Butterfly meaning and symbolism have intrigued people for eons, as ancient folklore and artifacts with butterflies attest. Among the Earth’s most exquisite beings, butterflies have inhabited the planet for roughly 200 million years. They are more ancient than we are, as the first humans date back to just 2.8 million years. However, butterflies are a “bit” younger than dragonflies, who have inhabited the Earth for 300 million years.
Butterflies exist of their own accord. They are not here for us. Yet, exploring butterfly meaning and symbolism helps us to understand these beings better and to elevate our own level of consciousness.
Here are some examples of butterfly meaning and symbolism in both ancient and modern cultures around the world:
There are roughly 15,000 species of butterflies and around 200,000 species of moths, both of which fall under the order insects known as Lepidoptera. Butterflies and moths exist on every continent on Earth except for Antarctica. This is undoubtedly why they appear in the legends and folklore of cultures throughout the world.
When a Butterfly Lands on You, Flutters Around You, or Otherwise Makes Themselves Known to You
If a butterfly makes their presence known to you, whether it’s in real life, through the media, in art, or in some other setting, pay attention. There are no coincidences. Let the butterfly who has crossed your path expand your awareness and sense of wonder. The butterfly has a message for you. Below are some general meanings applied to butterflies, and there’s more detail below about butterfly symbolism in different cultures.
Symbols of Transformation and Change
Because butterflies undergo metamorphosis, throughout the world they are symbols of transformation, change, and rebirth. Like buds that blossom into flowers, butterflies transform from caterpillars to gloriously beautiful flying insects.
Cocoons are often used as metaphors for safety or staying in one’s “comfort zone.” Of course, this concept can have both positive and negative connotations. As spiritual beings who are having a human experience here on Earth, we are here to learn and evolve. Spiritual growth and personal transformation often requires that we get out of comfortable cocoons. Metamorphosis is like climbing a steep mountain to see the sunrise. It’s not easy getting there, but once you do, you are so glad you went through all the trouble.
Thus, meditating on the butterfly’s transformation can be a simple way to help you with your personal growth. This growth may involve shedding those habits that are holding you back from being your best self or from living the life you truly want to live. It can also involve learning a new skill, therefore accepting the uncomfortable fact that you will have to be a novice for a while as you learn.
Evolving Past Addiction
The butterfly is also an ideal symbol to meditate on if you want to overcome an addiction. Generally, addictions come from our desire to, for whatever reason, change our state of mind. We don’t like the feeling of something in our thoughts or body and we seek out a way to change that state.
We can do it through positive means, such as talking to a trusted friend, getting moving, or creating something. Or, we can change our state with substances. The latter often only serves to numb us out and dim our awareness – temporarily. This is akin to going back to your cocoon even though it’s actually suffocating your higher self.
The butterfly spirit can help you break out of your limiting cocoon so that you can truly become the full and glorious expression of yourself.
Like dragonflies, butterflies only live as adults, in their flying forms, for a short period of time. While their lifespans vary depending on the species of butterfly, on average butterflies only live for about one month. Thus, the butterfly reminds us that at every moment, something sacred is at stake.
When we’re younger, we feel that time passes by slowly. As we get older, we realize how quickly it flies. The butterfly reminds us to not put things off – make that phone call to your old friend, plan that party, take that class, visit that place you’ve been dreaming of. Butterfly wisdom says, “Be in the moment,” “Now is the time,” and “Enjoy the moment!”
Expanding Awareness and Insight
As they symbolize transformation, butterfly meaning is also associated with expanding consciousness, awareness, and insight. Caterpillars have very simple eyes that only differentiate between lightness and darkness. However, as they metamorphosize into butterflies, they develop complex eyesight and can even see ultraviolet light, which humans cannot.
Butterfly wisdom shows us that our level of awareness and insight can expand. The way we expand our consciousness is through experiences, art, reading, learning, traveling, and through meditation and prayer. We also do so through healthy relationships with others who want to see us learn, grow, and become better versions of ourselves.
Symbols of Environmental Conservation
Caterpillars and butterflies are sensitive creatures. They have sensitive hairs on their bodies that take in information from the environment and communicate it to their brains, such as which way the wind of blowing. They also have antennae that are equipped with receptors that tell them which food, or nectar, is ok to eat, and where suitable places are to lay their eggs.
Like hummingbirds and bees, butterflies are pollinators, and thus they are foundational for supporting life on Earth. Pollinators enable plants to grow, which we and other animals depend on for survival. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are also extremely sensitive to toxins in our environment and particularly on plants.
