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Toads, Frogs, Folklore, and Magic

When we think of the toad, the first thing we think of its poison, how it can harm our animals or even kill them, little boys scaring little girls chasing them with them ( part of my childhood, lol), and some, few relate it to the witch or the witch's familiar as it was once thought of in old times centuries and even generations ago…

(PLEASE NOTE, WE WILL NOT BE PUTTING ACTUAL RECIPES, CURES AND HOW TO PERFORM FOLK CURES OR CURSES IN THIS BLOG POST, THIS IS AN INFORMATION BLOG POST AND WE ARE NOT MEDICAL DOCTORS)

Toads and their uses are found all over the world, for healing, blessing, prosperity and of course the usual thought… cursing, illnesses, etc.  For example in Europe we see and hear tales In the folklore and folk magic of uses for healing and curing, China and eastern medicine for prosperity and good luck, in Haiti we have heard of its uses in “zombi” powders, and anywhere from good luck to illness and death in many cultures.

Let's Start here in the states, Appalachia, In parts of Appalachia, it is said that if you hear a toad croaking at midnight, then rain is on the way. However, in some cultures it’s just the opposite — a toad croaking during the day indicate coming storms. In British folklore and magic, it is said that carrying a dried frog in a pouch around your neck will prevent epileptic seizures. In some more country and rural areas, it’s just the frog’s liver that gets dried and worn. In other parts of Europe, it is said in the lore that toads could be used to cure thrush, and whooping cough and tuberculosis, or the rubbing of the toad on a wart and doing a certain thing will remove the warts and make them go away! Some cultures believe that if a toad comes into your house, it brings good fortune - others say it’s bad luck - the Xhosa tribe says that a toad in your house might be carrying a spell or a curse- where as the Māori believe that killing a toad or frog, can bring floods and heavy rains, but some African tribes say that the death of a toad or frog will bring drought.

The ancient Egyptians have the frog-headed goddess Heket, who is a symbol of fertility and birth. If you wish to conceive, the ancient Egyptians would say touch a frog. Whereas in Ireland, Frogs have only been in Ireland for a few hundred years, since students from Trinity College released them into the wild. However, there are still some frog folktales in Ireland, including that you can tell the weather by the color of a frog.

So, as we see various cultures view the toad or frog differently…

Now, let’s look some more at toads and frogs and their association with plants and used in herbal remedies or curses for that matter, to start, a fun point is in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you have the three hags or old witches, mentioning toads and frogs as elements of  the concoctions brewed by his witches in Act IV and seemingly referencing the events in an aside uttered by a witch regarding sending a storm against an enemy’s ship, the witches also call for a bit of toe of frog? Well, it is not really related to an actual frog to come to find out, it turns out that there’s a type of buttercup known in folklore as “frog’s foot.” Is it possible that Shakespeare was referring to the petals of this flower?  Like numerous members of the buttercup variety, this genus is deemed toxic, and can cause skin inflammations. The Victorians associated it with selfishness and ingratitude. Also, many traditions, and religions believe a toad and frog has to do with rebirth, change and regeneration and major change… In some traditions, frogs and toads are associated with cleansing and rebirth - think, for a moment, about how a tadpole transforms into a frog or toad!

Now, looking at the western European traditions, as we stated toads were not really in Ireland, except for the past two hundred or so years, due to them being introduced by university students, but, north, Scotland, Germanic tribes, Denmark and Scandinavian traditions… there is a TON of lore and uses! So, in Scotland, poison allegedly brewed from a toad by the “wise wife of Keith,” Agnes Sampson, one of the accused in Scotland’s North Berwick witch trials in 1591-2. The poison was to have been used against Scotland’s James VI before he ascended England’s throne as James I.  At the center of the trial was the accusation that Sampson and others had raised a storm to sink the ship bearing James home from Oslo with his new wife Anne of Denmark!  So here we see a Scottish Cunning Woman using the venom, to try and poison... there is also a number of accounts from 16th and early 17th century England presenting toad familiars sent to torment the enemies of witches.  We also hear of a toad exploding in a fire, and toads sustained on the blood of their witch mistresses, as well as a sad story from Newmarket, England, involving William Harvey, physician to Charles I, and an bruitish attempt to subject an alleged toad familiar to scientific scrutiny!

