Friday, November 21, 2014

Of Mandrake...Revised...

Mandragora officinarum Linnaeus, mad apple, man root, Abu' l-ruh (old Arabec for, "master of the life breath"), Bayd al -jinn (modern Arabic for "testes of the devil"), love apple, little man of the gallows, witch root.

"Mandrake" by Maya Grey (copyright Peacock & Snake)

Could there be any other plant steeped in so much lore, fear, mystery and magic?  Any person interested in the occult arts and magic has heard of Mandrake. Most New Age or occult shops carry the chopped root calling it "Mandrake", however; since Mandragora officinarum is quite rare and hard to grow you are most likely purchasing a subspecies like the "Mandragora autumnalis" which is not the Mandrake of the witchcraft lore but belongs to the family.  The main way to tell the difference is that M. autumnalis blossoms in the fall, hence the name "autumnalis" and officianarum or "the official" Mandrake blossoms in the Spring around the equinox and is ruled under the auspices of the Moon. It really is no fault of the shop owners most of whom just simply do not know the difference or have been bamboozled themselves with something that is not even Mandrake, ginseng is a common substitute. Unfortunately many shop owners are not master herbalists or even practitioners and so providing official Mandrake is not high on the list. So buyer beware! It is up the the client to know what they are getting.  Many who came into my shop requested the root as they had read about it and indeed the witch lore surrounding this plant created quite the aura of mystery. One of my favorite customer stories was a young lad of around 13 or so who wished to purchase some Mandrake because he had seen it in a "Harry Potter" movie.  When I produced a packet of chopped root he looked disappointed. "Were you expecting it to speak and enchant and move about?" I asked. "Well yeah." he said. To which I replied, "to get the plants to speak you have to learn about them, you have to work with them, you have to become allies and then they might begin to whisper." He shrugged his shoulders and seemed dismayed but bought the packet anyway.

Students and customers often ask what Mandrake does and how they can use it in spells. Unfortunately, many books of "magic" often list Mandrake in their lists of ingredients yet do not give any more information other than it is "an herb of power."  I hope that this blog article will shed some light on the subject and give some of you a bit more of the history, lore and magic of this fascinating and powerful plant. So that when working certain rituals or rites you will be armed with knowledge and be able to have a more intense and powerful outcome.
Mandrake Root Chips from Ancient Road

Mandrake was known to the ancients as a plant of power, a shamanic plant steeped in lore, ritual and used both medicinally as well as magically. To the ancients both magic and medicine were often married; a cause and effect of both spirit and body.  The oldest records of Mandrake come to us in cuneiform writing from the Babylonians and of course the Bible.  In Genesis 30:14 Rachel barters with Leah for the Mandrake she found in order to cure her infertility. There is also mention of Mandrake in the "Song of Solomon." The "Song of Solomon" has long been known in Hoodoo and folk magic as a spell for summoning true love and desire and here the infamous "love apple" weaves its spell upon us in this gorgeous piece of liturgy.

"The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
and at our door is every delicacy,
both old and new,
that I have stored up for you, my beloved."
Song of Songs 7:12-13.

Interestingly it is mostly the fragrance of the Mandrake, as stated above, that is the true importance in Biblical lore. When the fruit was ripe it released an intoxicating yet dangerous smell that was perceived to be a true aphrodisiac. Alexander and Zhenia Fleisher in their search for wild Mandrakes as well as their chemical compounds describe the smell as follows: 

"The odor of mandrake is unique. It is not perceived as a smell of classic fragrant flowers like rose, lily or jasmine. There is a hint of subtle danger in it. Intoxicating and addictive, it makes a powerful impression on one's memory an evokes images of unspoiled wilderness, desert wind, excitement of danger and romantic exaltation." 

