An alraun is a figure shaped from the roots of mandrake or from ash or briony.
The term was popular in Germany, where it was also used to indicate a witch or a magician.
An alraun had to be treated with great care because of its magical properties. It was wrapped or dressed in a white robe with a golden girdle, bathed every Friday, and kept in a box, otherwise it was believed to shriek for attention. Alrauns were used in magic rituals and were also believed to bring good luck. But possession of them carried the risk of witchcraft prosecution, and in 1630 three women were executed in Hamburg on this charge.
The alraun was difficult to get rid of because there was a superstition that it could only be sold at a higher price than bought, and there are legends that owners who tried to throw an alraun away found it returned to their room.
According to German folklore, an alraun assisted easy childbirth, and water in which it had been infused prevented swellings in animals. Because of the large demand for alrauns, they were often carved from the roots of briony when genuine mandrakes were difficult to find. They were exported from Germany to various countries and sold in England during the reign of Henry VIII.
- Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystic Mandrake. London: Rider, 1934.