Butterfly: Animal Dreaming

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Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Butterfly

I wrote a rather long post for the Wild Unknown butterfly and the ideas here are very similar, they are about transformation, about metamorphosis and so on.  This particular butterfly may be the Papilio Ulysses, a large swallowtail butterfly who’s wingspan is about 14cm.  Like many butterflies, the underside of its wings are a dusky brown.   There is a time for standing out and being flamboyant, and there is a time for blending in.

There is a lovely story about why the caterpillar goes into a cocoon over winter to prepare for her beautiful spring butterfly body.

In this deck, the butterfly is associated with the number three.  Given the three stages of butterfly life this feels significant.  And as you probably know, three has a lot of symbolism:

  • Maiden, Mother, Crone
  • Birth, life, death or birth, death and rebirth
  • Holy trinity
  • We live in 3-dimensions
  • Mind, body and soul
  • Earth, sea and sky
  • Bad luck comes in threes
  • The rule of three
  • The triple spiral which appears in celtic tradition
  • Three states of being: sleeping, dreaming, waking
  • Past, present and future

A number of these suggest a wholeness created by three elements, a wholeness that you reach when you have been through the stages of the butterflies life perhaps?

 

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Butterflies: wild unknown animal spirit deck

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You may be aware, particularly if i know you in real life, that i am doing a year long project about butterflies.  They are amazing!  For this post, even though the card is of the butterfly, i feel it would do them an injustice not to consider each stage (and give me a chance to show off my newly acquired butterfly knowledge!) however I am going to try and keep it brief-ish…

The life cycle

Butterflies start as beautifully constructed, architectural wonders.  Their eggs come in a variety of shapes and designs and are laid at different time of years depending on the species.  They are laid on the plant that the caterpillar will need to eat.

Once hatched, the caterpillar starts a very long feast.  Basically the main purpose of the caterpillar is to eat.  They eat and eat until they are too big for their skin.  Then they moult and eat and eat and eat.  They moult about four times.  Once they’re as big as they’re going to get, they then hang upside down and start building their second marvellous construction; the chrysalis.

Whilst in this safe space, the caterpillar begins to break down.  Once they have reach a sort of caterpillar soup stage, they start to reform as a butterfly.

The period spent in the chrysalis involves a lot of hard work.  You can see the process in this youtube clip:

The newly formed butterfly then breaks out of the chrysalis and starts life as an adult.  But, they can’t fly straight from hatching, they have to pause a moment.  This allows the blood to enter veins in their wings and harden to provide strength.  They can’t do this whilst a chrysalis as there isn’t enough space to spread their wings and if they don’t, their wings won’t be strong enough to fly.  This isn’t a long process but it is an important one.

We often think of metamorphosis as a beautiful thing, and it is, but I’m sure it can’t be a painless process for the caterpillar.  And in terms of human transformations, any major change is likely to involve pain as well.  This process is as much about letting go of your current self to make space for the new self.

This isn’t a case of having a little rest and letting yourself grow or going to a spa retreat and coming out feeling new.  This is about breaking down who you are and completely transforming yourself.  This is a MAJOR change.  And change this big is complex.

As the butterfly is a creature of the air, she asks you to change your thoughts, your perspectives and to create your own chrysalis to support your transformation.  However, the butterfly also knows there is a time for everything and you can’t go through metamorphosis early.  First you must shed your skin like the caterpillar does.  This pre transformation stage is a time for growing, taking up space and getting ready for the next stage by literally or metaphorically feeding yourself.  Once you are ready, she suggests that you create your own safe place, surround yourself with love, nourish your body, seek support and be gentle with yourself.  This is a tough process.  You are literally rebuilding yourself – without pain, you will not reach the beautiful state of the butterfly.

The butterfly, the arts and mythology

Butterflies have captivated us for a long time, featuring in art and stories and as a, possibly overused, metaphor.

Butterflies: the enjoyable insect by Gareth Brookes

Oh see the butterflies a-caper
Fluttering like torn up bits of paper
Enchanted I do stand agape
If they would but take human shape
I’d take the out
For a pint of stout

Give no retort as I exhort you to cavort
Amid the butterflies, oh what sport
No film I’ve watched could be such fun
Neither Spiderman 3 nor Cannonball Run
Oh watch them in the sky a-soar
The butterflies, oh crikey! cor!

In complete contrast to the modern day ode above, we have the Christian association of the butterfly with the resurrection (although the more I learn it does seem like they will use almost any animal to symbolise this…).  In ancient Egypt, gods were thought to escape death through metamorphosis.  In other ancient cultures, it was believed that the human soul becomes a butterfly as the body dies and the butterfly then transports the soul to the afterlife.  Indeed, the Greek word for butterfly, psyche, also means soul and Psyche, the Greek Goddess of the soul, is depicted with butterfly wings.

Their life cycle inevitably means the butterfly has been used as a symbol of rebirth, immortality and the fleeting nature of life.  The short adult life span further emphasises the birth, death, rebirth process that we all go through numerous times in our life.

As beautiful smile provoking delights, they are also linked with joy and happiness, as wish carriers and dream bringers.

Life as a butterfly

These enchanting winged creatures of the day are a species of variety – some live only briefly and others can live many months.  Regardless, like the moth, their main purpose as adults is to feed and mate.  Butterflies are generally assumed to drink nectar but they are also known to feed on dung, drink sweat from humans and other animals for nutrients and even decaying flesh.  They are not entirely about beauty and glamour but try not to think about that the next time you get butterflies in your tummy…

The wild unknown tarot

The wild unknown uses butterflies for three of the cards and I’ve found these images to be pretty powerful at different times.

There are no caterpillars in the deck so it seems most fitting that we start with the 8 of Swords, pictured on the right, with it’s chrysalis (if I’d thought this through I would have paid more attention when I took the photo… I would retake it but my deck has been shuffled since and I can’t be bothered finding them…).  This card is about being in a precarious situation – if the butterfly stays in the safety of her chrysalis much longer, it will fall into the collection of swords below.  Comfort zones are great, we need them, especially when we’re going through big things, but we need to leave them as well.  What is keeping you stuck?  Sometimes this might be actual things but often, our thoughts and our perceptions keep us trapped.  How can you free yourself from the chrysalis which was once so necessary and safe and is now threatening to suffocate you?

Once you’ve broken free of your chrysalis, we have the 2 of Pentacles (on the left) which shows a butterfly with outstretched wings and symbolises change and balance.  I feel like this is the butterfly warming up it’s wings and getting ready to fly.  That pause before it takes the leap.  The infinity symbol echoes what I mentioned above and the symmetry of the image speaks strongly of balance as does the use of black and white, yin and yang, light and dark.  This delicate creature appears strong in this card, you are stronger than you think you are.

The 6 of Wands, in the middle, is about rising up, moving on, you’ve been given your wings and they’re strong enough to use, where are you going to fly to?  You have faced the adversity, the pain of transformation and now you have your freedom.  You are leaving the darkness and entering into the light.


“Butterflies live so deeply in the moment of being that they can conquer time itself”
– Matthew Oates