Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)
Funny thing about kids, you never can guess what stuffed animal they’ll latch onto. It’s rarely what you would suspect. In my case it was a stuffed beagle that I called “Beans” and showed my affection for by repeatedly chewing off his nose. When good friends of mine had a son, my husband and I bought him a teddy bear. Not just any teddy bear, a Brookstone n-a-p teddy bear. This teddy bear is made out of the softest, most cuddly materials available to man. (They don’t carry the exact bear anymore, but here’s a link to a comparable bear.) In fact, as most parents know, that kid was showered in adorable stuffed animals ranging from traditional, like our teddy bear, to traditional, like the stuffed animals his parents cuddled as kids. In that sea of plush cuddlies what does the kid latch onto? A plush frog. He calls him “Froggy” or perhaps “Froggie”. I would ask him, but he is just learning to spell now, no need to add more stress to that process. Now I have nothing against Froggy (Froggie), he was adorable right from the start, even if now the child’s affections have left him a little matted and stinky. Hey, I chewed the nose off of my doll, repeatedly, I’m not judging. All of this is an elaborate introduction to why I’ve decided to discuss the symbolism of frogs and toads.
As you may suspect, I have a very elaborate creative process. One that is sustained primarily by celebrity gossip websites, the television show “Better Off Ted”, and rum. I’ll let you in on the “behind-the-scenes” process for this article. I realized, hey, it has been a while since I wrote about some sort of symbol. I pulled down a big stack of books filled with symbols and started flipping through them. While flipping through my copy of “The Complete Encyclopedia of Signs & Symbols” by Mark O’Connell and Raje Airey I came across an entry for frogs and toads. I immediately went “Froggy!” (or perhaps “Froggie!”) Because anyone who has spent time around little kids knows that you start to talk like them. Thusly, a frog, regardless of how life-like the illustration, or very real it is, they are Froggy (or maybe Froggie). Much the way I and his mother say that we are going to “Eat. Eat.” and “Play. Play.” despite the fact that even the child no longer speaks with that young a voice. So as odd as this may seem, somehow my simple quest to write about a symbol has turned into a bit of an open letter of affection to Jacob…the first little kid that didn’t seem to hate me on sight. (Aunt Rebecca loves you. And as soon as you’re old enough, I will loan you all of my Chow Yun Fat movies, because that’s how much I care. Just don’t tell Mom and Dad.) With that abnormal show of affection out of the way, let’s examine the symbolism surrounding this amphibian that a 3 year-old can’t go to sleep without.
First, since I’ll be looking at both frogs and toads, the obvious question is, what is the difference between frogs and toads. Typing that question into Google brought me to, I swear I’m not making this up, allaboutfrogs.org. They say:
One of the most common questions is, “What is the difference between Frogs and Toads?” Most are surprised to hear that all Toads actually are Frogs!
Hey, I am surprised! Good job allaboutfrogs.org! Armed with this new internet information I will proceed to discuss both frogs and toads. As surprised as I was by allaboutfrogs.org’s info, I am far more surprised at all the different associations for frogs and toads. Who knew frogs had more going for them than plush animals and Kermit?
Let’s start with the general “frogs and toads are bad” angle. Toads, with their habit of avoiding the sun and preference of damp dark places seem an unsavory lot. It doesn’t help that their secretions can be toxic. In European superstition the toad was linked with death, and was often shown in art with a skull or skeleton. The Church, with their 7 Deadly Sins, took frogs and toads (generally associated with fertility in most cultures) and used them in art that personified lust. Art associated with lust shows a naked woman with snakes and toads feeding on her breasts and genitals. It is really just a hop between all that death and evil sexuality to lead straight into the link between frogs and toads and witches and witchcraft. The stereotypical old world “witch” had the skin appearance of a toad. Common folklore lists frogs and toads as familiars of witches and the Devil, and a creature that witches can transform themselves into. During the Great Plague of 1563 dried toads were used as amulets in England when Dr. George Thomson claimed to have cured himself by using one to absorb the “putrefactive ferment”. I can’t help but wonder if good Dr. Thomson thought toads so evil and loathsome that surely they would interact with the vileness of the Plague.
Enough about Medieval Europe and the Church and all those Western hang ups. For much of the world the frog and toad are good things. As you may remember from your school biology lessons, frogs lay many eggs. I don’t quite know how modern man feels about that, but back when humans were just trying make sense of the natural world many eggs equaled fertility. Egypt has Heket (Heqet, Hekit), the frog goddess of birth and fertility. She’s often depicted as an attractive woman with the head of a frog. Frogs like the water, and rain makes the land fertile, thusly frogs are rainmakers. The Chinese and Peruvians used frog images to call up rain showers, and the Mayans and Aztecs viewed the frog as a water deity whose croaking predicted and made rain. The frog was the lord of the earth and represented the curative powers of water for the Celts.
Another basic frog fact is that they go through a transformation: egg, tadpole, and frog. The moon, as we all know, goes through transformations as well, it’s phases. Mix those two things together and you can see how in Japan the frog is associated with lunar eclipses and in China, instead of the “man in the moon”, they have a toad in the moon. It’s believed that from the frog’s natural ability to transform is how it became to be featured prominently in folklore and fairy tales. Kiss the frog and it transforms into a handsome prince or beautiful princess, or conversely, be a misbehaving prince or princess and get changed into a frog. The Chinese and Japanese associate frogs with magic.
However, the Chinese take it up another level. In China the frog is associated with magic and is the face of the moon. Knowing that you can see how the adorable Chinese Moon Frog came into being. He’s the adorable frog with the coin in his mouth that you see in curio shops. The Chinese Moon Frog attracts wealth and longevity. Sometimes the frog has a coin in its mouth which attracts wealth and wards off evil spirits. In an almost perfect blending of all the aspects of frog symbolism, in Roman times frog amulets were used to protect homes and their occupants and to sustain romance and love.
Only time will tell what Froggy (or Froggie) will bring into Jacob’s life. The frog is fraught with perils, but offers up rich rewards. I guess Kermit was right, “It’s not that easy being green.”