Butterflies – a symbolic transformation

Inachis io – The Peacock Butterfly

Butterflies have been used extensively in culture to symbolise a transformation. This is seen through a butterflies metamorphosis while insects like dragonflies and grasshoppers go through an incomplete metamorphosis, this consists of three stages (egg, nymph and adult) while butterflies go through four stages (egg, larva, pupa and adult). The four stages of the butterfly can represent a symbolic death and rebirth when the caterpillar (larva) builds their tomb like chrysalis (pupa). The transformation is a fantastic one, were the butterfly completely dis-resembles its earlier form.

Butterfly symbolism can be seen in the Rider-Waite tarot cards, specifically in the Sword suit. The metamorphosis may symbolise the gradual evolution of our thoughts throughout a period of time, developing and progressing to a final goal. Or perhaps in a spiritual progression, were the butterflies metamorphosis represents the material and dog eat dog caterpillar, whose focus is entirely on consumption. The caterpillar is slow and bound to the earth, yet its symbolic pupa is a temporary death before the soul (adult butterfly) may escape from the material cares of the caterpillar. Perhaps there is a connection between butterflies and the sword suit by the element of air associated with the swords. As butterflies are able to fly. 

The etymology of the term butterfly is derived from Old English buttorfleoge. literately meaning butter + fly. There are several theories for the words origin:

1. Butterflies or witches disguised as butterflies would consume butter and milk.

2. Butterflies had wings that had a similar colour to butter.

3. Butterflies excrement is the same colour as butter.


2 thoughts on “Butterflies – a symbolic transformation

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