Elizabeth, our Transforming Lives Trainee, writes about how toads have been represented in the past and the present day:
Toads have gone through a major rebrand over the years. Whoever did PR for them did quite a good job, in my opinion.
In the UK, during Medieval times, toads were much feared. Most people believed that the humble toad was in fact the Devil incarnate; if you were to feed a toad a piece of consecrated bread, then you would turn into a witch or a wizard. The hatred of toads went so far that propaganda became truly out of hand – describing toads to have the ability to spit poison and breathe fire like tiny, fiendish dragons. Toads were said to do it all: eat people, spite people if they accidentally injured them, have venomous breath (I’m quite jealous as all of the aforementioned are on my bucket list for life). During the reign of King Stephen in the 1100s, prisoners were subjected to the ‘cold, hunger, stench, and the attacks of toads’ (I know many people here at Froglife that would argue that the so-called attacks of toads would actually be quite the entertainment on a dull day).
Romani Gypsy mythology looked upon toads more lovingly, with tales of a fairy Queen who lived in a toad-shaped castle clad with gold. Consequentially, women looking to become mothers would leave small toad statues at shrines. On the other hand, Estonian mythology lead people to believe that killing a toad was a pious act, and would excuse them of their sins for the next 9 days. In Scotland, apparently a toad’s dried tounge made you irresistible to women. In England, witches kept toads as familiars and it was thoughts that toad’s saliva (swelter’d venom) was mixed with the sap of sow-thistles and then used by a witch to paint onto themselves to become invisible. Toads have also been used for medicinal purposes, allegedly being able to heal rheumatism, scrofula, and toothache.
However, after the appearance of Mr. Toad of Toad Hall in the 1900s Wind In The Willows, the general sentiment towards toads in popular culture began to shift. In the 1970s, we had the series Catweazle which features his toad companion named Touchwood (positively named as something synonymous with luck). And in the 1980s, we were blessed with Captain Beaky and his band – featuring Timid Toad. And in food culture, we have the British classic – toad in the hole. If toads were still thought to be so frightful and Satanic, I’m sure we wouldn’t be tucking into that meal anytime soon.