Moth Symbolism & Meanings & The Moth Spirit Animal

Beautiful Moth on Leaves
Moth symbolism and meanings include fertility, immediacy, transformation, attachment, nighttime, disguise, unconditional love, spirits, intuition, and psychic abilities. While their lives are very short compared to ours, moths have existed on Earth far longer than we have and even longer than butterflies – for about 190 million years.1 So, you can say that these ancient flying insects carry primordial wisdom in their DNA.

Furthermore, moths live on every continent except Antarctica. So, almost everywhere people have been on the globe, there have been moths. This is undoubtedly why moths are subjects in the spiritual beliefs and mythology of many cultures. In addition, the moth spirit animal is an important figure to those who feel a special kinship with these winged insects.

In this post, you’ll learn about moth meanings and symbols, moth spiritual meanings, moth mythology, and more.

Cecropia Moth
Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

What is the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

Before we get into the details of moth meanings and symbols, let’s take a quick look at the difference between moths and their close cousins, butterflies.

Moths and butterflies belong to the same Order of insects – Lepidoptera. And there is a staggeringly large number of moth species in the world: about 160,000 compared to 17,500 species of butterflies.2 However, scientists believe there could be even more – around a half a million species – as not all have been identified.3

One of the most obvious differences between moths and butterflies is that moths’ antennae tend to be feathery and without a ball at the tip, whereas butterflies’ are thinner and do have a small ball at the tip. In addition, moths tend to have thicker, furrier bodies than butterflies. While some people think moths are not colorful as butterflies, as many are Earth toned in color, there are, in fact, species of moths who are quite colorful. However, in general, they are not as colorful as butterflies. Finally, moths tend to be more active at night, while butterflies are during the day.4

What do moths symbolize?

Many people wonder if a moth fluttering around them or appearing in their home has a special meaning beyond science. The answer depends on your unique circumstances. Certainly, for centuries people around the world have derived special meanings from the presence of moths. Here are some of those associations and what they might mean in your own life:

  • Fertility
  • Immediacy and Seizing the Moment
  • Transformation
  • Attachment
  • Nighttime and the Moon
  • Disguise
  • Unconditional Love
  • Spirits
  • Intuition and Psychic Abilities

Detailed Moth Symbols and Meanings

Moth Pollinating a Flower

Fertility

Entomologists are beginning to understand how important moths are in the pollination of plants. In fact, some plants, like the yucca, rely solely on a specific type of moth for pollination.5

While butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds pollinate primarily during the day, moths, along with bats, take on the night shift, pollinating plants nocturnally. In fact, moths’ fuzzy bodies are ideal for carrying pollen from plant to plant.

Because they play such an important role in pollination, and therefore supporting life on Earth, moths are symbols of fertility and abundance.

So, the moth spirit animal is a good luck symbol for areas of your life that you want to see grow. This could be your family or even financial resources.

Immediacy and Seizing the Moment

Like the dragonfly and the butterfly, the moth lives on Earth only for a short time – from one to six months, depending on the species.6

So, the moth reminds us to seize the day. As the saying goes, “At every moment, something sacred is at stake.”

If a moth suddenly makes themselves known to you, it can be a reminder for you to not put things off. Reach out to that old friend, take that class, plan that trip, or make that career change. The moth spirit guides says, “Now is the time!”

Attachment

We’ve all heard the saying, “Like a moth to a flame.” After all, it’s one of life’s paradoxes that moths are attracted to flames or hot light bulbs, which can burn their wings and kill them. Because of this, the moth is also a symbol of attachment – a term that has special meaning in Buddhism.

We’ll cover this topic in more detail in the section on Buddhism below. But essentially, attachment is the idea that we may desire outcomes, situations, things, or even people, and if we don’t get them, we feel dissatisfied and may even suffer. In essence, we are looking for things outside of ourselves to fulfill us when all the while the capacity for true fulfillment is within us.

Why do we want what we want?

The moth’s attraction to the dangerous flame is a reminder to ask ourselves why we want what we want. Of course, it’s normal to want things like love, peace, and security. The moth reminds us to pause and consider whether certain attachments, or desires, truly serve us.

Sacrificing for a Higher Cause

The moth doesn’t just set a negative example, however. In fact, they are exemplary examples of abstinence. Some adult moths don’t even eat during their lifetimes. They use all of the energy acquired during their phase as a caterpillar to reproduce before they die.7 Thus, the moth is also a symbol of sacrifice for the benefit of a greater cause.

Nighttime and the Moon

Luna Moth
Luna moth (Actias luna).

Because they’re primarily nocturnal, the moth is also a symbol for nighttime and the moon. In fact, there’s a moth called the luna moth, or American moon moth. In this way, the moth shares synergies with the rabbit, as both represent fertility and are associated with lunar cycles.

The moth uses the moon and stars for navigation.8 So, like the bat and the owl, they are deeply in tune with the workings of the world at night.

As a symbol of the moon and nighttime, the moth reminds us to honor female energy and mystery, and to explore the unknown.

Moth Meaning: Disguise

Pine Hawk Moth on Pine Tree
Moth mimicry: the pine hawk moth (Sphinx pinastri) on a pine tree. Photo: Michal Hykel.

