Friday, May 17, 2013

Folklore Friday - Butterflies.

Twig the Fairy

So - Spring has finally sprung here in the Mid-Atlantic. In fact we have had a few days that positively feel like summer is approaching! I, for one, relish Spring. Windows open to birdsong and breezes, enjoying sun on my face, flowers emerging... and all too soon it will be hot humid summer days. I still have flowers to plant, and dogs to walk. 

I have spent the last two weekends at Faerie Festivals, both attending and exhibiting. It seems natural to have wings on my mind...

Butterflies in folklore

The butterfly is a symbol of transformation across the globe. The results of the process from caterpillar to butterfly, wings unfurling, flying free - are radical indeed. The butterfly can be read as a symbol of faith as well - to keep faith during trials and changes. 

Butterflies are fragile and delicate, yet seem imbued with strength as well - to change, to be blown about and still right oneself. They can be seen as symbols of freedom as well - leaving the cocoon to escape and go where they choose. After the long period in the cocoon - butterflies can be a symbol of rebirth and/or resurrection. 

1 &4: Lesley at THEAtoo. 2: Jo at Daisychainextra. 3 & 6: Jenny at jdaviesreazor. 5: Melissa at MelismaticArthewelry.

Butterflies in mythology: 

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans also held butterflies in metaphysical regard. The philosopher Aristotle named the butterfly Psyche, which is the Greek word that means “soul.” The myth of Psyche is one of love, trust, love lost, labors, love restored. (She was married to Cupid. Venus is a tough Mother in Law...)

  • In ancient Rome, butterflies appeared ondenarii coins, to the left of the head of Juno, goddess of weddings and marriage.
  • According to 
  • Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn, a butterfly was seen in Japan as the personification of a person's soul; whether they be living, dying, or already dead. One Japanese superstition says that if a butterfly enters your guestroom and perches behind the bamboo screen, the person whom you most love is coming to see you. However, large numbers of butterflies are viewed as bad omens.
  • Irish folklore holds that the butterfly is related to the very soul of a human being. It’s considered bad luck to kill a white butterfly, because those hold the souls of deceased children. This association with butterflies as souls of the departed continues on to Cornwall as well. 
  • The Russian word for "butterfly", бабочка (
  • bábochka), also means "bow tie". It is a diminutive of "baba" or "babka" (= "woman, grandmother, cake"), whence also "babushka" = "grandmother".
  • Native American tribes had a number of legends concerning the butterfly. The Tohono O'odham tribe of the American Southwest believed that the butterfly would carry wishes and prayers to the Great Spirit. To do this, one must first catch a butterfly without harming it, and then whisper secrets to the butterfly. Because a butterfly cannot speak, the only one who will know the prayers that the butterfly carries will be the Great Spirit himself. According to folklore, a wish given to a butterfly is always granted, in exchange for setting the butterfly free.
  • The Zuni people saw butterflies as indicators of weather to come. White butterflies meant the summer weather was about to begin - but if the first butterfly seen was dark, that meant a long stormy summer. Yellow butterflies, as you might suspect, hinted at a bright sunny summer season.
  • Chinese culture regards the butterfly as a symbol of immortality, and conjugal bliss. When seen with a chrysanthemum, it symbolizes beauty in old age; and if seen with a plum, it symbolizes long life.
  • In Taoism the butterfly has come to represent Zhuangzi, a Taoist philosopher. Zhuangzi once had a dream of being a butterfly flying without care about humanity, however when he woke up and realised it was just a dream, he thought to himself "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?" Hence the butterfly is emblem of joy. It is also a symbol of summer.

Clockwise from top left:Slate Studios,  Skye Jewels, Marsha Neal Studio, Green Girl Studio, Silver Sage, Anne Gardanne

I hope this finds you enjoying the weather! I would love to hear if my folklore musings spark any ideas, if the Muse flits in on butterfly wings... 




  1. Lovely post Jenny and once again I feel thoroughly enlightened. I love the Irish white butterfly association but am a bit peeved that I've only seen a dark butterfly so far this year. So now I'm of to gently seek one out to whisper wishes of better weather to :0)

  2. I love butterflies! And I love all the stories you found!

  3. I really enjoyed reading about the different beliefs connected wit the butterfly.

  4. I have a little new information from a friend:
    Butterflies are also the symbol used by the Lupus Foundation of America. There are 2 reasons for this. 1. the symbol of hope and renewal after a diagnosis of lupus and 2. those with lupus often develop what is known as a butterfly rash, which spreads across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose, somewhat resembling the shape of a butterfly.
    The website says this: “The butterfly has become the Lupus Foundation of America’s national symbol of hope.” Hope is an underlying message of the campaign. Lupus usually strikes in the prime of life. But new research brings hope that safer and more effective treatments, and ultimately a cure, can be found." May is National Lupus Awareness Month.

    Wonderful symbolism! Thanks for the info!

  5. Interesting how the same creature can symbolize so many things for the different peoples of Earth. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great stuff. Thanks for putting that post together. I love it when I'm learning things that also inspire me. As a child my family home had some wild milkweed plants, a couple of times I collected monarch chrysalises and watched the gorgeous butterflies emerge. Of course the butterflies were never harmed and immediately released where they came from. Butterflies are some of the most beautiful insects on the planet, I can see why stories about them arise in many different cultures.

  7. I know it took me a while but I love your lore posts!!!!


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