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"Mandrake root" redirects here. For the Deep Purple song, see Mandrake Root
Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae). Because mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and the roots sometimes contain bifurcations causing them to resemble human figures, their roots have long been used in magic rituals, today also in neopagan religions such as Wicca and Germanic revivalism religions such as Odinism.
The mandrake, Mandragora officinarum, is a plant called by the Arabs luffâh, or beid el-jinn ("djinn's eggs"). The parsnip-shaped root is often branched. This root gives off at the surface of the ground a rosette of ovate-oblong to ovate, wrinkled, crisp, sinuate-dentate to entire leaves, 5 to 40 centimetres (2.0 to 16 in) long, somewhat resembling those of the tobacco-plant. A number of one-flowered nodding peduncles spring from the neck bearing whitish-green flowers, nearly 5 centimetres (2.0 in) broad, which produce globular, succulent, orange to red berries, resembling small tomatoes, which ripen in late spring. All parts of the mandrake plant are poisonous. The plant grows natively in southern and central Europe and in lands around the Mediterranean Sea, as well as on Corsica.
The Old Testament
In Genesis 30, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah finds mandrakes in a field. Rachel, Jacob's infertile second wife and Leah's sister, is desirous of the mandrakes and barters with Leah for them. The trade offered by Rachel is for Leah to spend the next night in Jacob's bed in exchange for Leah's mandrakes. Leah gives away the plant to her barren sister, but soon after this (Genesis 30:14-22), Leah, who had previously had four sons but had been infertile for a long while, became pregnant once more and in time gave birth to two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Only years after this episode of her asking for the mandrakes did Rachel manage to get pregnant. There are classical Jewish commentaries which suggest that mandrakes help barren women to conceive a child though.
Mandrake in Hebrew is דודאים (dûdã'im), meaning “love plant”. Among certain Asian cultures, it is believed to ensure conception. Most interpreters hold Mandragora officinarum to be the plant intended in Genesis 30:14 ("love plant") and Song of Songs 7:13 ("the mandrakes send out their fragrance"). A number of other plants have been suggested such as blackberries, Zizyphus Lotus, the sidr of the Arabs, the banana, lily, citron, and fig.
It should be noted that Sir Thomas Browne, in Pseudodoxia Epidemica, ch. VII, suggests that the 'dudai'im' of Genesis 30:14 is really the opium poppy, because the word 'dudai'im' may be a reference to a woman's breasts.
Magic, spells, and witchcraft
According to the legend, when the root is dug up it screams and kills all who hear it. Literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example Josephus (c. 37 AD 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.
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.
It was a common folklore in some countries that mandrake would only grow where the semen of a hanged man had dripped on to the ground; this would appear to be the reason for the methods employed by the alchemists who "projected human seed into animal earth". 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.
The following is taken from "Paul Christian". pp. 402–403, The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian. 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.
In Genesis 30:14, Leah gives Rachel mandrakes in exchange for a night of sleeping with their husband.
- During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields
- and found some mandrake plants,
- which he brought to his mother Leah.
- Rachel said to Leah, "Please
- give me some of your son's mandrakes."
In the Song of Songs, it is used as a symbol of fragrance:
- "The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
- and at our door is every delicacy,
- both new and old,
- that I have stored up for you, my lover."
In its more sinister significance:
- 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 III.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.v
- "Shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth."
- Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet IV.iii
- "Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan"
- King Henry VI part II III.ii
- "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..."
- (This poem can be heard set to music by John Renbourn [of Pentangle fame] on his eponymous CD [Transatlantic TRA 135, 1965])
- D. H. Lawrence referred to Mandrake as that "weed of ill-omen".
- 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 I of Waiting for Godot the two attendants discuss hanging themselves and reference is made to the belief that mandrake is seeded by the ejaculation of hanged men.
- John Steinbeck in The Winter of Our Discontent writes that Ethan Hawley has a mandrake root in his family heirlooms which he describes as "a perfect little man, sprouted from the death-ejected sperm of a hanged man".
- In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the mandrake root is cultivated by Professor Sprout to cure the petrification of several characters who had looked indirectly into the eyes of the Basilisk; the author makes use of the legend of the mandrake's scream (see above), and anyone tending mandrakes wears earmuffs to dull the sound of the scream, if the plant must be transplanted.
- Mandrake the Magician is an American comic strip created in 1934 by Lee Falk (also creator of The Phantom) and mainly appearing in syndication in newspapers.
- In Yasuhiro Kanō's manga Mx0, Lucy is a magical mandrake that covertly aids the main character.
- William S. Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch reads "Johnny scream like a mandrake"
- Salman Rushdie's novel The Enchantress of Florence reads "[...] mythical plant the locals called ayïq otï, otherwise known as the mandrake root. The mandrake – or “man-drag-on” [...] screamed when you pulled them up into the air just as human beings would scream if you buried them alive." Then the novel tells a story of boys trying to grow mandrake using hanged archbishop's semen. The mandrake has very powerful healing powers and is exclusively used to help cure illnesses.
- Cormac McCarthy's novel Outer Dark — in reference to a corpse hung from a tree branch — reads "Black mandrake sprang beneath the tree as it will where the seed of the hanged falls and in spring a new branch pierced his breast and flowered in green boutonnière perennial beneath his yellow grin."
- In David McRobbie's novel Mandragora four cursed mandrake dolls are accidentally taken aboard a boat being used for person transport from Scotland to Australia. These dolls and their curses reap havoc aboard the vessel by possessing passengers and this ends in eventual disaster. A mandrake doll is also taken as good luck by the ships captain to ward off all evil, and this doll alone tries to destroy the four other curses.
- In a description from Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow a hanged man's "drop of sperm [...] changes into a mandrake root" under the cover of the night.
