Hekate & Mandrake (Hekate Liminal Rites)

This is an extract from the book Hekate Liminal Rites by the authors Sorita d’Este and David Rankine, published by Avalonia in 2009. Reproduced here with kind permission.


The presence of mandrake in Hekate’s garden in the Orphic Argonautica was not surprising. Theophrastus wrote in Enquiry into Plants in the fourth century BCE about drawing three circles around the mandrake with an iron sword before picking it, recalling the contemporary practices of necromantic and chthonic rites.

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote in the first century CE about mandrake, and was the first person to postulate the use of a dog to pull the root out. This was the origin of the idea of the dog dying from the scream of the mandrake.

“They dig all around it [the mandrake], leaving but a minute portion of the root covered; they then tie a dog to it, and the animal rushing to follow the person who tied him, easily pulls it up, but instantly dies – a vicarious victim, as it were, for him who intended to remove the plant.”[1]

The sacrifice of the dog to gain the root, (which was known as baara,) used in demon-expelling rings[2] for dealing with possession, holds clear echoes of Hekate’s powers and associations. The demon-expelling mandrake-holding ring was specifically associated with Solomon, and was described as being made of iron and brass (another copper-based alloy like bronze, and often used as an alternative name for bronze). A consequence of this connection with Hekate may have been the medieval belief that mandrake was most powerful if gathered at the crossroads.

[1] The Jewish War, Flavius Josephus, C1st CE, trans. S.S. Kottek.

Kottek, S.S. 1994. Medicine and Hygiene in the Works of Flavius Josephus. Leiden: Brill.

[2] Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, C1st CE, trans. W. Whiston.

Whiston, W. 1987. The Works of Josephus. USA: Hendrikson.

Further reading:

d’Este, S. and Rankine, D. 2009. Hekate: Liminal Rites. London: Avalonia.

d’ Este, S. eds. 2010. Hekate: Her Sacred Fires. London: Avalonia