SG – The Meaningful Mandrake: Modern Botany and Witchcraft Today

With the rise of modern botany, the mandrake went through some major transformations. Gerda van Uffelen and Isabela Pombo Geertsma wonder whether science stripped the mandrake of its magic.

Organisator Studium Generale

do 7 april 2022 20:00

Locatie Impulse, gebouwnummer 115

About The Meaningful Mandrake: Modern Botany and Witchcraft Today

In this double lecture, botanist and former collections manager of Hortus botanicus Leiden Gerda van Uffelen and ethnobotanist Isabela Pombo Geertsma explore how the image of the mandrake has changed through modernity.

The plant quickly lost its anthropomorphic and mythical character, and the attention of botanists shifted towards categorisation, kinship, and chemistry. But did the practical usage of the plant change? And what about the magic, rituals, and symbols that gave meaning to the mandrake for so long? Are these practices still relevant today? Spoiler: they are!

About series ‘The Image of Plants: The Mandrake’

Many plants are rich in mythology and cultural meaning, but few find themselves so immersed in magic, folklore, and anchored in the human imagination as the mandrake. In this series we wander through the cultural and botanical history surrounding the plant that shrieks when torn out of the earth – making living mortals run mad by doing so, if we were to believe Shakespeare. What were the stories told about this potent plant, which is so animated and un-plantlike that its history reads like a biography? How were (and are) its human-resembling roots used in magic rituals? And what meaning does Mandragora officinarum hold for us today?  

About Isabela Pombo Geertsma  

Isabela Pombo Geertsma is an ethnobotanist interested in the relationship between plants and people. Formerly she studied medicinal and ritual plant uses in Belém, Brazil, and how these uses changed over time. She is currently working on a prospective PhD project at the Utrecht University Botanical Gardens focussing on the associations between plants and historical European witchcraft and the use of ritual plants in modern witchcraft.   

About Gerda van Uffelen

Gerda van Uffelen is a botanist by training and former collection manager of the Hortus botanicus Leiden. After her PhD on fern spores – a long time ago – Gerda directed her attention to the history, use, and plants of botanical gardens. She has worked on several herbaria, edited a book on botanical water colours, and a tulip was named after her. Besides being the secretary of the Clusius Foundation, Gerda is also an inexhaustible source of knowledge when it comes to the Clusius Garden in Leiden. She is currently involved in a study of its original planting.