- Sadeq Hedayat in his novel The Blind Owl writes "Her air of mingled gaiety and sadness set her apart from ordinary mankind. Her beauty was extraordinary. She reminded me of a vision seen in an opium sleep. She aroused in me a heat of passion like that which is kindled by the mandrake root." (Trans. D.P. Costello, pg 10)
- In Margit Sandemo Saga of the Ice People (47 parts) as a plant in many parts, then as a human in last few parts
- In the Iron Maiden song "Moonchild" on the album "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son", there is the phrase "Moonchild, hear the mandrake scream", a reference to the screaming of the mandrake when pulled out of the ground.
- Mercyful Fate, whose lead singer King Diamond was very interested in and highly supportive of occult and pagan practices, released a song titled "Mandrake" on the 1998 album Dead Again (Mercyful Fate album), which discussed the plant's manlike qualities and its importance in ritualistic activities.
- Lee Tulloch' in her novel Fabulous Nobodies refers to dresses being pulled from hangers as screaming like mandrakes.
- Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri in his erotic novel set Druuna, refers in the fifth book, titled Mandragora, to an antidote extracted from the Mandragora plant. The heroine is at several points the catalyst to a powerful orgasm that condemned men are subjected to before they are slaughtered as they climax at the hand of those seeking the Mandragora flower.
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- In Pan's Labyrinth, the main character Ofelia places a baby-shaped mandrake root in a bowl of fresh milk under her pregnant mother's bed to cure her mysterious illness.
- In The Serpent's Kiss, Richard E. Grant's character adds powdered mandrake root to Meneer Chrome's (played by Ewan McGregor) snuff box in an attempt to poison him.
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the students have to repot Mandrake seedlings while wearing earmuffs to protect against the deadly screams. A potion concocted using mandrake root is used to cure several victims petrified by a basilisk. In the film, the Mandrakes are small, wrinkly, dark brown monstrosities that are extremely ugly.
- In Flesh & Blood, the characters Agnes (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Steven (Tom Burlinson) eat the mandrake root in order to fall in love with each other.
- In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout refers to "half-remembered tales of changelings and mandrake roots."
- In New Tricks, Mandrake root is used to anesthetize dogs that are the victims of a serial killer. It is also in connection with the Egyptian gods Anubis and Wepwawet.
- In Excalibur, Merlin tests Morgana's knowledge of the properties of mandrake.
- In an episode of The X-Files, "Terms of Endearment", agent Fox Mulder works on a case where a woman is said to have been given mandrake and hallucinates the abduction of her child.
- In an episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, "Watch The Thing In The Pit", Spartacus is offered, but refuses Mandrake root to numb the pain of his wounds.
- In Mr. Deeds, the lead character, Mr. Deeds, comes from a town in New Hampshire called Mandrake Falls.
In video games
- In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow for Game Boy Advance Mandragora is a root which is pulled from the ground by a skeleton and that attacks with a shriek. In the Nintendo DS sequel, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Mandragora roots return; here they attack by lifting themselves out of the ground and screaming so loudly that they can explode (it is also present in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia).
- In the Final Fantasy series, Mandragora was often classified as a plant monster. Its shrieking cries often induced Silence effects.
- Similarly, in the Tales series, this is also a plant monster, but with different effects.
- In the Ultima series, Mandrake roots serve as a rare reagent needed to cast the most powerful spells.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Mandrake plants are scattered throughout the game world, and the roots can be harvested for use in alchemy. Mandrake roots provides cure disease, resist poison, damage agility, and fortify willpower effects.
- In Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero, the player needs to harvest Mandrake root at midnight for Baba Yaga, who makes a mousse out of it to eat.
- In Haunting Ground, the maid Daniella cares for Mandragora in her greenhouse, and taking them will result in them screaming and alerting Daniella.
- Mandragora are a central plot element of the game Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage. The plants, which scream when removed from the ground, are able to infect living people, then known as "Mandragorans", with a disease which causes them to become docile when let be, but results in extreme rage and thoughtless acts of murder when provoked enough.
- In Myth: Fallen Lords & Myth II: Soulblighter, the Journeymen (healing units) and later, the Heron Guards, use mandrake roots that can be found on the field of play, to recoup their healing spell ability.
- In Nostale online game, the low level monster called Mandragora is a plant type monster that will make a loud screams that result in status effect HP reduced at the certain percentage for any player that kill it.
- The Pokémon Oddish is based on the mandrake.
- In .hack//Infection, mandrakes are scattered across worlds and are used to feed Grunties.
- In Lost Kingdoms and its sequel, mandrakes appear as trap cards that jump out of the earth and scream, damaging enemies around them. In addition to normal mandrakes, there are also mandrake dancers that do the same but without being buried in the ground, and larger mandrake kings that hit for additional damage.
- The Digimon Aruraumon (Alraumon in the original) is based on the mandrake, with its name coming from alraune, the German name of the mandrake.
- In Crash: Mind over Mutant's DS version, there's a titan called Psycho-Mandrake. It's a yellow bloom at start, but then it evolves into a palm tree, and later on, it evolves into a big purple flower. It can float with the petals on its head.
- In the RPG, Brave Story: New Traveler, a Mandragora is a monster that can be located in some areas of the world map.
- In Final Fantasy XI, Mandragora is a species of monsters found in several regions of Vanadiel.
- In Mega Man Zero 4, one of the bosses, Noble Mandrago, is a reploid based on a mandrake.
- In Odin Sphere, when you step on somewhere and made a squeak, you have to jump on it, and a Mandragora pops out, attack it once and you can have it.
- In Ragnarok Online, Mandragoras are low-level plant monsters primarily used to train magicians on the Fire Bolt spell. If you get close enough, Mandragoras will attack.
- ^ pp. 402-403, The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian. 1963
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