Interesingly, the "danger" may be the high concentration of sulfur in the plants chemical make up; actually Mandrake has the highest sulfur content in any fruit or berry.  While this may seem oddly scientific and strange it is important to note that sulfur is part of the holy alchemical triad of Mercury, Sulfur and Salt and as such it is linked to Saturn. Through various decay and malefica we can see that this "energy" or "current" is part of Mandrake. There is a play here even in its chemical nature between the sweet and the bitter, the passion and the poison. This truly is a plant that walks the knife's edge. A plant ally to the witch. 

The Biblical and ancient references are great sources of information for us and indeed the natural environment for Mandrake to flourish is the Mediterranean and it is most prolific in Palestine. It was traded vigorously and used ritually in many different cultures.   

But even far from the Mediterranean and Middle East we find the use of Mandrake in the Pagan lands of the North.  The Germanic Seidkonas, seeresses and oracles to their people, used Mandrake to enter into altered states. Their name for this witching root was "Alraun".  Now we enter into the territory of the entheogenic properties of this plant, that is the use of it as a mind altering substance.  I, of course, must add here that should you decide to ingest Mandrake you do so at your own risk as a high enough dose is lethal. Unless you are skilled and knowledgeable in ethno-pharmachology and chemistry I suggest not taking it internally. Later I will give some examples of how to work with Mandrake externally.  Some of its folk names reflect the danger inherent in ingestation such as "mad root" and "root of the demon". It has long been associated with witches due to its poisonus nature. The art of "Veneficum" or poisoning was known to be in the domain of witches. 

Early on it was believed that witches did indeed fly, however, in its attempt to be "scientific" as well as root out evil the "Malleus Maleficarum" states that witches cannot actually fly because then they would be able to escape punishment with ease. Later the belief morphed into the idea that perhaps witches did not actually fly but rather used hallucenogenic plants to alter their state of mind and perhaps they "rode the broom" internally. That is to say instead of slathering themselves with the ointment they slathered the brooms and used them in psychopharmical-sexual rites to attend the Sabbat. There is evidence that such sexual altered states of consciousness were gained by the use of sexual tools such as carved penis wands and staffs which can be found in the "Museum of Witchcraft" in Cornwall, England, but was a flying ointment used on such tools and did it included Mandrake? It is difficult to say really considering the secretive nature of witchcraft and the lack of written evidence. According to Sarah Penicka in her article "Caveat Anoynter!: A Study of Flying Ointments and their Plants" she states that in records of witch trials from the 16th and 17th centuries testimony can be found of actual flying ointment recipes. However, none of these include Mandrake, although they sometimes include deadly nightshade, hemlock and aconite. Reginald Scot in "The Discoverie Of Witchcraft" written in 1584 lists a recipe that has long been a traditional reference for such an unguent.

"[take]... the fat of yoong children, and seeth it with water in a
brasen vessell, reserving the thickest of that which remaineth boiled
in the bottome, which they laie up and keep, untill occasion serveth
to use it. They put hereunto eleoselinum, aconitum, frondes
populeas, and soote."

As we can see there is made no mention of Mandrake in this supposed "traditional" recipe. However, as we have seen before there is much in witchcraft that is un-known to outsiders and still remains secret.

  The Medieval alchemists and Cunning men wrote down recipes for making Mandrake Philtres as esteemed aphrodisiacs. "The root was prepared by rotting in water for two complete lunar cycles, until it transformed into a malodorous green pulp; it was then used in this form, or in a gruel, or added to a brew with sundry ingredients." Schulke, Ars Philtron pg. 189. Many of the recipes were passed orally as well and are still handed down within Traditional Witchcraft societies.

However, in terms of taking Mandrake internally the most common way was to steep it and make Mandrake wine or beer.  Dale Pendell writes about his friend Daniel's experience of drinking Mandrake wine, it was "very stimulating: (Daniel was). gregarious and talkative. That was the first phase, the first glass, where everything was safe. With the second glass the plant took more control. Daniel remembers loss of short-term-memory-not being able to remember what one had just said. And a glimpse at how the brew could be used as a love potion in a manipulative way, "All those good physical feelings and a person not really knowing what they were doing." There was a third phase, the third glass. Daniel said he saw a pit full of insane people who called to him and told him to come in. He declined the third glass." Pendell  pg. 260.
Skull & Pentacle talisman in private collection

Seething cult of the Witch Apple. Orgy. 
Lust of the deep. Love Apple. Forbidden Fruit. 
Serpent writhing on the wings of Kundalini deep from the core of Earth.
 Dangerous poison. Sex and Death.

