Being figureheads of the metamorphosis phenomenon and symbols of change, growth and transformation, butterflies have become embedded into the folklore of various cultures. The following are a couple of examples:
Lladró’s Butterfly Figurines
Lladró’s Niagara Chandelier, made of individually crafted porcelain fairies with butterfly wings, finished with 24K golden lustre (left).
Irish folklore sees butterflies containing the souls of human beings that have the ability to freely traverse between this physical world and the next. It is considered bad luck to kill a white butterfly because it is believed to hold souls of deceased children. There is also an association with the magical protective properties of the Gaelic need fire or the Beltane balefire traditions.
ANCIENT GREECE & ROME
The philosopher Aristotle named the butterfly psyche, which is Greek for ‘soul’. This is connected to the myth of Psyche, a mortal woman who went through the gods’ trials and tribulations to eventually become immortal and be given butterfly wings. In ancient Rome, butterflies appeared on denarii coins next to the head of Juno, goddess of weddings and marriage.
The Tohono O’odham tribe believed that catching a butterfly without harming it, whispering a wish to it and then releasing it will bring your wish to the Great Spirit to be fulfilled. The Zuni people saw butterflies as indicators to the weather of the coming season: white meant the beginning of summer, dark hues as a long stormy summer, and a yellow as a bright sunny summer. The Teotihuacan tribe adorn their temple with butterfly carvings signifying the souls of fallen warriors.
The glossy finishing on Lladró’s Nature Nymph’s butterfly wings gives the piece a sense of magic.
CHINA & TAIWAN
The Chinese character for butterfly sound similar to other characters meaning ‘good fortune’ and ‘elders’ and is therefore seen in Chinese artwork celebrating longevity. In Taiwan, the Rukai people see butterflies as symbols of swiftness when used on headdresses, but symbols of diligence when used on clothing. Similarly, the Paiwan people use tribal bead designs like those on a Swallowtail butterfly to decorate a member who is fast and nimble.
A close up of the delicate Lladró’s Butterfly Treasures Woman Figurine
There is an aboriginal dreamtime story that tells of twin girls who were ugly, but they helped their mother make delicious drinks out of nectar to placate the tribe to let them stay in the village. When their mother passed away, the villagers made their life miserable. The Great All-Father took pity on them and transformed them into butterflies. The villagers witnessed this and tried to befriend them, but they just flew away.