When plants are sprayed with pesticides or are grown with genetically modified seeds that are designed to repel or kill insects, butterflies are impacted. In fact, butterfly populations around the world have been plummeting in shocking numbers. In the U.S. alone, butterfly populations have declined by 80-90 percent in the last 20 years due to pesticide use and habitat loss.
Thus, butterflies have become symbols for environmental conservation and embracing an organic lifestyle. At the end of this post, you will find resources for how you can help these precious, beautiful beings.
Butterfly Color Meaning and Symbolism
Butterflies come in a stunningly beautiful array of colors and many of us are curious about what those colors might symbolize. Generally, I refrain from applying specific meanings to what an animal or an insect might mean in a dream or in a specific color because meanings are so personal and they can vary by whatever experiences you are having in your life at a given time.
I believe that we all have the capability to tap into Universal Wisdom, or God or a higher power, as well as guidance from our angels or spirit guides. We all have spirit guides who are standing by, wanting to help us. My purpose for writing this post is to help you tap into yours, and of course, to help our butterfly friends. So, the color symbolism I apply to butterflies in this post is only directional. Ideally, it will light up your own subconscious, so the personal meanings to you can help you on your life path.
A Rainbow of Colors
Not all animals come in a rainbow of colors in the way that butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and tropical fish do. This is one of the things that makes these creatures so special. This is also why I approach butterfly color meaning through the lens of your seven chakras.
Tuning Up Your Chakras
I’m a firm believer in chakra energy because I’ve personally had experiences with chakra toning that were quite profound and had a positive effect on me. Yet, I encourage you to explore your own super-conscious through learning, prayer, and/or meditation to understand more about what these symbols mean for you personally.
To start, here is a chakra toning audio video from Jonathan Goldman. You can just listen as you lie back and relax, or you can chant the sounds to really feel the resonance in your body.
Chakra Toning Video
Red Butterfly Meaning
Depending on your location, if you see a red butterfly, or one whose color is predominantly red, it could be a red lacewing, a scarlet peacock, a two-eyed 88, or a few other species.
Red is a power color. It’s the color of primal energy, intensity, passion, and anger. It can also be the color of good luck and wealth, as it is in China. Or, romantic bliss as it is in India.
Red is also the color of the first chakra, also called the root chakra or Dhara in Sanskrit. The root chakra is the foundation of your physical vitality, your will power, your passion, courage, desire, and security. As the name implies, your root chakra keeps you grounded.
Fortifying Your Security
If you see a red butterfly, consider the areas of your life that pertain to your root chakra, as they may be ready to undergo a transformation of some kind. The red butterfly may be calling you to address certain matters. These could be related to your personal security, whether it be physical, financial, or emotional. The red butterfly can also remind you that you need to summon more passion in your life. Don’t wait for it to come; create it. If you see a red butterfly, send a prayer for good luck and security for yourself and those you love.
Orange Butterfly Meaning
A variety of butterflies come in orange hues. The well-known monarch is one. Other species include the autumn leaf butterfly, the leopard butterfly, the Julia, and others.
Orange butterfly meaning can symbolize joy, creativity, and sensuality. Orange is the color of health and wellness. Often, when people are ill, they can tolerate orange foods, such as oranges, mangoes, and peaches, more easily than others.
Orange is the second chakra, or Svadhiṣthana in Sanskrit. This chakra is your sacral chakra, which is located in the area of your lower abdomen. It affects your gut instincts and, along with the root chakra, your sexuality.
The orange butterfly reminds you to pay attention to your gut instincts. Whether you are positively excited about something or you get a sick feeling in your stomach, pay attention to what your gut tells you.
Health and Wellness
If you see an orange butterfly, consider the areas of your life that need nourishing. This could be with your health, the health of your family, or it could be your relationships.
The orange butterfly asks you to view your relationships from a perspective of whether they are healthy or not. You may love someone but you know in your gut that the relationship is not healthy. You may have the opportunity to make a lot of money at a particular job, but you know in your gut that it’s not healthy for your mind, body, spirit, or your relationships. In both cases, exiting may be the healthiest thing you can do.
On a physical level, the orange butterfly asks you if you are taking care of your health. We all perform at our best when we come from a place of health and wellness. We are more creative, more sensual, and happier. Your orange chakra is foundational within your body. When wellness thrives within you, the rest of your life can thrive too. The orange butterfly reminds us that we are all part of a whole: when our environment is healthy and conducive to a biodiversity of life, we are healthier too.