Best perhaps to stay safe with that first glass. Perhaps we should stop? Leave it at that. Back to the comforts of book and bed and things we know. A glass of chardonnay instead and missionary sex? Or perhaps you are here because the dangerous poison path intrigues you? Yes? Very well.  Then we shall continue but let us walk carefully, with open ears and open hearts and with respect for power. Respect for sex and the power of sex and the things witches know that sends terror into the hearts of the unwise.
Whole Mandrake officinarum root in tincture at Ancient Road. A gift from a student who grew it herself!

It was said that semen from Adam's erotic thoughts of an absent Eve caused Mandrake to grow where it fell to the ground. Though this lore we have the link of semen to the plant and this lore was known in ancient antiquity as well. The lore of the "Gallows Root" or "Little Gallows Man", which was another of its names and which was known in Greek times, brings us face to face with a harrowing Goddess as well as a desirable one.  It is well documented in antiquity as well as in our modern times that when suffocating to death a man will become erect and ejaculate. This phenomena has a modern term, "auto-erotic asphyxiation", but in the case of an actual hanging the reaction is clearly not so "auto"! Both erections and the dripping of semen were observed from hanged men at crossroads through the centuries and this phenomena found its way into the lore. Mandrake found its way here too at the crossroads, ruled by dark Goddesses and the Spirits of the dead, in the frenzy of orgasmic death. Frazer writes of this in the "Golden Bough":

"The human shape of the mandrake root has probably helped to foster, if it did not originate, the weird notion that the plant springs from the drippings of a man hanged on a gallows. Hence in Germany the plant bears the popular name of the Little Gallows Man. It is, or used to be, believed in that country that when a hereditary thief, born of a family of thieves, or one whose mother stole while he was in her womb, is hanged on a gallows, and his seed or urine falls on the ground, the mandrake, or Little Gallows Man sprouts on the spot.  Others, however, say that the human progenitor of the plant must be, not a thief, but an innocent and chaste youth who has been forced by torture to falsely to declare himself a thief and has consequently ended his days on a gallows. Be that as it may, the one thing about which all are agreed is that the Little Gallows Man grows under the gallows tree from the bodily droppings of a hanged man."  Frazer, pg. 7.

So we are back at it, sex and death and death and sex. We have traversed into a realm known to witches and those who understand the pathways of the dead. We stand at the crossroads. Here Mandrake grows with the offering from the last sex of a dying man and potent with power under the light of the moon which/witch rules it. But its root is hidden and only its dark green leaves and tiny white flowers are visible and so let us begin with its heavenly abode and then traverse down its root into the chthonic realms.

Asherot, Astarte, Ishtar, Aphrodite. The pathway of a Goddess of sex and love and power and accompanying the Goddess on her journey through the desert to the seas of the Mediterranean was Mandrake and it is ruled by Aphrodite. One of her names was "Mandragoritis" or "She of the Mandragora" and it was offered to her and prayed over in her name in love rites. It only makes sense that the entheogenic properties of lust would be attributed to her and for the Ancient Greeks things had to make sense. Theophrastus writes in his "History of Plants" a ritual for harvesting Mandrake; "Make three circles around the Mandrake with a sword and cut it while facing West. The second cut shall be made while one is dancing around the plant and speaking as much as possible about the mysteries of love." 
Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Knidos, c. 330 B.C.

