Friday, March 2, 2012

The Dead Man's Hand: Part Two

In the event that you missed previous Dead Man's Hand entries and wish to catch up:

  “Oh! 'tis a horrible sight to view,
In that horrible hovel, that horrible crew,
By the pale blue glare of that flickering flame,
Doing the deed that hath never a name!
'Tis awful to hear
Those words of fear!
The prayer mutter'd backwards, and said with a sneer!
(Matthew Hopkins himself has assured us that when
A witch says her prayers, she begins with 'Amen.') —
— Tis awful to see
On that Old Woman's knee
The dead, shrivell'd hand, as she clasps it with glee!–
- Tom Ingoldsby, The Hand of Glory.

There they stand and marvel, not believing in the precious find; one drivels of mandrake, the other of the Black Dog.
- Goethe, Faust II, Act I.

The Devil's Grandmother
Persons, when about to gather this plant, take every precaution not to have the wind blowing in their face; and, after tracing three circles round it with a sword, turn towards the west and dig it up.”
Occasionally, as I venture forth to talk about “plant spirits,” or “plant daimons” (or however you want to conceptualize an anthropomorphized plant that acts as an attendant spirit to a sorcerer, magician, witch, or what-have-you) someone will casually ask the dreaded question:
Well, spirits have rulers, right? What rules (such and such plant)?”

This is vexing if I have never researched a species of plant and it's mythological associations, or ingested plant-matter and attempted to directly “talk” to a spirit of the plant. In the case of Mandrake, however, I have asked a spirit of Mandragora Officinarum who it's ruler is. The answer was repeated, on all occasions, like a mantra or something: “Hecate. Hecate. Hecate.”

For years I've only ventured so far as to say, “it's my Unverified Pagan Gnosis, but I have been informed in my dealings that...” And so on. But the answer isn't as shocking as one might expect.

In his thesis, The Root of All Evil, Michael Kobs quotes Simoons Plants of Life, Plants of Death (1998) regarding the association of the Gallows and Crossroads with mandrake and Hecate, not to mention witches gathering their magic plants: “for they have been perceived as places where supernatural beings tied to night, death, and the underworld congregate, most notably Hecate, that frightening chthonic goddess of ancient Greece.”

Hugo Rahner, in Greek Myths and Christian Mystery (1963), comments that: 
“... of all the spirits that dwelt in the West was especially sympathetic to the mandrake. There is no question that this was Hecate, the gruesome mistress of all ghosts and of all the demons of the dead. There is no definite evidence that the root-gatherer when turning westwards to pray was actually praying to Hecate; but there are so many grounds for supposing this that the magical connexion between Hecate and the mandrake can no longer be in doubt.

Hecate is in truth the dark foil of the bright Hermes. Both are 'guides of souls,' but Hecate is
υεϱτέων πϱύτανις, mistress of the netherworld, and in her train there cower the spectres of the dead and the restless souls of murdered men who haunt graves and crossroads... She is 'the black one', equal in rank with Persephone, who holds the power of the keys of Hades... In the practices of magic, Hecate is accounted the demon of love-madness and is treated as the equal of Aphrodite...”
Sarah Penicka-Smith, in Caveat Anoynter! A Study of Flying Ointsments and their Plants  (Abraxas #1), she adds the following helpful possibilities:
Mandrake was known to the Greeks as mandragoras.... and it, along with deadly nightshade, is one of the candidates for the pig-producing brew of Circe in Homer's Odyssy. It was dedicated to Hecate as Greek goddess of magic and sorcery, as were deadly nightshade and aconite.”
There are other associations to be made, as well. Mandrake was held to be taboo to pull out of the ground, unless a ritual was performed to appease the plant or perhaps even the power that the plant served. One method is detaild, famously, by Flavius Josephus in his War of the Jews (Chapter Six):
“It may also be taken another way, without danger, which is this: they dig a trench quite round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small, they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need any one be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet, after all this pains in getting, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that if it be only brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them.”

It should be recalled that the dog is also associated with Hecate (I hope that's widely enough known for me to not need to show sources), being her offering and having been fed by her cult; Hecuba, whose family did not fair well following the climax of the Trojan war, was said to have been transformed by the Goddess into the “black dog with fiery eyes,” becoming her familiar rather than a mere wandering ghost. Stephen Ronan, in his short sections entitled Hecate's Horde in The Goddess Hecate (1992) identifies such spirits easily:
The souls which thus wander about with Hekate are in part of those of the ἅωροι, i.e. of those who have died before the completion of their 'destined' period of life... Thanatos has acted unjustly toward them.”
He cites as the basis for this Orphic Hymn 86 (he lists it as 87, probably due to using a different source than I) to Thanatos, lines five and six: “Not youth itself thy clemency can gain, vig'rous and strong, by thee untimely slain. In thee, the end of nature's works is known, in thee, all judgment is absolv'd alone.”

In Hecate we have an almost perfect candidate for rulership of Mandragora, especially when used in the ways that I am discussing. That said, an argument can also be made for considering Odin or Wodan on the more Heathen-oriented side of things, given his connections to criminals (“Warg”), and his status as an “outsider God.” That said, I am unaware of any historical precedence for associating Mandrake beyond that, and the belief that it grew from hanged victims.

