Toads are associated with witches both as ingredients in brews and as Familiars. Toad skins are covered with glands that secrete a thick, white poison when the toad is provoked or injured. The poison, bufotenin, also called toads’ milk in popular lore, is hallucinogenic. Depending on the species of toad, the poison may simply taste bad or it may kill (see Poisons).
Since the time of Zoroaster, ca. 600 b.C.e., toads have been linked to evil; Zoroaster declared that for this reason, they should all be killed. The toad is the infernal opposite of the frog, which for the ancient Egyptians symbolized fertility and resurrection. In medieval and later times, toads were regarded as satanic creatures. Witches were believed to be able to disguise themselves as toads. Toads also were familiars, housing Demons who were assigned by the Devil to be servants to witches. Witches were said to send their toad familiars out to poison others and cause mishaps and mayhem. Toads also accompanied them to Sabbats.
Toads were common ingredients in various magical recipes. According to lore, witches decapitated and skinned them and then threw them into their Cauldrons along with other bizarre ingredients. A lotion made of toad’s Spittle and sowthistle sap could make a witch invisible. In folk Magic remedies, the ashes of a burned toad mixed with brandy was believed to be an effective cure for drunkenness.
Toads also were used as charms in Necromancy and black magic. To kill an enemy, a witch or sorcerer baptized a toad with the enemy’s name and then tortured the toad to death. The victim supposedly suffered the same fate.
It was believed that toads carried a jewel, called a toadstone, that would detect poison by becoming hot in its presence. The toadstone was either extracted from the toad’s head or was vomited up by the toad.
In fantastic tales of witches’ sabbats during the witch hunts, witches were said to bite, mangle and tear apart toads in their worship of the Devil. By stamping his foot, the Devil could send all toads into the earth.
Toads in contemporary Witchcraft.
Some contemporary Witches consider toads good familiars, noting that the creatures are intelligent, easy to tame and easy to care for. They also are said to have psychic qualities. reportedly, Witches have methods of collecting toad’s milk without harm to the toad.
- Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
- Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. 1973. reprint, Custer, Wash.: Phoenix Publishing, 1986.