But with sex comes death and another Goddess steps forth to speak.   Hecate.  If the love apples and flowers and leaves were the realm of Aphrodite, then the potent and bitter hidden root reaching into the chthonic realms was Hecate's. This was also known to the Greeks and it was written in the saga of the Argonauts of Hecate's garden that "many Mandrakes grow within", Orph, Argonaut, 922f. ". "Hecate sends to humans the dampening sleep and heavy dreams and causes epilepsy and madness, in other words she is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness  It almost appears as though the dark goddess would reveal herself only thought the effects of the Mandrake juice. As Democritus the "laughing philosopher" described in his lost work Cheirokemta, one could invoke the goddess with mandrake." Ratsch, pg. 350.
 3rd century CE statue of Hecate (Antalya Museum, Turkey)

Witch Queen indeed. On one end Eros and on the other Thanatos and the mysteries in between where the witch stands. Mandrake above and below. Of leaf and root of sex and death and at the balance point between the leaf and root, between the light and dark...well, that is where you find the witch. 

And where would the witch be without her incense, her amulets, her potions? Mandrake is safer burned in incense. Its mind altering effects are lessened of course, and it still affects consciousness but has not been known to cause death.  When burned it rather smells like burnt bitter leaves so it must be used in a small quantity and with other sweet smelling herbs and resins to make it palatable.  Mandrake incense was burned during the Renaissance and was considered to be influenced by the moon and to only be harvested under a full moon. Since the harvesting of Mandrake was death to the plant itself, its harvest was ritualized and done in specific ways and many times an offering of milk, honey, wine and eggs were placed in the hole from where it came. Probably the most notable Mandrake ritual written down in the 1st century by Flavius Josephus, was that of the dog who was tied to the root and beckoned from a distance by it's master with a piece of food. The dog overcome with hunger and none the wiser bolts for the food, pulls out the root, and dies from the root's own death scream.  There are other sources for spring loaded traps to pull out the Root with the harvester out of range of the sight or sound of the Mandrake. But why? Why go to these lengths to remove the root in such a way?  The older sources speak of dancing under the moon and performing ritualized or actual sex acts while harvesting it.  But the dog too whispers to us of an older lore. A lore circling back to Hecate and her hell hounds. Perhaps the dog is the familiar of the witch? Magical knowledge "hidden" in plain sight for those with eyes to see. These participants certainly did not die from the Mandrake scream but the lore surrounding the gathering of the root is strong indeed.  The Mandrake traps seem to be a convention of a more Christian time when the root began to become more demonized.  It was long sought as an amulet or charm and herb dealers and apothecary owners went to great lengths to procure it or counterfeit it (ginseng root comes to mind).  What ever the reason for these elaborate traps it is clear that Mandrake must be harvested under a full moon, preferably in the Spring or near the Spring equinox to obtain it at full potency. It seems to like to feed upon the fluids of the sex act whether they be the drops of semen of the hanged man or the fluids of the young girls climaxing on top of the root in the Romanian Mandrake cults. 
Man and dog about to harvest Mandrake, 

This method (the sexual fluid method) has survived into modern times. Several years ago I attended a lecture at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle, Washington.  There a well known author on Witchcraft and the Occult, Daniel Schulke, was giving a lecture on the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft and some of the Mandrake fetishes housed there, that is carved mandrakes made to look like little men and women.  This has been well documented around the world and many museums and private collectors have the little Mandrake figures. Our word manikin, comes from Mandrake by the way. But what was interesting with the Mandrake figures from Boscastle was that each and every one of them had thick dried coatings (years and years worth) of some substance on them.  When tested in a lab it was revealed that these coatings were dried semen and blood (most likely menstrual blood). There is no telling how old they actually are but they are in the museum today.  They had been passed down in hereditary Witchcraft families and entered into the possession of the museum between the 1930's and 50's. Mandrake cults indeed! And we are back to the sacred fluids of sex and as we pick up tidbits from history here and there we are able to piece together a magical rite. One of a root steeped in lore and ritual, related to the moon, both touched above and below by Goddesses of sex and death and magic and of the mysteries of life and death. That covers it in a plant of power don't you think?

