Butterflies, Reincarnation, and the Stories That Surround Superstition
A black butterfly floats around the vicinity of our field of vision. Is it simply a coincidence in the great randomness of life? This has to mean something more, we want to say, and for centuries, it actually has—more profoundly than we realize.
Recordings of butterflies as symbols for something else have existed since ancient Greece. “The butterfly was telling us about our own lives,” once said Peter Marren, who authored Rainbow Dust: Three Centuries of Delight in British Butterflies. Back then, butterflies were believed to be a person's "essence." The Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche, for instance, has wings of her own, too.
Different cultures both here and the west have varying interpretations for butterfly visits. In the Philippines' case, a black butterfly is a sign that the departed is trying to say hello, and that these creatures are their loved ones' incarnate.
Perahps it's a sign that we yearn for reassurance and comfort, and these interactions are how we bridge the gap between us and the most cherished of the dead. We've likely also heard of black butterflies as bad omens of sorts, too, telling us that someone we love is either about to die or has passsed without our knowing.
Jaime T. Licauco, who is a renowned Filipino parapsychologist and paranormal author, agreed with the former sentiment in an Inquirer column in 2015. "One reason, I believe, is to say goodbye to loved ones and reassure them that they are not dead. While some become afraid, the most common reaction of close relatives whenever the butterflies appear is a sense of comfort and reassurance," he said. "There is a sense of relief in knowing that their departed relatives are somehow alive in another dimension or plane of existence."
We are a ritualistic people, after all, so it comes as no surprise that we ascribe a certain symbolism to these things. We can also point to local Christian and Chinese influences, as well, for this oral tradition. The Christian world thinks of butterflies as a symbol of resurrection, likening Jesus' own return from the dead to the metamorphosis process. Butterflies in Chinese mythology mean conjugal love and freedom or death, depending on their color.
The significance of butterflies to their culture is reflected in the classic Chinese love story "Butterfly Lovers." In Mandarin Chinese, the butterfly is called "hu-tieh," which means 70 years, and that is why they are supposed symbols of long life. During death and mourning, the black butterfly then becomes an embodiment of our lives' own fragile, vulnerable nature.
Other Asian countries like Japan interpret the white butterfly as the soul of the deceased. If we head over to Europe, Germans think of butterflies as the soul of a deceased child while the Irish believe that black butterflies are vessels of restless souls who have yet to move on.
Butterflies hold a special significance in biodiversity, as well. Researchers have seen a correlation between the decline of the butterfly population and climate change patterns. Global warming and deteriorating rainfall conditions might just spell their (and our) doom.
In psychology, the butterfly effect, a term coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in the '60s, suggests that small events have large-scale ripple effects. Lorenz suggested that "nonlinear equations" that govern the weather have an incredible sensitivity to even the smallest movements to its conditions. This says that even the flap of a butterfly's wings might lead to tornadoes on the other side of the globe. It's meant to be perceived as metaphor for the unpredictability of our chaotic world. The school of thought posits that seemingly insignificant events can trigger mass change.
And these are only a handful of such stories. Context, time, color, and the like dictate their meaning most of the time. But if we were to find a commonality between these notes, it is that butterflies are considered symbols of transformation, bordering the strange, spiritual, and scientific. So yes, the butterfly that comes into our room out of nowhere does have meaning, and it didn't come to be ignored.