For many, the beginning of the New Year signals a sense of transformation – a time to evaluate life in its current state and set goals for manifesting change. The butterfly symbolizes transformation and joy. Its dance reflects the need for movement from where we are to our next phase of being.
Since ancient times, the winged form of a butterfly was a symbol for the human soul. In Ancient Egypt, the butterflies were presumably one of the pleasures that awaited the deceased in the afterlife, reflecting the Egyptian belief in the immortality of the human soul. Aristotle gave the butterfly the name psyche , the Greek word for soul and was also the name of Eros’ which means human lover.
Butterflies are common throughout the world. There are over 28,000 species of butterflies and 80% of those exist in tropical regions. Although they symbolize different things to different cultures, universally, they represent change and transformation. Why? Because the butterfly is an insect that begins its life in one form and ends it in another. It starts as a crawling creature that ‘hibernates’ in a cocoon, only to rejoin the world as a flying insect.
Look over the butterflies’ wings as if you were seeing them for the first time. Surely you will be filled with admiration for such an aesthetic display, a symmetry that is without the slightest flaw, the dazzling colors and patterns. Now think of a piece of cloth. Assume that it is a very beautiful piece of cloth of good quality that has been woven with the inspiration of these butterflies’ patterns. What would you think if you saw such a piece of cloth in a shop-window? Probably, the existence of an artist, who has drawn the patterns of this cloth, taking the wings of a butterfly as an inspiration while drawing them, springs into your mind, and you can appreciate his artistry.
The life story of a butterfly is called its life history or metamorphosis. Characteristically, butterflies undergo major developmental changes during their growth. For example, the butterfly lays eggs which hatch into creeping forms with chewing mouth parts. These are called caterpillars or larvae. Incidentally, the word caterpillar is derived from two latin words, catta pilosa, meaning ‘hairy car’ which is quite descriptive of some kinds. But butterfly larvae are not hairy. During this stage, the butterfly feeds and grows.
As a matter of fact, it is only during the larval stage, that actual growth occurs, and a caterpillar’s only aim in life is to feed and store up food. As it increases in size, however, the number of cells in the body does not increase; they merely become larger. When full grown, the caterpillar sheds its skin and transforms into a pupa. This is called chrysalis in the case of butterfly. When this transformation occurs, the larval cells begin to die and clusters of adult cells, which have so far been quiescent, are stimulated into growth cells, which have so far been quiescent, are stimulated into growth by hormones or chemical regulators secreted by glands in the head and thorax.
During the pupal stage, the larval tissues are torn down and slowly rebuilt into organs more fitted for aerial life. When the chrysalis is mature, the wings and legs of the future butterfly can be seen through its transparent skin. The developed butterfly crawls out by splitting open the chrysalis. At first, its wings are mere fluid filled sacs, but these rapidly expand and harden, and the adult winged butterfly is then ready fro flight. It no longer has mouthparts fitted fro chewing leaves; they are now tube like and are used only for siphoning nectar from flowers. There is no growth during the adult stage. Thus the life history of a butterfly has four stages, egg, larva, pupa and adult and is said to have a complete life history or metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis is the magic that insects can teach us. Change ensures growth. We have to shed the old before we can come into the new. We give birth to ideas, activities, or qualities. Ideas and creativity need to be shaped, formed, developed and honed. After this is accomplished, the new foundation is laid. Sometimes, we need to back off and go deeply within after laying a foundation so that creation will be able to come forth strong and in a new light. Just as the adult butterfly only emerges when conditions are right, our ideas and activities will only flourish on a higher level when conditions are right. That is the force of creation – the only constant is that we are always changing.
Butterflies are the power of air, the ability to float upon a breeze. They are known for their darting flight; thus, it represents the mind and our ability to change it when necessary.
Butterflies appear to dance as they flitter among the flowers. They remind us not to take things so seriously within our lives. They awaken a sense of lightness and joy. They remind us to get up and move, for if you do not move, you cannot dance.
Butterflies represent the never-ending cycle of life; therefore, its medicine bestows not only the ability, but the clarity of mind needed before self-transformation. Like all children …Butterflies were magical creatures for me, whenever they appeared in my childhood, I would run after them.
I remember seeing a butterfly while I was sitting in my car at a stoplight. Unexpected and out of place, she was hovering around the cars on the busy road, so out of her element. I wanted to warn her to return to the safety of what she was familiar with. Did she accidentally end up in the traffic, wondering how she got there? Was she frightened, wanting to get back to the familiar scent of the lush landscape that she left behind on the side of the road? Or did she venture out with purposeful intention to experience more of life, knowing she would have to deal with uncomfortable, unfamiliar textures and smells along the way?
To become what it is destined to be, the caterpillar cannot change a little here or a little there. It has to transform completely. It was Teresa’s understanding of this—her willingness to sacrifice that ever-hungry, earthbound aspect of herself—that transformed her from a humble Spanish nun into the leader of a religious order and one of the great religious geniuses of all time.
In our life change comes knocking in many guises…tragedy strikes and then its a kind of the end of life as we know it…of certain dreams.. of even our old selves just like the larvae. we are dying… our shell is cracking. That is what the larvae feels when its being broken down bit by bit to transform itself in to a butterfly.
It’s this paradox that makes the miracle of the chrysalis such a vivid metaphor for the transformations of the spirit—that myriad of impossible changes which the soul must undergo on its own journey toward perfection. It’s a transformation that is as mysterious now as it was in the ancient world.
I like to think the butterfly ventured into the street on purpose, curious to experience something unique. Courageous, not knowing if she would forever be fluttering in this concrete jungle or whether there was an even better garden waiting for her on the other side of the road. She may have seemed out of place to me, but I think she knew exactly what she was doing, choosing to leave her home in an effort to expand her world. The traffic, honking cars and hot asphalt were all part of her journey. Before the light changed to green she had flown to the flowerbed on other side of the road. To a new comfortable place.
We are all unique in what we want and how we choose to craft our story. Life is short, especially for a butterfly. Like her, we all have a limited and unknown amount of time to explore the experiences we personally want out this fabulous life. Let’s not waste it spending time judging others for their choices.
Instead, let’s each embrace individual opportunities for growth in our own lives- even if that growth means leaving our comfort zone. Fluttering through the discomfort along the way can make reaching the other side of the street that much more rewarding.
The lesson of the butterfly is letting go of old behavior and expounding into the next phase of existence. Each of us transforms through multiple stages in our life. It is only through exertion that we emerge into who we will be next.
Happy New Year!
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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