I offer this look at the life and stories of Butterfly as a healing salve for our very troubled world. In this time of great, world-wide transformation, as we grapple with the many, many racial, social, economic and environmental injustices currently tearing the fabric of society apart, may the lessons that Butterfly brings help us on our path to love.
Butterflies pepper the air on a sunny day – painting the sky with their bright colors. They flit from flower to flower bestowing gentle kisses on all. Worldwide Butterfly is the quintessential symbol for transformation and rebirth. Members of the Lepidoptera order of insects, butterflies first appeared on Earth 40 – 50 million years ago. They developed along with the evolution of flowering plants. Active during the day, they bring joy to our hearts with each flutter of their wings.
Transformation, Rebirth, Regeneration
Butterfly, representing the element of air- new beginnings – passes four stages; from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis to finally emerge as Butterfly – reflecting the beauty found in our own life stages and transformations.
Butterfly has four wings which move up and down in a figure-eight pattern – a pattern that is associated with the continuity of life and infinity.
Christians view Butterfly as symbolic of spiritual transformation.
The Shoshone of North America dance the Fancy Shawl Dance, also called “The Butterfly Dance” as an expression of gratitude for the ongoing cycle of new seasons and new life. The shawl represents the butterfly wings whereas the dance steps symbolize Butterfly’s flight.
The Aztec fire god, Xiuhtecuhtli, is associated with Butterfly. Xiuhtecuhtli ruled over the New Fire Ceremony held every 52 years – the end of a full cycle of the Aztec calendar. Fire, an element of transformation, was lit to ensure the successful renewal/rebirth of the sun.
Celtic Goddess of Transformation, Etain, a daughter of the Tuatha dé Danann, was turned into a butterfly by the jealous first wife of her new husband the Danaan prince, Midir. Next she was driven out to sea where she spent seven years buffeted about by strong winds. Finally, still as a butterfly she found refuge with Aengus, God of Love. There she rested for 100 years until another transformation occurred and her journey toward love continued. Etain and Butterfly lead the way through our physical and spiritual transformations.
Butterfly, with its graceful emergence from chrysalis to butterfly, reminds you that transformation does not have to be difficult. As Butterfly flits about in its maiden flight without a thought to its old life, you too can trust the strength of your own new wings to carry you to a new way.
Soul, Personal Growth
Butterfly, with compound eyes made of thousands of lenses, is gifted with excellent vision – even the ability to see ultraviolet light. Its antennae have small knobs on each end, aiding in orientation. Butterfly calls you to balance, to personal growth, to the clear vision of your soul and to remain firmly connected to spirit as you walk the changes of your life.
The Celts believe that Butterfly carries the souls of the dead who await rebirth on Earth.
The ancient Greek word for butterfly is “Psyche” which also means “soul.” Psyche is the name of Eros’s beloved in the myth of Eros and Psyche. Psyche, a mortal woman with beauty beyond compare attracted the jealousy of Aphrodite. Through a series of events orchestrated by Aphrodite and then Zeus, the two fall in love only to be torn apart by jealousy and betrayal. With the intervention of Zeus who granted Psyche immortality and through the coupling of soul with love all discord was resolved – the two grew personally, regaining trust. Psyche is depicted with butterfly wings in ancient art; giving her the ability to soar freely into the realm of spirit and soul.
Brightly colored paintings and carvings of butterflies representing the souls of fallen warriors are found in the ancient Mesoamerican temples of Teotihuacan, located south of Mexico City.
The Aztec, who founded Mexico City, associated the morning star, Venus, with Butterfly, which represents the souls of the dead. A visit by Butterfly was believed to be a visit by a deceased relative, offering assurance that all was well.
To this day Butterfly is associated with the souls of departed ancestors in Mexico. Monarch butterflies end their migration en mass to winter near a small village in Michoacan. The Monarchs arrive at the same time as the vibrantly colored Dia de los Muertos celebrations, honoring their ancestors. Folks believe that butterflies are the spirits of their ancestors returning for a visit.
In Germany, it’s thought that butterflies are the souls of deceased children.
