Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Frogs in Irish Folklore
So a little while ago a good friend asked me about what, if anything, I had heard relating to frogs and Irish folklore. I had to admit that while I personally associated frogs with the Good People I wasn't entirely sure why and I couldn't recall offhand any specific frog folklore. So its been on the back of my mind for a few weeks now and recently while on the Duchas.ie site I decided to see what I could find. Since there was more frog folklore than you might expect it seemed like a good idea to share it here with everyone.
Frogs in Celtic myth in general are obscure and hard to find much information on. However we do know that they had some position of importance, whatever that may have been because frog bones have been found in faunal deposits in Gaul. In a chariot burial in Marne 100 frog bones were found along with boar, pig, and duck in a pot (Green, 1992). Miranda Green suggests that the presence of frog bones in burial sites may relate to teh animals amphibious nature and connection to both life and death.
When we look at Irish folklore we find more material about frogs covering a variety of topics. The following is a summary of folklore from the awesome Meitheal Dúchas site:
Frogs and weather: yellow frogs mean fair weather, black frogs mean rain. Frogs croaking or coming inland mean rain or storms. Yellow frogs can also mean dry weather.
Frogs Guarding Treasure: there are many stories where a person digging for gold will find the hole suddenly spewing copious amounts of frogs until they are driven off, and in one case where men were digging at the roots of a hawthorn the frogs jump out and nearly eat them. Often the frogs were described as unusually large, sometimes the size of a person's head, and they may simply chase the treasure hunters off with sheer numbers while in other stories they were actively dangerous. In many of these accounts the people who seek the treasure guarded by the frogs die soon afterwards.
Frogs as Fairy Punishments: One story tells of Poteen makers who forgot to give the first glass of a batch to the fairies and later that night found themselves surrounded by thousands of frogs. They believed these frogs had been sent by the Good People as a punishment.
Frogs and Fairies: frogs also seem to be associated more generally with the Good People, for example we see this in the poem 'the Wreck of the Ferry Boat'
"So Hanly, elves of every ilk,
Draws from his vast domain,
From Cooltacker he draws little folk,
From Sheeane little men;
From Clounshee both frogs and waterdogs [otters],
And green-caps from the glen"
And it's said that it's unlucky to get water from a well with a bucket that may have milk still in it as the frogs will get the butter for the year, which is reminiscent of the lore about not giving out milk or butter on May day as it may be one of the Good People asking and they'll take your luck for the year.
There is also a story of a man who dreamt for three straight nights of treasure* in a specific location under a stone; on the fourth night he went out with a neighbour to dig for it. The two men used holy water to mark a circle around the stone to keep the fairies out and began digging. The fairies appeared in the form of horses but couldn't approach due to the circle of holy water so when the men found the gold the fairies turned it all into frogs. Nonetheless the men filled their sack with the frogs and when they got home they found the sack filled with gold.
Frogs as Omens: frogs in the house are bad luck or sign of a coming storm and a frog in the house at night is an omen of death.
Frog Bones: in one account there's a mention of the use of frog bones in a love spell. It says that if a woman loved a man she could take a live frog and place it in a box until it died and all the flesh was gone. She would then remove the 'wish bone' from it and hide it in the clothes of the person she fancied. According to the folklore the person would immediately fall in love with the woman.
That covers the selection of frog folklore I was able to find, excluding only the use of frogs in folk cures which I feel falls into a separate discussion. It's clear that frogs in lore are more complex than one might assume, and that there is indeed a long and complex association between frogs and the Daoine Maithe although it is one that is rather difficult to fully understand. We might gather from what can be seen here that frogs represent a connection between the living and the dead as well as this world and the Otherworld and that, generally speaking, they act as guardians and protectors of that which belongs to the Fair Folk (keeping in mind that these are not merely frogs but large, fierce frogs that can eat a person or effect their luck). The use of frog bones is an interesting practice, relating back perhaps to the hidden power of the frog and its connection to the Otherworldly powers.
*the pattern of dreaming three nights in a row of treasure in a location is something we see in various folk stories.
Frogs (2018) Meitheal Dúchas https://www.duchas.ie/en/src?q=frogs
Green, M., (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth