Mandrake is a perennial herbaceous plant, native to the Mediterranean region, belonging to the Solanaceae family. This plant is surrounded by many legends, the ancients attributing extraordinary magical virtues to it. Indeed, since antiquity, countless legends have formed around this rare plant and its magical powers. The root was both worn as a talisman and ingested as a love potion. Its use is closely linked to plant worship, witchcraft and black magic.

mandrake

Stories, beliefs and legends of the mandrake, from antiquity to the Middle Ages!

Due to the vaguely human-like shape of its root and its alkaloid compounds, mandrake has been associated with magical beliefs and rituals since ancient times. It has become over the years so mysterious in folklore that it has subsequently been considered not only the most powerful but also the most dangerous of all magical herbs.

The ancient Persians and Egyptians already knew about the medicinal properties of the mandrake. Pieces of mandrake root, along with other artifacts, have been found in the royal burial chambers of the pyramids. Mandrake is mentioned, among other medicinal plants, in the famous Ebbers Papyrus dating from 1700-1600 BC. The mandrake is also mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. Considerations in the texts are very disconcerting to us today. For example, Theophrastus tells us that when picking we must “trace around the mandrake three circles with a sword, cut while looking towards the east, dance around each other and say as many ribald words as possible”. Thus the circle drawn around the plant creates a magically closed space, enclosing the plant and allowing the magician to master it! The ritual of uprooting the mandrake changes from the beginning of the Middle Ages. Indeed, the plant collector now has to clear the root, tie it to a dog and lure the animal away. This plant has such magical power that if the herbalist ventured to uproot it himself, he would expose himself to certain death. The texts even add that this root has in itself such divine power that when it is extracted, at the same time, the plant emitted an unbearable cry of agony killing the animal and the man not distant with the unstoppered ears of wax (Herbarius Apulei, 1481). In the year 520,

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Precautions when picking are also set out in the writings of Paracelsus (1493-1541). To obtain the dangerous mandrake root, magic rituals were needed. According to the various writings describing the rituals, we know that they took place on full moon nights. The mandrakes that grew at the foot of the gibbets were very popular because they were said to be fertilized by the sperm of the hanged, bringing them vitality, but those of the places of torture or cremation also did the job perfectly. The root became magical after washing, maceration and maturation in a shroud; it represented the outline of man, “little planted man” or homunculus. Thus pampered, the mandrake root brought its owner prodigious prosperity, abundance of goods, and fertility.

mandrake

“Were the witches drugged”?

Mandrake and henbane are also sometimes found in the composition of ointments used by witches. A widespread belief in the 16th and 17th centuries was that witches coat their bodies with an ointment before flying through the air to go to the Sabbath. They went there on a broom or a pitchfork, also coated with ointment.

The charges that led the witches to the stake had two components: evil spells and the pact with the Devil. The legal action opened with a complaint for the repeated hexes of a spellcaster who was supposed to cause the death of newborn babies, cause hail to fall on crops, etc. The accusation of Sabbath attendance did not appear until later, when the ecclesiastical judges took up the case. At the time, everyone believed in the Devil. There was no shadow of a doubt that by concluding a pact with the Devil, the witch could accomplish formidable evil spells and work towards the ruin of the Church and the State. Tens of thousands of wizards and witches were thus sent to the stake in good conscience by the authorities. Only a few humanist scientists and doctors denounced these persecutions and dared to maintain that the Sabbath was only an illusion. The problem of the reality of the Sabbath was posed more or less in these terms by scientists as early as the sixteenth century: “Does the description of demonic assemblies and their prodigies have an objective reality or is it the result of the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs? “. From that time, a Spanish doctor and humanist, Andrés Laguna, came to the conclusion that everything the witches thought they were doing was the result of taking narcotic substances, and therefore that the Sabbath was the only product of their imagination. The problem of the reality of the Sabbath was posed more or less in these terms by scientists as early as the sixteenth century: “Does the description of demonic assemblies and their prodigies have an objective reality or is it the result of the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs? “. From that time, a Spanish doctor and humanist, Andrés Laguna, came to the conclusion that everything the witches thought they were doing was the result of taking narcotic substances, and therefore that the Sabbath was the only product of their imagination. The problem of the reality of the Sabbath was posed more or less in these terms by scientists as early as the sixteenth century: “Does the description of demonic assemblies and their prodigies have an objective reality or is it the result of the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs? “. From that time, a Spanish doctor and humanist, Andrés Laguna, came to the conclusion that everything the witches thought they were doing was the result of taking narcotic substances, and therefore that the Sabbath was the only product of their imagination.

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Currently, the many historical studies on the confessions of witches, however, do not allow to conclude that the witches were drug addicts. If the testimony of some witches using hallucinogenic drugs exists, the phenomenon was not generalized and cannot constitute a general explanation.

mandrake, witch plant, alsagarden (1)

Attention, all information related to traditional use, medicine and the virtues of plants is only informative. Mandrake is a poisonous plant! Its use is in no way recommended.

Sources, to find out more: -Christian Ratsch, The plants of love, Aphrodisiacs and their uses from antiquity to the present day , Lezard editions, 2000. -Edouard Brasey, The Encyclopedia of the legendary: treasures, artefacts and magic weapons , Pré aux clercs editions, 2008.

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