There was a toad in the garden today. It was invisible until it moved, and the subtle lines and spots of genetic design came through. I smiled.
Toads are the representatives of Bad Things. Princes get turned into them. They are the familiars of dark witches, representatives of death, weirdness, and not at all fuzzy or cute. Toads hang out with snakes in the back end of the cute pile wandering along with hairless cats and beetles. So I saw this toad and I thought about all that. Stepping carefully so as to avoid disturbing it any more than I already had, I picked up my hoe and kept making holes for transplanting cucumbers plants.
In northeastern Europe the toad is associated with the witch goddess Ragana. The height of her power comes at midsummer. She is said to call young men into the forest, seducing them and then sucking their life force from them. She sounds like quite the cougar to me. I laugh, and yet I don’t. Do I read this as another example of fear of the powerful older woman? Certainly we have plenty of examples in various Disney villains. There’s Ursula, the only fat girl in the entire Disney pantheon, the Wicked Stepmother (does she even get a name?) and my personal favorite, Maleficent. She was always my favorite villain, even before the remake. I watched that movie as a kid just so I could see her in all her fabulous, dark glory. If only my hands could ever be half as elegant as hers. Older women are either wise or evil or possibly and most terrifyingly: both.
I have tiny crows feet at the corner of my eyes and a permanent frown line from reading too intently for too long. These days I have more in common with the villains than I do with the heroes. Am I breaking this down too far? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a witch is just a bitch.
I don’t think so. Neither do the spirits I work with. In the past couple of years I’ve acquired a new hobby: vulture culture. That’s where you collect the bones of dead things. It’s been a really powerful and fun way for me to connect with the land of the dead. It has become a devotional practice for looking at the darker side of life. For a priestess of light and rainbowsit’s been a little weird. There are nasty smells and rotten flesh. There’s the details of how to de-flesh (yep. That’s the technical term.) and cleaning a dead thing’s teeth carefully with a dedicated tooth brush. The bones themselves are quite beautiful and I’ve enjoyed adorning them. Really, it started with my cat. My dead cat. He died because he had a heart murmur. His twin had died a couple of years before that. They had matching but opposite stripe-y spots with white fur. I buried him in the back yard and my husband built a cairn. We would give him offerings. It was good.
Then we moved. Our house went into foreclosure as we got sucked under in the tidal wave of the housing bubble. My dead cat got left behind with the empty house and the sagging porch we could never afford to fix. So being the Druid that I am, I went on a mission to get him back. I dug up the shoebox feeling like a grave robber and a trespasser on land that had been mine. I found his skull with a thrill of truly Celtic delight. The Celts loved their skulls.
I took him home. I cleaned him up and made him a nice little wooden plaque to hang on.
I am that creepy old witch.
What does it matter if I have a fondness for a sustainable, eco-friendly material that no one else wants or cares about? I think this is what happens when the princess grows up and discovers that life doesn’t end when the fairy tale ends. She gets slowly older, hopefully stronger. Life doesn’t give us happy endings. There is no guarantee. But I saw a toad in the garden today and he and I were unafraid of what was to come.
Toad blessings are the backwards blessings, the things you didn’t expect to turn out. The ending that was painful but taught you something, the beginning that was like pulling thorns from skin. Toad blessings are real, and dark, and gritty. They’re scary. Most of us run from them if we can. I know I’ve run from toad blessings a couple of times. More than once they’ve made me cry. But if you can find the gift in that curse than you’ve found the power of the witch. I’ll take it. How ‘bout you?