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Dream Symbols 4: The Butterfly

Posted May 22 2009 11:55pm

Butterfly Photo Credit

I wrote a brief post about this subject about a month ago, Butterflies & Symbolism, but since the butterfly is such a powerful symbol in dreams, and indeed, in life, and since I am doing these weekly posts on dream symbols, today’s symbol is the butterfly. I’ve rooted out some information from other sources, although in some instances I no longer have the url.

a. Spiritual Evolution: The butterfly exists in four distinct forms. Some consider that so do we: The fertilized egg is planted in our mother's womb. From our day of birth we are like the caterpillar which can only eat and creep along. At death we are like the dormant pupa in its chrysalis. After that, our consciousness emerges from the cast off body, and some see in this the emergence of the butterfly. Therefore, the butterfly is symbolic of rebirth after death.

b. For Christians, the butterfly's three steps of metamorphosis -- as caterpillar, pupa and then winged insect -- are reminiscent of spiritual transformation. The caterpillar's incessant crawling and chewing reminds us of normal earthly life where people are often wholly preoccupied with physical needs. The chrysalis (cocoon) resembles a tomb and empty, can suggest the empty shroud left behind by Jesus. Therefore, a butterfly represents the resurrection into a new condition of life that is free of any material concerns. In images of the Garden of Eden, Adam's soul is symbolized by a butterfly, or drawn with butterfly wings. In paintings of Mary and her Child, the presence of butterflies stands for their care for human souls. The Gnostics depicted the Angel of Death by showing a winged foot stepping on a butterfly. Since the insect is so fragile it can be torn apart by a hard rain, the butterfly stands for human frailty, both moral and physical. Also, as its life is not a long one, it is also a symbol of the ephemeral nature of physical existence. A butterfly with a torn wing is the icon for a North American charity that benefits disabled children.

c. Transfiguration: In America among the Aztec and Maya, the god of cosmic fire, Xiutecutli, is symbolized by a butterfly. Fire is considered the element of transformation, as in cookery and the smelting of metals. This association is borne out in traditional psychoanalysis where a dream or drawing of a butterfly is taken as a symbol of the client's imminent transformation. En este caso no habido ni sueño ni pintura, pero si la sincronicidad jungiana de la aparición de una mariposa en tu ventana en pleno sand storm…

d. The ancient Greeks depicted the spirit of a person as a winged stick figure. Interpretation of that symbol gave rise to the idea of the "soul" or psy.cheh as a butterfly.

e. Later, long-suffering Psyche, bride of Cupid (Eros,) was compared to a butterfly. It was her use of firelight to get a glimpse of the true nature of her mysterious sleeping husband that led to her downfall, and a series of dire trials that eventually led to her transfiguration.

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The butterfly is a powerful symbol for transformation. It leaves the safety of the cocoon in it's new form. This is an excellent image for anyone contemplating, or in the midst of a major change. A butterfly is a strong symbol of metamorphosis, with distinct stages. The butterfly is a reminder to make changes when the opportunity arises. Change and transformation are inevitable for us all, but it does not have to be traumatic. Butterfly symbolism is also closely tied to the idea of spirits and souls. It has been used in many religions and cultures. Psyche is the Greek word for both soul and butterfly. The belief was that butterflies were human souls searching for a new reincarnation, which gave the creature uncanny and sometimes ominous connotations. This symbolism was also used in early Christianity as a symbol of the soul. Celts thought that women became pregnant by swallowing butterfly souls. These butterfly-souls flew about seeking a new mother. Other cultures believed that spirits of the dead took the form of white butterflies. In northern Europe to see one flying at night was a warning of death, and some said that the soul-butterfly's ability to leave the body in sleep accounts for dreams. Source

The butterfly has long been a Christian symbol of resurrection, for it disappears into a cocoon and appears dead, but emerges later far more beautiful and powerful than before. Source

In Japanese culture, butterflies have a slew of meanings. Their most obvious symbolism is metamorphasis or transformation. This symbolism of transformation is taken one step further to represent those who have died (or that they 'carry' the recently departed souls). Sometimes, butterflies are interpretted as messengers, and following them will lead to a mystery's (or problem's solution). Since butterflies have a very obvious cycle of transformation, birth, and death, it's easy to see why they have been used to represent spirits. Butterflies are also very popular in Japanese motifs. Many Japanese family crests (Kamon) use the butterfly in their designs. Butterflies also symbolize spring, maidenhood, and happiness within marriage. Source

Departed souls
Round the world, butterflies are seen as the departed souls of our ancestors. Native peoples recognise the chrysalis as the soul trapped inside in the body. The emergence of the adult butterfly symbolises the freedom of the soul upon death. Source
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As I've said in the past, visit the Recommended Books on my website, and check out the Dreams & Dream Interpretation Section, as well as the Symbolism Section. One book in particular is to be recommended: The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier. It's not your typical dream symbol cookbook type of book, rather, it is a cultural symbol book, which delivers a lot of value for its cost, and many entries are as extensive as we have cultures. Frequently by reading through a section that pertains to your dream, you will find the famous aha reaction that shows you that you have found somethihg connected to the true meaning of your dream.
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