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Butterfly Symbolism

Posted by ErnieB | Added on : June 30, 2010 1:07pm | Last edited: June 30, 2010 1:09pm | Viewed 1576 times | 0 Comments

 

The butterfly is a multicultural symbol of the beauty of Nature, appearing in numerous examples of nature scenes of many artistic styles. Butterflies are included as elements of these scenes because they most effectively represent all positive characteristics of Nature.

 

Butterflies are "Nature's canvases with the gift of flight." Even in death, their mounted beauty can remain intact for centuries. Nature's genetic paintbrushes have "painted" hundreds of thousands bilaterally-symmetrical butterfly works of art. When one considers that both the topsides and the undersides of these specimens are "painted" with equal skill, and that smaller, isolated sections of these masterpieces can be viewed apart from the total specimen, one becomes aware of the virtually unlimited number of artworks in this "traveling" art show of the air.

 

To some artists, the butterfly only symbolizes beauty: the beauty of symmetry, pattern, color, shape. These artists don't require their representations of these creatures to be interpreted. They copy these insects, some as faithfully as the Photo-realists would copy a still life, a figure, a panorama, and only ask the viewer to observe their beauty.

 

The butterfly symbolizes that which is beautiful and positive because of the widespread and usually valid opinion that they are, indeed, quite colorful and beautiful. Other symbolism associated with butterflies (like femininity, spring) also contribute to people's high regard for butterflies

 

When an illustration or painting desires to convey a fairy-tale or heavenly/ethereal quality, artists usually include a few butterflies to augment the overall feeling. Winslow Homer liberally sprinkled butterflies in his illustration "Saint Valentine's Day." Fairies are often pictured with insect wings which are usually those of butterflies. Greek and Roman mythology illustrates this in describing the horae; spirits who personified the seasons.

 

Throughout history, butterfly imagery has been used more frequently in "decorative objects" than most other living organisms. Butterflies are found in similar frequency with imagery of trees, flowers, mushrooms, and owls. Indian decorations have utilized butterfly imagery for centuries.

 

Items adorned with butterflies are often considered decorative or ornamental. Butterflies don't always have to carry the specific symbolism of nature or beauty. In fact their frequency in non-symbolic decorative usage has caused them to symbolize decoration itself. "Today, an artist will put a butterfly or flower in an illustration just for a filler, a decorative dot of color."

 

Ancient Mexicans considered the butterfly important enough to dedicate an entire palace to it at Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City. This palace is called the Palace of the Mariposa.

 

Teotihuacan is the oldest metropolis in Meso-America, and is the only one to possess a continuous history, from the archaic through to the purely classical period.

 

Historians do not agree on who the founders of Teotihuacan were; some say the Olmecs, others the Toltecs, but most agree that it was at one time the capital of a highly civilized culture later conquered by the Aztecs, the foremost of the Nahuatal Tribes.

 

The butterfly represents flame in the symbolism of this culture. Often pictured with the signs for water, it becomes clear that the "vision of Earth as a paradise is based on the dynamic harmony between water and fire." The same concept is exemplified by an image of Tlaloc, god of rain, pictured on a vase bearing a butterfly motif. It is interesting to note that the butterfly is used as symbolic representatives of both the fire and rain god.

 

Finding no information as to why butterflies symbolize flames indians might have observed the many butterflies whose wings are red, orange, yellow, or combinations of all three colors. A cloud or "cumulep" of fire-colored butterflies taking off from a mud puddle after drinking, could easily be interpreted as being flame-like.

 

Mexican Indians might also have witnessed a "magna-cumulep" of millions of orange, monarch butterflies migrating to their over-wintering grounds in the mountains near Mexico City. A "cloud of flame" would definitely have entered their minds. The flapping of the wings would even approximate the flickering of the tongues of flame.

 

The Zuni Indians feel that the early appearance of butterflies indicates fair weather. Other peoples "say that if the first butterfly is ... yellow [it will be] sunny weather."

 

In western Pennsylvania, when chrysalides are found suspended from the underside of rails and heavy branches, as if to seek a covering from rain, then extremely wet weather is predicted; if they are found on slender branches, then a spell of fair weather is predicted.

 

Many of the Indian tribes of North America including the Hopi, Navaho, Zuni, Pomo, Piute, Apache and unnamed pre-historic tribes used butterflies to represent the beneficence of summer. These tribes mainly use the butterfly in their basketry and beadwork.

 

Associating butterflies with summer is directly related to their abundance during that season. Although adult butterflies are present in each season, they proliferate and are most visible during the summer months.

 

The Zuni Indians also feel "when the white butterfly comes, comes also the summer."

"Some say that if the first butterfly is ... dark [it will be] a season of thunderstorms. This belief appears in Funk and Wagnalls' Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. No mention is made of the origin of this belief. The probable reason for this superstition associates the dark color of the butterfly wings with the dark color of thunderstorm clouds

 

"In south Germany, some say the dead are reborn as children who fly about as butterflies [hence the belief that they bring children]." "In Brunswick if the first one of the season is ... yellow [it is an omen of] birth." It was not stated why this belief holds true.

 

In the book, Insect Fact and Folklore, by Lucy Clausen, it is stated that "a butterfly in the house is a wedding sign." The book does not reveal where or why this symbol is prevalent, simply stating it exists. Also, in the Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, published by Funk and Wagnalls, it mentions that in Brunswick, England, if the first butterfly of the season is variegated, it is an omen of marriage.

 

The first butterfly seen in a season carries some significance in many countries. In Ruthenia, if the first one is red it announced good health. This symbol may be derived from the belief that rich, red blood is a sign of good health

 

The Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest incorporated the butterfly in their mythology. The butterfly is the raven's spokesman at feasts. The raven "was an integral part of Northwest coast life and to separate this bird from the life of the people was inconceivable. It is a never-to-beforgotten bird." "The raven created the world according to the Haida Indians."37 In one Haida totem pole, the butterfly appears beneath the raven and touches the raven's tongue, possibly signifying his spokesman role. The totem butterfly is highly stylized. Indian art gives primary attention to the predominating power which he attached to that animal. The art endeavored to give an impression of action or pictorially indicate what the animal could do. Since birds were a dominant theme in Haida art, their artists perhaps overlooked the most obvious flying abilities of butterflies and (presuming they referred to a butterfly's sucking mouthpiece as a tongue) decided to make an insect with a big tongue a spokesman.

 

 

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