Jun 25, 2008

The Moon Stallion

I found these two videos through Jack Daw's Covenspace blog.

They are from a BBC children's series call "The Moon Stallion". The first one is showing the children watching a man perform The Toad Ritual.

Appendix 1: The Toad Bone Ritual in Rural East Anglia

In Nineteenth Century East Anglia a magical ritual was carried out which has subsequently become a thing of almost obsessive interest amongst modern occultists and witches. In its origins it was a ritual by which rural agricultural workers empowered themselves by means of a diabolic pact. The pact, which was usually carried out between a solitary individual and a spirit, usually euphemistically described, which was in fact the Devil.

The ritual was felt to give its adherents a singular power, that of mastery over their fellow creatures, man and animal. In this regard, performance of the ritual was a functional direct affair. The ritual can usefully be called the “Toad Bone Ritual,” as such I will refer to it here. In its original milieu, like so much rural magic, it was referred to by means of euphemism. One of them was “Going to the River”, so closely was its practice aligned to the key event of its performance: a floating of prepared de-fleshed toad bones on the surface of a river at midnight.

The following is a presentation and discussion of key features of the ritual. I have resisted the temptation to trace the antecedents of the ritual and its many cognates in the magical praxis of Europe and the Americas. That lies beyond the scope of this brief article and has in any case been better done elsewhere. Suffice it to say that whether or not it was performed in a collective context elsewhere as in the rites of the Horseman’s Word, in East Anglia the emphasis is in individual not collective performance.

Capturing the toad:

There are in the available literature several examples of the use of a frog instead of a toad. The reasons for this are complex. They lie both in the past of the ritual in antiquity and in the practical problem of obtaining toads of the correct type in certain areas. Suffice it to say that a toad was generally preferred and used in three-quarters of the examples.

If toads were used the preferred species was a Natterjack Toad known locally as the Walking Toad. This toad which is now very rare and highly protected requires a very special environment in which to thrive. They need sandy heaths in which to capture their prey, grubs insects and some of the smaller amphibia. In order to breed shallow pools of the correct pH level need to be available within about a mile of the toads’ feeding grounds.

There were a number of preferred places for capture of the toad. In Norfolk Fritton Common is mentioned in one account as being suitable. Natterjack toads could also be found in coastal dunes and marram grass plains such as those at Winterton Ness.

Two factors have contrived to severely reduce the number of suitable habitats in recent years. The first is the growth of mass tourism. This has contrived to make places like Winterton, formerly remote and unvisited, an ideal place for such activites as dog exercising, sun bathing and recreational walking, all of which combined have severely impacted on the solitary and reclusive toad.

The second and greater threat has been posed by another seemingly equally benign activity, the plantation of former coastal heaths with Scots and other pines. In its classic habitat Fritton Common the Natterjack toad was completely eliminated and became extinct because of the plantation of the heath for forestry.

Preparation of the bones

The Toad ritual was never a thing of good taste and propriety. It was an act demonstrative of rebellion and dissent. Hence some of the methods of preparing the toad and its bones for the ritual can now seem cruel and distasteful.

In some cases the toad was placed in a box pierced with holes. The toad when dead was eaten by the ants and its de-fleshed bones were then used for the ritual itself. In other cases, the toad was sadistically killed, by being put in a box pierced with pins. In other cases a toad was placed directly in the ant heap. In some accounts the toad was crucified upon a thorn bush.
In two examples from oral history testimony I have found instances where dead toads have been used. So it is not as is sometimes said necessary for the toads to be alive and killed. The toad ritual is not a form of sacrifice.

Having said that, it is as well to remind us that the toadman (or toad woman) saw himself as being a singular person as a result of performing the toad ritual. He was a man set apart not only by being willing to make a pack with the Devil but also by his tolerance of any means at his disposal to effect his ends. The killing of the toad and the often cruel means of doing so were in a way exemplary of his ruthlessness and separation from the ethics of kindness and responsibility.

Going to the river

All of those who speak about the toad ritual agree that the all-important event without which one could not become a toadman is the ritual flotation of the bones on the river at night. Without this ritual the bones were mere bones without virtue. Without the ritual the toadman was a mere mortal subject to the vagaries of life and eventual divine judgement.