Various Native American tribes view Butterfly as a messenger to Great Spirit. If a butterfly lands on you or if caught without causing harm then whisper your prayers to Butterfly who will fly up to the heavens, carrying them to Great Spirit.
The Celts believed that as Butterfly moved between this world and the Otherworld they carried messages on their wings. Northern Europeans and the Blackfeet of North America associated Butterly with sleeping and dreaming – believing that dreams were delivered by Butterfly.
Grace, Beauty, Hope, Joy, Lightness of Being, Playfulness
The Chinese and Japanese associate Butterfly with joy and happiness, plus marital happiness for the Chinese.
The Pueblo, Papango and Lenape tribes of North America all have variations on a beautiful story about the creation of butterflies. The Creator felt pity for Earth’s children, knowing that they were fated to grow old, wrinkled and weak before dying. Then Creator remembered all the beautifully colored flowers. S/He gathered all these colors together into a magical bag which was given to the children. The children opened the bag and were enraptured by the colorful butterflies flying out who also sang beautiful songs. But the songbirds complained to Creator – jealous that butterflies had both beauty and song. Thus Creator took back the gift of song from butterflies who to this day enchant us all with their soundless beauty.
A solitary butterfly or a group – called a flutter – reminds you that life holds playful joy and lightness of being. Butterfly calls you to open your eyes to the beauty found in every day.
Butterfly flits by with its message of the natural ease of sudden transformation – gifting you with trust in your own wings which transport you lightly to a new life; a life of joyful beauty and grace. This ephemeral being connects your heart to the true nature of your soul’s evolution – love. Butterfly calls you to action, guiding you through sudden change, free of expectations, to the power of trust and vulnerability. Butterfly invites you to enjoy the beauty of life and to trust that all will be well. Butterfly, usually the first to leave an ecosystem that has been damaged, summons you to live in harmony with Mother Earth.
Sources: Learn Religions, Baylor University, Butterfly Insight, Butterfly Insight, Butterfly Lady, Gon Goff, SciElo, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Spirit Animal Totems,
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.
9 thoughts on “Butterfly – Soul Transformation by Judith Shaw”
As usual a very informative post with your beautiful paintings… the Swallowtails are flying about in great abundance – such gorgeous butterflies nd this year we have so many I even glimpsed a black morph… During the holocaust years little children drew butterflies on the walls of their prison…. It’s hard to believe that most of a butterfly’s life is spent in its earlier stages…as adults they only live 2 -4 weeks – another reason to appreciae each one! Thanks for this lovely post…
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That’s interesting about the children drawing butterflies on their prison walls – children are often so wise in their innate understanding of things. Your insight about how much more time a butterfly spends as caterpillar and chrysalis than as butterfly is certainly true and spurs another thought for me – to appreciate the shortness of our own lives which are very short when compared to infinity. There are even some species of butterfly that only live one short day as the adult butterfly.
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Yes, the fact that butterflies in adult stages only live a short time used to upset me a lot – now I see it more as their life process. All of us are here for such a brief moment in time – unless you are a tree.
What a joyful post, Judith. I love it that a group is called a flutter of butterflies! Thank you as always for the abundance of lore from around the world!
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This is great! I’ve always liked (and believed) butterfly symbolism, like the concepts of change as rebirth and that butterflies are souls of dead people. I have a friend who is her own Monarch sanctuary. You should see her back yard–it’s filled with milkweed. And there’s also a Monarch nursery, most of it attached to the side of her house. I just forwarded your post to her.
That’s fantastic! I’d love to see her yard. She sounds like a great friend to have!
This is just such a wonderful post, about the meaning and traditions of butterflies in different cultures. thank you so much for this interesting share.
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So interesting to learn about what the butterfly means to different cultures, I didn’t know that butterflies served as spiritual messengers between our earthly world and the world of the spirits. Butterflies are truly amazing. It is unfortunate that efforts to conserve the monarch butterflies in Mexico has been highly discouraged in its own country by the killing of butterfly conservationists such as Homero Gomez Gonzalez.
It is very unfortunate La Potosina. Apparently it’s a by-product of the violence caused by the Cartels and poverty in Michoacan. Social justice and environmental justice are completely interconnected.
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