Posts Tagged ‘Witchcraft’

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 ~
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The Triumph Of The Moon; A Review ~

Intrigued by Ronald Hutton’s assertion that “Wicca” (meaning the wiseones) is the first all British religion given to the world, I approached his book The Triumph of the Moon as my first serious study of Wicca and Witchcraft with an objective attitude and without any preconceived perspectives on the matter. As anyone who has read any Hutton will already know, his books are academic, copiously referenced and invariably not a light read.

 

Art by Alexis Mackenzie

Of The Origins of Modern Perspectives 
On Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism In Britain;
Restricting his research to Great Britain, the book opens with an exploration of prevailing attitudes towards Paganism in the late 19th – early 20thC, asserting that Wiccan belief and practice owe much to the scholars, novelists and poets who resurrected Pan and the Goddess in the Victorian and Edwardian culture, and identifying the four key perspectives of the period;
First, a belief that all Pagans, both of European prehistory and of contemporary tribal peoples represented a religious expression of humanity’s ignorance and savagery.
Second, that derived from the religion and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Pagans were noble and admirable people but essentially remained inferior to Christianity in their ethics and spiritual values.
Third, that some writers considered Paganism superior to Christianity, being a life affirming and joyous alternative approach to religion which respects all of nature and seeks to integrate our lives with it.
Fourth, that a number of thinkers, writers and poets with connections to the Romantic movement such as Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Love Peacock, considered Paganism a remnant of a great universal religion of the distant past, elements of which were to be found in all the major religions practice by civilized humanity, from which contemporary NeoPaganism is descended.

Hutton then explored in greater depth the various strands of Romantic literary Paganism, the Frazerian Anthropology, Folklorism, Freemasonry, Theosophy, the revival of Ritual Magic and of Ceremonial magic, Thelema, and Woodcraft Chivalry, among others.
I found his research into the varieties of ‘Cunning Folk’ and other groups including ‘The Toadmen’ (still around in 1938) and a Masonic styled secret society called ‘The Horseman’s Word’ in the 19th century to be particularly enjoyable and informative reading.
To introduce them briefly, the ‘Cunning Folk’ were professional or semi-professional practitioners of magic active from at least the fifteenth up until the early twentieth century who practiced folk magic – also known as “low magic” – although often combined this with elements of “high” or ceremonial magic. In earlier times, the witch’s power to harm people, livestock, and crops was greatly feared: for this reason country people consulted with the ‘Cunning Men’ and ‘Wise Women’ who had the power to negate their spells with counter-magic.  Cunning-folk practitioners were also consulted for love spells, to find lost property or missing persons, exorcise ghosts and banish evil spirits.
Ronald Hutton suggests that the ‘Cunning Craft’, rather than dying out, had changed character by being subsequently absorbed into other magical currents.
The decline of the cunning craft in Britain was not however indicative of other European nations: in Italy for example, cunning practitioners continued operating right into the early twenty-first century.

Nevertheless, the author portrays that through the increasing interest in ancient Paganism and survival of traditional magical practices like charms during the 19thC, there came about in the 20thC what amounts to a new religion.

Laurie Lipton. The Black Sun

Of The Rise of Modern Wicca, 
Witchcraft and Paganism in Britain;
The second half of this book traces in greater depth the modern history of that new religion, of Paganism and Wicca, with particular focus on Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions of Wicca and examines the personalities involved in launching modern pagan witchcraft, including Gerald Gardner, Sanders, Valiente, the Crowthers, Pickingill and others.
Hutton says that Wicca was introduced by Gerald Gardener in the mid to late 1950’s shortly after Britain repealed their anti-witchcraft laws. Gardener had claimed that he became acquainted with a group of Rosicrucian actors who introduced him to an ancient surviving craft and that Dorothy Clutterbuck, their priestess, initiated him into their coven.
However, Hutton also argues that Wicca’s origins go well beyond Gardener claiming that Gardener was influenced not only by Ancient Hinduism following his period of civil service in India, but also a diverse collection of sources including 17th and 18th century fraternal organizations, 19th century esoteric societies including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis  and Freemasonry from whom he borrowed Wicca’s ritual structure, initiations, handshakes and passwords. The author makes clear that Gardener also derived inspiration and some practices from the Occultist Aleister Crowley and Romantic literary authors including Yeats, Frazer and Graves as well as the Back-To-Nature movement.

Despite Gardener’s claimed introduction to an older craft group – which Hutton points out is contested, and because of Gardener’s own subsequent gathering of sources and resources such as The Book Of Shadows, his forming of Covens and publicizing of his new organization, Gardener is nevertheless portrayed as the founding father of modern Wicca.
Whilst this early NeoPaganism may appear a socially or politically subversive movement, particularly because of its secrecy and the reversal of cultural norms such as that some aspects of ritual were to be carried out naked, the point is made that at this stage the movement was not of a socially minded reactionary nature at all. Several of its founding figures were deeply conservative (and politically Conservative), and their quarrel was not with social and economic status quo, but rather against the unnaturalness and destruction of traditional patterns of life and societies deep involvement with nature that characterized the rising industrial modernity.

On the one hand then Hutton appears to make the argument that early modern Pagan Witchcraft did not stem from any unbroken lines of succession and does not represent a survival of ancient forms of indigenous religious practice, but equivocally he also states that various forms of earlier practice such as the Cunning Craft, Wise Women and others had been subsumed and evolved into the new forms of neo Paganism and Wicca…



Of the Modern World View 
& American Feminist  Remodeling of Paganism and Wicca;
Moving on to consider the more recent developments in Wicca and Paganism, Hutton presents the modern world phenomenon of Witchcraft and of Paganism as having developed in Great Britain and been exported to USA where they were taken up by feminist pagans who massively popularized the concepts as well as imbued them with a more socialistic communal minded orientation. After this socialization the author says  a “new and improved” Wicca made the jump back across the pond to England in the early 1980’s, that Paganism and Wicca have returned with greater prominence and popularity to Great Britain in large part via the books of such authors as Starhawk, Z. Budapest and others who have provided a number of self initiation and guide books for the growing number of solitary practitioners or hedge witches. Hutton portrays then the development of an essentially a politically conservative religious movement evolving into a liberal/progressive movement prioritization feminist issues, promoting a progressive social policy, and advocating self-help/group therapies. The author rounds out his voluminous research with an interesting personal account of what in his view the principle precepts of modern Paganism and Wicca entail.

 

Of the Authors Conjectural Conclusions 
And Their Ultimate Uncertainty;
Despite the apparent academic objectivity of Ronald Hutton’s research which I have thoroughly enjoyed in a number of his studies, I found in this work an ambivalence and lack of clear resolution on a number of occasions. Mr Hutton seems to present an evidence based case as far as it would go and then implies the ensuing conjecture without the definitive evidence for the the implied conclusions, a practice which he points out in others as imaginative if academically erroneous. I find myself further intrigued by such deft footwork from an academic author and because of these misgivings I have looked about for other reviewers opinions. Of the many such reviews that I found among those who were not too overwhelmed, like myself, by all the cross references and closely written and basically bewildering panoramic scope of fine details, some appear to see the wood through the trees, claiming that the authors main pitch in this work, that Wicca and NeoPaganism do not carry any unbroken lineage to antiquity, are partisan perspectives that the author has impelled his evidence to support. These views of Ronald Hutton as expressed in The Triumph Of The Moon have then provoked a certain amount of debate from both sides of the camp so to speak. In response to such perspectives, Hutton frequently hints that there is more to this story, but states that without definitive evidence we cannot be sure and then proceeds present to his own conjectured conclusion almost as a definitive orthodoxy.

 

 

Of The Debate over Authorial Objectivity in 
The Triumph Of The Moon;
For a balanced review of The Triumph Of The Moon,  I have include a few quotes here from a well argued case against Ronald Hutton’s conjecture that there is no ancient lineage of Witchcraft or Paganism in Britain, from the author of the website ‘e g r e g o r e s‘ under the title of
The Recantations of Ronald Hutton;
”In Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton triumphantly claimed that the whole notion of the Old Religion had been “swept away” by a “tidal wave” of research…Hutton had spent a decade studying the question of the relationship between modern Paganism and ancient forms of religion…Hutton had reached the conclusion that no such relationship existed whatsoever, and that no one could be taken seriously who believed otherwise, explicitly including anyone who so much as “suggest[ed] that there might be some truth” in the notion of the Old Religion.
The only problem was that the whole time Hutton had, now by his own admission, been systematically ignoring “certain types of ancient religion” which just so happened to be precisely the ones which most “closely resembled [modern] Paganism, had certainly influenced it, and had certain linear connections with it”! And why did he ignore the one place he should have been looking all along? Because it was “in every sense marginal to my own preoccupations.”
Hutton was by his own admission preoccupied then with his own proposition that “the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name.”

 

 

In Conclusion;
As I have previously held no particular view over the ancient lineage claims for Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism in Great Britain, and their authenticity or lack thereof, and because I have followed a largely intuitive path similar perhaps to that of a Hedge-Druid in my relative independence of groups and traditions as regards my own awareness of Pagan and nature reverencing issues and of what I shall term Supernature and its apprehension in daily life, I have found this volume to be informative, enjoyable and unexpectedly provocative. That there ensues some degree of partisan prejudice was almost to be expected, as the wider public may still hold various oppositional perspectives based on an until recently dominant Christian cultural ideology and its ensuing misinformation against Paganism and Witchcraft in particular. That such views should apparently inform an objective academic in his choice of how to handle his subject matter is not a question that I am well enough equipped to consider. I would surmise however by saying that I have learned a lot by reading this work, both within the tome itself and further by becoming aware of sensible and informed dissent without.

For all of these reasons I recommend this study to any who would consider the origins and developments of Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism in modern Britain today, with the caveat that there may indeed be more to this story than meets the eye or is presented here.

So Mote It Be ~
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