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Notes from Enchanted England

The Frog Magician

Five minutes ago, hail was drumming down on the velux windows of my attic office. Now a weak sun shines against a grey sky, in five minutes I suspect it will rain . It is constant change. This makes my chickens furious. They do not know whether to take shelter or sunbathe. They set up complaining squawks whenever they see me. Last year I saw one of my hens run round the garden with a small animal in her beak. When I cornered her I found it was a tiny frog that I forced her to release and set it free.

The Frog Magician

Last week the frog came back and began his magic show. He appeared from nowhere on the side of the dark pond and found the larger female waiting for him. He clasped her in a locked embrace all night. In the morning they had disappeared but the water seemed full of bubbles. Frogspawn had been carefully laid between the sharp leaves of Irises , protecting them from some goldfish that circled the pool’s depths like glittering sharks.

In two weeks or so, I will see the frogspawn develop from an eyelike globe, to a container for a growing tadpole, where it will behave like a tiny fish. The tadpoles create shoals, swim together and are only capable of living in water. Two weeks on from that the tadpole will change again, growing limbs and lungs to become a handsome, swaggering amphibian, as confident on land as it is in pools.

Transformation

Possibly because the frog goes through such an open process of change, its role in myths and fairy tale is one of a shapeshifter. A creature that transforms itself. Only the hare is able to take on more shapes. While a caterpillar turns into a winged beauty, the process within its chrysalis is mysterious and hidden. Whereas if you watch frogspawn’s daily progress to tadpole to frog is clear as though watching it through a glass bubble. Utterly fantastical.

Myths & Legends

The frog is a creature of the underworld, a possessor of secrets, a finder of lost things. The most famous of all is of the Frog Prince - or Iron Henry. The frog is relentless in his demands that his bargain should be kept but the princess - as beautiful as the sun - is cruel. She dashes him against a wall in her bid to get away from him.

In the Fairy Frog the creature goes through grotesque and monstrous changes before revealing his identity and returning to a more normal size. Like the frog prince, this animal also tests the validity of an oath. The world around them, they suggest, is mutable but the spoken promise is not. Break or change your word at your peril.

In Poland, children learnt of the frog princess who had been cruelly transformed.

In the bible, ancient Egypt was cursed with a plague of frogs that failed to persuade the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. Both this plague and the story of the Frog Princess shows the link to weather that the frog symbolises. The princess reveals her true identity in a dazzling sequence of storms and lightening flashes. While the plague of frogs that fell like rain from the sky is not such a rare event.

But why is the frog linked so much to royalty. A clue may also be found in Egypt where the frog goddess Heqet was worshipped. Even her name sounds like a croak. She was associated with fertility and the rising waters of the Nile. It is suggested she was the original for the Greek goddess Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, and what is the most common form of magic for witches (according to books)? That’s right they turn people into frogs.

The Garden Frog

Before I had a pond I had frogs. I found them everywhere, in long grasses and under flower pots. They had a silent mute appeal and so I built them a pond into which they plunged. I feed the goldfish to ensure they are not hungry and eat the frogspawn. None of the frogs has ever spoken - not even a thank you, although to be fair I am not a princess with a golden ball of the sun in my hands. But still, I think to have frogs is lucky. They are a sign that the garden is healthy and the water good enough to support life. To me, the frogs are one of the charming green gods of spring.

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