Mandragoras
Familiar demons who appear in the figures of little men
without beards. The name is also applied to the plant popularly
known as mandrake, whose roots resemble human forms and
were believed to be inhabited by demons.
The sixteenth-century witchcraft scholar Martin Del Rio
stated that one day a mandragora, entering a court at the reEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Mandragoras
973
quest of a sorcerer who was being tried for wizardry, was caught
by a judge (who did not believe in the existence of the spirit),
and thrown into the fire, from which it escaped unharmed.
Mandragoras were thought to be little dolls or figures given
to sorcerers by the devil for the purpose of consultation and it
would seem as if this conception sprung directly from that of
the fetish, which is really a dwelling-place made by a shaman,
or medicine man, to receive any wandering spirit who chooses
it.
The anonymous author of the popular magic manual Secrets
merveilleux de la magie et cabalistique de Petit Albert (1772) stated
that once, while traveling in Flanders and passing through the
town of Lille, he was invited by one of his friends to accompany
him to the house of an old woman who posed as being a great
prophetess. This aged person conducted the two friends into
a dark cabinet lit only by a single lamp, where they could see
upon a table covered with a cloth a kind of little statue, or mandragoras,
seated upon a tripod, its left hand extended and holding
a hank of silk very delicately fashioned, from which was suspended
a small piece of highly polished iron.
Placing under this a crystal glass, so that the piece of iron
was suspended inside the goblet, the old woman commanded
the figure to strike the iron against the glass ‘‘I command you,
Mandragoras, in the name of those to whom you are bound to
give obedience, to know if the gentleman present will be happy
in the journey which he is about to make. If so, strike three
times with the iron upon the goblet.’’
The iron struck three times as demanded without the old
woman having touched any of the apparatus, much to the surprise
of the two spectators. The sorceress put several other
questions to the mandragora, who struck the glass once or thrice
as seemed good to him. But the author claimed that this procedure
was an artifice, for the piece of iron suspended in the goblet
was extremely light and when the old woman wished it to
strike against the glass, she held in one of her hands a ring set
with a large piece of magnetic stone, which drew the iron toward
the glass. This sounds very much like the folklore practice
of putting a ring on a thread and holding it so that it dangles
inside a glass and responds to questions put to it (see pendulums).
The ancients attributed great virtues to the plant mandragoras,
or mandrake, the root of which was often uncannily like a
human form, and when plucked from the earth was believed to
emit a species of human cry. It was also worn to ward off various
diseases.
Because of the supposed danger from the resident demon
when plucking the plant, an elaborate procedure was prescribed.
The mandrake-gatherer was supposed to starve a dog
of food for several days, then tie him with a strong cord to the
lower part of the plant. The dog was then thrown pieces of
meat, and when he leapt forward to seize them, he pulled up
the mandrake. Other folklore beliefs included the need for an
elaborate prayer ritual before pulling the plant, which should
only be gathered at dead of night. (See also alrunes; exorcism;
ginseng)
Sources
Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystic Mandrake. 1934. Reprint, New
Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1968.