Continuing the story of the arsenal that our hero, Theodor Grim, can assemble let’s talk about the mandrake root. What is it? Fiction created by superstitious peasants or an actual plant?
Truth is, the mandrake root does exist. It is a poisonous plant with roots that look like ginger and it sometimes resemble a human figure. Because of this and its venom the mandrake root is surrounded by so many legends and myths.
In ancient times they associated it with the goddess Aphrodite and the sorcerers Circe and thought the plant could be used to create a love potion intended for men or women, depending on the root’s shape. Other tales suggested an mandrake amulet brought happiness and luck. Priest consumed mandrake to learn of the future and simple folk would put it under the pillows to see prophetic dreams.
The most interesting legends surrounding this wonderful plant date back to the Middle Ages. Lithographs depict mandrake shaped like a tiny man with fingers as roots and leaves on its this head chained to a dog’s collar. That’s how they collected this dangerous plant: they would chain a dog (which had to be black since such animals were associated with magic and thus up to the task) to the plant, then made the dog back away in order to pull the root from the earth. The reason for this seemingly unnecessary complexity was that mandrake root was of the Devil, and once pulled into the light of God’s Earth it would emit screams and moans that could make the forager’s ears bleed. He could go deaf, insane or even die. So they used dogs as substitutes, condemning them to die instead if their masters.
The second legend around the mandrake root maintained that it grows out of a hanged man’s seed, so people would look for under the gallows or trees where someone had been hung.
People also believed that powerful warlocks could use mandrake to create a monstrous homunculus completely under its master’s control.
Bottom line is every self respecting witch or warlock had to have mandrake in stock. Even some medics weren’t above using the “magical” plant while others were sceptical.
“There are many ridiculous stories about this plant. Every old wive’s tale, every opinion of half-educated medic, all the wild fantasies of the deranged are pure superstition that need to be purged from your notes this minute” wrote P. Traveris in his herbal circa XVI century.
As for the scientific side of things — which is simpler and perhaps even more interesting — the mandrake root possesses strong hallucinogenic properties. It contains atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. Those alkaloids should be used with extreme caution. Problem is, in small doses they don’t do much good, while in large doses you risk adverse effects one of which — and not the most uncommon — is death.
Atropine and scopolamine are curious substances. They can calm the breathing, removing asthma and the excess of fluid in the bronchial tubes, cause sleepiness, suffocation, nervous excitation… They don’t call the mandrake root poisonous for nothing.
You can live out some of the medieval myths about this plant in the game. For example, if you give someone mandrake powder you can turn him into a madman ready to do anything for you.
You could also catch a dog and dig out a fresh mandrake root and make it come alive for one night. Or you may ender the black market and sell potions make of this plant, harvested with the help of your own faithful deaf dog.
In «The Executioner» the path you choose to take is very important. It not only determines what assistants you have and methods at your disposal, but the fate of the world around you. What’s more up your alley — mysticism or realism? Your answer to this question will also define which properties of the mandrake root are going to work — medical or magical.
If your hero becomes a mystic, he’ll be able to brew love and control potions, create powder that causes prophetic visions and find a black magic ritual of animating the root. Knowledge of biology and chemistry however will teach you to turn mandrake into medicine: painkillers, sleeping potions, stomach pain soother, eye drops and a very effective poison.
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