Story Time: The Toad and the Scorpion

Over the past year I have been listening to Clarissa Pinkola Estes webinars through Sounds True. She is a psychotherapist, author and cantadora – keeper of old stories in the Latina tradition.   She tells stories, some from her childhood, some fairy tales we have all heard. She then looks at the characters in the stories, discusses their traits and how they occur in the life of individuals today.  I love her work.  She wrote Women Who Run with Wolves and most recently Untie the Strong Woman.

I recently read the story of the toad and the scorpion and have been sharing it with patients at work. I would like to share this story, and then use the Clarissa Pinkola Estes method of interpretation to share how this story may relate to you.

Let me set the stage for story time: I imagine myself, when I was little, with my Grandma or myself with Stephanie, my daughter, when she was small.  Turn the lights down, not too low, light a candle or sit by the fire, get a warm blanket and snuggle in.  It‘s story time…

Once upon a time there lived a toad.  She was a kind, gentle soul and loved by all.  She loved to help people and was always eager to give service.

One day, toad was happily swimming around her pond when she heard a voice.  “Hey toad! Come over here.”  Toad looked around and saw scorpion sitting at the edge of the pond.  Toad swam over and scorpion said, “Toad, I would like to go to the other side of the pond.  If I walk it will take me a very long time.  If you let me climb on your back, I will be there in no time at all.”

Now, toad had heard about scorpion.  He was not a very nice scorpion at all and was known for his sting which caused death.  Even though toad liked to help people, she was not keen on the idea of being stung to death.  She said, “Scorpion, I would love to help you, but I am concerned you will sting me and I would die.”

Scorpion responded, “That would be silly, toad.  If I sting you, I will drown.  Why would I do that?”

Toad thought about this for a while.  Then she said, “but what if you sting me once I get you to the other side?”

Scorpion responded, “I would be so grateful to you for swimming me across the pond, I would never consider stinging you.”

Toad still felt unsure but being the nice toad that she was and loving to help people, she agreed to swim scorpion across the pond.  Scorpion climbed onto her back and she began swimming.

Halfway across the pond toad felt a sharp sting.  She was shocked and cried out “Scorpion, you stung me, what were you thinking, now we both shall die!”

Scorpion replied, “I could not help myself.  It is my nature.”  And they both sank into the pond.

The end.

Let’s look at the creatures in the story. We will begin with toad.  She is a nice toad, kind and considerate, eager to please and help others.  Like many of us.  The problem is, she knew of scorpion, knew what he was like, did not heed her intuition and she died.

Scorpion, in the moment, knew he would not sting toad, as he didn’t want to die.  However, he could not overcome his essential nature, he stung toad and died.

The moral of the story is pay attention, heed your intuition and change your essential nature if it keeps getting you in trouble.


  • Look at your life.  Are you toad? Do you have scorpions in your life?  Do you keep thinking they are going to change, and then they sting you again?  I love the generosity of people, believing the best in others.  However, there are people who cannot help their nature and will sting you over and over again.  It becomes time to accept this and move away from the relationship.
  • How would you answer the question – Do you believe people can change?  I have my doubts.  Over time, I have believed people have changed, and then they prove me wrong.  Two thoughts on the belief people can change:
    • Sister Jean believes, in her life, to make small changes she has to be very attentive to making those changes.  This made me chuckle as I looked at my life.  To make small changes in my life – getting rid of bad habits and developing good habits – takes a lot of work.
    • My husband Bill believes change is possible but the person must be broken first.  This I have seen and it touches my soul.  From great tragedy in a person’s life, great works have occurred.  Change is possible but not easy.
    • Another way to look at this is to consider forgiveness.  If somebody has stung you once, look at their history with you and others.  If this is not their nature – to sting others – they may be acting out their dark humanness and forgiveness is warranted.
    • Look at your life.  Are you a scorpion, stinging people on a regular basis?  Is there one person in your life you sting over and over again?  It is time to stop.  Put your hand over your mouth; get some duct tape; think before you speak.  If you can’t say something nice, bite your tongue and sting yourself.
    • Suggestions for days you feel like stinging anyone who crosses your path (or one person in particular):  Go to your room; take a deep breath or two or three; try saying my favorite prayer from Clarissa Pinkola Estes – I love you, I love you, I love you; thank you, thank you, thank you; help me, help me, help me – with emphasis on the help me! Ask yourself and listen – what is it you need?  Many times we sting others when we are empty and need time for ourselves.  An old adage – the problem is the solution.  The problem is you are so irritable no one wants to be around you.  The solution is provided because you need time to yourself.
    • Look at your life.  When are you toad, following your intuition; when are you not?  When are you scorpion?  It is time to change your nature and stop stinging.  Get busy!

Till next time ~ Mary

Mary’s Musings are a random thought. It may be a quote, a question, an idea, or something happening in the world. Enjoy a moment to yourself and contemplate this thought. Ask yourself how it feels and where it leads. Breathe . . . and see where her musings take you.

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