Monday, October 31, 2011

Frogs, Witches & Halloween

Our favorite Halloween Costume
EDITORS NOTE: The following article is excerpted from "Animals & Witchcraft" on Controverscial.com

For thousands of years, frogs and toads have been associated with myths, folklore and magic.  Sadly many of these myths and tales portray them as demons, creatures associated with the devil.  Some cultures however viewed them in a positive light, and saw them as representative of good fortune, protection, rain and fertility.  In some cultures the frog symbolized resurrection and a higher stage of spiritual awakening.  In the Rig Veda creation myths of the Hindus, the Great Frog supports the universe and is representative of the matter from which all is created.
In ancient times clay used to make pottery was collected from the banks of natural rivers and lakes, sites that would have had an abundance of frogs and toads.  The peoples of ancient Mesopotamia for example, collected clay from along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where they undoubtedly encountered frogs and toads and later adopted them into their religious beliefs.

The Egyptians believed frogs to have been formed from mud and water, a belief that seems to have materialized as a result of rivers flooding during the rainy season, at which time frogs reproduced in such quantities that thousands of tiny frogs and toads invaded walkways and public areas; they even entered private homes and in general were regarded as pests.  This phenomenon was dubbed “Frog Rain”, because such occurrences always happened after the first heavy rains of the season.  As such frogs became associated with weather predictions because they would begin croaking just before rains.
In Egypt the frog was most commonly associated with the goddess Heket (or Heqet), the goddess of fertility and childbirth who assisted Isis in her ritual to resurrect Osiris.  Heket is depicted as a frog-shaped goddess, whose priestesses trained as midwives.  They wore amulets, jewellery and other ornaments that bore her image.  Frog shaped knives placed on to the bellies of pregnant women and newborn babies were believed to protect their youngsters.  Frogs in general were so important to the early Egyptians they were often embalmed after death.
In ancient China the toad was a trickster and a magician, a master of escapes and spells.  But he was also the keeper of powerful secrets.  One legend tells a story of a wandering wise old man called Liu Hai and his three-legged toad companion Ch'an Chu.  Ch'an Chu knew the secret of eternal life, and due to his masters kindness he revealed the secret to the wise man.  In Japan a similar legend involves the Gama-Sennin, also known as Kosensei, a wise old man with a hunched body and a warty face.  Kosensei wanders the land with his toad companion, who teaches him the secret powers of herbs, including the secret of immortality.
Frogs and toads go through at least one major transformation during their lives, that from tadpole to adult.  Many also shed their skins regularly as they grow, and some even eat their discarded skin.  These transformations may explain why many cultures saw frogs and toads as symbolic of re-creation, or as keepers of the secrets of life after death.  Members of the Olmec tribes of early Mesoamerica created images of a toad as the ‘God of rebirth’, reborn after consuming itself and thus caught up in the never-ending cycle of life and death.
As much as the frog was seen as a symbol of life and birth, it was also seen as a symbol of death.  Some European myths tell that it was bad luck to kill a frog for they housed the souls of dead children.  In the ancient Zoroastrian religion of the Middle East the frog was associated with Ahriman (the most evil of all beings).  In Europe, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the frog was given such an unfavourable reputation, and the frog went from being a sacred symbol of creation to a manifestation of evil.  The frog (along with other animals) was quickly associated with Witches, and thought to be their devoted magical animal used to carry out all sorts of diabolical deeds.
In early Christianity, demonologists often referred to frogs as the ‘Witches Familiar’ or ‘Agent of the Devil’.  The fact that frogs resided in swamps and stagnant pools, often dirty and unsanitary places, was used to exemplify the power of consecrated holy water to expel evil spirits and purify sinners.  Witches were thought to use frogs and toads in satanic rituals, and to concocted malicious sounding spells and potions from their body parts.  Some believe that a witch could be identified by a mark shaped like a toad’s foot secreted on her body or that the image of a toad would be visible in the left eye.  Other myths tell of witches extracting toad secretions, or collecting toad saliva for use in flying potions and invisibility spells.
In the Witch trials at St. Osyth in England, Ursula Kempe's young son testified that one of her four familiars, a black toad named Pigin, had once caused illness in a young boy.  Toads were also popular as poisonous ingredients in potions:  “the women-witches of ancient time which killed by poysoning, did much use toads in their confections”.  Witches were also believed to control the weather by concocting brews from frogs, toads and snakes, often referred to as “Toad Soup”.  Undoubtedly, many experienced illness or death after ingesting or applying some sort of frog-made brew including their toxic secretions.  Such folklore and popular mythology was the result of Inquisitional propaganda to eliminate the old Pagan religions and prosecute Witches with charges of heresy during the persecution years.
Frogs and toads since ancient times have been highly regarded for possessing medicinal properties.  Pieces taken from a frog’s body were used as aphrodisiacs to aid impotence and boost fertility.  A frog’s liver was believed to be an antidote to all poisons, while a toad’s lungs provided the means to the “perfect murder of a wayward husband”.  In many Shaman traditions of the Americas, hallucinogenic compounds derived from toads are used in religious rituals for communion with the spirit world and for self-transcendence.  In many cases, these myths have some foundation in truth, as some species contain compounds both poisonous and hallucinogenic.
One of the most widely told myths concerning the toad is that of the “Toad-Stone”, a fabulously jewelled stone that grows inside the toad’s head.  This jewelled stone when placed in a ring or a necklace, would heat up or change colour in the presence of poison, thereby protecting the wearer from the dangers of poisoning, a common threat in the Middle Ages.

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