Yellow Butterfly Meaning
Butterflies that are yellow, or have predominantly yellow markings, include sulfurs, swallowtails, and birdwings.
The color yellow symbolizes happiness, optimism, intellect, and honor. Your yellow chakra is called Manipura in Sanskrit, and it governs your solar plexus or the area in and around your stomach. Your yellow chakra represents your will and how you assert yourself in the world.
Yellow butterfly meaning is joyful and exuberant. The yellow butterfly reminds you that no matter how tired or run down you feel, you still have within you the capability to find the joy in life. Enlist your free will and you will find it!
The yellow butterfly reminds you to be around people and situations that stimulate you physically and intellectually. Conversely, if you feel something negative in your stomach, it’s most likely not the right situation or our relationship for you. There is a difference between happy, giddy butterflies in your stomach and a pit of angst and dread!
As symbols of transformation, the yellow butterfly inspires you to seek out new experiences that light a fire within you and that bring you happiness.
You are a light worker.
In addition, the yellow butterfly reminds you that you are a light worker. You are here to honor God, or your higher power, and the world with the greatest expression of yourself, a being that brings light and happiness to the world. You may consider yourself a serious, even morose person at times. The yellow butterfly reminds you that the light still shines within you.
Green Butterfly Meaning
Butterflies that are green, or that have green markings, include the green birdwing, the malachite, the emerald swallowtail, and others.
The color green symbolizes nature, growth, renewal, and fertility. It also symbolizes financial security and even abundance.
Your green chakra is your heart chakra, or Anahata in Sanskrit. As your fourth chakra, Anahata governs your chest, including your heart, lungs, and respiratory and circulatory systems. As it’s located in the area of your heart, your green chakra also affects your heartfelt emotions and relationships.
If you see a green butterfly, it’s likely a time for renewal in your relationships, or for a special new relationship to enter your life. The green butterfly reminds you to reach out to those you haven’t spoken to in a while so you can reconnect. As is the case with so many other things in life, with nurturing, relationships can grow and evolve.
As butterflies are symbols of transformation and growth, consider the areas of your life that are related to your green chakra, which you would like to grow and improve. Perhaps there is a relationship that is ready to evolve to the next level. Or, perhaps you need to put renewed focus on your finances so you can better nourish your nest egg.
The green butterfly reminds you that in all of your endeavors, whether it’s in your work, simply greeting people on the street, or interacting with loved ones and even colleagues, come from a place of the heart.
Blue Butterfly Meaning
Butterflies that are blue, or which have blue markings, include the blue morpho, the blue pansy, bluewings, and others.
The color blue symbolizes loyalty, as in a “true blue” friend. It also symbolizes trust, faith, and wisdom.
The blue, or turquoise blue, chakra is your fifth chakra. It is Vishuddha in Sanskrit. Your fifth chakra rules your ability to connect, communicate, and express yourself.
If you see a blue butterfly, think about how you are expressing yourself in the world. We are all constantly communicating, even if we aren’t speaking. It might be in facial expressions, how we carry ourselves, what we post on social media, or even with silence.
Live in the Truth
The blue butterfly reminds you to “speak your truth,” or, in other words, be your authentic self in the world. Self-expression is foundational to fulfilling our purpose in this lifetime. As the saying goes, “Speak out, even if you voice shakes.” The blue butterfly also reminds you that the truth will set you free.
Purple Butterfly Meaning
Purple butterflies, or those with purple markings, include the purple emperor, the common tit butterfly, and the red-spotted purple butterfly.
The color purple is a special color that combines the warm color of red with the cool color of blue. Striking this balance and creating something beautiful from this dichotomy is why purple is the color of peace. Purple also symbolizes devotion, aspiration, nobility, and wealth.
Both your sixth and seventh chakras are shades of purple. Your sixth chakra, Ajna, is indigo, and your seventh chakra, Sahasrara, is red-violet, though some may interpret it as white.
An Exalted Life
Your sixth chakra, located in your head, rules your mind and your third eye, or intuition. Your seventh chakra, located at the crown of your head, governs your super-conscious.
If you see a purple butterfly, you are being called upon to tap into your higher power. Use your mind to connect to God, your higher power, and your spirit guides, through prayer or mediation. The purple butterfly is exalted. You are being asked to be greater than your thoughts and your perceived limitations. You are being reminded that there is more out there, and you are being asked to seek it out.
Brown Butterfly Meaning
Butterflies that are brown include the autumn leaf, the striped core, the chocolate pansy, and other species.