Witch lore from the Grimoire "Viridarium Umbris" weaves around the the Mandrake and its harvest with ritual sex and the use of bone knives or even the bone of a human arm to harvest the plant at midnight under favorable auspices and lacking ill omens.  The greatest power of the Mandrake resides in its manikins and it is said that those who possess a properly harvested and ritualized Mandrake manikin will never be without money, in fact fortune showers upon them. These witches of old knew the power of the manikin and even dug up the root and bound it with thread to have it grow in a desired shape and re-buried it only to come back and truly harvest the bound root. The manikins in the witchcraft museum would certainly seem to give credence to some of this lore. 
Mandrake image from Ancient Road
"Witching Herbs" Class

In general terms I see Mandrake as a gate between the worlds, a ladder that traverses up and down, dangerous to be sure but as one of my teachers used to say, "anything worthwhile is".  A gate to sex and death and those great mysteries and as an offering to both Aphrodite and Hecate.  The witch is able to walk in all of these worlds and to explore the mysteries therein. The power of understanding leads to power on the path of life. If you can grow or be gifted a whole fresh Mandrake root you can explore these avenues in your own magical operations. One of my Mandragora officinarum roots was grown for me by a student of mine while I lived in New Mexico.  It is a beautiful thing and I am lucky to have it. To preserve this particular root I tinctured it in alcohol and I use it as a meditation foci.  It is a powerful plant to be sure and is used by magicians and witches all over the world and in varying traditions. And while the workings of such magicians may differ in flavor the power of sex and death is seen in the basic elements. In fact Hoodoo Rootwork or Conjure has drawn lore from many traditions and European Witchcraft is no exception and neither is the Mandrake Root. 

In Hoodoo it is considered a love root and used in doll babies for love work, which is interesting because of the old European lore of the Mandrake manikin. However, in Hoodoo you would sew a doll baby and fill it with Mandrake chips or chunks of the root. The M. autumalis root would be more commonly used as it grows here in the US.  Here is a Hoodoo spell for love which is based off of the old European Mandrake lore.

Hoodoo Mandrake Love Spell
  • Sew a red doll baby (voodoo doll)
  • Fill with Mandrake root chips or sticks.
  • Add some hair or other personal concern of the person you wish to love you.
  • Add some properly "paid for" graveyard dirt into the doll baby.
  • Sew up doll baby.
  • Breathe life into the doll baby and "Name" it for the person you wish to love you.
  • Bring yourself to climax and "feed" the fluid to the doll baby while telling the doll baby what you desire.
  • Each Friday climax and "feed" the doll baby while speaking to it as if it were your lover to be.
  • Do this for 7 Fridays (7 weeks) in a row or until your beloved comes to you.

Knowing what you do about the lore and magic of the Mandrake you can now see where some of these elements come into this common little Hoodoo spell. It all has to make sense. It all has to come together. There is nothing whilly nilly in magic. It is not unverified personal gnosis. There is a reason for everything done in magic. It is old. It is in our bones and our memories. It is part of who we are. 

So gentle readers walk the path of power wisely and with conviction, with your will, with your desire and with belief. And of course walk in silence as the Spirits share secrets with only a select few.....

Miss Maya


The Bible, King James Version

Frazer, J. (1993) The Golden Bough. Wordsworth Editions Ltd.

Pendell, D. (2005). Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path. North Atlantic Books.

 Penicka, S. (2008)  "Caveat Anoynter!: A Study of Flying Ointments and their Plants".

Ratsch, C. (2005 US Edition) The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Park Street Press.

Schulke, D. (2001, 2008). Ars Philtron: Concerning the Aqueous Cunning of the Potion and its Praxis in the Green Art Magical. Xoanon Publishing.

Schulke, D. (2005). Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow. Xoanon Publishing.

Schulke, D. Editor (2010). The Occult Reliquary. Three Hands Press.

Scot, R. (1584). "The Discoverie Of Witchcraft". Dover Occult.

Yronwode, C. (2002). Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic. Lucky Mojo Curio Company.

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