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 request 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 )
Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystic Mandrake. 1934. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1968.
Mandragora ★★ 1997
Marek (Caslavka) is a 16-year-old small town boy who takes off for the bright lights of post-Communist Prague. He's soon selling his body on the streets and makes friends with fellow hustler, David (Svec), but the duo sink into the usual morass of drugs and self-destruction. Czech with subtitles. 133m/C VHS, DVD . CZ Miroslav Caslavka, David Svec, Miroslav Breu, Pavel Skripaz; D: Wiktor Grodecki; W: Wiktor Grodecki, David Svec; C: Vladimir Holomek; M: Wolfgang Hammerschmid.