Archive for February, 2013

Mandrake, Tree Of Knowledge ~

“The Mandrake is the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ and the burning love ignited by its pleasure is the origin of the human race.” – Hugo Rahner. 
The Mandrake ( Mandragora officinarum -also known as Herb of Circe, Wild Lemon, Womandrake ) holds the special distinction as being the most famous of all magical plants due to its many ritual and medical uses and the immense amount of mythology it has generated over historical ages.

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.

Although mandrake found its way into Britain around the 11th century, the herb did not grow naturally here and due to the high cost of the root, other roots such as ash root and the Briony have been used instead.Those in search of its medicinal effects turned to Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) a closely related herb with a similar pharmacological profile to mandrake but a more northerly distribution. Henbane was a potent ingredient in the various midnight brews and flying ointments beloved of witches. Those seeking to profit from the demand for mandrake charms would have found Henbane a disappointment, for it possessed only a small fibrous root. For this purpose they turned instead to the white Bryony (Bryonia dioica) a hedgerow plant of south-east England with a large multilobed taproot.

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.

Mandragora 0fficinarum

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
Magickal Uses: 

Mandrake is placed on the mantle to bring prosperity, fertility and happiness to the home, a protector warding off of evil spirits or spells.
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.).
It is worn as a talisman or amulet to attract love and repel diseases. As a flying ointment and for its ability to engender shamanic trances.
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.
Medicinal Uses:

It has been said that the mandrake had perhaps the greatest number of uses of any medicinal plant of ancient times. It was the most heavily utilized narcotic / anesthetic and sleeping agent of ancient times and the Middle Ages.
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.
Specifically, mandrake root was used for the following conditions: abscesses, arthritis, bone pains, callosities, cramps, discharge, erysipelas, eye disease and inflammation, gout, headaches, hemorrhoids, hip pains, hysteria, infertility, inflammation, labor complications, liver pains, loss of speech, melancholy, menstrual problems, pain, painful joints, possession, scrofula, skin inflammation, sleeplessness, snakebite, spleen pains, stomach ailments, swollen glands, tubercles, tumors, ulcers, uterine inflammation, worms, and wounds. It was also used as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
Parts Used: 
Roots, leaves, fruits.
Actions: 
Sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, parasympathetic depressant, hallucinogen, and hypnotic. Most hypnotics produce low alphoid and spindle alpha brain-wave activity, similar to that found in REM sleep, or the dreaming or trance state. This rhythm does not allow deep sleep to occur although it does lower brain patterns. Mandrake root causes delirium and hallucinations.. 

Traditional Preperation: 

Caution! Poisonous. Pregnant women should not use this herb. 

Do not use this herb without the proper guidance from a professional!

Burning and inhaling the smoke of the mandrake is the least effective method of experiencing its psychoactive properties. The leaves are picked before the end of the fruiting season, dried in the shade, and used in a smoking blend (either with tobacco or other herbs) or as incense. The root works as incense as well; the smoke is rather easy to inhale, although its smell is not entirely pleasant.
Fresh leaves may be chewed, and fresh mandrake fruits may be consumed. Consuming fresh mandrake fruits is incredibly safe; there have been no known overdoses even after consuming multiple fruits. The root is hardly ever eaten. It is mostly extracted either into water or alcohol; both methods seem to be equally effective (Ratsch 1998, 346-347).
Mandrake root has long been implemented in the making of beer and wine, either as an additive or the basis of the fermentation. When mandrake root is the main ingredient in the brewing process, cinnamon and saffron are sometimes added to improve its taste. Mandrake beer is quite potent, with dosages rarely exceeding one liter — drink with caution.
The ancient Greeks used fresh or dried mandrake in wine as an aphrodisiac. To make mandrake wine, add a handful of chopped mandrake root to a .75 liter bottle of wine and steep for one week. For maximum potency, it is best not to filter the root pieces out until the wine is gone, and the more sour the wine, the more effective the extraction. Two or three cinnamon sticks and a tablespoon of saffron can be added to improve the flavor.
Another popular recipe involves chopping up a large handful each of cinnamon sticks, rhubarb root, vanilla pods, and mandrake root, and steeping in a bottle of white wine for two weeks. The plant matter is then drained, and the beverage is colored with St. John’s wort or saffron and sweetened if desired, most effectively with a combination of royal jelly and honey. Spirits are also an effective choice for mixing with mandrake, though the only place in the world where this practice is still prevalent is Romania (Ratsch 1998, 348).

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.

Mandrake by Sandra Arteaga.

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. 
The works of William Shakespeare contain many references to the mandrake and its myths and are remarkable both for the depth of knowledge they reveal and for their accuracy.
“…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

Around the Middle Ages an apparently new myth began to circulate that a mandrake would spring up from ground contaminated by human blood or semen such as at the foot of a gallows. Once again, Dr Turner, who had spent some years in Europe, was quick to condemn those responsible:
‘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’.
Playwrights, nonetheless, wasted little time in taking this new myth to their hearts and, in his corspe-strewn tragedy The White Devil John Webster (1578—c. 1630) (erroneously) unites the mistletoe and mandrake, good and evil, with the tree which, with its horizontal lower branches, had long made a convenient impromptu gallows:
‘But as we seldom find the mistletoe
Sacred to physic on the builder oak,
Without a mandrake by it, so in our quest of gain’    ‘
”Above all else never internally ingest any of these plants as they have an ability to be deadly.  If you do happen to have some fall into your hands always be sure to wash your hands and keep away from your eyes and mouth at all costs. Never proceed to create ointments or unguents without a firm knowledge of the plants you are working with as all have the potential to be deadly”.  Thank you Wild Witche for this sensible caution.

Bright Blessings By Stone & Star ~

The Druid’s Parable

<br>

From the Second Epistle in the Book of Apocrypha of Robert Larson, (Isaac Bonewit’s mentor) and perhaps the true founder of Neopagan Druidism.
Robert offered this parable of his own creation, to counsel tolerance and variation among warring branches of the Reformed Druids during their ideological and structural conflicts of 1976;

I will now relate this incredibly ancient Druid fable
which I have just written.

Ahem.

Once in the long ago there were three Druids, and very fine Druids they were, too. It came to pass that each of them inherited a piece of land with a large rock on it.
Now the First of these Druids went to his land and looked at his rock and immediately fell in love with it.
To make his rock even more beautiful he fell to rubbing and buffing it until it bore a bright polish.
Every day he would rub and buff it till it almost outshone the sun, so bright it was.
The people who lived nearby would often come to see the rock and say what a wonderful, bright rock it was.

Now eventually the Druid died and went to the Sidhe hills as all good Druids do. But the wind and rain did not die.
Slowly it was that the rock lost its polish, but lose it it did. No longer did the people come to see the rock, now neither wonderful nor bright, for of what interest is a mere rock, except to a geologist?

The second of the Druids went to his land and looked at his rock and thought what a wonderful statue his rock would make.
So he took a hammer and chisel and carved a statue of his god out of it. Paint he put on his statue, and gold and jewels also, until it looked exactly like his idea of his god. And the people who lived both near and far came to marvel at the statue and worship at it, saying such things as “You could swear that it’s alive, that it’s being.” To which the Druid would reply, “It is.”
Eventually the second Druid too died and went to the Sidhe hills where all good Druids go…

Eventually the second Druid too died and went to the Sidhe hills where all good Druids go. But the wind and rain did not die, nor did human nature change. Thieves came and stripped the statue of its gold and its jewels. Wind and rain completed the destruction, until the statue once again resembled nothing so much as a rock.
And the people stopped coming to marvel and to worship, for, after all, who wants to worship a rock after he’s had the most wonderful statue in the world?

The Third Druid went to his land and looked at his rock. Then he climbed upon it and looked about him, liking what he saw.
He planted flowers, trees and bushes about the rock and lichen on it. Every day he would herd his cows and sheep on the land about the rock, sitting on or resting against it.

As time went by, the flowers, the bushes and trees grew and the lichen covered the rock, giving the Druid an even more beautiful view and a softer seat to watch his herds from.
So beautiful did the Druid’s land become, that people came from far and near to sit with him and watch the deer and fox play and the flowers bloom, for it was said to be the most beautiful and peaceful place in the world.
The time came when the third Druid died and went to the Sidhe hills where all good Druids go.

