Fertility and Fortune: The Symbolism of Frogs Across the Globe
Amphibians are made up of three groups. The Anura order is made up of frogs and toads, while the Caudata consists of salamanders and newts. The third order is the Gymnophiona made up of caecilians that resemble large worms and live underground. The Greek word amphibian means “both lives”, denoting how frogs live – they start their lives in water before continuing to live on land, always close to a water source.
The Anura order has over 6000 species, meaning that frogs and toads outnumber the other amphibians. These social creatures live in groups called colonies or knots, even swimming together when young. Evidence shows that frogs have been around for as long as the dinosaurs, and from the forests, deserts, to the Arctic Circle, frogs have adapted to survive extremes.
Frogs and Symbolism
Throughout human history, frogs have been interpreted in different ways. Predominantly, frogs are seen to bring fertility, prosperity, and good fortune in the African, Native American, Eastern, Asian, and Celtic cultures and religions.
In Christian cultures, frogs were associated with pagan beliefs and the biblical 2nd plague, leading Christians to view them with negative connotations and as unclean spirits. Frogs also play a huge role in stories and myths, where they are either higher beings, cultural legends, or the prince in fairy tales.
From ancient times, humans relied on the rains to mark the abundance of food or the start of the farming season. Since in most parts of the world, frogs appear in large numbers with the rain, it is no wonder they came to symbolize fertility and fortune.
Since frog symbolism in most cultures embodies prosperity, fertility, good luck, potential, and transformation, it is worth exploring how these symbolisms were born.
Symbol of Fertility
Being semi-aquatic, frogs, and their association with life-supporting water, have been revered for millennia. Add to that the fact that some species lay up to 20,000 eggs, it is no wonder that for many cultures they symbolize fertility.
The annual flooding of the Nile brought with it huge numbers of frogs, leading the ancient Egyptians to associate the frog with agricultural success. As a symbol of fertility and renewal, the water goddess Heket was often represented as having a frog’s head. Women in ancient Egypt also wore frog-shaped amulets, denoting the midwife goddess Heket.
The ancient Greeks, Romans, and the Navajo tribe in America all believed that frogs brought rain.
The goddess Ceneotl also took the form of a frog with many udders. She was the patron of fertility and childbirth for Mesoamerican tribes. For the Aztecs, the toad symbolizes Tlaltecuhtli, the goddess of earth’s mother responsible for the cycle of death and rebirth. She is often symbolized as a toad, not unusual since many toad species in these parts cannibalize, and Tlaltecuhtli demanded the sacrifice of humans with her extra mouths and constant hunger.
The Celts of central Europe also associated the frog with fertility, rain, and the Earth. The sound of a croaking frog meant that rains were on their way. Frogs were also used by the Celts to heal their children of upper respiratory infections. They did this by putting a live frog into the mouth of the sick child, later releasing it to swim away. Talk about ‘having a frog in your throat’ – apparently, this is where the saying originated from.
In Japan, the frog is associated with the rainy season called Tsuyu, and many regard the amphibians as the gods of rain. When early Hindus heard the frogs croak, they also knew that the rainy season was nearing.
Symbol of Fortune
Fortune can only come when there is rain. The Aymara tribe in Peru and Bolivia, placed frog images on hilltops to call the rain. The toads were blamed if the rains failed to appear.
The ancient Chinese art and science of feng shui aim to achieve balance and harmony. Being a symbol of prosperity, a figurine of the money frog (based on the Chan Chu spirit) is used in businesses and homes to bring and protect wealth.
Frogs are also used to attract prosperity and good fortune by the Japanese. This is either done by keeping a pet frog at home or carrying a frog figurine in their wallets. This helps ensure any money spent or lost is returned to the owner at some point.
Population growth has unfortunately placed the creatures that inspired the human imagination to create so many stories, myths, and beliefs in danger. When ecosystems are destroyed, frog and toad populations plummet, leaving us all poorer and the surroundings silent.