The color brown is a warm color, symbolizing the soil, Earth, wood, security, and stability. The meaning of the color brown is exemplified in the saying that someone is “very down to Earth,” meaning they are real, easy to relate to, and without pretense.
The brown butterfly reminds you to ground yourself and get back to basics. Honor that which is real in your life, that which truly gives you a solid foundation from which to blossom.
Black Butterfly Meaning and Symbolism
Butterflies that are black, or which have predominantly black markings, include the archduke, the bat wing, the birdwing, and others.
The color black symbolizes mystery, elegance, beauty, formality, rebellion, and change. Without the color black, other colors would lack variety in depth and hue.
Seeing a black butterfly may symbolize that your life is about to undergo a big change. Sometimes change can be unexpected or difficult. Yet, as the Buddhists say, “This too shall pass.” We are always in the process of change of some kind. The black butterfly reminds you to embrace the change. Face changes head-on instead of trying to avoid them. This is how you evolve spiritually.
The black butterfly can also symbolize that you need to explore an issue in your life more deeply to truly understand it. For positive transformations to occur, we often have to “go deep” vs. just skimming the surface. If you are unsure of what to do in a given situation, it simply means you need more information. The black butterfly reminds you to seek out that information. Investigate the unknown and you will find the answers you seek.
White Butterfly Meaning
Butterflies that are white, or that contain white and shades of gray, include the Angola white lady, the white morpho, the glasswing, and others.
The color white symbolizes purity, innocence, simplicity, clarity, and angels.
All butterflies are seen by cultures throughout the world as messengers from spirit guides, yet white butterflies are especially significant and are associated with angels.
The white butterfly reminds you to find a place of calm in the tumultuous sea of life. You may feel more stress in the world or in your life. The white butterfly reminds you that it is not so much more or less stress, but your mind’s and your body’s ability to deal with the stress. If you come from a place of calm, you will be able to handle whatever life throws at you.
The white butterfly may be telling you that it’s time to detox. This might mean your thoughts, your body, your relationships, or all of these things. It may be time to clear the clutter from your mind, body, spirit, and even your home.
Messages from Your Angels
The color white is also associated with the seventh chakra, which governs your superconscious. The white butterfly asks you to clear the clutter of your busy thoughts so you can become more perceptive and open to the messages your angels and higher power are sending you.
Butterfly Spirit Animal
While they are insects, butterflies are still considered to be powerful spirit “animals” to many.
According to Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals, and you can have more than one. Rather, they choose you. Thus, identifying your spirit animal or animals is a process of becoming more aware and more spiritually in-tune with your surroundings, as well as your true nature and purpose. As with other spirit animals, the butterfly spirit animal serves as a guide to help you navigate your life path in the physical realm, here on Earth.
How do you know if the butterfly is your spirit animal?
If you are wondering if the butterfly is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. If you already know, you will hopefully learn some new things about butterflies in this post that will help to guide you on your soul’s journey. There is always more we can learn from these ancient beings. You can also take UniGuide’s Spirit Animal Quiz to explore more possibilities.
Questions to consider:
- Has a butterfly made himself or herself known to you in a way that riveted your attention? This could be a live butterfly fluttering around you or landing on or near you. Or, it could be one that grabs your attention in art, on a piece of jewelry, in the media, or elsewhere.
- Were you especially interested in butterflies as child?
- Do you ever dream about a butterfly or butterflies?
- Have certain stories, books, or movies that involved butterflies had a strong impact on you?
- Do you feel an affinity with butterflies and experience a powerful sense of wonder about them?
When the butterfly is your spirit guide, you haven been blessed with the opportunity for extraordinary transformation. Butterflies exemplify personal growth and the chance to change your life into something that is free and spectacularly beautiful.
Whether you want to change the way you view the world, how you treat others, your career, or even your appearance, the butterfly spirit animal is here to tell you that you can! It only starts with a dream.
The butterfly also reminds you that life is transient. So, seize the moment, enjoy life’s treasures and wonders today. The butterfly is here to lift your heavy heart and give you permission to enjoy your lightness of being.
Butterfly Symbolism in Ancient Cultures
For as long as humans have lived on Earth, butterflies have been here. Thus, butterfly meaning and folklore have existed in cultures around the world throughout human history. Here are some examples:
Butterfly Meaning in Mayan and Aztec Culture
For the ancient Aztecs, butterflies were symbols of comfort. The Aztecs believed that butterflies were sent from their ancestors and close relatives who had passed on to the spirit world to give them comfort. The Aztecs considered it rude to smell a bouquet of flowers from the top because that’s where the butterflies would land and thus how souls would visit.
