Thursday, May 22, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Harry Potter Series

"Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan"
- Shakespeare, King Henry IV

The squirming, squalling mandrakes that Harry and his classmates must replant during an Herbology lesson in The Chamber of Secrets have a long and sinister history in folklore...

Because the gnarled roots of the plant somewhat resemble the human form, Medieval Europeans theorized that the mandrake was God's first attempt to create Man. These roots were considered to be imbued with consciousness and evil intent, capable of whispering the darkest secrets into witches' ears. Only a witch would know the proper means to uproot a mandrake without loosing its deadly scream, hence anyone in possession of one could be accused of practicing witchcraft, in fact; Joan of Arc was charged with owning one before she was burned at the stake. Even today, mandrake roots are actually used in some sympathetic magical rituals, not unlike the strange ritual Ofelia of Pan's Labyrinth performs to save her unborn brother, hiding a mandrake root in a bowl of milk beneath her mother's bed.

The mandrake became inextricably intertwined with the idea of forbidden knowledge and hidden powers. One tale had it that Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden for eating mandrakes; an Indian story told of two elephants expelled from the gardens of paradise for eating them.

The mandrake, being part of the nightshade family, has narcotic properties that made it famous as a powerful sleeping draught (Shakespeare mentioned it as such many times), but it was also reputed to be an aphrodisiac and aid to fertility. In the Bible, Leah conceived the last of her children by Jacob only after bartering for some mandrakes. Later, however, the plant's sinister reputation overshadowed any of its supposed benefits, and to this day its name remains synonymous with death, poison, and dark magic ... as D.H. Lawrence called it, "the weed of ill-omen".


- In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food by Stewart Lee Allen
- Wikipedia entry on mandrakes


tweetey30 said...

Wow. Never thought of this stuff. Interesting thoughts when put this way.

The Zombieslayer said...

After reading this, I had to Google images for a Mandrake root and sure enough, we had our Pan's Labyrinth pictures on the first page as well as ones that looked like people.