Wachsgießen kits are now for sale. Definitely a better and healthier method to continue this great tradition. Try it for yourself and let us know what you see – good luck!

Find more Customs & Traditions from Germany here.

Go to other interesting issues on Germany: Food & Drinks, Events, Traditional Costumes

Photos by Thomas Helbig, Tim Reckmann, Matt Lancashire

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