In the earthy ancient Northlands, the discovery of an anthropo-morphic mandrake root meant the end of the world as you knew it. Even if it didn't kill you with a brain-searing shriek as it left the soil, the magic root became your responsibility the instant you tore it from the earth-- and normal life was as good as over.
Drop all those hobbies and social clubs: once you became the guardian of an alraun (root mannekin), you'd have no time for such frivolities. Enjoying the same general status in the Northern Tradition as the Haitian Vodoun ti-bon-ange, the alraun was a sacred object which required constant, obsessive stewardship as its magical power increased. Custom decreed that it be offered daily servings of food and drink, a spring water bath every Friday night, and a white silk cloth in which to rest. During an age when most people were lucky to get one meal a day, one bath a month, and one glimpse of silk in their entire lifetimes, the expense of fostering an alraun should be evident.
Unsurprisingly, the quest to get rid of an alraun could become an even greater life goal than learning how to properly use it. It wasn't easy. The root could either be deeded to a descendant or sold to an outsider (always for a greater sum than one spent to obtain it oneself), but it could never be abandoned, discarded, or destroyed. Terrible things happened to those who tried, stoking Germanic folklore with enough bloody retribution to launch a thousand Tim Burton script treatments. On the other hand, luck and protection followed those who treated the root right-- which explains the strange affection many people developed for their alraun. Precious time might be spent whittling it a face or forcing grains of barley into its surface to result in a sprouted head of luxurious green "hair". (I think it fair to suspect that these people did not date much.)
Little remains of these heady days of root-worship except a few anachronistic hints of witchiness surrounding the mandrake name. Today we know Mandragora officinarum as just another member of the celebrated nightshade family. As with many of its kin, toxic hallucinogenic alkaloids course through its sap, and it is certainly not recommended for your next insalata mista.
Annick Goutal's Mandragore may be the only mandrake-themed perfume on the market, or indeed in history. This (along with its deep purple bottle adorned with esoteric gold calligraphy) may be enough of a novelty to satisfy the gypsy mystic on your gift list... at least until Fairuza Balk develops her promised line of perfume oils-- a scent-event for whose fulfillment I am personally chanting as we speak. However, for a perfume reputed to contain the magic root of all magic roots (PLUS black pepper, star anise, boxwood, and sage, heavy hitters all), Mandragore is fated to fall short of our demands for dark mystery. Why? Because it's an eau de cologne-- the sunniest, happiest, freshest of all the fragrance subgenres, and about as prone to dabbling with the shadow side as Glinda the Good Witch of the North.
Am I complaining? Heck, no. Who would, when faced with such olfactory good cheer?
In aroma, Mandragore compares quite favorably to both Goutal's own Eau d'Hadrien and Guerlain's Eau de Cologne Impériale. It can't get much sunnier than an intersection between these two fragrances-- a bright citrus sun suspended over a landscape shaded ever so subtly with a cool blue note of spearmint. If you can accept two facts -- first, that you're heading for a summer day at high noon instead of a witches' sabbat under a full moon; second, that like all eaux, Mandragore has little staying power -- you will make out just fine.
Still, I cannot claim that no magic whatsoever was involved in this perfume's making. Obviously, some kind of grimoire was consulted and appropriate charms spoken-- for Mandragore did, after all, induce some sort of bewitchment in me. Without even thinking about it, I kept reapplying and reapplying it, smiling dreamily all the while-- until I realized that I had used up an entire sample vial in one afternoon.
Call in the Inquisitors!
Scent Elements: Mandrake root, bergamot, black pepper, ginger, spearmint, star anise, boxwood, sage