Mandrake

I am filled with the seed
Of thy noble spirit,
A glowing spark
That is embedded
Deep in Matter;
For thou hast set
The soul in the world,
And hast, O my ruler,
Through this soul,
Set my spirit in my body.
Kindl therefore, O my Lord,
Lights that will lead me on high,
Let the brightness shine forth
And blaze as a fire.
Magnify the tiny spark
Within the crown
Of my head.

– Synesius

Names

* Dudai’m – hebr., ‘love apples’
* Baaras – hebr., ‘the burning’, ‘the fire’
* Sirag-el-Kotrub – arab., ‘devil’s lamp’
* Abdul selam – arab., ‘servant of health’
* Bayd al-jin – new-arab., ‘balls (testicles) of the demon’
* Tufah al-jinn’ – new-arab., ‘root of the demon’
* Tufhac el shaitn – arab., ‘devil’s apple’
* Luffah Manganin – arab., ‘romp-apple’
* Sag-kan – persian, ‘dog-dug’
* Mardum-giâ – persian, ‘man-plant’
* Namtar Ira – assyr., ‘the plant of the god of plagues’
* Siradsch Elkuthrub – andalusian, ‘the root of the demon Elscherif’
* Satan’s apple
* Anthropomorphos – greek, ‘man-like’
* Mandragora – greek, related to Mandragoritis (also a name of Aphrodite and Hekate)
* Circaeon – greco-roman, ‘herb of Circe’
* Herb of Prometheus
* Aglaophotis – greek, ‘bright light’
* Lunaria – latin, ‘moon-plant’
* Mala canina – roman, ‘dog’s apple’
* Mala terrestria – roman, ‘earth apple’
* Morion – roman, ‘root of folly’
* Pevenka trava – russ., ‘the herb that screams’
* Thjofarót – islandic, ‘thief’s root’
* Alraune, Alruna – germanic, ‘who brings all secrets’
* Folterknechtwurzel – german, ‘torturer’s root’
* Galgenmännlein – german, ‘gallows man’
* Erdmann – german, ‘earth-manikin’
* Zauberwurzel – german, ‘magic root’
* Königin der Zäuberkräuter – german, ‘queen of witch herbs’
* Drachenpuppe – german, ‘dragon puppet’
* Mandrake – english, a ‘man-dragon’ (possibly a corruption of the Latin mandragora)
* Maindeglorie – french, ‘Hand of Glory’ (16th century, originally a piece of mandrake root)

History, Legend and Folklore

Duda’im

First accounts of Mandragora date back to ancient Mesopotamia 2000 b.c. where the plant was used as an aphrodisiac. Egyptians seem to have known the plant as well. Concrete hints at the plant’s use as a sexual stimulant can be found in arabian speech, where it is called tufhac el shaitn , ‘devil’s apple’, and bayd al-jin, ‘balls (testicles) of the demon’.

In the Old Testament is mentioned the plant dudai, pl. duda’im, ‘love apples’, which are commonly considered to be mandrakes. In Genesis 30:14-16, Reuben gathers mandrakes in the field and brings them to his mother Leah, as a medicine against her barrenness. Leah is then approached by Rachel, who offers Leah intercourse with her own man, Jacob, in exchange for mandrakes. In the Song of Solomon 7:13, the mandrakes are too connected to love and gifts of appreciation, with emphasize being placed on their fragrance.

Duda’im are to be found on the mountains Hermon, Carmel and Gilboa, and are considered to be identical with the Alraune (see below) and the ‘golden root’ or ‘golden plant’, in Hebrew tongue called Baaras, ‘the burning’.

Baaras

“The Baaras was known to the Arabs as the golden plant. The plant grew on Mount Libanus. The Baaras flowers in the month of May after the snow melts. During daytime it is invisible, but at night it can be seen by torchlight. It was of great assistance to alchemists in the transmutation of metals.” “A marvelous plant known to the Arabs as the “Golden Plant,” which is supposed to grow on Mount Libanus, underneath the road that leads to Damascus.”