Of Soporific Spells!
Many drugs, then, are known and used by chemists, such as darnel, nightshade, the rush commonly called Euripice, mandragora, castor, poppy, etc...”
- Compendium Maleficarum, p.83
We know from Waite and Le Petite Albert that one version of the Hand of Glory is intended to be used, at the very least, to produce a soporific effect upon the victim. If we wish to tie mandrake to this ritual, at the very least, it must be shown that there are spells used in the past involving Mandrake, intended to produce similar effects.

Thankfully, this is not hard at all. In Hans Dieter Betz's The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, he includes the “Demotic Spells” or “PDM.” We can trace mandrake's inclusion in soporific spells neatly back to this period, as the spells themselves shown it plainly:
Another, if you wish to make a man sleep for two days: mandrake root, 1 ounce, water and honey, 1 ounce, henbane, 1 ounce, Ivy, 1 ounce. Yo should grind them with a lok-measure of wine. If you wish to do it cleverly, you should put four portions to each one of them with a glass of wine; you should miosten them from morning to evening, you should clarify them; and you should make them drink it. [It is] very good.
- PDM xiv. 716-24, (Another) “To Cause Evil Sleep.”

A prescription to cause a man to sleep; it is very good: apple seeds, 1 stater, 1 dram; mandrake root, 4 drams, ivy, 4 drams; pound together; add fifteen measures of wine to it; put it in a glass vessel and guard it! When you wish to give it, you should put a little in a cup of wine, and you should give it to the man. The ivy – it grows in gardens, its leaf is like the leaf of a shekam plant, being devided into three lobes like a grape leaf. It is one palm in meaurement; its blossom is like silver (another manuscript says gold).
- PDM xiv. 727-36.
Obviously, this means we'll have to discuss flying ointments. So, when I return to writing about this shit tomorrow, that'll be the first place to look to. Betz, as a sidenote, helpfully suggests that “evil sleep” may be meant to be taken as “catalepsy:” an abnormal state characterized by a trancelike level of consciousness and postural rigidity. This is central to understanding how a comparison with flying ointments can be made at all, and possibly to some of the claims that the Hand can grant (such as access past every door.)

Be seeing you,


Scylla said...

Oh, is that why Old Mum has the giant wolf-thing behind her, glowering in the darkness, that likes to make itself known during acts of Wort-cunning? Is it Hecuba, then, who plucks the mandrake?

Did you know that in later iterations of ye olde "Dog pulling mandrake" that due to their use in this dogs had become, alone amongst all animals, immune to the shriek of the root?

The hounds of Hecate have no fear of it, pull it with impunity, and imbue it... etc. Big scary intimations.

Harold Roth said...

I think that the story about tying the dog to the root and have it jump for a piece of meat, which pulls out the root and the dog dies from the shriek, is a morphing of sacrificing a black dog to Hekate. In one version of the mandrake uprooting story, the dog is specifically black. I had a blog post about this a couple years ago. I also think the Hand of Glory is a mandrake and not a human hand. The description of how to dry a hand in Petit Albert works for drying a mandrake root very well. I tried it. Notice there is also a connection to dogs with that (the Dog Star). I have this info in the book I have eternally been working on about witching herbs. I have my own ideas about how the Hand of Glory worked for criminals too. Interesting stuff you've been writing on.

Jack Faust said...

Harold: How's this: the criminal hand is an incensed candle that produces soporific effects? But, I need to confirm that tropane alkaloids, etc, can be active by scent. That's hazy. This means Thieves entering houses via flying, by using it on themselves. Why? I assume magical treasure hunting, frankly. Huge market for those skills, once upon a time.

Harold Roth said...

My theory is the way that tropane alkaloids cause the dilation of pupils. When you think about the time when the Hand of Glory was used for burglary, there were no streetlights and people did not leave lights on when they went to bed. That meant for extremely dark nights even in cities. If your pupils are very dilated, then you can see much better in the dark, especially in the kind of dark where there are no streetlights. IMO, the Hand as a candle is a metaphor. It does provide light, but not like a candle. And if a burglar is able to navigate easily in the pitch dark of a house he is robbing, he's not knocking into things, then the residents are going to keep on sleeping. This is my idea of it, at any rate. The question is then why didn't they just use henbane, which is a lot easier to come across. Maybe mandrake has the right combo of alkaloids. I don't know.

Harold Roth said...

Tropane alkaloids are active by scent. The flowers of brugmansia give off a scent that if people sleep under the tree, they get nightmares. I have found that working with the dried leaves of belladonna or henbane or the fresh root of mandrake and even being careful not to let them touch my skin results in a headache and sometimes blurry vision from the dilation thing.

Doug Kaylor said...

"That said, I am unaware of any historical precedence for associating Mandrake beyond that, and the belief that it grew from hanged victims."

In "Restless Dead", Sarah Iles Johnston states that the most terrifying spirits who make up Hecate's Horde are virgin girls who committed suicide by hanging themselves. Granted Mandrake was thought to grow from the semen from a hanged man, but the connection with the gallows, in my opinion, strengthens the plant's association with Hecate.