This week I was delighted when my daughter found a baby toad under a patch of grass on the allotment. A beautiful little creature, satisfyingly compact and full of character. (Don’t worry he was safely returned to his hiding place a few moments later).
I was doubly delighted to discover the poem Toad by Norman MacCaig via a Twitter feed. The last verse of the poem reads:
A jewel in your head? Toad,
you've put one in mine,
a tiny radiance in a dark place.
I love a poem that raises questions. ‘A jewel in the head?’ had me intrigued. A quick google later I discovered there is such a thing as a ‘toadstone’ a highly polished stone which was thought in medieval times to hold magical powers and act as an amulet. They are in fact fossilised fish teeth! There is a great article here if you want the technical fossil info.
A toad stone was thought to sweat if venom or poison was detected and protect the wearer from the effects. My favourite part of the information on the ‘Wartski’ web page is that in ‘1658 the English cleric Edward Topsell suggested a method of harvesting toadstones by placing a toad on a red cloth and waiting for it to cough up the stone.’
I once read of a toad that lived in an enclosed courtyard in France for 50 years, quite happily, it sounds like an urban myth, if only I could find the article again! Ah well 🙂 I will satisfy myself with the thought of magical toadstone amulets instead.