Flavius Josephus describes the root and place called baaras or baarut in The Jewish Wars, Book VII:

“3. Now within this place there grew a sort of rue (10) that deserves our wonder on account of its largeness, for it was no way inferior to any fig tree whatsoever, either in height or in thickness; and the report is, that it had lasted ever since the times of Herod, and would probably have lasted much longer, had it not been cut down by those Jews who took possession of the place afterward. But still in that valley which encompasses the city on the north side there is a certain place called Baaras, which produces a root of the same name with itself (11) its color is like to that of flame, and towards the evenings it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do it, but recedes from their hands, nor will yield itself to be taken quietly, until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; nay, even then it is certain death to those that touch it, unless any one take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away. It may also be taken another way, without danger, which is this: they dig a trench quite round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small, they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need any one be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet, after all this pains in getting, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that if it be only brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them.”

Since it is believed to be glowing at night, the plant is also called Sirag-el-Kotrub, ‘devil’s lamp’ in Arabian.

Josephus goes on, “Here are also fountains of hot water, that flow out of this place, which have a very different taste one from the other; for some of them are bitter, and others of them are plainly sweet. Here are also many eruptions of cold waters, and this not only in the places that lie lower, and have their fountains near one another, but, what is still more wonderful, here is to be seen a certain cave hard by, whose cavity is not deep, but it is covered over by a rock that is prominent; above this rock there stand up two [hills or] breasts, as it were, but a little distant one from another, the one of which sends out a fountain that is very cold, and the other sends out one that is very hot; which waters, when they are mingled together, compose a most pleasant bath; they are medicinal indeed for other maladies, but especially good for strengthening the nerves. This place has in it also mines of sulfur and alum.”

(see Hot Baths of Baaru)

In another account by Josephus, the root Baara is used as an agent in expelling demons through the nostrils of a possessed. “He had concealed beneath his ring one of those roots that Solomon had once pointed out, and held the ring that contained this root to the nose of a man who was possessed. He let him smell the root and then drew out the evil spirit through the afflicted one’s nostrils.”

The Arab herbalist Ibn Beithor too wrote of the mandragora as The Devil’s Candle, and notes as well that the King Solomon wore a portion of Mandrake in his ring, which gave him ‘power over the djinn’. According to Beithor also Alexander the Great relied on Mandragora as a healing herb, which is reflected in the arabian name Abdul Selam, ‘servant of health’.

Anthropomorphos

The word mandragora is discussed to have been imported into Greec language from Carian culture, and is possibly derived from the Persian mardum-giâ, meaning ‘ man-plant’. Greecs thus termed it also Anthropomorphos, ‘man-like’. This feature became a characteristic of the mandragora throughout history, was adapted by early Christians and botanists of many cultures, and was popularized in medieval times, where owners carved roots into man-like shape and dressed them up like dolls. Adopted from oriental traditions were also the modes of use and ritual harvest, however, to treat roots as living manikins might originally have been a particular North-European custom. (see Alraun)

Others argue that mandragora and the Sanskrit mandaraka, which is the name of a plant in the solanaceae family, might have the same etymological root. (Amongst common folks and herb traders such criss-crossing of names might very well have been possible.)

Mandragoritis

The Mandragora grew in the gardens of Almighty Hekate; Hekate – Guardian, Protector, Tourchbearer, Pathopener, Enchantress, Serpent-girded, Safran-Robed, Lady of Beasts, Goddess of Heaven and the Sea, Mistress of the Underworld, The Wolfen One, Black Mother of Demons, Commander of the darkest souls of the dead. Hekate, omnipotent and threefold one, far aloof yet always near. Her powers dwell within this plant, from which She, in syncretism with Goddess of Love Aphrodite, derived one of Her countless names as Mandragoritis.

Enchanting, soothing, somniferous, but also poisonous and madness inducing, with the power to both give and take life – the qualities of mandrake are as omnipotent as those of the Helenic Goddess, who was mother to the great sorceresses Medea and Circe. Medea allegedly used Mandrake as one ingredient in the brew, that rejuvenated Aeson, father of Jason (see Ovid’s Metamorphoses, VII) and in the charm, that protected Jason. (See quotes from Argonautica below.) The enchantress Circe in turn is told to have used so-called circaeon as an aphrodisiac in love charms, but also as the madness inducing drug by which Odysseus’ followers were turned into swine. Yet it might be the flower of the same herb that saved Odysseus. (see Homer’s Odyssee and discussion on Moly)