During the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the 1800s, a strange phenomenon occurred. The peppered moth, which was normally a white with black spot, began to turn black. What scientists eventually realized is that the moths had “magically” changed their colors to blend in better against tree trunks, now blackened with soot.9

The moth’s ability to camouflage themselves helps to protect them from predators. While they are not quite as prolific at changing colors as the octopus or chameleon, the moth is nevertheless a master of disguise.

As a symbol of disguise, the moth reminds us that there are times in life to keep our cards close to our vest. In other words, operating in stealth mode can have its advantages. We are living in an era of over sharing, where people feel the need to share the most intimate details of their lives on social media and elsewhere. The nocturnal moth reminds us that we have a right to privacy and our own thoughts.

Just because someone asks doesn’t mean you have to divulge. Likewise, there are times in life when it’s in our best interests to maintain a poker face and not let the world see our emotions or inner thoughts.

Unconditional Love

While the metaphor about a moth to a flame can serve as a warning to not get too close to things even if we are attracted, in some cultures the metaphor has other meanings. We will get into more details on this in the section on Sufism below. But in short, the metaphor of a moth to a flame can also symbolizes unconditional love. In this way, the moth embodies the idea of giving yourself completely to someone or something without thought to your own self-interests.

Transformation

Atlas Moth
Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) sitting on its cocoon.

The metamorphosis of a moth from larva to a caterpillar to a beautiful flying insect is nothing short of miraculous. Because of this evolution, like the butterfly, the moth is a symbol of transformation. In this way, the moth is also like the lotus flower, which starts as a seed and evolves to a bud, which emerges from mud to grow through water and then blossom above the surface.

As a symbol of transformation, the moth reminds us that we must get out of our comfort zone, or self-created cocoon, in order to grow and evolve. We are all here to evolve spiritually, and much of that process occurs when we make the best of experiences we go through here on Earth. This personal growth might come from overcoming bad habits that hold us back from being the highest expression of ourselves. The moth reminds us that no matter where we are starting from, we all have the capacity to transform ourselves and our lives.

Moth Symbolism: Spirits

In many cultures, the moth (along with the butterfly, cardinal, and other creatures) is seen as a messenger from a spirit guide, or angel. Those who believe in divine creation will attest that spirits (or souls) become a part of divine source, or God. And on this spiritual plane, they hone the craft of  creation. In some cases, this might involve creating living organisms, such as moths. Some believe that spirits can also influence living beings, such as birds, butterflies, and moths. Hence, some people believe that when a moth makes their presence known, they are carrying a message of greeting from a loved one who has passed.

Intuition and Psychic Abilities

Moth at Night

Moths are very sensitive creatures. Their antennae and the fuzzy hair on their bodies pick up information from the environment that guides them. In addition, the moth’s combination of compound and simple eyes sees ultraviolet light and other stimuli that we cannot. Furthermore, the moth can actually “hear,” or pick up, environmental vibrations with their wings.

Because of their sensitivities and nocturnal behavior, the moth is also a symbol of intuition and psychic abilities.

We all have the ability to tune into metaphysical phenomena. It’s just a matter of honing our senses. As we navigate our way through the Earthly plane, it’s critical to be present and aware of the physical matter all around us. However, there is always more going on than we are immediately aware of. Thus, if a moth makes themselves known to you, it can be a sign for you to pause, slow down, and tune in.

The moth spirit animal shows us that our level of awareness and insight can expand. We all have the ability to tune up our intuition and tune in to psychic phenomena. A few ways to do this are through prayer, meditation, spending time in nature, and simply being in silence.

Dead Moth Meaning

Many people think that if they come across a dead animal or insect it can be a bad omen. Of course, it’s natural for death to upset us. But death in and of itself is not something to be feared.

From a biological standpoint, finding a dead moth can be a perfectly natural experience, as moths only live for a short time. However, from an environmental standpoint, a die-off of moths beyond that what normally occurs in nature can be a cause for alarm and a reason to learn more and take action.

However, from a spiritual standpoint, if you find a dead moth, as with other living beings, it is important to honor them.

Many psychics and mediums say that when people or other creatures pass, their spirits take an interest in what happens to their Earthly bodies. This is why so many cultures around the world have spiritual traditions about honoring the bodies of those who have passed, whether through burial, cremation, or another tradition.

If you find a dead moth, do not view it as a bad omen. Instead, it can mean that you have been chosen to honor their life and their spirit through prayer, meditation, or another way.

Moth Color Meanings and Symbolism

Moth color meanings vary slightly from culture to culture. But here are some commonly shared associations:

White Moth Meaning

White Moth

Moths that are white include the white ermine moth (Spilosoma lubricipeda), the black-veined moth (Siona lineata), the large lace-border moth (Scopula limboundata), and others.

White symbolizes purity, innocence, simplicity, clarity, and angels. The color white is also associated with your crown chakra, which connects you to the astral plane and the divine.

Thus, seeing a white moth can be the sign that one of your spirit guides or loved ones who has passed is sending you greetings.

A white moth can also be a sign to clear the clutter of your busy thoughts. When you do so, you can more easily connect with the divine and be more receptive to the messages your angels are sending you.

