The Toad, Death and the Maiden

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“Save Mushrooms and the Fungus race, that grow as All-Hallows Tide takes place”

 

Superstition is a curious thing.

It has been considered in some areas of the world unwise to pick fungi on All Hallows Eve, for souls reside within; so to kill a hapless toad or frog upon the road confers the same cause to humankind. A certain variety of fungi, hailed as the star of the north, the cosmic dragon, is of great beneficence to our race.

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Anglo-Saxon lore lends mystery to this mix in their idiosyncratic spelling of tode (for death, in reference to poisonous fungi) but also for the warty creature we all know and love. Credence for the former pertaining to the latter is given in an obscure 17th century account by De Lancre when asked to investigate the usage of certain unctuous salves. As Magistrate for Bordeaux, his conclusion baldly reported unequivocal ‘witchcraft practises’ concerning the Basque community, blaming them for the manufacture of:

“solid and liquid poisons made out of toads for the purpose of ruining fruit crops, and even poison in the powder form made out of grilled toads which, when mixed with clouds, harms fruit trees…the strongest poison was used for killing, and even the old and skilled witches, those best able to change themselves into beasts and perform other feats, were cautious with it…”[i]

Fairy rings composed of puck’s foot, fairy farts and dragon’s breath are the baneful spores of everything ranging from the tiny champignon to the dryad’s saddle, with puff balls aplenty in between. Glistening and dewy in the pale morning light, they have been described in derogatory terms as witch’s spittle and fairy stools [also a pun on ‘stool’ as excrement!].

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None of us are in any doubt as to the psychological processes afoot, whence poor Alice in all naiveté, consumes with glee her magical mushrooms at the behest of a stoned caterpillar, lounging on a prize specimen ‘tode’ whilst partaking smoothly of his own bubbling hookah! Witches brimstone spews pungent sulphuric spores o’er those who stamp where angels fear to tread. From peace to fury then.

Grotesque_flutist,_French_illuminated_manuscript_illustration,_1408,_MS_Douce_144,_f.28v.

Horses too, that trample faerie rings in the wetlands of the Somerset levels are cursed with scramble-foot (becoming lame) overnight! And on St John’s Eve in Sweden, special bonfires are constructed at crossroads of nine sacred woods into which onlookers fling the bäran, a type of impecunious toadstool to thwart torment from unpleasant sprites abound that night.[ii]

“ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves.. you demi-puppets that by moonshine do green sour ringlets make; whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms.”[iii]

 Portable fire, as magic flame, glows fiercely in the cunning hand that favours the threaded striations of autumnal puff balls, as noted in John Gerard’s ‘Herball’, and discovered by bewildered archaeologists at Skarae Brae. Anglo-Saxon Mycophobia asserts most fearfully how:

“Few are good to eat, they do suffocate and strangle the eater.. to those, that love such strange meates, beware of licking honey among the thorns, lest the sweetness of one, counterfeit the sharpness of the other.”

Ambivalent at best, deadly for certain, the devil’s own reeking carrion, the jellied eggs so prosaically named by Gerard as ‘Pricke mushrome,’have conversely been one moment a panacea; the next a plague. Raven’s bread, squirrel’s bread, earth calluses too, range in their efficacy, from the edible to the vitriolic – and yet, truly, are they the divine entheogen and food of the gods.  Infamous for inducing sexual frenzy in nun’s, hysteria in simple peasants, and holy fire among monks, their reputation precedes them most perturbingly.

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“what d’ye lack, what d’ye lack? I can pound a toad in a mortar, and make a broth of it, and stir with a dead man’s hand. Sprinkle it on thine enemy while he sleeps and he will turn into a black viper, and his own mother will slay him.”[iv]

Toads play dead. Everyone must, at some time, have held up a sorry limp and warty creature, and thinking it dead, placed it back in the undergrowth, only to see it hop away with a canny wink. Cunning is its maxim. Its life oft depends on’t. Failing this ruse, they puff up or excrete unpleasant irritations. Changing even gender when necessary in their erstwhile determination to procreate; advancing wilfully upon a female to mate even when fatally injured. Maidens bathing in their seething lathers have been much lauded for their beauty and sexual prowess. Aphrodite, born from the foaming waters is indeed the most sensuous of maidens fair, leading to the legendary demand for elixir of toad as a favoured aphrodisiac.

