Mandrake (plant)


Mandrake (plant)
Mandrake
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Mandragora
L.
Species

Mandragora officinarum
Mandragora turcomanica
Mandragora caulescens

Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora, particularly the species Mandragora officinarum, belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae). Because mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, 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.

Contents

Description

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 or purple flowers, nearly 5 centimetres (2.0 in) broad, which produce globular, orange to red berries, resembling small tomatoes. All parts of the mandrake plant are poisonous.

In the Jewish Bible / Christian Old Testament

There are two references to דודאים (dûdã'im)--literally meaning “love plant”--in the Jewish scriptures. A number of translations into different languages follow the example of the Latin Vulgate and use mandrake as the plant as the proper meaning in both Genesis 30:14-16 and Song of Solomon 7:13. Others follow the example of the Luther Bible and provide a more literal translation. The readings from the King James Bible are "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 wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night 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 "The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.", respectively.

Note: A number of other plants have been suggested by biblical scholars, e.g., blackberries, Zizyphus Lotus, the sidr of the Arabs, the banana, lily, citron, and fig. Sir Thomas Browne, in Pseudodoxia Epidemica, ch. VII, suggests that the 'dudai'im' of Genesis 30:14 is the opium poppy, because the word 'dudai'im' may be a reference to a woman's breasts.

In Genesis 30:14, Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah finds mandrake in a field. Rachel, Jacob's infertile second wife and Leah's sister, is desirous of the דודאים and barters with Leah for them. The trade offered by Rachel is for Leah to spend that night in Jacob's bed in exchange for Leah's דודאים. 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. The predominant traditional Jewish view is that דודאים were an ancient folk remedy to help barren women conceive a child.[citation needed]

The final verses of Song of Songs (Song of Songs 7:12-13), are:

לְכָה דוֹדִי נֵצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה, נָלִינָה בַּכְּפָרִים.נַשְׁכִּימָה, לַכְּרָמִים--נִרְאֶה אִם-פָּרְחָה הַגֶּפֶן פִּתַּח הַסְּמָדַר, הֵנֵצוּ הָרִמּוֹנִים; שָׁם אֶתֵּן אֶת-דֹּדַי, לָךְ.הַדּוּדָאִים נָתְנוּ-רֵיחַ, וְעַל-פְּתָחֵינוּ כָּל-מְגָדִים--חֲדָשִׁים, גַּם-יְשָׁנִים; דּוֹדִי, צָפַנְתִּי לָךְ

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see whether the vine hath budded, whether the vine-blossom be opened, and the pomegranates be in flower; there will I give thee my love. The mandrake give forth fragrance, and at our doors are all manner of precious fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

Magic, spells, and witchcraft

Mandragora, from Tacuinum Sanitatis (1474).
Mandragora plant

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. AD 37 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 on 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".[1] 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 popular culture

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 in 1518 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
  • 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, [...]"
  • 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.
  • In Guillermo del Toro's 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth, the faun gives the protagonist, Ofelia, a mandrake root to hide under her pregnant mother's bed to cure her illness. It is later found and thrown into a fire, where it screams in agony.
  • In Yasuhiro Kanō's manga Mx0, Lucy is a magical mandrake that covertly aids the main character.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Enemy characters and items based on mandrakes are found in a number of video games; the best-known example is the Pokemon Oddish.
  • Mandragora is the name of several enemy characters in various of Konami's Castlevania games and also an important item in Castlevania (Nintendo 64). In Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for Game Boy Advance, it is a DSS card that represents the power of the plants. In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow for Game Boy Advance, it is a plant with a vaguely human form that is pulled from the ground by an skeleton. In the sequel Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for Nintendo DS, it is a plant that uproots itself from the ground. This enemy is repeated with the same game mechanic and frames on the Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin & Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia also for Nintendo DS.

Effects

  • 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 state. This rhythm does not allow deep sleep to occur although it does lower brain patterns into a dreamy visionary mode, known in magic as an astral plane experience. Mandrake root causes delirium and hallucinations. In high doses, it can even send the user into a coma.

References

  1. ^ pp. 402-403, The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian. 1963

Further reading

  • Heiser, Charles B. Jr (1969). Nightshades, The Paradoxical Plant, 131-136. W. H. Freeman & Co. SBN 7167 0672-5.
  • Thompson, C. J. S. (reprint 1968). The Mystic Mandrake. University Books.

External links