Frog & Toad

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Rain and Abundance

Living reminders of rain and fertility, frogs provide a vivid representation of transformation and rebirth.  These members of species Ranidae are found everywhere, even at 13,500 feet high on the Tibetan plateau, so it is of great concern that their numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate since their well-being is closely linked to that of the environment.

  • Nashika:  Purple-nosed burrowing frog of India's Western Ghats.

In Chinese folklore, it is thought that frog spawn falls from heaven just as dew is incorrectly believed to do, and so frog meat may be referred to as "heavenly chicken."  It is a readily available source of protein in the paddies of rice-growing areas.

Aztec (Mexica) fertility goddess, Coatlicue, ("serpent-skirt") is the corn deity, and she also presides over childbirth.  She is sometimes portrayed as a many-breasted frog with a golden face.

Dzelarhons is the Haida clan mother who is depicted as a frog princess.  She arrived from the sea bringing 6 canoes full of people to the islands off the northwest coast of North America.

Buddha Nature

 Ink drawing by Sengai (1751-1837)

If meditation were all it took to achieve Enlightenment, frogs would be Buddhas.

 

The Meritorious Frog

Kashyapa is considered the third in the series of earthly Buddhas, the one who appeared before Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical buddha.

One day, during a public teaching, the mellifluous voice of this fully enlightened being rang out to the hills where a herder who was tending his flock happened to hear it.  He could not catch every word but he was so taken by the sound, that he stopped where he was to listen.  Resting his chin upon his hands that were planted palm down atop it, he fell under the spell of the sound of the Buddha's voice.

Now, deep in the ground just below where the staff was planted was a frog holed up for the cold weather.  It was just his misfortune that the stockman's staff pierced his body as the vibrations of the Buddha's teaching resonated down the shaft of wood and reached him.  But the little frog did not struggle, nor make any sound, for he was filled with joy at hearing the dharma and did not want to cause a disturbance. 

When the teaching came to an end, the shepherd moved on with his flock and the frog quietly and serenely  expired.  Because of his virtuous decision not to interrupt the sounds of dharma, the frog was reborn in the Realm of the Gods.  This little frog became chief among them, Lord Indra, himself.

This jataka (Buddha's life tale) as retold by Karma Kagyu Khenpo Chokey Gyaltsen of Pullahari, Nepal, emphasizes how merit is gained even in dire circumstances.  It teaches that Dharma helps transform our attitude and that influences our actions, eventually leading to our Liberation.

  •  Furu ike ya kasazu tobikomu mizu no oto is Japanese Zen poet, Basho's famous haiku usually translated:

OLD POND

FROG JUMPS IN

THE SOUND OF WATER
  
  

A Tibetan twist to The City Frog and the Country Frog

Once a city frog visited the countryside.  He was amazed at the many kinds of animals roaming freely.  And he was especially impressed with the imposing size of the cow.

When he came across his country cousin who lived inside a deep, dark well, he said, "You cannot imagine the size of the animal I saw today. "

His cousin smiled and asked, "How big an animal was it?"

The city frog puffed out his chest saying, "It was thi-i-i-i-is big!"

"How big? asked the country frog .

"This big, said the other as he puffed himself up even more.

"No-o-oh ! exclaimed the country frog. "Are you sure?"

And the city frog, trying to impress his country cousin even in his own familiar territory, puffed himself up more and more until he finally

exploded !

~ Khenpo Chokey Gyaltsen of Pullahari

Transfer of Consciousness 

Like the butterfly, the frog is a symbol of reincarnation.  Its form goes through a radical transformation:  from frothy spawn containing myriad eggs, to the tadpole breathing by means of gills and sprouting legs, which finally in losing its tail becomes the adult air-breathing hopper. 

The Sanskrit word, mandukya means frog. The Hindu scripture, Mandukya Upanishad, says that the three letters that comprise the chief mantra AUM (usually written OM in languages using the Latin alphabet) each signify a state of consciousness:  A = waking,  U = dreaming, and M = dreamless sleep. 

Herbert V. Guenther used the metaphor of the frog in Yuganaddha: The Tantric View of Life, (Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, 1952/1976, pp. 80-81) in explaining his view of the link between a child's imagination and that of an adult:

On the psychic plane, childhood need not necessarily be the immaturity of man, it may be much more the preparatory stage of the adult mind, just as the tadpole is the preparatory stage of the frog rather than an immature frog.

Hecate

In ancient Egypt, the frog-headed goddess Heqet or Heket (cf. Hecate: the moon deity later associated with European magical practices) was the protector of newborns.  During childbirth, women wore her amulets.  An oil lamp from Roman times with a frog sculpted on it is believed, because of that, to have been used especially for times of childbirth.  An image of it appears in the collection of the Glencairn Museum of Philadelphia.

Daughter of the sun-god, Heqet is called Eye of Re [or Ra.]  That is, she is the moon which since earliest times was understood to be linked with the ebb and flow of water and of fertility.   Thus, she is associated with the germination of grain.

Heqet is one of the eight deities associated with creation and she is the consort of Khnum, the ram-headed god.  She is the one who instils the spark of life into the body that Khnum molds out of clay.  

  • Moira Timms, in an Atlantis Rising (#17) article on Denderah's images that resemble light bulbs, says that the etymology of Heqet's name reveals her function: Heh is from a word having to do with eons of time, and the glyph for qet is the pointed knife, two of which this goddess holds.  One is for cutting the umbilical cord and the other, according to Timms, is a weapon of defense.  But the knives are in the form of the hieroglyph, qet, which has been translated:  qualities, dispositions, abilities, virtues. She is a  "uniter of attributes."

This is not news to Tibetan Buddhists who may see in her the supreme dakini.  

Sati, (the name also of the first wife of Indian great god, Lord Shiva) is the name of another of Khnum's consorts, whose human head is adorned with serpentine antelope horns.

Also at Denderah in Egypt is found an image of Horus in frog-headed form presiding over Osiris. Tour Egypt says (item 20):  Heqet, who was a form of Hathor, was connected by the Christians with the . . . Resurrection; in proof of this may be cited the lamp described by Signor Lanzone whereon  . . . , is a figure of a frog, and the legend Eywelui Avaoraois, "I am the resurrection."

An African myth from farther south tells how frogs come back to life:

Once, at the beginning of the dry season, a frog and gazelle had a race.   When the frog lost, he asked the gazelle to give him another chance to compete.   He said, "Can you come back to life?  Burn down my house, and see what happens!" 

The gazelle proceeded to burn down the little house, with the frog and his wife still inside.

Then all the neighbours wept for the couple.

Six months passed.  The rain began to fall and that very first night, when the gazelle went to drink at the water hole, he was amazed to see the frog and his family alive in the water!

"Where have you been?" asked the gazelle.

"Since the day you killed us, we were in the land of the dead," replied the frog.

"So, what's it like over there?" asked the gazelle.

"Very pleasant," responded the frog.  "Don't you see how healthy we are?  The Lord of the Dead has truly blessed us."

Now the gazelle was not only curious, but jealous.  He burned down his own house with all his family inside it.  Sad to say, they never came back to life.  The ignorant gazelle did not realize that frogs could "sleep" in the earth between  rainy seasons.

~ Adapted from Jan Knappert's  The Aquarian Guide to African Mythology. 1990.

Metamorphoses

In Greek mythology, when Leto was refused refreshing water after having given birth to the divine twins, Artemis and Apollo, she transformed the mean Lycians, who had purposely muddied the waters, into frogs!

Mesopotamian great goddess, Innana-Ishtar, once loved the gardener, Ishullanu, when he offered fruit to her.  When the moment came for her to reveal her true nature, he was so taken aback that she took offence and turned him into a frog.

Folk tales from all over the world preserve this motif.  It generally takes the form of "The Frog Prince."

  • Link to D.L. Ashliman's folktale collection:  Frog King tales.  Iron Heinrich a.k.a. Iron John -- a tale which in the opinion of American poet, Robert Bly, epitomizes the "men's movement."  

Hop Like a Frog

In the Indian yogic tradition it is said that mastery of kundalini leads to to 26 minor abilities including the darduri siddhi: being able to jump with power and distance equal to that of a frog.

 

Natural Science

Frogs can be as small as 1/2 an inch or as big as 12 inches in length, and can jump up to 20 times their length. They come in all colors of the rainbow including blue, and they may have eyes with round or horizontal irises.  The frog catches insects with the sticky end of its long tongue that extends faster than is visible to us, and then retracts its eyeballs to help push the food down its gullet.

The iris of the eyes of some frogs may have such shapes as a heart, a star or a triangle.

Toad

Many cultures do not seem to distinguish between the frog Ranidae and the toad Bufonidae.  The toad is distinguished by the fact that it spends more of its life on the land, and some have a warty-looking skin.  A few are poisonous, and some contain substances with otherwise interesting pharmacological properties.  

Coincidently, since the 13th-century the Rana family rules the kingdom of Nepal.

Prosperity

Both/either [Rana-, Bufo-] is associated with auspiciousness and prosperity.   For, it seems that Hou I, a tribal ruler who may have lived 4500 years ago, obtained the Elixir of Immortality from Hsi Wang Mu, the goddess Queen Mother of the West.  When his envious wife, Ch'ang O, stole it she fled to the moon where she was transformed into a toad whose image may be seen there to this day.

This is the Three-legged Toad-who- lives-in-the-moon.  Its digits stand for the three lunar phases.  Some see the 3 as representing the relation of heaven, earth and the opportunity for prosperity. Like the Hare-in-the-Moon, it is a custodian of the elixir of immortality.  During a lunar eclipse, it is said that she/he swallows the moon.

Liu Hai and Ch'an Chu

Liu Har a.k.a. Liu Hai was an actual minister in the Imperial government of 10th century China.  He was proficient in Taoist alchemy but he ended his days in exile.  Legend transformed him into a magician with a three-legged toad that could carry him anywhere he wished.  A popular depiction is of the man with his toad sitting on his shoulder.  Since the reluctant animal sometimes would hide in the nearest well, Liu fished it out using a line strung with gold coins.  

He is often depicted teasing the toad, Ch'an Chu, with a string of cash [square-holed coins].  He usually has one foot on the toad and dangles a cord upon which five gold cash are knotted. The motif is known as "Liu Hai sporting with the Toad" and is embossed on charms intended to induce prosperity.

A version says that the toad lived in a deep pool and was responsible for poisonous vapours which caused sickness, even death.  Liu Hai is said to have hooked the creature with the gold cash and destroyed it.  Some see here the moral that attraction to money can lead to ruination. 

In Southeast Asian places of commerce, it is common to find a figure of this toad which is decorated with coins and/or holding one in its mouth displayed on the counter or behind it.

Here, the toad is one of the symbols of that which is unattainable. It is believed a rare fungus or gem stored in its head is a universal panacea or cure.   Since the toad can live for more than thirty years, unusual in the animal realm, it is also considered a symbol of longevity.

In Japan, Liu Har became Gama-Sennin, or Ko'sensei, a warty old man resembling his animal companion. [link to a carved ivory netsuke.]

Caroline Huang-Earle's site Imperial Treasures tells us that Chang Kuo-Lao, one of the Eight Immortals of Taoism is "sometimes depicted riding on a colossal batrachian."*  

Also, there is a style of Chinese writing called Tadpole Characters, "so called from its resemblance to tadpoles swimming about in water."   

*Batrachians are a class allied to reptiles, but undergoing a metamorphosis in which the young is aquatic and breathes by means of gills.  It includes newts as well as frogs and toads.

Fertility

The toad, like the frog, is also associated with fertility which can be considered an aspect of prosperity.

Sherwin Nuland in The Mysteries Within (NY:  Simon & Schuster, 2000) says, in his chapter on the uterus, that that organ was actually thought to leap about inside the woman's body like a toad.  The unstable psychological state that used to be called hysteria was once attributed to the imaginary activity of the toad inside the woman (230.) 

The fact that the organ is susceptible to warts only confirmed its toad-like nature. Significantly, the uterus is the only organ which in votive offerings is represented by an animal rather than a simplified form of the actual shape.  

Nuland says that the toad was considered a Seelentier (German for soul animal) and the relation between the mythic animal and the reproductive organ is a tautological or circular one. One contemporary votive toad-uterus offering appears with a cross etched on its back as if to indicate its essential spiritual nature.

Sorcery

European tradition holds that toads are embodiments of evil.  For example, John Milton (1608-74,) in his epic poem Paradise Lost has a toad squatting in Eve's ear and injecting its poison into her blood.

People thought that a witch could use toad spittle to make herself invisible. A person who believed he or she could derive power from a toad, living or dead, was known as a "toad-witch."

Drugs

Certainly some toads produce substances that we would not normally wish to ingest or even, contact.  However, Bufo toxins are used in Chinese traditional medicine.  A contemporary flu remedy when recently analyzed was found to contain some.  Many of these substances are hallucinogenic, so it is easy to see how Lui Hai (mentioned above) could "travel" anywhere with his magic toad!

One toad, Bufo asiaticus, is the source of a drug similar in action to digitalis. Heat is applied to a gland near its eye, which then exudes a white liquid that evaporates to yield a powder used as a heart remedy.

In 1976, a substance related to nicotine was discovered in an exudate from the skin of the bright-blue-striped wine-red thumb-nail sized Ecuadorean poison-dart frog, Epidobates tricolor.   John Daly of the [American] National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that an extract from the frog's skin could block pain 200 times more effectively than morphine. He called the compound epibatidine in honor of the frog. Although epibatidine appeared to be a painkiller in rats, it was too toxic to use in humans.  Researchers at Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago, Illinois synthesized up to 500 variations of it before developing a new painkiller, ABT-594.

Have you noticed that the form of the human brain somewhat resembles a crouching toad?

 

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Votive offerings: small representations of a human or animal, or a body part that is left, often before or after a healing, at a place of worship.

Base images from ArtToday.com

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