The mandrake or mandragoras is a real plant which has been attributed magical properties because of its monstrous shape. Tradition says that it can turn into a small humanoid that will serve his master.
Botanical Name: Mandragora officianarum (Solanaceae) Synonyms: Mandragora, Satan's Apple, love apple, Circe's plant, Dudaim, Ladykins, Mannikin, Racoon, Berry, Bryony roots
Mandrake is a long leaved (nearly a foot long, and 6" wide) dark green plant with small greenish-yellow or purple bell-shaped flowers that drow on 3-4" stalks. The flowers eventually fruit into small orange-coloured fleshy berries with a strong, apple-like scent, hence the name Satan's Apples. It is best known for the large brown root, running 3 to 4 feet into the ground sometimes single and sometimes forked into two or three distinctive branches (bifid) which gives the plant a rough resemblance to that of a human monster form.
Magically speaking, the female mandrake carries forked that look like a pair of human legs, whereas the male has only a single root. In the old Herbals we find them frequently figured as a male with a long beard, and a female with a very bushy head of hair. The female form is the most sought after for magic and medicinal use. It was the female form that was carved in the Middle Ages (in Germany and France) into manikins.
Mandragoras were also considered to be familiar demons under the shape of little dolls or figures given to sorcerers by the Devil for the purpose of being consulted by them in time of need.
The mandrake or mandragora has, in folklore and superstition, always been regarded as a plant with powers. This idea is based on the shape of the root which is forked and roughly resembles the human figure. It was supposed to grow under the feet of a hanged man where his semen dripped on to the earth; this would appear to be the reason for the methods employed by the alchemists who "projected human seed into animal earth". It could only be pulled from the ground after performing the necessary rituals. It was advisable to put wax in the ears before one attempted to do this: the mandrake would scream when pulled free and this could cause deafness. A whole Mandrake root placed in the home, will give the house protection, fertility, and prosperity. Also, where there is Mandrake, demons cannot abide. Money placed beside the root is said to multiply. It was also recommended for discovering treasures, and as an ingredient for charm for pregnancy.
Native to Palestine, and neighboring Arab countries in the Mediterranean, it was long thought to be an aphrodisiac. Later it was used as a narcotic and as an anaesthetic. Ingestion of minute prepared portions is reputed to enhance awareness and psychic creativity and was often practiced during pagan rituals (Diana, Hecate, Dyonisos, …). Mandrake was used for procuring rest and sleep in continued pain, also in melancholy, convulsions, rheumatic pains and scrofulous tumours. The root finely scraped into a pulp and mixed with brandy was said to be efficacious in chronic rheumatism. In large doses it is said to excite delirium and madness. The crushed root was purported to have caused hallucinations followed by a death-like trance and sleep. Perhaps because it was believed to spring from such substances as a dead criminal's semen, mandrake root was often used in potent sex-magic rituals and love potions. The fruits of the plant, also called love apples, were believed to increase fertility
Native to Southern Europe, especially around the Mediterranean regions of Greece and Rome. It should not be confused with Podophyllum peltatum, or mayapple, which grows in the United States. Another species of mandrake, Mandragora autumnalis, flowers in winter on the island of Rhodes, and has beautiful mauve and mauve-white blossoms. The fruit, the golden red love apples, ripens in May.
First accounts of the Mandrake date back to the Bible. In Genesis 30, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah finds mandrakes in the field. Rachael, Jacob's second wife, the sister of Leah, is desirous of the mandrakes and she barters with her sister for them. The trade offered by Rachael is for Leah to spend the next night in Jacob's bed. Soon after this Rachel, who was previously barren, gives birth to a son, Joseph. There are classical Jewish commentaries who point out that mandrakes help barren woman to conceive a child.
Mandrake in Hebrew is דודאים, meaning "love plant". It was believed by Orientals to ensure conception. All interpreters hold Mandragora officinarum to be the plant intended in Gen., 30, 14 (love-philtre), and Cant., vii, 13 (smell of the mandrakes). Numbers of other plants have been suggested, as bramble-berries, Zizyphus Lotus, L., the sidr of the Arabs, the banana, the lily, the citron, and the fig. But none of these renderings is supported by satisfactory evidence.
Some Gnostics hold the belief that when Jesus was given a rag of vinegar to drink from at his crucifixion that the rag actually contained a mixture of mandrake. The plant is said to have rendered Christ unconscious so that he only appeared dead from the torture. Thusly he was alive for the three days after the Crucifixion, explaining his miraculous resurrection.
The Ancients, including greeks, romans and celts considered it an anodyne and soporific. The fresh root operates very powerfully as an emetic and purgative. The dried bark of the root was used also as a rough emetic.
Dioscorides (c. 40 Greece - c. 90) alludes to the employment of mandragora to produce anaesthesia when patients are cut or burnt. Pliny the Elder (23 Italy –79) refers to the effect of the odour of mandragora as causing sleep if it was taken "before cuttings and puncturings lest they be felt". Lucian (c. AD 120 eastern Turkey - after 180) speaks of mandragora as used before the application of the cautery. Galen (129 Pergamum, Turkey - 200), has a short allusion to its power to paralyse sense and motion. Isidorus (Cartagena, Spain, about 560 - April 4, 636) is quoted as saying: "A wine of the bark of the root is given to those about to undergo operation that being asleep they may feel no pain."
A frequently-quoted example of early chemical warfare is an incident from 200 B.C., when Carthaginian defenders of a city withdrew, leaving behind quantities of wine laced with mandragora. The invading Romans drank the wine, were rendered insensible, and were killed by the returning defenders.
Mandrake was used in Pliny's days as an anaesthetic for operations, a piece of the root being given to the patient to chew before undergoing the operation. Mandragora becomes the most popular anaesthetic during the Middle Ages and in the Elizabethan Age it was still being used as a narcotic. In the Grete Herball (printed by Peter Treveris in 1526) we find the first avowal of disbelief in the supposed powers of the Mandrake. Gerard also pours scorn on the Mandrake legend. “There have been,' he says, 'many ridiculous tales brought up of this plant, whether of old wives or runnegate surgeons or phisick mongers, I know not, all which dreames and old wives tales you shall from henceforth cast out your bookes of memorie.'”
The root of the mandrake resembles a phallus or a human torso, and for this reason was believed to have occult powers. Many weird superstitions collected round the Mandrake root. As early as 93 BC the historian Flavius Josephus described the process of collecting the mandrake, stories of which were embellished over the years.The mandrake was fabled to grow under the gallows of murderers and its anthropological shape evidently was responsible for the superstition that it shrieked when it was uprooted. The demon inhabiting the root would be aroused and the sounds of its piercing groans of agony would be so horrible that whoever heard it, die or go deaf and insane. The harvester should then performing the necessary rituals before trying to pull it safely from the ground.
- put wax in the ears
- draw three circles around the plant with a sword and. Other recommend the tip of a willow wand.
- remove the plant only after sundown or in the moonlight
- beware of contrary winds while uprooting it use a dog to gather the root The dog (preferably white) was starved for several days and then tied with a black thread to the root around which a trench had been cut. The owner threw a piece of meat, and as the dog leapt for the meat, the mandrake root was pulled from the ground. Human hands were not to come in contact with the plant. The dog is supposed to die after the harvest.
An old document declares, "Therefore, they did tye some dogge or other living beast unto the roots thereof with a corde ... and in the mean tyme stopped there own ears for fear of the terrible shriek and cry of the mandrake. In which cry it doth not only dye itselfe but the feare thereof killeth the dogge...." After the plant had been freed from the earth, it could be used for "beneficent" purposes, such as healing, inducing love, facilitating pregnancy, and providing soothing sleep or “malevolent” such as the “main-de-gloire”.
Josephus (c. 37 AD/CE Jerusalem – c. 100) gives the following directions for pulling it up: "A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear."
The plant of witches
Medieval witches were said to harvest the root at night beneath gallows trees, trees where unrepentant criminals were supposed to have died. The root purportedly sprang up from the criminal's last semence (the process of hanging somebody triggers ejaculation). According to witchcraft accounts, the witch washed the root in wine and wrapped it in silk and velvet. She then fed it with sacramental wafers stolen from a church during communion.
The mandrake was believed to have been used in many potions such as love potions or flying ointment. Often they were stashed in secret cupboards, because possessing one could expose the owner to the charge of witchcraft. In 1630, three women in Hamburg were executed on this evidence, and in Orleans in 1603 the wife of a Moor was hanged for harboring a "mandrake-fiend," purportedly in the shape of a female monkey.
There is an ancient practice of carving the roots into amulets of protection. The plant was cut into fancy shapes and forced to grow in moulds till it assumed the desired forms. Then the magician inserted grains of millet into the face as eyes. These artefacts were known as puppettes or mammettes and were very popular. Italian ladies were known to pay as much as thirty golden ducats for similar artificial mandrakes. Their owners took great care of their little mandrakes bathing them, dressing them and tucking them in at night in order to consult them on important questions.
In France, they were considered a kind of elf, and associated with the main-de-gloire, another evil artefact of witchcraft. As an amulet, it was once placed on mantel pieces to avert misfortune and to bringprosperity and happiness to the house.
