Tuesday, February 23, 2016

TOADS: The Wytch Files Rating System

We have a silly side and were looking for a rating symbol that was a little unusual. Toads have long been associated with witches and magic and were a natural fit for the less ordinary ratings symbol we were seeking. The Wytch Files has adopted a toad-based ratings scale from 0 - 7 toads, including half toads represented as tadpoles and zero being toad roadkill. Whether as ingredient or helper, toads have been part of witchcraft for millennia.

In case you aren’t knowledgeable about this favorite witches familiar, we’ve rounded up a few tidbits on our warty friends.

Toads are found on six of earth’s seven continents and have played a role in folklore all over the world. The Bufonidae or “true toads” are stocky amphibians with thick, dry, warty skin and stubby legs. They hop and walk with a lumbering gait and always seem to have a lot of attitude! The eggs develop and hatch in freshwater as their frog cousins do but toads spend the rest of their life out of water, only returning to procreate. Toads range in size from just over an inch to 15 inches long like the giant cane toad and can live up to 40 years!

Though they are amphibians, toads are primarily associated with the earth. They are burrowing animals, loving mud and a leafy forest floor. Some species also hibernate for the winter, digging down below the topsoil to be resurrected every spring. Their burrowing connects them to the secrets of plants, the earth, and the dead. Some believed that toads could house spirits of the dead and elementals or spirits of the land which later became devils come up from Hell. Toads being nocturnal also didn’t help their nefarious reputations in Christian cultures. But after toads rise from the “grave” the first thing they do is screw! The mating of toads coincides with the spring and seasonal floods around the world. Their large number of offspring and connection to life-giving waters earned them the association with fertility in many cultures. The ancient world had several anthropomorphic toad deities of fertility, childbirth, and midwifery.

Toads are transformers, and most famously have played the role of keeper of magical secrets and ancient wisdom in myths. Like a magician, a toad can shape shift as evidenced by its metamorphosis from tadpole to toad. They begin life breathing water but spend it breathing air. They trade fins for legs, and trade water for the dark damp earth. Toads also shed their skins regularly, further connecting them with transformation and rebirth. Toads can even change their sex, a powerful magical act with parallels to shamanism.

Toads are also seen as trickster magicians, changing size by puffing up their bodies as a defense to scare predators. They are masters of camouflage and some can change the color of their skin to match their surroundings. This ability was why toads were also thought able to grant invisibility. Toads are also thought to be masters of plants and poisons. Their skin is coated with poison to send would-be predators on a bad psychedelic trip to the grave. Toads have special glands that emit toxic secretions containing the hallucinogen DMT as a defense. Many playful dogs have have a bad day after nibbling at toads!

This dangerous bufotoxin has historically been milked from toads for use in flying ointments and potions. Right, I said milked - you don’t have to kill this quirky creature to trip. Toads are friendly enough to keep as pets, as witches are said to have done since the middle ages. Indeed, Doreen Valiente was friends with a natterjack toad, and Basque witches allegedly dressed them up in ribbons! A toad can even go from pet to lover and transform into a beautiful prince or princess, a popular fairy tale motif. A few other tales have magical toads granting wishes as reward for helping them. A dead toad, however, did have its uses. There is lore of a toad stone in the heads of toads which was thought to be a cure any poison, and a skeleton is required for the famed toad bone amulet which would grant you powers over man and beast.

Alas, our warty companions are in danger of extinction from pollution and loss of habitat in many areas! Please educate yourself on the protected toads of your area if you intend ton keep them as pets or harvest them. Help local toads thrive by setting up toad homes in your gardens or parks. If you want to get your hands a toad totem AND help the environment, buy from Australia’s Toad Man Jack who exclusively targets the invasive cane toad.

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