Sunday, 1 August 2010

Myth, meaning, & metamorphosis

What does it mean when a butterfly lands on your head – twice?

That was my Facebook status a couple hours after the incident, which occurred while my husband and I were sitting on a bench at the edge of High Park in Toronto. The first time, it landed briefly, then flew away. Ten minutes later, the butterfly came back and stayed perched on my head for about 3 minutes. Facebook friends provided some interesting suggestions about the meaning of this event: you are very lucky; you are pretty like a flower; it means you have molasses on your head; it means you are safe; someone’s trying to get your attention; God is reminding you that he/she exists; your shampoo is pollen-based.

This had me thinking…Was this just some random encounter with nature or is there a deeper message for me? The experience itself felt mystical, and maybe a bit magical. Why is that?

Butterflies have a complex, unique, and intricate beauty. They are a symbol for growth, change, and transformation.

The butterfly goes through four phases of transformation from birth to death, and the complete life cycle - from egg, to caterpillar, to pupa, to butterfly - can happen over a period of weeks. Their multi-phase transformation is incredible enough, but there is a wealth of history, literature and myth surrounding the cultural and symbolic meaning of butterflies that is also very compelling.

The final stage of a butterfly is referred to as the “imago”. Imago is a Latin word that simply means "image", but the word itself has acquired a number of powerful connotations over time. In Christian theology, the "imago Dei" means “the image of God” and describes the symbolic relationship between God and humanity, and the manifestation of God through life and nature.

The term also appeared in the work of Carl Gustav Jung to describe different forms of a personality that emerge from the collective unconscious, a shared reservoir of experiences that take the form of figures, symbols and scenarios. The idea is that transformation and wholeness comes from these experiences and the lessons therein, and eventually leads to freedom. The butterfly, then, is a beautiful and appropriate metaphor for our own struggles and challenges through life. Perhaps this struggle is leading us to our own greater purpose?

Coming back to that chance encounter in the park, I feel like that tiny creature reminded me of my own humanity, the connection to something greater, and to be gentle with myself as I move through the struggles and challenges that mark my own transformation.

There is a Native American legend that says:

“If you have a secret wish, capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since butterflies cannot speak, your secret is ever safe in their keeping. Release the butterfly, and it will carry your wish to the Great Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of butterflies. By setting the butterfly free, you are helping to restore the balance of nature, and your wish will surely be granted.”

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing that experience.