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What is the symbolic meaning of a butterfly?

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There are many symbolic meanings associated with the butterfly. Here are some of them:
  1. long life (Madarin Chinese)
  2. young men in love (Madarin Chinese)
  3. young maidens and marrital bliss (Japan)
  4. witches trying to steal cream (Germany)
  5. souls of those who have passed away (Ancient Greeks, some Russians, Mexico)
  6. sould of those who are waiting to pass through Pergatory (Irish)
  7. freedom, fun and joyous times (western world)

Butterflies also symbolize rebirth, new beginning, resurrection, transition, celebration, lightness, time, rebirth after death, etc.

More about the symbolic meaning of butterfly:

The Mandarin Chinese word for butterfly is "hu-tieh". "Tieh" means "70 years", therefore butterflies have become a symbol for a long life. In this culture butterflies have also become representative of young men in love.

In the Japanese culture butterflies are thought to be representative of young maidens and marital bliss. Many Japanese families use the butterfly in the family crest design.

Germany has a very unique belief about butterflies. As butterflies can often be found hovering about milk pails or butter churns, they have become associated with witches trying to steal the cream. The German word for butterfly is "Schmetterling", which is actually derived for the Czech word "Smetana" which means "cream".

There are many links with butterflies in mythology from all over the world, many of which, in particular Greek mythology, link butterflies to the human soul. The Ancient Greeks also considered butterflies as the souls of those who had passed away.

In ancient Greek the word for butterfly is "Psyche", which translated means "soul". This was also the name for Eros' human lover and when the two figures are depicted they are often surrounded by butterflies.

In one of the Russian dialects, butterflies are referred to as "dushuchka" which is a derivative of the word "dusha" also meaning soul.

There is also an Irish saying that refers to the symbolic meaning of butterflies. This saying is: "Butterflies are souls of the dead waiting to pass through purgatory" Butterflies also symbolize: Resurrection, Transition, Celebration, Lightness, Time, Soul. There is a small town in Mexico that also associate butterflies with souls. It is to this town that Monarch Butterflies migrate every year, around the holiday known as the Day of the Dead. The people of this town see these butterflies as the returning souls of the deceased.

We are all small and appear to be the same (like the caterpillar), but as we grow older our true beauty shows (like the butterfly). Like a butterfly, we are all different, and beautiful in our own way. In the Christian religion, the metamorphosis a butterfly undergoes is symbolic of the spiritual evolution all Christians go through. Butterflies represent rebirth and a new beginning. For Christians, it is considered a soulful symbol. In ancient mythology, the butterfly stands for wisdom and everlasting knowledge.

Butterflies symbolizes change.

First of all the butterfly symbolizes new life from and old one. Seeing that the color black is a strong yet subtle color, the black butterfly symbolizes the new strong but subtle life after a period of transformation.

In some cultures the butterfly is also considered to bring luck.
By a well established convention in literature and art, butterflies (usually) symbolize transitoriness, as they don't live long.

The butterfly exists in four distinct forms. Some consider that so do we: The fertilized egg is planted in our mother's womb. From our day of birth we are like the caterpillar which can only eat and creep along. At death we are like the dormant pupa in its chrysalis. After that, our consciousness emerges from the cast off body, and some see in this the emergence of the butterfly. Therefore, the butterfly is symbolic of rebirth after death.

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."

The butterfly is a reminder to make changes when the opportunity arises. Change and transformation are inevitable for us all, but it does not have to be traumatic. Butterfly symbolism is also closely tied to the idea of spirits and souls. It has been used in many religions and cultures. In the western world, the symbol of the butterfly stands for freedom, fun and joyous times. It is also symbolises a state of naturalness and purity.
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