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Equally, toad venom has thrice been a ploy to kill a King of England.[v] Odd when we consider the toad (or frog) to be the prince himself, cursed to inhabit the body of the most despised and ugly creature of folklore, the most famous in legend being Grimm’s Prince, otherwise known as ‘Iron Henry.’ From blood, bile and bone, to breath, stone and foam, the poison of this magical creature purveys the doom of all hapless souls who merit its worth as measured in body parts.

Emblem of Merovingian Kings, the fleur de lys prevailed and won the field, when arteful enchantment too bright to behold as gilded fountain fell, a golden dew upon the lily of the maid.

???????????????????????????????Into Eve’s ear, Satan as the venomous toad, drips poison, quothe Milton in ‘Paradise Lost;’ yet Graeham’s renegade toad, for his sins, adores better the sleek body of his bright and noisy motor car! Though long and languid, his most amorous glare, from horny toad alighting upon a maiden fair, there to fascinate and bewitch; tis but chickens that hatch the basilisk, from eggs exposed to cockatrice, their virtue yet reigns in Medusa’spittle! –  for baneful woe, I’m told. And so, as famulus to amulet, in spite, are both applied; for wael then, or woe? All depends upon your purse of course!

As maiden fair, the Laidly Worm, a most curious tale of yore, of whispered breath that uttereth of exploits with knight, castle and rowan wood; the striking flinch of such a whip, soft with drops of water holy, secure the hag’s release in body, soul et all – sad victim of the devil’s brood, the fateful procurator of Charon’s packet land to land, with nought but Lethe between. Harnessed in number, they plough the fields at dawn, to blight the crops that ruefully stand upon the devil’s acre.

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In Wotan’s rade, the flaming horses snort their frenzied spittle to the ground, the seed of next year’s crop of fungi spawn, of devil’s hat’s, hexenpils, and faerie fodder.[vi] Gruel for reindeer and soma for the shaman. This eye of Agni, doth enflame the mind, to frenzy and delight, to dance, and race, to join the devil’s flight. Palaeolithic Mother, with hybrid legs of toad, giver of life and death, love and ecstasy? Oh veiled emblem of sacred liminality, by manna do we shift, twixt everywhere and nowhere; all knowing all being; to cure and heal, of death’s lingering throes. Tis all in fate’s sweet bitter mix!

220px-SophieAndersonTakethefairfaceofWomanGreat King and leather bag, horse’s mane and brightest bairn, to wit or woe – it’s all the same! From chthonic god to burial bowl, cremation platter and lickspittle’s spade, all mock the great toad’s bulk, yet in vain magics doth weave the fate of one to the other in pale facsimile. African toads, the scapegoat become, when humankind festers at some unknown colic. Saturated in serotonins and dopamines, why seeketh eleswhere the god gene? Look no further, this toad can make you fly, dance, laugh and cry, swear, en-trance, affront to dare and chance, so follow moon and pool to seething in ecstatic communion, bold and clear.

Dead or fetish, oil or potion – and all to appease an angry god. Tenacious and sly, deadly and ecstatic, whose globular eye mirrors the insanity abound. Why lick a toad when you can milk it? But then, in scathing tone I rage, Why milk it when you can kill it? Right? Preserved thus forever, at your behest, its ‘olu’ virtue the ‘must have’ prize, a jewelled sceptre of sovereign might. For this the poor wee beast is cursed. Then Karma calls: for She is the beast that curses all.

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[i] Toads and Toadstools Adrian Morgan p14, Celestial Arts, CA. 1995

[ii] P30

[iii] Shakespeare – The Tempest

[iv] Oscar Wilde – The Fisherman and His Soul

[v] Morgan, p61

[vi] Morgan, p96

all images courtesy of wiki commons

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~ by meanderingsofthemuse on April 2, 2015.

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