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Past horrors bestowed upon our fellow creatures

Updated on September 28, 2014


In this article I look at some bizarre stories concerning the persecution of our fellow creatures. In these more enlightened times they beggar belief. However, at the time these stories were written, the beliefs were real and hard to shake from the minds of uneducated men.

Common Toad

Bondy's Wildlife Images Photo gallery
Bondy's Wildlife Images Photo gallery | Source

Much maligned common toad

A large volume could easily be filled with tales alluding to this much maligned creature. Tales of which the toad appears to be the very incarnation of malignity, and to be wholly formed of poison, in the eyes of our ancestors.

If it burrowed near the root of a tree, everyone who ate a leaf of that tree would die!And, if he only handled it he would be struck by sudden cramp. The cause of this poisonous nature was the toads liver, which was " very vitious, and causeth the whole body to be of ill temperment" .Fortunately the toad had two livers, and although both of them were corrupted, yet one of them was full of poison and the other resisted poison.

As for remedies, the only effectual one, according to our forefathers, was of a complicated nature. The remedy to toad poisoning consisted of P[lantain, Black hellebore, powdered Crabs, the blood of the sea tortoise mixed with wine, the stalks of Dog's tongues, the powder of the right horn of a Hart, the vermet of an Hare, the quintessence of treacle, and the oil of a scorpion, mixed and taken ' ad libitum'.

Even in the days when this weird prescription was invented, some good was acknowledged to exist in the toad, one being the precious jewel in its head, another being its powder as a styptic.

Supposing a man was to fall down and strike his nose on a stone, he could instantly stop it bleeding, if only he had in his pocket a toad, that had been pierced through with a piece of wood and dried in the shade or smoke. All that was required was to hold the dried toad in the hand and the bleeding would ' immediately cease'. The reason it seems, for this effect is that, " Horror and fear constrained the blood to run in its proper place, for fear of a beast so contrary to human nature".

Another remarkable instance was related through the writings of our forefathers. At Darien household slaves watered the doorsteps in the evening, all the drops that fell on the right hand turned into toads. Even during the 1800's these poor creatures fared little better, as far as public opinion was concerned, and in France it was worse than in England.

Woods in his book 'Common Objects of the Country' 1994, conveys this amazing story to us. " I was walking in the Forest at Neulon, with a party of friends, and was brought to a check, by a sudden attack on a large toad, that was walking along the pathway. I succeeded in stopping a blow that was aimed at it, and was stooping down, intending to remove it to a p[lace of safety, when I was hastily pulled away and, horror was dipicted on the countenances of all the spectators. " It will bite you" one cried. " Pouah! "cried another " It will spit poison at you" " In France everyone kills toads " said a third. I objected that it could not bite, because it had no teeth.

" No teeth" they exclaimed, " In France toads always have teeth". then I said " I will open its mouth and show you it has none" Before I could touch it I was again dragged away, " teeth only come when they are 50 years old" was the explanation that was given, but still the death sentence had been passed, and I knew that the minute I moved the poor creature would be killed.

"Just then somebody remarked that tobacco killed toads, if put on their backs. So I took the advantage of the assertion, and made a compromise that, the only thing that might kill it was to put tobacco on its back. The terms being arranged, plenty of tobacco was produced-and very bad tobacco too, as is generally the case in France, and no one dared to go near enough to the toad, but myself. I placed about half an inch of the weed on the back of the toad, as it sat in a rut. For a minute or two, the creature sat quite still, and all the party exclaimed " see the toad is dead" " Ah, the nasty animal! ".

" However, the toad rose, shook off all the tobacco, and recommenced his march along the road. The only good that was done was the saving of that individual toads life, for all the party retained their faith in the toad's teeth, and probably thought the creature would not touch me, because I was a trifle madder than the rest of my nation, who are always very mad on the French stage"

The belief that toads had teeth seems to have been commonplace among rural communities up until the 1900's. In these more enlightened times gardeners and growers realize the good these harmless creatures do by way of ridding gardens and allotments of worms slugs, grubs and insects of various kinds.

As with the frog, when a toad comes upon its prey, the tongue shoots straight out rapidly and is withdrawn again with the prey stuck to it. So fast is the action it seems like the insect has disappeared by magic.

Common toads are far from beautiful but they are harmless creatures | Source

Another superstitious and somewhat fishy tale

Another author wrote in 1894, relates that a newt known at that time Efts, was the subject of an amazing occurrence. The author states " One of these animals, when taking a walk, alarmed an acquaintance of mine sadly. he was rather a tall man than otherwise, and did not appear to be particularly timid. But one day he came to me looking somewhat pale, and announced that he had just been terribly frightened.

" A fish, with legs! ", said he, " Four legs, got out of the water and ran right across the path in front of me!, I saw and ran". " A fish with legs ! " I replied, " there are no such creatures". " indeed there are , though, for I saw them. It had four legs, and waggled its tail ! It was horrible !Horrible!" " It was a newt " I replied " an eft, there is nothing to be afraid off" " It was the legs" he said shuddering, " Those dreadful legs, I don't mind being bitten, but I can't stand legs"

Many stories of ill-omen are attributed to the newt here is another amazing one that I discovered. The story proclaimed that a girl from a village was filling her pitcher at a stream which ran near the village, when an 'effet', jumped out of the water, sprang on her arm, bit out a piece of flesh, spat fire into the wound, and, leaping into the water escaped. the girls arm instantly swelled to the shoulder and the doctor was obliged to cut it off.

However, when an educated gentleman asked questions about this 'true story' , the villagers stated that it occurred long before our time, and he also discovered that no medical records existed alluding to an amputation of a girls arm. despite this the myth and superstition lived on for many decades and the belief could not be shaken about this harmless amphibian, and many of the poor creatures were killed because of that belief.

Newt on land


An even more bizarre story of the newt

I came across an even more bizarre story concerning a naturalist who kept newts in a tank to study.. He kept two or three newts to further his studies in a glass vase in his room, and a further eight more in a trough outside. One day the proprietor came into him and ordered the destruction of his newts, for they had killed one of his calves.

The naturalist remonstrated " They could not possibly have killed a calf for they have no fangs and their mouths are tiny" The proprietor claimed that the newts had got into the drinking trough and the water was poisoned by them, hence the calf had died. No amount of reasoning could deter him from this belief and the newts had to be destroyed.

Another tale relates to a Sexton ,Clark, gardener, who told that he had been cutting the grass in the churchyard, when an effet ran at him,, and bit him on the thumb. he chopped of the effet's head with his knife, but his thumb was " very bad for a week"

Superstitions and myths have led to the persecution of many of our fellow creatures by our forefathers,{ and even in these more enlightened times persecution still occurs under one guise or another to many of them }, however, in the past it arose through general fears of the uneducated minds.

Today,s persecution is through selfishness and greed. A typical case of the latter is the destruction of Elephants, and Rhinos. They are slaughtered for their tusks and horns, which procure for these murderer's a great deal of wealth.

Sad destruction for greed


Other fishy tales

Readers may be interested in other bizarre stories that are related via my article " Sounds Fishy to Me" here on Hubpages.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, these stories sound amazing to the modern mind but in the days they were written these beliefs were very real. Toads and newts are great animals. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I, for one, adore toads and newts. They had been playmates of mine in youthful days. Well done, and so interesting!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Devika, it is a sad fact that many animals have {and still do } suffer at the hands of man. Thank you for your usual kind comments my friend. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Past horrors bestowed upon our fellow creatures how interesting about the harmless creatures. You have explained about each creature with great interest thought. I like all the lovely photos displayed.


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