As masters of metamorphosis, butterflies are significant symbols of transformation and rebirth. These winged creatures have long been viewed as otherworldly messengers and heralds of good fortune and joy. The Greek word for butterfly, psyche, is the same word used for soul, and this association is found across many cultures.* A few include:
- Celts believe butterflies are human souls in search of mothers
- Aztecs believe the last breath of a dying person takes the form of a butterfly
- Siksika Native Americans believe butterflies bring dreams and inspiration
Each color and species of butterfly takes on additional specific meanings, opening up a world of symbolism as varied as they are. For example, the monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico on their yearly migration near Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — so monarchs became a natural symbol for the souls of deceased loved ones. Swallowtail butterflies are said to represent intuition and inner strength.
Butterfly Color Symbolism
|Red||Red butterflies are associated with courage, passion, the life-death-life cycle, fire, and survival.|
|Orange||Orange butterflies are associated with youth, curiosity, pleasure, happiness, creativity, and sexuality.|
|Yellow||Yellow butterflies are associated with clarity, confidence, power, enlightenment, energy, and humility.|
|Green||Green butterflies are associated with balance, fertility, love, healing, and life.|
|Blue||Blue butterflies are associated with truth, creativity, communication, trust, air, and faith.|
|Indigo||Indigo butterflies are associated with wisdom, intuition, inspiration, authority, and honesty.|
|Violet||Violet butterflies are associated with spirituality, quietness, dreams, awakening, royalty, and creativity.|
|Black||Black butterflies are associated with mystery, night, potential, death, elegance, shadow, and protection.|
|White||White butterflies are associated with purity, unity, innocence, peace, day, and simplicity.|
Here are a few more thoughts and some poetry on butterfly symbolism and what they can teach us about change.
Change feels strange
but reveals a range
of unknown heights,
colors and sights
that glimmer and glow
if only we grow.
Butterflies remind us to trust our transformational process, especially when it feels dark and cramped. It can be painful and difficult when we outgrow a belief, relationship, job, or habit because we are moving from something we understand to the shadowy underworld of the unknown. Growth can feel like intense upheaval and things falling apart. It can feel like endlessly waiting in a tiny chrysalis.
During the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly, it is extremely violent and dramatic for the caterpillar to digest itself to undergo its metamorphosis. This process may feel horrifying and confusing, but on the other side are things it doesn't even understand are possible in its current form. On the other side is flight. On the other side is unimaginable insight, expansion, and connection. This is discomfort that is worthwhile and meaningful. Growing pains, like labor pains, usher in beautiful new life.
Consider this next time you feel yourself dissolve.
The damp air transforms, disintegrates,
sustains and suffocates.
The patina of weather, age, and experience
looks different every day.
It is bright,
this color of time,
of life and change.
It no longer gleams,
but shimmers with moments
Hands, feet, salt, rain.
The softest whisper of a breeze
and strongest roar of a hurricane.
A prison made beautiful by merely existing.
The butterfly knows this,
smells it as it rests,
tasting the ironsweet corrosion.
Only days before, its entire body corroded,
digested into essential parts, rearranged.
A chemical reaction that made colors emerge like tomorrows,
colors bright like rust.
*Source: The Illustrated Signs and Symbols Sourcebook, Adele Nozedar