During the Middle Ages the Mandrake became popular throughout Europe as a magical plant and miracle talisman, capable of curing nearly anything. These roots were thought to be powerful allies who could perform magic for their masters – from attracting love and gaining wealth and good fortune, to warding off misfortunes and evil spells, even to becoming invincible in battle.
The Mandrake was also considered a potent aid to fertility. Historians have determined that the earliest mention of the mandrake refers to its use in Babylon, in the cuneiform tablets of the Assyrians and in the Old Testament as evidenced in chapter 30 of the Book of Genesis where the childless Rachael asks her sister Leah for the loan of the mandrakes which her son had brought in from the fields.It is widely believed that the Old Testament contains multiple references to the ‘love apples’ – the fruits of the mandrake as an aphrodisiac. The first of these instances is again in Genesis, where the scent of the mandrake’s yellow fruits are described as having aphrodisiac properties.
Some evidence exists that the mandrake was used in secret mystical rites in ancient Israel; one of the factors supporting this hypothesis is the significance of the mandrake in Kabbalism as a symbol for ‘becoming One’….
Similarly, in ancient Egypt it appears that mandrake fruits may have been eaten as aphrodisiacs and ancient Greeks also used the mandrake as a sacred love plant.
Ancient Germanic people also often made use of the plant, in particular Germanic Seeresses, who were known for their clairvoyant abilities far outside of Europe, used mandrake regularly as an ally. The modern German name ‘Alraune’ can be traced back to the ancient Germanic term “Alrun”, which translates to ‘all knowing’ or ‘he who knows the runes’…
Mandrake roots have long been used in magic rituals then and still are used today in contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca and Odinism.
According to Linnaeus, the great botanist of the 18th century, white and black mandrake are varieties of the same plant that have evolved for northern Europe (white) and southern Europe (black). White mandrake flowers June-July and black mandrake in the fall. The leaves of white mandrake can be one foot long and grow in a rosette (like leaf lettuce) rather than from a central stalk, like most plants. The flowers are greenish white, bell-shaped blue or violet flowers grow, making this rosette uniquely identifiable to the mandrake.They turn into yellow berries that are similar in flavor to tomatoes, and its leaves smell much like fresh tobacco.The whole plant grows to about 4-10 in tall and the taproot fattens quickly. At all other times throughout the year the plant is hidden underground.
The following is taken from The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian. (pp. 402–403)1963:
Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus (little man in a bottle) so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For thirty days water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the thirty-first day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.
The Mandrake plant is a member of the Nightshade family. Mandrake roots contains hyoscine a powerful alkaloid known to cause intense hallucinations, delirium and in larger doses, coma, when eaten. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Mandrake’s use as a surgical anaesthetic was first described by the Greek physician Dioscorides around AD 60, and its use as a tincture known as mandragora, or in combination with other herbs such as opium, hemlock and henbane is described in documents from pre-Roman times onwards. It was the presence of this alkaloid, as well as the shape of the root, that led to the mandrake’s association with magic, witchcraft and the supernatural.
The Mandrake is an important ‘Witches Herb’ and constitutes one of the key ingredients of the fabled Flying Ointment or ‘witches’ brew’ of ancient European witchcraft, and was probably the most potent entheogenic ingredient of the blend. The demonization of mandrake begun once Germany became dominated by Christianity. In today’s nature conscious Pagan and Wiccan resurgence, witches herbs and even Mandrake Ointment are more readily available once again.
|Available from the Poisoners Apothecary here|
- ‘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.’
Mandrake is also said to protect against demonic possession, possibly because it was used by ancient herbalists to sedate manics. To activate a dried root, one must display it prominently in the home for three days, after which it is soaked in water overnight. The water can then be sprinkled on entryways, windows, and people to purify them. The root is now ready for magickal use.
Similar in composition to Belladonna and Datura, the roots were pressed for their juice, which was combined with wine and then reduced by boiling. This was taken as an anesthetic prior to surgery. The dosage was rather crucial, as too much would put the patient to sleep permanently.
Caution! Poisonous. Pregnant women should not use this herb.
Such a powerful magical ally is of course not easy to come by.
Mandrake roots became highly sought after and attempts to protect them from theft are thought to have been the source of the second mandrake myth, which stated that a demon inhabited the root and would kill anyone who attempted to uproot it.
The Mandrake does not take very kindly to being dug up and has been reported to vanish before an irksome intruder could get to it, and famously gives an ear-piercing scream as it is pulled from the earth that would instantly kill anybody within earshot. In order to acquire the plant one must approach it on a Friday before sunrise. After plugging your ears very tightly with cotton, wax or pitch, set out with a black dog – who must not have spots of any other color on his body. Draw three magic circles around the mandrake plant and carefully dig a circle all around it so that only a few fibers of root remain in the earth. Then tie the plant around its base with string to the dog’s tail, show the dog a piece of meat and run away with it. The dog will chase you and thus quickly pull out the root. But the dog will ;likely also drop dead when he hears the groaning screams emanating from the mandrake under extraction.
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”.
Alternately, death (your own) or the need to use and kill a dog, could be avoided by a loud blast on a horn at the critical moment.
Once in possession of this precious root, your troubles are not over, as it is no easy task to satisfy a Mandrakes’ extensive whims. First pick up and wash the plant until clean with red wine, wrap it in a white or red silk cloth and place it in a small chest. Henceforward and by way of maintenance, wash it every Friday again in red wine, give it a new white or red silk shirt every new moon and feed it specific kinds of food (its exact dietary requirements were and are still an endless source of debate). Even if all its demands are met it is possible that the mandrake might not perform its duties, in which case it would be best to get rid of it as swiftly as possible. However one cannot just give a failing plant away and if no buyer can be found for such an uncooperative Mandrake, the root would have to stay with its owner, a distinct disadvantage because its power can in some cases turn against them, causing bad luck instead of good.
However if you have unearthed a friendly and cooperative Mandrake, when you ask your Mandrake a question, it will respond and reveal concealed mysteries regarding your future welfare and prosperity. From that time forth you will have no enemies, you can never become poor and if you have no children your marriage will soon be blessed, if you are not married and wish to be – you soon shall. If you place a coin next to the mandrake at night, the next morning you will find twice as much. If you want to enjoy the services of your Mandrake plant for a very long time and make sure that it does not die, never overtax it.
|Knitting plan used to create this friend here
Many thanks to my marvelous Mother In Law for crafting this magical Mandrake friend for me.
- “…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 III.iii
“Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake’s groan”
- King Henry VI part II III.ii
‘But it groweth not under gallosses as a certain dotyng doctor of Colon in hys physick lecture dyd tych hys auditores; nether doth it ryse of the sede of man that falleth from hym that is hanged; Neither is it called Mandragora because it came of man’s sede, as ye forsayd doctor dremed’.
‘But as we seldom find the mistletoeSacred to physic on the builder oak,Without a mandrake by it, so in our quest of gain’ ‘