Monday, 18 September 2017

Toad Doctor

The name Toad Doctor summons up the image of an expert in amphibian diseases
 but in earlier years it would have meant something completely different. 

While wise women and pellars would have utilised the so called magical 
properties of the toad it was only the Toad Doctor who  exclusively used 
this amphibian for cures.

Toad cures first made an appearance during Roman times and were given 
cooked in salt and oil as an antidote for snake bite. Toads were also used 
 as a cure for bed wetting; the amphibian would be tied between the legs of 
the child just before going to bed. If they started to urinate it was thought 
that the toad would start to croak and so wake the sleeper.
 It continued to be an important ingredient in folk magic for many centuries,
 and it was during the 17th and 18th century that saw a marked growth in the 
 popularity of this folk medicine.  
A ritual known as the toad bone rite became popular, particularly in East 
Anglia but also in other areas of the country, amongst both cunning folk 
and members of magical organizations such as the Scottish Society of the 
Horseman's Word and East Anglian Society of Horsemen. Although there 
were many variations, the ritual typically involved the killing of a toad or 
frog, having its flesh stripped from the bones by ants, and then throwing
 the bone into a stream at night. It was believed that this would grant the
 practitioner, who was known as a Toad Man, the ability to perform certain 
magical tasks.
Toad Doctors were found mainly in the south west of England and they would
 travel from town to town peddling their cures. The most common ailment that 
they treated  was scrofula, otherwise known as the kings evil. 

This is an infection 
of the lymph nodes, resulting in large swellings on the face and neck. A bag 
containing  toad legs would be placed around the patients neck which they would 
have to wear until the legs decayed by which time it was believed that the cure 
would have been effective.

The most well documented Toad Doctor was John Buckland of Dorset who 
described himself as a surgeon in the 1841 census. With his family he would 
hold an annual Toad Fair at the beginning of May at Stalbridge in Dorset. 
Crowds of people would travel to see him, all carrying their toads. He would 
then rip the legs off of the creatures and place them still twitching in bags, and 
put them around the patients neck. The reported price for this treatment was 
the exorbitant  seven shillings per bag.

Toad powder was prescribed for urinary problems as it was believed to be a 
diuretic, and for any complaints that  caused swellings, inflammations or growths. 
Toad bones and toad skins were also given to prevent plague and small pox.

 Thankfully these traditional remedies are a thing of the past. 

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