Toad-Witch A special kind of self-initiated witch in English folklore. Toad-Witches, or Toadsmen and Toadswomen as they are also called, were powerful and feared, especially for their ability to “overlook” or cast the Evil Eye. Toadsmen had power over horses, pigs and women, while Toadswomen had power over horses, pigs and men. Being a Toad-Witch was considered dangerous, as one was likely to go insane because of the tremendous supernatural power, and to die a violent death.
Stories about Toad-Witches have been passed down through oral tradition, and were published in England by the turn of the 20th century. In her published account in 1901, Tilley Baldrey of Huntingtoft, a self-professed ToadWitch, told how she had acquired the powers.
Baldrey caught a type of hopping toad called a natterjack (now rare) and carried it in her bosom until it rotted away to the backbone. She then held the bones over running wAter at midnight. The supernatural forces pulled her over the water, and she initiated herself by saying, “Then you be a witch.” Baldrey thus was empowered to overlook, bind men and animals, to kill without disease, see in the dark like an animal and drive in mud where other vehicles would get mired.
Baldrey said that her husband, Dola, ran off with another woman, Neoma Cason, and went to live in a village about 16 miles away. She magically forced him to return to her by making him walk backwards the entire distance. This reportedly was witnessed by four persons.
Then Baldrey exacted revenge upon her rival. She took a lock of Cason’s hair and burned it in a Ritual to curse her. Cason was terrified when she learned of this, and sought the help of a Cunning Man to undo the Curse. He told her that in order to do so, she must obtain the ashes of her hair— which, of course, was impossible. Doomed, she went into decline and soon died. Baldrey attended her funeral and threw the ashes of her hair on the coffin as it was being lowered into the ground.
There were other ways for aspiring Toad-Witches to get the toad’s bones for Initiation. Dead toads were placed in anthills to be eaten away to the bones. The bones were then taken at midnight to a stream that ran from north to south and cast into the water. Those that floated upstream against the current were the magical bones (north traditionally is associated with the dark powers). These bones often were worn as amulets and carried in special pouches, especially for horse charming.
Acquiring the power to overlook and to kill was sometimes said to require nine toads, all tied together with string and left to die. The power was acquired after the toads were buried.
- Pennick, Nigel. Secrets of East Anglican Magic. London: Robert Hale, 1995.