As stated above, the Mandrake, or Aglaophotis, was said to emitt light in the night, like Phosphoros Hekate Lucifera guides with flaming torches through the dark. Only at night the mandrake can be found and harvested in a rite, where the practitioner needs to face westwards (where the demons of the underworld dwell) and encircle the root thrice with a sword. The black dog demanded to be sacrificed therein can in this context also be understood as a sacrifice to Chthonian Hekate/Lykania, assuring the survival of its harvester by Her blessings. In regards with demons the plant, also called Lunaria, had the power to both drive insane and cure lunacy respective the divine disease (epilepsy), which was under the influence of Hekate-Selene.

Charm of Prometheus

Mandrake is also said to have grown from the fluid that dropped from the liver of Prometheus when it was torn out and carried away by the eagle (Appolonius, Argonautica). Appolonius writes of the witch Medea, about to embark to the shrine of Hecate in order to cast a spell by aid of the root named Charm of Prometheus: “and Medea meanwhile took from the hollow casket a charm which men say is called the charm of Prometheus. If a man should anoint his body therewithal, having first appeased the Maiden, the only-begotten, with sacrifice by night, surely that man could not be wounded by the stroke of bronze nor would he flinch from blazing fire; but for that day he would prove superior both in prowess and in might. It shot up first- born when the ravening eagle on the rugged flanks of Caucasus let drip to the earth the blood-like ichor of tortured Prometheus. And its flower appeared a cubit above ground in colour like the Corycian crocus, rising on twin stalks; but in the earth the root was like newly-cut flesh. The dark juice of it, like the sap of a mountain-oak, she had gathered in a Caspian shell to make the charm withal, when she had first bathed in seven ever-flowing streams, and had called seven times on Brimo, nurse of youth, night-wandering Brimo, of the underworld, queen among the dead, — in the gloom of night, clad in dusky garments. And beneath, the dark earth shook and bellowed when the Titanian root was cut; and the son of Iapetus himself groaned, his soul distraught with pain. And she brought the charm forth and placed it in the fragrant band which engirdled her, just beneath her bosom, divinely fair. ”

(Note also here the groaning, otherwise reported as shrieking, sound the root is said to utter upon plucking)

Medeae is then approached by Jason, to whom she forwards the Charm and gives instructions: “Take heed now, that I may devise help for thee. When at thy coming my father has given thee the deadly teeth from the dragon’s jaws for sowing, then watch for the time when the night is parted in twain, then bathe in the stream of the tireless river, and alone, apart from others, clad in dusky raiment, dig a rounded pit; and therein slay a ewe, and sacrifice it whole, heaping high the pyre on the very edge of the pit. And propitiate only-begotten Hecate, daughter of Perses, pouring from a goblet the hive-stored labour of bees. And then, when thou hast heedfully sought the grace of the goddess, retreat from the pyre; and let neither the sound of feet drive thee to turn back, nor the baying of hounds, lest haply thou shouldst maim all the rites and thyself fail to return duly to thy comrades. And at dawn steep this charm in water, strip, and anoint thy body therewith as with oil; and in it there will be boundless prowess and mighty strength, and thou wilt deem thyself a match not for men but for the immortal gods. And besides, let thy spear and shield and sword be sprinkled. Thereupon the spear-heads of the earthborn men shall not pierce thee, nor the flame of the deadly bulls as it rushes forth resistless. But such thou shalt be not for long, but for that one day; still never flinch from the contest.”

Jason does as Medea told him and, protected by the herbal charm and by the blessings of Hecate, he bcomes strong as Ares and succeeds in the task of succumbing and joking two fire-breathing bulls unto a plough and having them plow the field. The Herb of Prometheus did thus save Jason’s live in various ways, it made him super-strong and protected him against fire (the fire-breath of the bulls he was combating), so in a way resitant to pain. On the other hand he seems to possess an increased level of awareness, considering his strategic and focused proceeding in the subduing of those two bulls.

The story goes on telling, how he sows the gathered dragon teeths into the field and from them rises an entire army of warriors. By means of yet another trick Jason succeeds at overthrowing this army and thus solves the impossible task given to him by King Aetes in promise of the Golden Fleece.. The witch Medea helps Jason and the Argonauts at several more occasions, betraying her father, King Aetes, and even tricking and sacrificing her own brother, who is killed by Jason.