Extract from Chapter XVI, Witchcraft and Spells: Transcendental Magic its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Levi. A Complete Translation of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie by Arthur Edward Waite. 1896
"... we will add a few words about mandragores (mandrakes) and androids, which several writers on magic confound with the waxen image; serving the purposes of bewitchment. The natural mandragore is a filamentous root which, more or less, presents as a whole either the figure of a man, or that of the virile members. It is slightly narcotic, and an aphrodisiacal virtue was ascribed to it by the ancients, who represented it as being sought by Thessalian sorcerers for the composition of philtres. Is this root the umbilical vestige of our terrestrial origin ? We dare not seriously affirm it, but all the same it is certain that man came out of the slime of the earth, and his first appearance must have been in the form of a rough sketch. The analogies of nature make this notion necessarily admissible, at least as a possibility. The first men were, in this case, a family of gigantic, sensitive mandragores, animated by the sun, who rooted themselves up from the earth ; this assumption not only does not exclude, but, on the contrary, positively supposes, creative will and the providential co-operation of a first cause, which we have reason to call God. Some alchemists, impressed by this idea, speculated on the culture of the mandragore, and experimented in the artificial reproduction of a soil sufficiently fruitful and a sun sufficiently active to humanise the said root, and thus create men without the concurrence of the female. (See: Homunculus) Others, who regarded humanity as the synthesis of animals, despaired about vitalising the mandragore, but they crossed monstrous pairs and projected human seed into animal earth, only for the production of shameful crimes and barren deformities. The third method of making the android was by galvanic machinery. One of these almost intelligent automata was attributed to Albertus Magnus, and it is said that St Thomas (Thomas Aquinas) destroyed it with one blow from a stick because he was perplexed by its answers. This story is an allegory; the android was primitive scholasticism, which was broken by the Summa of St Thomas, the daring innovator who first substituted the absolute law of reason for arbitrary divinity, by formulating that axiom which we cannot repeat too often, since it comes from such a master: " A thing is not just because God wills it, but God wills it because it is just." The real and serious android of the ancients was a secret which they kept hidden from all eyes, and Mesmer was the first who dared to divulge it; it was the extension of the will of the magus into another body, organised and served by an elementary spirit; in more modern and intelligible terms, it was a magnetic subject."
A remedy against demon’s possession
Among the old Anglo-Saxon herbals both Mandrake and periwinkle are endowed with mysterious powers against demoniacal possession. Its human-like forked root was thought to be in the power of dark earth spirits. At the end of a description of the Mandrake in the Herbarium of Apuleius there is this prescription: 'For witlessness, that is devil sickness or demoniacal possession, take from the body of this said wort mandrake by the weight of three pennies, administer to drink in warm water as he may find most convenient - soon he will be healed.' Flavius Josephus says that the Mandragora, which he calls Baaras, has but one virtue, that of expelling demons from sick persons, as the demons cannot bear either its smell or its presence (Wars of the Jews, book vii, cap. vi.).
The 16th century writer Martin Delrio states that one day a mandragora (mandrake), entering at the request of a sorcerer, who was being tried before a court for wizardry, was caught by the arms by the judge, who did not believe in the existence of the spirit, to convince himself of its existence, and thrown into the fire, where of course it would escape un-harmed.
The author of the work entitled Petit Albert says that on one occasion, whilst travelling in Flanders and passing through the town of Lille, he was invited by one of his friends to accompany him to the house of an old woman who posed as being a great prophetess. This aged person conducted the two friends into a dark cabinet lit only by a single lamp, where they could see upon a table covered with a cloth a kind of little statue or mandragora, seated upon a tripod and having the left hand extended and holding a hank of silk very delicately fashioned, from which was suspended a small piece of iron highly polished.
Placing under this a crystal glass so that the piece of iron was suspended inside the goblet, the old woman commanded the figure to strike the iron against the glass in such a manner as she wished, saying at the same time to the figure: "I command you, Mandragora, in the name of those to whom you are bound to give obedience, to know if the gentleman present will be happy in the journey which lie is about to make.
If so, strike three times with the iron upon the goblet." The iron struck three times as demanded without the old woman having touched any of the apparatus, much to the surprise of the two spectators. The sorceress put several other questions to the Mandragora, who struck the glass once or thrice as seemed good to him. But, as the author shows, the whole was an artifice of the old woman, for the piece of iron suspended in the goblet was extremely light and when the old woman wished it to strike against the glass, she held in one of her hands a ring set with a large piece of magnetic stone, the virtue of which drew the iron towards the glass.
- “And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them :unto his mother Leah.
