The Rains Came, the Land was Renewed, and Life Returned:
Frogs as Fertility Symbols
But frogs and toads were not always and in all places reviled as evil. For many cultures, these amphibians were symbols of and connected to divine powers of fertility, regeneration, and rebirth.
In ancient Egypt, the frog appears as a symbol of fertility, water, and renewal. The water goddess Heket often appeared as a woman with the head of a frog. Frogs were also the symbol of the midwife goddess Heqit, who ruled conception and birth, and Egyptian women often wore metal amulets in the form of frogs to enlist her good favor. Frogs appeared in great numbers each year at the flooding of the Nile, an event which was crucial to agriculture in that it provided water for many distant fields. Frogs thrived in the muddy bogs left by the receding waters, and it is easy to imagine how frogs came to be viewed as favorable symbols of abundance. In fact, the frog became a symbol for the number hefnu, which meant either 100,000 or simply "an immense number." Perhaps it is frogs' impressive fertility combined with their association with water, so important for human life, that has led humans to see them as such potent and positive symbols.
In pre-Colombian Mesoamerica, many tribes worshipped a goddess known as Ceneotl, the patron of childbirth and fertility, who took the form of a frog or a toad with many udders. Also, frogs and toads were considered spirits of rain, and were used in many rituals intended to bring the rains. The Aymara tribe of Peru and Bolivia made small frog images, which they placed on hilltops, to call down the rain. Indeed, if the rains failed, some tribes blamed the toads for withholding the rain, and would lash them in punishment.
The early Aztecs saw the toad as Tlaltecuhti, the earth mother goddess, who embodied the endless cycle of death and rebirth. She appears either as a real toad or in quasi-human form, with clawed feet and a gaping fanged mouth, and her joints are adorned with human skulls. She usually appears in a squatting position, giving birth to the new world, while dying souls pass through her fanged mouth to the netherworld. In one legend, she is the source of the entire universe: Quetzalcoatl, the bird-serpent god, and Tezcatlipoca, the magician-jaguar god, find her floating alone on the primordial sea. They tear her body in half, with one half forming heaven, and the other forming the earth. Some common Mesoamerican toads are known to cannibalize their own and other toad species, which may explain the use of the toad as the image of destruction as well as fertility or rebirth.
The ancient Chinese saw the toad as a predominantly female force, a negative "yin" in opposition to the positive male "yang." The moon was the ultimate symbol of yin, and so many Chinese tales refer to the toad whose face is visible at the full moon. Interestingly, this moon-toad was thought to occasionally swallow the moon, causing eclipses.
Frogs and toads are our companions on earth, as they have been for countless centuries. They live in the stories and myths of almost every human culture, taking on almost every role conceivable, from the trickster, to the devil, to the mother of the universe. The human imagination, with its need for meaning, its hunger for stories, casts and recasts frog and toad as major characters in the unfolding story of the world. But as human population growth destroys more and more of their habitat, as their numbers diminish from causes still mysterious to us, we hear less and less from these companions. What richness will our stories lose when we no longer hear these spirit voices at all, not because we have lost our fascination for them, but because the woods and ponds are literally silent and empty? Who will populate our mythologies when these creatures are gone? Perhaps we will be left with only one story: the story of loss.