Moly

Cyllenian Mercury had given him a white flower,
Moly the gods name it, and black is the root that holds it.

– Ovid, Metamorphosis XIV

Moly was considered a plant capable of nothing less but healing the soul, and was believed to be an all-heal and antidote against all poisons. Moly cured all illness, averted even death, and helped the initiate to reach adepthood.

According to an unknown writer responsible for Theophrastus’ Botany, Moly grew at Mount Cyllene, a cult-place of Hermes. Various herbs have been attributed to be the true moly, amongst them are Rue, Garlic, certain types of onion and even Black Hellebore. Moly might very well have been a general and mythical term for an(y) antidote, rather than signifying a single specific plant. In this context Rahner connects Moly also to the “soul-healing plant” of Christianity. Moly is the herb given to Odysseus at his encounter with Circe, the sorceress and poisoner, priestess to demons, who with the help of mandragora (circaeon) turns Odysseus’ followers into wolfs and swine. How could moly be the same plant as mandragora? Yet Homer writes of moly, whose roots are black and flowers milk-white. A hint at mandragora’s ambiguous nature?

Plutarch tells of a sacrifice to Ahriman: “The Persians, calling on Hades and the dark, pound a certain herb in a mortar; the herb is called omomi. They mix it with the blood of a slaughtered wolf and and the mixture is then thrown away in a place upon which the sun does not shine.”

The so-called omomi is suggested to be a mistranslation, and to in truth mean Moly, the Persian hôm. In another account by Ptolemaeus Hephaestion, moly grew at Circe’s island from the blood of a slain giant.

According to Neo-Platonists Moly stood for Paideia, the process of complete education of man, and the strive for (heavenly) ascension. In this context demons occur as the hindering forces of darkness that hold man fettered in the darkness and chaos of matter. However, there is no heaven without hell, no light without a senseable darkness, and – to use the moly allegory – the root of the white flower is black. The plant keeps its largest part under the earth.

In further accounts of Moly by Eusthatius, the description of the herb is more narrowed down and bears some striking similarities with the lore surrounding the Mandragora, yet uplifted to higher philosophical and spiritual level, when he writes about the deathly dangers involved when digging for the moly’s root. In his version of the Odyssey the giant, called Picolous, lusts for Circe and threatens to abduct her from her island, upon which he is killed by the sun-god Helios. From the giant’s black blood rises the moly’s black root, named after the labour of battle. It thus demands hard labour and the help of god to harvest this root. Similar, the gnostic Simon refers to the hermetic herb moly in his reinterpretation of Homer’s Odyssee. connecting it with the biblical Exodus.

Alchemists lastly equate the mercurian wisdom herb Moly with the Philosopher’s Stone, and in Viridarium chymicum it grows inside of ambiguous wisdom god Hermes’ garden, similar to how Greeks previously placed it in the garden of Hekate.

Spongia Somnifera

Back to more practical applications of mandragora. In the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino was found a ninth century account of anaesthetic use of Mandrake as part of so-called Spongia somnifera: The sponge was “steeped in a mixture of plant juices, including those of the opium poppy, henbane and mandragora, and dried. When the sponge was moistened, the vapour it produced was ready to be inhaled by the patient.” It should be noted that first accounts of opium-soaked spongia somnifera are already found in ancient egypt, and it remains to be cleared if the praxis of using mandragora as a narcotic as well as an analgesic might not date back as far as that of Papaver somniferum.

Morion

Romans knew the anaesthetic as well as analgesic and, in smaller doses, also stimulant properties of the mala canina or mala terrestria; e.g. gladiators used mandrake prior to fights, possibly as a sort of painkiller. (Remember in this context also the super-powers mandragora gave to Jason in battle.) Sponges soaked with mandrake wine, called Morion, were given to crucifixion victims. Some discuss whether it was not an ablution of mandragora that helped Jesus to survive the three hours on the cross and which made him appear as if he was dead. Morion originally was yet another name for the mandragora plant, meaning ‘herb of folly’, but became synonymous also for the death drink derived thereof. A similar administration of morion was common also in the middle ages for those condemned to the gallows, which brings us to another famous and more recent legend.

