Mandragoras 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; and it would seem as if this conception had sprung directly from that of the fetish, which is nothing else than a dwelling-place made by a shaman or medicine-man for the reception of any wandering spirit who chooses to take up his abode therein.
The 16th century Spanish writer Martin Delrio states that one fine day a mandragora (mandrake), entering at the request of a sorcerer, who was being tried before a court for wizardry, was caught by the arms by the judge, who did not believe in the existence of the evil spirit, to convince himself of its existence, and thrown into the fire, where of course it would escape completely unharmed.
The author of the work entitled Petit Albert says that on one occasion, whilst travelling 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 mandragora, seated upon a tripod and having the left hand extended and holding a hank of silk very delicately fashioned, from which was suspended a small piece of iron highly polished. 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 in such a manner as she wished, saying at the same time to the figure: "I command you, Mandragora, 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, as the author shows, the whole was an artifice of the old woman, 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, the virtue of which drew the iron towards the glass.
In popular culture
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- The four episode Doctor Who serial The Masque of Mandragora by Louis Marks, broadcast in September 1976, features a living energy creature called the Mandragora Helix, a fragment of which hitches a lift to earth in the TARDIS and possesses and absorbs an Italian court astrologer towards the eventual aim of galactic domination.
- Mandragoras appear as monsters in many video games, particularly in RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series.
- In Shakespeare in Love, Will Shakespeare (frustrated by writer's block) orders a Mandragora in the pub.
- Mandragoras, in Lewis Spence: An Encyclopaedia of Occultism p. 266. 1920.