From the 12th-century, German mystic and theologian Hildegard von Bingen, a tale associated with the English boy-saint William of Norwich involving some prisoners and an unfortunate attempt at the use of toad poison. Toad’s venom, according to medieval folklore, could be neutralized by the toadstone, a particular mineral also assigned powers against stomach and kidney ailments.  We hear of a peculiar method of obtaining this prized artifact and an obscure reference to the toadstone in the 1973 folk-horror classic The Wicker Man. In the same token and tales, we’re told a toad or frog is used in folk medicine to cure a sore throat. Superstitions about toads and their magical usefulness against various conditions continued into the 19th century, resulting in the phenomena of traveling “toad doctors” and “toad fairs.”  The use of toad bones in a midnight ritual performed by English “Toadmen” in order to gain mastery of horses to be trained is also discussed as is the discovery of miniature frog coffins, stashed in Finnish churches, in a folk-magic practice similar to the British and American use of “witch bottles.”

Looking further inland, in Spain, in the Basque province of Navarre, home to the “Cave of Witches” at Zugarramurdi, witchcraft trial testimonies demonstrate a particular emphasis on toads.  We hear of them raised by novice witches in the fields, used to poison the land, and dancing at the witches’ sabbath. And, in ancient Mexico, the toad symbolized the Earth, and of course St. Cipriano, the use of the toads to curse and kill if spells are done rite!

One of these toads that is poisonous, is the Cane toad (bufo rhinella) that invasive species best known for invading Australia, Florida and other southern states and native to South and Central America.  In the Caribbean, it’s been identified by Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis as a possible ingredient in a drug administered in Haiti to transform an enemy into a zombie. Research into this subject was documented in Davis’ 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow, later serving loosely as inspiration for Wes Craven’s 1988 film of the same name (from which we hear a clip).

In other parts of Europe, in Scandinavian, and eastern European (Slavic mainly) we hear of toads head being used as a poison, and the use of the left toads eye to help cure blindness and vision, using both toads eyes, The left eye and right eye of the toad in Celtic or Eastern European and Scandinavian folklore and magic is said if prepared properly could cure some of the worst ailments… Powdered to harm, and parts listed for folk medicines as well… And, according to Pliny the Elder, certain bones prepared certain ways of a toad could be used in love work, discord, and strife; and a certain bone prepared properly and worn as an amulet, could be used as an aphrodisiac!  (Naturalis Historia 32.18). 

A famous story from Japan, famous story of a spectral toad comes from a tale retold by Lafcadio Hearn in his book ‘Kotto: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs. In the story Chikagoro, a handsome young soldier is enticed into a nocturnal affair with a mysterious but beautiful woman. Each night she would take him to her palice beneath a lake. Despite being underwater the palace was warm and dry.

But his nights of love weakened him so his fellow soldiers summoned A doctor from China. The doctor determined that the woman was a giant shape shifting frog who had been drinking Chikagoro blood whilst he was under her spell. It was too late to save the victim who had most of his blood replaced with rancid lake water.

Gama was also the name of a sennin, a Taoist mystic who had a three legged, white toad as a companion.

Lastly, modern day toad… the Psychedelic Toad Venom Is The New Trendy Hallucinogen, however I do not recommend nor support trying this!

Hopefully this helps as a good resource and base to start some further research and working with and how to properly working with toads and frogs in your craft!

Keith Swift, Bhuitseacht Traidisiúnta Ceilteach/Tata Nsasi Kimbisa

Photo Credit: A woodcut illustration from a book published in 1579 of a witch feeding her ‘familiars’.

SOURCES:

Naturalis Historia 32.18

I Walked by Night: Being the Life & History of the King of the Norfolk Poachers (1935) edited by LR Haggard

1579 pamphlet "A Rehearsal both Strange and True" detailing the actions of 65 year old Elizabeth Stile from Windsor, England and three others accused of witchcraft

Macbeth and the Witches (Thomas Barker, 1830)

THE ETHNOBIOLOGY OF THE HAITIAN ZOMBIE by E. WADE DAVIS. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9 (1983) 85-104

Paul Taylor of the London Natural History Museum

https://www.exploratorium.edu/frogs/folklore/folklore_2.html

 

 


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