Galgenmännlein

aut sperma in terram effundit…

According to the brothers Grimm, ‘when a hereditary thief who has preserved his chastity gets hung, the broad-leafed, yellow-flowered mandrake grows up, in his likeness, beneath the gallows from which he is suspended.’ To be more precise, the mandrake grows where the young male spills his last water and seed (aut sperma in terram effundit). Derived from this lore is the German name Galgenmännlein.

In German a tradition such Galgenmännlein, or Erdmann, was housed in a coffin, which in one case was covered with a cloth that had the image of a hanged thief embroidered, and passed on to the youngest son, who in turn had to follow obligation to store money and bread in his father’s grave. Such alraune manikin was believed to assure well-being, victory in court and success in all other areas of life, e.g. if a coin was placed with the root, it was said to be founded doubled the other day. The ‘alraun’ was thus to be dressed (sometimes gender-specific) and bathed on every Friday, sometimes also only on the full or new moon. (Accounts vary.) Due to such hereditary traditions very old mandrake manikins have been preserved in Germany.

Alraun

Alrauns, are thought to be little dolls or figures given to sorcerers by the Devil for the purpose of being consulted by them in time of need. Sometimes also demons immune to fire were called mandragoras. (Remember the Promethean Charm.)

Historians wonder why within German speaking territories the name Alraune is used instead of Mandragora, suggesting that earlier concepts of such plant and root were already existent in Northern Europe. Alraune may derive from alruna, ala, meaning ‘to beget’, ‘to bear’, and runa, meaning ‘secret’ or ‘advice’. Originally an Alraune might have been any talisman carved into human likeness and possibly inscribed with a spell. Not unlike the accounts relating to the witches Medea and Circe, existed amongst the Goths wise women experienced in the use of herbal charms, who were called Aliruna. (See Talley, and German sources by brothers Grimm.) It is suggested the Alraune was named after these women, who a.o. could also divine the future. Grimm and Grimm write later how the alraunl themselves answered questions about the future and told their owner all he wanted to know.

Mandrake

The English name Mandrake may have been a corruption of Mandragora, perhaps transforming -dragora into drake, argued to mean ‘dragon’. Interestingly there exist early Christian depictions connecting the man-like root with the serpent or dragon, and its Titanic and demonic links have been discussed above. Whether the etymological link to the dragon is valid, we do not know for sure, but in essence we should be able to see the connection.

Mandragon

A star seed that fell into the darkness of the abyss
Into the Black Earth at the moment of death.
At the crossing where three roads meet,
Beneath the gallows it grows concealed,
A stake between heaven and earth,
It listens to the silent moon above.
A prophet’s dark fire in the deep,
A bringer of soft and deadly sleep,
A sweet soul-healing flower to reap,
A root, half man, half dragon, to keep.
Awakened and animated by wolfish blood,
Shunning all light, ever dwelling in the dark,
Sin within, cursed without, yet crowned as a god.

Sources

Old Testament, Genesis 30, 14-16 and Songs of Solomon 7,13
Falvius Josephus, The Jewish War, Book VII –> read at sacred-texts.com
The myth of the Mandrake, the ‘plant-human’ –> read article
Appolonius, Argonautica, Book III –> read at The internet Classics
Ovid, Metamorphoses, VII + XIV –> read at mythology.us
Hugo Rahner, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, Moly and Mandragora in Pagan and Christian Symbolism –> read excerpts
Morion –> naturalpedia.com/Morion.html
Alraune (Kulturgeschichte) –> read at wikipedia
Grimm’s Saga 84, Der Alraun –> read translation
Frederick J. Simoons, Plants of Life, Plants of Death, Mandrake –> read
Etymology Mandrake –> see etymonline.com
Mandrake at Webster’s Online Dictionary –> see
Christian Rätsch, Enzyklopädie der psychoaktiven Pflanzen (names)
Randall Stone, The Mandrake –> read at ezinearticles.com
Anthony Roe, The Mandrake –> read at whitedragon.org.uk
Speculations about Mandrake in the Voynich Manuscript –> abovetopsecrete.com

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