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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

mandrake (also, mandragore or mandragora) A plant, Mandragora officinarum, related to the potato. The root is a tuber, and it often grows in the shape of a human body. The more it resembles a body, the more valuable the root is believed to be for magical purposes. Mandrake is sold whole in oriental pharmacies and in powdered form and pills as well. The German mystics keep foot-high figures of old sorceresses, richly dressed and comfortably housed, some of which are mandrake roots in drag. In Norway the figures are consulted for advice. Really.
      A certain problem exists with harvesting the root. When the plant is drawn from the ground, it is supposed to emit a horrendous humanlike shriek that will drive a human insane. A solution is arrived at by tying the plant to a dog's tail and encouraging the dog to pull it up. By that means the prize is obtained, since dogs are luckily immune to the dreadful sound.
      It is mentioned in the Bible, Genesis 30:14, as a substance that assured fecundity. This account involves trading some mandrake roots for a night with another's wife, or some such deal. In any case, the assignation reportedly produced a male child, even though the mandrake roots were not consumed. Truly magical.



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