But the flowers did not stop growing, nor did the bushes and trees and lichen.Still did the deer and fox play in the Druid woods, and still were cows and sheep herded about the rock.

The Druid’s name was forgotten, but some people still came to sit on his rock and look at his woods, for it was yet the most beautiful and peaceful place in the world.

And so it remains to this day.

Beannachtai na Mathar libh. Siochain Robert, ArchDruid, Berkeley Grove 28 Mean Samhraidh, 14 y.r.
(July 2nd, 1976 c.e.)

 A Note on the Sidhe, people of the Faery Hills;

The Sidhe (Shee), sometimes also known as The Good People and the Tuatha De Danaan, are a race descended of the old agricultural gods of the Earth who have retreated from this Earth to a different dimension of space and time than our own, believed to be living under mounds and fairy raths and cairns,  and also the land of “Tír na nÓg” a mythical island to the west of Ireland. Throughout the ages the Sidhe have been in contact with mortals giving protection, healing and even teaching some of their skills to mortals – Smithcraft or the working of metals being one such skill.  Cuillen (Culann) is one such sidhe smith who has been told of in the legends of Cúchulainn and the later legends of Fionn mac Cumhail. The Gaelic word sí or síog refers to these otherworldly beings now called fairies.This race of beings who has powers beyond those of mankind, they move quickly through the air and may change their shape at will. Many refer to the Sidhe as simply “the gentry”, on account of their tall, noble appearance and silvery sweet speech. It  is thought that good Druids and folk of the spirits may join with them in their Sidhe lands after their mortal life is concluded…Down through the ages the Sidhe have been in contact with mortals giving protection, healing and even teaching some of their skills to mortals – Smithcraft or the working of metals being one such skill.  Cuillen (Culann) is one such sidhe smith who has been told of in the legends of Cúchulainn and the later legends of Fionn mac Cumhail.
The Gaelic word sí or síog refers to these otherworldly beings now called fairies.


 A Multiplicity of Druids;
In 1966, Robert Larson, an ordained priest of the original Carleton Grove group moved to Berkeley, California, where he and Isaac Bonewits founded a small Druidic group with connections to various wiccan covens, and groups which practiced ceremonial magic. This became known as the Berkeley Grove.
In the mid 1970s, Bonewits sought to recast the RDNA as a Neo-Pagan organization, but this met with resistance from several Druids from the Carleton Grove. Several groves subsequently broke off to form “Branches” of Reformed Druidism and in 1976, a new order formed called the New RDNA (NRDNA), which organized under a Council of Arch-Druids, specifically to have a national body more responsive than the Council of Dalon Ap Landu. Some NRDNA groves wanted to restrict membership to Neo-Pagans, and experiment with changes to ritual and the structure of their groves; these became the Schismatic Druids of North America (SDNA). Groves not participating in these changes or schisms were, by default, considered the RDNA. The definition of “Reformed Druidism” stretched to include these variants, not just the RDNA, but the NRDNA, SDNA, and independent folks who just believed in the Basic Tenets.

Arise Oh Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF);
Many members of the SDNA groves left in the 1980s to form the Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), taking a few lessons from Reformed Druidism with them—notably the Waters of Life, an RDNA invention. Currently, in most RDNA and NRDNA groves, members can belong to any or no religion; and due to the emphasis on Grove autonomy, and resulting Grove diversity, there is now little to distinguish between RDNA and NRDNA. Today Ár nDraíocht Féin has groves present across the United States, in Canada, and in other countries.

On the Reform of Neo Druidry in North America;
Until 1983, except for a few fraternal Druid organizations with branches in the USA, Reformed Druidism was really the only publicly known type of neo-druidism in America. ADF provided a training program for Neo-Pagan Druids interested in Indo-European religious concepts, a strong central church-like structure, a liturgical formula, and a great number of council and rules. Over the years, many aspiring Druids joined ADF, borrowed some ideas and produced dozens of new groups of their own. Henge of Kelria was the largest off-shoot, when this group split off for reasons of protest over training programs, charges of ineptitude, and a preference for only Celtic sources of inspiration.
Similarly, the Order of Whiteoak borrowed material from ADF, RDNA, and Keltra, but produced primarily a core of material based on their own research.

Saltem Accurata Et Maxime Iocosa;
While Reformed Druids are considered the least organized and most playful Druids, their literature is perhaps the more extensively produced and archived of any modern Druid group in America. Reformed Druidic literature has been an almost entirely open literature, unlike many fraternal or mystical Druid organizations that restrict material to initiates.
It is however quite possible and common for members to participate actively in a Grove or a conference for years without having read more than a few dozen pages of their literature, as the oral and living traditions are also quite vital and nuanced.
It is notably non-dogmatic, eclectic, leaning towards philosophic rather than magic in focus, and often written “tongue-in-cheek”, with authors tending to poke fun at themselves.

Are American Druids different from British Druids?
Whilst many might bundle American and British Druidry together under the general heading of ‘Neo-Druidism’ in fact these are two separate lines of Druidry. There is ofcourse a shared love of nature, an open attitude towards spirituality, a social focus, and a curiosity about the practices of the ancient Celts, but there are a distinctive differences between the two bodies of Druidism:

The British Druid,
British Druid Orders can trace a formal lineage back to the founding of the Ancient Order of Druids in 1781, although much earlier records attest to their existence in Ancient Britain, Ireland and Europe such as the written records of Julius Ceasar and etc. Indeed Roman author Diogenes ( 3rd century CE ) considered the Druids as one of the ancient world’s wisest philosophers, along with the Magi of Persia, the Chaldeans (the priesthood of the Babylonians) and the Gymnosophists (an Hindu sect which preceded the Yogis), all of whom were skilled in mathematics, physics, logic, and philosophy.
Many British Orders such as the British Druid Order and OBOD use the emblem of Awen invented by the 18th century Druid Edward Williams, aka Iolo Morganwg, although some use other symbols such as the Pendragon, the Red Dragon Rampant of King Arthurs Loyal Arthurian Warband Order of Druids.
The modern British lineage of Druid organisations was initially founded as an organized secret society to compete with the Freemasons in their social works and their spiritual orientations, although subsequent diversification of orientation and purpose has seen divergence of stated aims and practises of various groups.

 The American Druid,
American Druid Orders can trace themselves back to the founding of the Reformed Druids of North America in 1963. The RDNA is an American Neo-Druidic organization formed at Carleton College (The Carleton Grove), Northfield, Minnesota as a humorous protest against the college’s required attendance of religious services. In creating an effective vehicle to challenge the establishment requirements, the founders unwittingly fostered an environment for spiritual exploration. For many new Druids the movement came to represent a valuable part of their spiritual lives and the demand for Druid services continued even after the college requirement disappeared.

The American symbol is a Druid sigil most often rendered as a circle with two vertical lines  through it, and is also similar to the “circle with a dot in the middle” emblem, which is a Masonic sun symbol for God, flanked by two vertical lines, which represent the two Saint Johns, whose festivals are St. John the Baptist on the summer solstice and St. John on the winter solstice.  It first became associated with Druidism in modern times by the founder of the Reformed Druids of North America, David Fisher, in 1963 c.e.. He claimed that it was a symbol of Druidism in general and the Earth Mother in particular. Some think he may have gotten the design from a hasty glance at a picture in Piggott’s book The Druids, which showed the foundations of an old Roman-Celtic temple. Others think he may have gotten it from some Mesopagan Druid organization to which he may have belonged. However, with the two lines running horizontally, the Druid Sigil is known to electricians as the sign for a female plug/socket, and with the lines diagonal, it’s an old alchemical sign for oil, both concepts that could lead to some fruitful meditations.
There are perhaps 40 groves and protogroves of the RDNA, NRDNA and RDG, with 180 priests and priestesses.

More details of Reformed Druids of North America here
(www.rdna.info and www.reformed-druids.org )
ADF here ( http://www.adf.org/core/index.html )
Keltria here ( www.keltria.org )

%d bloggers like this: