Butterfly Symbolism
and Mystique

We start butterfly symbolism with the origin of the word 'butterfly'.

It is believed that this is an Old English word rooted from

Broken down, its translation would be:

Buter = Butter

Flage = Fly

This is not for sure as history has been lost.  Old English translation can sometimes be seen as 'Buttor-Fleoge',  also meaning 'Butter-Fly'.

Because I am not an etymologist (one who studies the origins of words)
I won't dwell on the word too much, rather the stories behind it.

Photo: Robyn Mackenzie

We start with the word butter...

One theory, or story, behind why this is the first word used for these flying insects is because of the color of their wings.

Before food dye, butter was a deeper clouded yellow color some 700 years ago.  Many butterflies wings were the same as this butter color and so came the first part of the name for this class of lepidoptera.

Yellow Alder

A second theory is a long story in history of thinking the frass (caterpillar excretion) resembled the color of butter. This story started because the Jamaican Mexican Fritillary caterpillar fed exclusively on yellow flowers of their chosen butterfly host plant, the Yellow Alder (Turnera Ulmifolia).

Because in most cases what goes in must come out, it is here where butter colored excretion was assumed. Modern history would translate this story into butterfly frass but this is false as butterflies don't excrete frass. Waste in butterflies is clear liquid.

Photo: Menz11stock

Yet another theory behind this word is the disappearance of butter, cream and milk in European households all these centuries ago. Butterflies were accused to be witches or fairies and suspected to be behind these dairy heists.

Photo: Robyn Mackenzie

With such a mystery behind the origin of the word butter
butterfly symbolism has evolved around the world to mean something different in every language.

What is interesting is the tie-in to the mystique and splendor of butterflies through each country's history. 

The insect metamorphosis of butterflies has captured our fascination for centuries. A butterfly's evolution starts as an egg, then becomes a caterpillar that sheds its skin to emerge a beautiful, graceful flying creature that floats whimsically through the air.

Many words can expand on the meaning of butterfly symbolism. To sum it up for most of the world butterfly symbolism means Love and Rebirth. 

To develop more on this understanding let's start with ancient Greece. In Greek mythology butterfly means:

Psyche = Soul

Psyche was the sweetheart to Eros and was often represented with the wings of butterflies. 

This suggests the mystical, spiritual aura that many cultures to this day behold.

Photo: Dary423
  • Ancient Greece believed butterflies the souls and spirits of the dead.

  • Hindu mythology's Brahma became filled with deep calm upon observing butterfly metamorphosis and became convinced that perfection could be achieved through rebirth. 

  • Countries throughout Europe believed (and still believe) that butterflies represent souls and spirits. When a person died, doors and windows were left open so the soul of the deceased could leave their body and fly away through the form of a butterfly. 

  • The Korean symbolism for butterflies is the belief that the butterfly stands for happiness and bliss.

Butterflies are considered to be significant in dreams to.

Photo: Rolffimages

They represent peace, freedom, lightness and detachment.

They are seen as air and light and represent good luck.

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