The toad ritual is the pact making of a semi illiterate class, the rural agricultural worker. Here there are no long and elaborate written pacts specifying in detail the terms by which for a certain measured period of years the pact maker might serve His Satanic Majesty. Rather what is made is a pact implicit in certain ritual actions recognised throughout the culture, “the going to the river” of popular parlance. If a man won a ploughing match by drawing plough lines of almost preternatural straightness his companions and fellow competitors might josh him that he had “gone to the river.” If strangers came to such a match, typically migrant Scots, then they to might have their skills ascribed to “going to the river.”

Certain nights of the year were preferred. Saint John’s Night typically. On those nights the aspirant Toadsman would take up his bones in a wrap of cloth and go out to the river at midnight. He would place the bones into a river or stream. Typically the watercourses of East Anglia are slow flowing and meandering. At times of low flow the surface hardly seems to move.

Then in certain accounts the bones will scream. Nature itself seems to protest against the monstrous act about to be perpetrated. The screaming bones should be ignored or the whole ceremony is made null and void. Other noises like the rattling of chains may be heard.

Now comes the most crucial part of the ritual. Here correct performance is essential. The slightest mistake or loss of concentration will not only mar the ritual but it will invalidate the performance as a whole. The floating bones must be looked at for as long as the ritual takes. No interruption can be tolerated. The sounds of the night must be ignored.

Eventually one bone will separate itself from the rest and will float back up the stream. It is this bone in which the magical virtue resides. The bone must be taken from the water and dried henceforth it will be the Toadman’s bone his amulet. In some stronger versions of the mythos the devil himself will appear and demand a pact of a traditional kind but more often than not pact making is reserved for a further rite as described below.

Sometimes the bone is the hook bone in the toad’s pelvis. The bones may now be powdered and mixed with oil to form jading oil by which to calm horses and other animals.
Further rituals

The toadman may believe a further step to be necessary in order to complete the pact making. If this is so the toadman will sleep in the barn with the bones. On the fifth night the Devil will come and demand a pact. If a pact is refused he will ask to feed on blood. This may safely be given in return for services rendered. At all times during this process the aspirant toadman must remain in command: the Devil’s master. If the Devil fails to obey the toadman may strike out at him or his sign with the Horseman’s gad (a whip). This whip is in effect a kind of wand. Made from wood about which honeysuckle or other creeper had wound itself the gad is the visible mark of attainment for a rural magician

The secret formula of the Horseman’s Word is “(Both) as one.” The horse and the horseman become one. Man and beast become something psychically conjoined, a thing with infinite intelligence and infinite power, a beast-man or a man-beast.

Another mystery is that of “drawing” and “jading”. In order to increase the efficacy of the bone it may be treated with oil using a special mixture of the horseman’s own formulation. Various recipes are extant fort this oil. It is said that many horses had their own private formulae. As well as a whole host of herbal and chemical preparations the best operative ingredient was thought to be the horseman’s own sweat. The Toadman carried the bone with him as an amulet. The bone should never be shown to another human for it will loose its power. The bone may be touched against a horse to cause it to move or stand still.

The Powers conferred and the price exacted

There is what we now call a “downside” to the mystery of the toad ritual. The Toadman may expect to experience various infirmities of a mental kind. These include hallucinations and delusions (a horse in his bed, a horse climbing the stairs), paranoia, delusions of being followed and so on. The bone was rumoured to lose power as it aged and in certain cases it was necessary to prepare a new bone and discard the old.

Nigel Pennick whose book on East Anglian Magic has made many aware of the Toad Ritual writes that the profession of Toadsman is an extremely dangerous one,“ for many in the past have been driven to insanity by exercise of these powers.” But the temptation of the reward available to the profession of Toadsman has seduced many by its promise of absolute worldly control.

To see in the dark; to be without fear at any place or any time; to have control of not only animals but human beings as well, few are those with the mental stamina to take the toad bone and use it wisely. The belief in its virtue would seem to encourage the opening of mental chasms and the ingress of chaos beyond the ability of the folk magician to control.

Few who write on the ritual can refrain from warning of its potentially baleful consequences. “A violent death” writes Nigel Pennick “is to be expected”. When asked what needed to be done to attain his powers, an old toadman answered “ Don’t, for if you do you will never rest ”. These should be sobering thoughts for any aspirant toadman or toadwoman.


The toad ritual, however lurid its performance, needs to be seen as a part of the East Anglian folk magical culture. It arises from that culture and where it occurs is sustained by that culture. As a kind of “Nec plus ultra” of that culture it is a means by which the really determined folk magician can separate him or herself from those who have heard of the ritual but have not performed it.

Strangely the shock element in the ritual whilst remaining has itself changed. In its original context the shock of the ritual arose from its implicit blasphemy. It was by implication a method of pact making with the powers of darkness (which is bad enough in itself). However its elements also echoed in a blasphemous way the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ, the sacrificial basis on which the whole Christian religion is founded. In a society which was on the whole still Christian this was a direct assault on the whole founding ethos of that society.

Christ who is himself is divine sacrifices himself on the cross to redeem fallen humanity. The toadman sacrifices what is to him the most loathsome of creatures for his own sole benefit. Christ is reverently entombed prior to his resurrection and conquest of death. The dead and putrefying toad is eaten by ants. Christ arises from the dead, is transfigured and is raised to heaven by angels. The remains of the toad apart from a single bone are carried away by the stream to oblivion. The bone remains, a token of dark power counterbalancing the light power of communion bread and wine.

Examining the ritual today we think first of issues of animal cruelty and human predation on a threatened species. We are appalled by the thought that our rational secular society should still contain such superstitious and unwholesome practices. Yet it is a fact that the toad ritual remains not only in its place of origin but also in the wider world.


The toad ritual lives on in a world context. The English Traditional Witch and Magus Andrew Chumbley gave new life to his own recension of the Toad Ritual in his book “One: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad”. Chumbley himself performed the ritual, and in personal communication with the author acknowledged that he was troubled by the book, the ritual and consequences that followed on from its performance. He died not long afterwards from an acute and unexpected asthmatic attack

The OTO a worldwide occult organisation are rumoured to use the toad ritual in their praxis. Their former chief Aleister Crowley himself achieved elevation to the rank of Magus through a version of the Toad Ritual. The American Order of Phosphorus also promotes a version of the Ritual with a diabolic colouring. [Aelwyn's Note: It was brought to my attention by a comment on this blog that Aleister Crowley did not perform a toad ritual except in jest, and that the OTO do NOT under any circumstances perform the Toad Ritual. This article is not mine, as you can see it is © Michael Clark. So I am putting this note in to state I do not know about the information in this particular paragraph, although I have researched the other parts. I will research the claims of the OTO utilizing the Toad Ritual and write a blog on that. Thanks.]

In East Anglia, the role of the Horseman’s Word in the ritual economy of the region has been subsumed by a ritual order, composed of blacksmiths, farriers and agricultural operatives who themselves continue to use toad bones in their rituals, (or so the author was led to understand by a visitor to one of his talks.)

However, by an ironical twist of fate, in the popular mind the toad ritual lives on, promoted by the very medium where one would least expect to find it, children’s television.

In the Nineteen Seventies a British children’s' television serial, “Moonstallion” included a rapid though accurate depiction of the Toad Ritual as part of its complex plot. This depiction was highly influential and well remembered by those of that generation who saw it, as I have often found when speaking about East Anglian Magic. In this strange but apt way a whole generation of eager watching children were exposed to an authentic folk magic ritual of a singularly malefic kind. The principal initiatory method of East Anglian Magic was passed on to unfamiliar but receptive ears and eyes.

© Michael Clarke
March 2007

The second is the "Horse Brass Divination". While I haven't been able to find any information on this, I will post it when I do.


Anonymous said...


Your article is just plain wrong regarding Crowley.

"The OTO a worldwide occult organisation are rumoured to use the toad ritual in their praxis."

Rumored by whom? You? They absolutely do not use toad rituals in their praxis. This is libelous hearsay.

"Their former chief Aleister Crowley himself achieved elevation to the rank of Magus through a version of the Toad Ritual."

This also is a ridiculously incorrect claim. He did NOT come to achieve 'the rank of Magus' through a Toad Ritual although he wrote a joke ritual about crucifying a toad like Jesus.

Please do research before you make claims.


Aelwyn said...

Hi there!

Thanks for the comment, but if you read the entirety of the article, you would see it was written by Michael Clark in 2007. I was quoting it as information on the Toad Ritual.

The quotes came from here: http://www.lastwizards.com/shadows/modules/news/article.php?storyid=8

I will double check that quote though, and add an editorial bit to it if I find the information is wrong.

All content © to Hedgewitch Hollow unless otherwise noted. All rights are reserved. If you wish to use my writing in any form, please contact me first, and wait for written consent.

Contact Aelwyn at aelwyndaeira@yahoo.ca