For the ancient Mayans, butterflies were seen as spirits from warriors who had moved on to the spirit world.
Butterfly Meaning in Greek and Roman Mythology
In ancient Greece and Rome, butterflies symbolized the soul. In the Greek language, the word “psyche” means soul. There is a myth about the Greek goddess Psyche, who was once a mortal woman and who evolved to become a goddess. She is the wife of Eros, or Cupid, and is the goddess of the soul. Psyche is always pictured with the wings of a butterfly.
Butterfly Meaning in the Bible and Judeo-Christian Traditions
Like dragonflies, butterflies are not directly mentioned in the Bible. However, there is plenty of mention of transformations. For example, in Romans 12:2, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
For many Christian theologians and followers of Jesus’ teachings, butterflies are representative of the rebirth of Christ and his ascent to Heaven. Butterflies demonstrate extraordinary evolution in their lifetimes, just as Jesus did. They also show us, as Jesus did, that we are all capable of rising up and becoming something better. We are able to forgive and to be forgiven.
Butterfly Meaning in Celtic Folklore
In Celtic and Irish folklore, it was believed that butterflies could move between the physical and supernatural worlds. It was also considered bad luck to kill a white butterfly because they were believed to carry the souls of children who had passed away.
Butterfly Meaning in Japan
As with other cultures around the world, in Japan butterflies are considered to be souls. The Japanese believed, and undoubtedly many still do today, that the spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly when they travel to the metaphysical world of eternal life.
In Japan, butterflies are also symbols of girls becoming women, and two butterflies flittering around each other are considered to be a sign of marital bliss.
Butterfly Meaning in Feng Shui and Chinese Culture
In Chinese culture and in Feng Shui, butterflies symbolize freedom, beauty, elegance, and love. Two butterflies symbolize eternal love. Butterflies demonstrate how a healthy romantic relationship doesn’t feel constrained in anyway; it is positive and transformative.
The Legend of the Butterfly Lovers
There is a famous Chinese legend called the Butterfly Lovers. In the story, a young girl, Zhu Yingtai, convinces her father to allow her to become a scholar. At the time when the story takes place, between 265-420 AD, girls in China were discouraged from scholarly pursuits. Nevertheless, Zhu’s father relents, and the girl attends classes disguised as a boy.
While on her journey to school, Zhu meets and befriends a fellow scholar, Liang Shanbo. The two share a special connection and become very close. Eventually, Zhu shares her true identity with Liang. They fall in love, but cannot be together because Zhu’s father has promised her to someone else. Liang dies of a broken heart and is buried.
On the day that Zhu is to marry her arranged groom, powerful winds overtake the wedding procession, making it impossible for Zhu to be escorted beyond Liang’s grave. In despair, Zhu begs for Liang’s grave to open up, and it does. She throws herself into the grave, and from the grave emerge two butterflies who ascend into the sky and fly away.
Native American Butterfly Meaning and Symbolism
The Blackfoot People believed that butterflies delivered your dreams to you, and that your dreams were messages from the spirit world. Thus, the Blackfoot would decorate their children’s blankets and beds with butterflies, which they believed would help them sleep better and have good dreams.
The Plains tribes also revered butterflies. They decorated their clothing, teepees, and other possessions with butterfly artwork.
The Pueblo People have a creator legend about the butterfly. The story goes that the Creator grabbed all of the most beautiful colors in the world and put them into a sack. He brought the magical sack to the children who wanted to see what was inside. When the Creator opened the bag, butterflies flew out, singing songs. The Earth’s other beautiful creatures, the birds, were envious of the butterflies’ singing, so the Creator made the butterflies silent so the birds could sing.
Places to See Butterflies in the Wild
If you live in an environment where you don’t get the opportunity to see butterflies in the wild, you can still get to know them through the work of artists, filmmakers, biologists, and butterfly protection organizations who are working to help us understand them better.
In addition, I encourage you to get out into nature, so you can see butterflies in their natural habitats. If you google “places to see butterflies in…” and add your geographical location, or a place you plan to visit, you will find some resources. There are also butterfly field guides that provide detailed information on butterflies in their natural habitats for specific geographical areas.
I found the website Gardens with Wings to be a useful resource for identifying different types of butterflies. There’s also a cool app called Leps (short for Lepidoptera, which is the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths), which helps you identify different species and sub-species of butterflies and moths.
Organizations that Protect Butterflies
If you care about butterflies, please help to protect them. Here are some organizations and resources that will show you how: