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.
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.
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.
A Tibetan twist to The City Frog and the Country Frog
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:
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.
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:
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
Have you noticed that the form of the human brain somewhat resembles a crouching toad?
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