Witchery of Frog and Toad
I’ll go to the toad
That lives under the wall;
I’ll charm him out
And he’ll come to my call.
The Frog King
In the Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Frog King, a little princess chases her golden ball around the garden. It falls into the well and the girl is heartbroken. Suddenly a frog hops out of the well and asks the Princess what is troubling her. She complains that her golden ball is gone down the well. The frog promises to restore it to her if she will accept it as companion who will sit beside her, drink from her glass, eat from her plate, and sleep in her bed. She promises this thinking, “Well, it’s only a frog. It cannot possibly be my companion!” The frog restores the golden ball and asks her to take him home with her. The Princess runs away and soon forgets about the frog and her promise.
The next day, when the royal court is feasting, the frog appears and asks to be let into the hall. The Princess shuts the door on it and attempts to put the frog out of her mind. Seeing her distress, the King asks her what is wrong. She tells him, and the King insists that she must never go back on her promises and had better invite the little frog in. The Princess does so, but refuses to allow the frog to sit next to her the table, putting her nose in the air, and turning away in disgust. The King reminds her to keep her promise. She begrudgingly allows the frog to share her meal, and then hurries away from the table to escape his next request. The King angrily calls her back and tells her that someone who has helped her when she was in need must not be despised. So the frog joins her in bed. The little Princess is so revolted at the thought of lying next to a frog, that, after three nights, she can stand it no longer. She picks him up and hurls him against the wall. Suddenly, he turns into a handsome Prince!
illustration: Anne Anderson
When I was child playing in the woods, me and the other children were fond of catching frogs. There were lots of little streamy swamps in our woods that had two major frog ponds in them. One was at the end of a path that went down through a stand of little trees and bushes. At the base of a high rock surrounded with wild irises and tiger lilies was a deep pool. There the frogs were very friendly and easy to catch, and their green clouds of eggs clung to the shore within hands reach. The other, larger, pond was deeper in the woods and the frogs tended to stay near the far bank under the bushes. This pond was crossed by a big fallen log. We used to lie across the log and stretch our hands down to water where the frogs swam with their heads just above the surface, green and shiny and looking at us with gold-rimmed eyes. If we were fast enough, we could catch them, though they easily slipped out of our grasp and disappeared under the dark, unreflective water.
I saw the frogs were beautiful and never captured them without letting them go.
Magic of Toads and Frogs
The pond, well, or spring has long been thought to be a portal to the Faeryland which is underground. Water is the carrier of beings from one state to another, and is also our original home. What lies underwater is as mysterious, dark, hidden as that which lies underground. The difference is that the water seems to allow entry into its hidden realm. We can see through the surface of the water where living creatures move like shadows, sometimes emerging and the disappearing again as through a dark mirror. Frogs, turtles, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, and even some mammals have the capacity to move between realities through water.
If we can imagine times before there were submarines and technology that allows us to see what beneath the surface of the seas, we might understand the power of mysterious wells and springs, the oceans and seas, in the imaginations of our ancestors. These were literally portals to the Otherworld.
These amphibious creatures are magical, for everything that exists in the unstable state betwixt and between is magical. They move in and out of two worlds, water and earth, above and below. They are transformational, shape shifters, moving through phases like the moon who is their ruler. From a sqaushy green jelly full of eyes, to tadpole, to frog, the miraculous changes take place before our eyes. Anyone who has watched a tadpole sprout legs one at a time, lose its tail, and hop on as a fully fledged little land animal knows the fascination of the frog.
For those with the Witchblood the frog and toad become more. I used to be able to see the jewels in the foreheads of toads, especially at night. They sat in our front garden and sometimes I sat beside them. I was fond of bells in those days and had the odd fancy of tinkling bells over the toads to make them dance. Later I learned that the toad does have a gland in its head that secrets a hallucinogenic substance, or a poison, as all drugs are. For me, as a child, the jeweled Toad was a part of my dreaming reality. I have since learned that bells are carried on the wind of Faery in Celtic tradition.
I often sat beside the pond under the high rock in the twilight to listen to the songs of the frogs and watch them catch the long legged mosquitoes that hovered above the water. I felt that if I just stayed very still and silent, they would communicate with me. Those were magic moments in the hot late summers of Massachusetts, when I ringed the pond with tea lights, and sat with my eyes fastened on the still pool, the slowly moving flowers, the ragged edges of the trees turning darker in the dimming light of the sky. Unlike the Princess, I did not find it strange to be the companion of frogs and toads.
Once I read a book about a girl who found a pond like my pond. When she looked into the water, she saw a face looking back, but it was not her face. Sometimes the spirit of the well looks up at you from the water. She is a dark woman who is as old as time and as beautiful as your imagination allows her to be. Like the frog, she glances up and then disappears. But you must be very still to see her and it must be twilight and hot summer when the witch grass is thick and the mountain laurel blooms and the bushes smell like ripe fruit.
In the book, the face in the pond was the remains of an old ship’s figurehead. Very New England image, that. It led to some mystery, but that I do not remember. Only the pond and the face looking up. Later on when I would study Faery Magic with R.J.Stewart, I would learn the lore of the three heads in the well and that it was a well of healing. For me the frog pond was a place between the worlds.
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