It is a well-known tradition near Magdeburg, that when a man who is a thief by inheritance,—that is to say, whose father and grandfather and great-grandfather before him, three generations of his family, have been thieves; or whose mother has committed a theft, or been possessed with an intense longing to steal something at the time immediately preceding his birth; it is the tradition that if such a man should be hanged, at the foot of the gallows whereon his last breath was exhaled will spring up a plant of hideous form known as the Alraun or Gallows Mannikin. It is an unsightly object to look at, and has broad, dark green leaves, with a single yellow flower. The plant, however, has great power, and whosoever is its possessor never more knows what it is to want money.
It is a feat full of the greatest danger to obtain it. If not taken up from the root, clean out of the soil, it is altogether valueless, and he who makes the experiment wantonly risks his life. The moment the earth is struck with the spade, the bitterest cries and shrieks burst forth from it, and while the roots are being laid bare demons are heard to howl in horrid concert. When the preparatory work is done, and when the hand of the daring man is laid on the stem to pluck forth his prize, then is it as if all the fiends of hell were let loose upon him, such shrieking, such howling, such clanging of chains, such crashing of thunder, and such flashing of forked lightning assail him on every side. If his heart fail him but for one moment his life is forfeit. Many a bold heart engaged in this trial has ceased to beat under the fatal tree; many a brave man's body has been found mangled and torn to pieces on that accursed spot.
There is, however, happily, only one day in the month, the first Friday, on which this plant appears, and on the night of that day only may it be plucked from its hiding-place. The way it is done is this. Whoso seeks to win it fasts all day. At sundown he sets forth on his fearful adventure, taking with him a coal-black hound, which has not a single fleck of white on its whole body, and which he has compelled likewise to fast for four-and-twenty hours previously.