- Then Rachel said to Leah, "Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes."
- And she said unto her, "Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? And wouldst thou take :away my son's mandrakes also?"
- And Rachel said, "Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son's mandrakes."
- And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, "Thou must :come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes."
- And he lay with her that night. And God harkened unto Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob the :fifth son. “
- Machiavelli wrote a play Mandragola (The Mandrake) in which the plot revolves around the use of a mandrake potion as a ploy to bed a woman.
- Shakespeare refers four times to mandrake and twice under the name of mandragora.
- "...Not poppy, nor mandragora,
- Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
- Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
- Which thou owedst yesterday."
- Shakespeare: Othello, Act 3 Scene III
- "Give me to drink mandragora...
- That I might sleep out this great gap of time
- My Antony is away."
- Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra, i. 5.
- "Shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth."
- Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, iv. m3.
- "Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan"
- King Henry VI Part 2 Act 3. Scene II
- Thomas Lovell Beddoes uses the name of mandrake for a character in his play, Death's Jest Book.
- John Webster in The Duchess of Malfi
- Ferdinand "I have this night digged up a mandrake..."
- John Donne's song:
- "Go and catch a falling star
- Get with child a mandrake root
- Tell me where all past years are,
- Or who cleft the devil's foot..."
- D. H. Lawrence referred to Mandrake as that "weed of ill-omen".
- In Germany, the plant is known as the Alraune: the novel (later adapted as a film) Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers is based around a soulless woman conceived from a hanged man's semen, the title referring to this myth of the Mandrake's origins.
- Ezra Pound used it as metaphor in his poem Portrait d'Une Femme:
- "You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
- And takes strange gain away: [...]
- Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
- That might prove useful and yet never proves, [...]"
- Samuel Beckett, in Act 1 of Waiting for Godot the two attendants discuss hanging themselves and reference is made to the belief that mandrake is seeded by the ejaculate of hanged men.
- Estragon: Wait.
- Vladimir: Yes, but while waiting.
- Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
- Vladimir: Hmm. It'd give us an erection.
- Estragon: (highly excited) An erection!
- Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That's why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
- Estragon: Let's hang ourselves immediately!
- J. K. Rowling: Mandrake is used to revive people who have been petrified in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. From Chapter 6:
- "Now, who can tell me the properties of the Mandrake?" (...) "Mandrake or Mandragora is a powerful restorative," said Hermione, sounding as usual as though she had swallowed the textbook. "It is used to return people who have been transfigured or cursed, to their original state."
- "Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor," said Professor Sprout. "The Mandrake forms an essential part of most antidotes. It is also, however, dangerous. Who can tell me why?"
- Hermione's hand narrowly missed Harry's glasses as it shot up again.
- "The cry of the Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it," she said promptly.
- "Precisely. Take another ten points," said Professor Sprout. "Now, the Mandrakes we have here are still very young."
- Later, in Chapter 13:
- (...) Madam Pomfrey was pleased to report that the Mandrakes were becoming moody and secretive, meaning that they were fast leaving childhood. (...) "The moment their acne clears up, they'll be ready for repotting again"
- And in Chapter 14:
- (...) and in March several of the Mandrakes threw a loud and raucous party in greenhouse three. This made Professor Sprout very happy.
- "The moment they start trying to move into each other's pots, we'll know they're fully mature," she told Harry.
- Deep Purple has a song called Mandrake Root on their 1968 album Shades of Deep Purple.
- "I've got a Mandrake Root
- It's some thunder in my brain
- I feed it to my babe
- She thunders just the same
- Food of love sets her flame
- Ah, stick it up
- I've got the Mandrake Root
- Baby's just the same
- She still feels a quiver
- She's still got the flame
- She slows down, slows right down
- I've got the power"
- The Iron Maiden song "Moonchild", from the album "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" includes the line "Hear the Mandrake scream". The album was Iron Maiden's first concept album and throughout it the lyrics of each song contain numerous occult and religious references.
- Edguy, a German Power-Metal band, use Mandrake as the name of one of their albums. The album cover featuring a sinister looking jester apparently harvesting the plant. As well the first track on the album is called "Tears of a Mandrake".
- Margit Sandemo includes a Mandrake (Alrune) in her series The Saga of the Icepeople. This is not any Mandrake, but the original "draft" of mankind made by God. This was the first attempt to create a human, but the Mandrake got thrown away when God created Adam from dust.
- Stanley Kubrick has a character named Group Captain Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
- In Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto de Fauno) (directed by Guillermo del Toro) the faun gives Ofeila a mandrake root to put under her mother's bed to make her well. Ofelia is instructed to put it in a bowel of milk and feed it two drops of blood every morning.