Brown Moth Meaning

Nine-spotted moth
Nine-spotted moth (Amata phegea), Valbona National Park. Albanian Alps. Photo: Gail Hampshire.

Brown moth species include the antler moth (Cerapteryx graminis), sphinx, hawk, or hummingbird moths (Family Sphingidae), the bordered Gothic moth (Sideridis reticulata), and others.

The color brown symbolizes wood, soil, the Earth, 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.

Thus, seeing a brown moth can be a reminder to ground yourself in some way and to get back to basics. Nurturing and honoring that which is supportive and true in your life is the best way to thrive.

Black Moth Meaning

Brown Moth Meaning
Emperor moth (Saturnia pavonia).

Black moths include the black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata), the American bird’s wing moth (Dypterygia rozmani), the black geometrid moth (Melanodes anthracitaria), and others.

The color black symbolizes elegance, formality, mystery, beauty, rebellion, and change. Without black, other colors would lack variety in depth and hue.

Seeing a black moth can be a sign that something in your life is about to change. While change can seem scary or even inconvenient at times, it’s also the root of growth, helping us to evolve mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

The black moth can also be a reminder to rebel, or to shake off, those things that are holding you back in life. Don’t just accept things the way they are if they are not serving you or those you love.

Moth Spiritual Meanings

Moths in the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity

The idea of moths eating clothing, or cloth, dates back to biblical times. While in truth, only a couple out of tens of thousands of moth species eat fabric. Still, the moth got a bad rap in the Bible. For example, among the negative associations, the moth symbolized waste, weakness, and a deviation from the path of righteousness.10

For example, in Job 13:28, Job says, “Man decays like a rotten thing, Like a garment that is moth-eaten.”11

Essentially, Job is being cynical about the powers of human beings, notably those who lack faith in God.

Then Matthew 6:19-20 warns of putting faith in things that don’t matter on a spiritual level: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.”12

Moth Meaning in Buddhism

Moths and Flame

As mentioned earlier, in Buddhism the moth is often seen as a metaphor for attachment, or craving things, outcomes, or situations that don’t serve us, yet feeling dissatisfaction or suffering when we don’t get them.

According to one story, Buddha was sitting in the garden of Jetavana Monastery outside of Savatthi, India one evening. In his meditations, he observed moths flying around and falling into oil lamps. Buddha noted that those the moths who sought out the light but were too zealous in their pursuit burned up in the flames. He saw a parallel in the human experience. We can still enjoy or sensual experiences. However, having the power to step away from them, as in the practice of mindfulness, is the way that we can remain whole:

“Rushing up but then too far, they miss the point;
Only causing ever newer bonds to grow.
So obsessed are some by what is seen and heard,
They fly just like these moths — straight into the flames”13

Hinduism

In Hinduism, moth metaphors are also used to describe weakness or losing sight of what truly matters on a spiritual level. The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 28-29, says: “As many waves of the rivers flowing rapidly into the ocean, so are all these great warriors entering into Your blazing mouths. As moths rush with great speed into the fire to perish, so are all these armies entering with great speed into Your mouths.”14

In other cases moths are viewed more positively in Hinduism. For example, they are sometimes compared to the mythical flying creature, Garuda. In Hinduism, Garuda is the mount for the god Vishnu, thus a mythical creature of great importance. (And incidentally, a number of moth species are named after Garuda.) 

Moth Symbolism in Sufism

Sufis derive a slightly different meaning from the metaphor of a moth to a flame. In Sufism, one who seeks enlightenment or connection to the divine is sometimes described as a moth to a flame. In Sufism, the idea of self-annihilation, or fana, describes a seeker losing all sense of self to become one with God.15

The Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi wrote,

“Don’t pretend to be a candle, be a moth. So you may taste the savor of Life. So you may know the power hidden in love.”

In essence Rumi is saying that by being egotistical, focusing on oneself, and wanting to be the center of attention (i.e. the candle), one misses the experience of feeling awe and true awareness of the miraculous, or divine.

Personal Story About a Sphinx Moth

Sphinx Moth
A sphinx moth (Sphingidae), also called a hummingbird moth or hawk moth, pollinating a flower.

I thought I would share a personal experience I had with a sphinx moth. Before this experience, I am not sure if I had ever seen one. I certainly didn’t know what they were before this experience.

I was driving south on Highway 101 through San Francisco in the middle of a weekday. Traffic was moving fairly fast and I was in the lane next to the fast lane. When I casually looked at my driver’s side rearview mirror, I was stunned to see what looked like the cross between a moth and bird. It was so large that I didn’t think it was an insect, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I suddenly felt the need to move over to the slow lane and get off of the highway. I was thinking that somehow, I had to help this creature that was perched on my outside mirror.

So, I moved over to the far right lane of the highway, intending to exit. All of a sudden, to my shock, an accident occurred in the fast lane and a motorcyclist was hit.

If I had not moved over, my car would likely have been involved in the accident too and I may have even hit the motorcyclist.

I was able to pull over to the shoulder and I saw that the motorcyclist was alive and was able to crawl to the side of the highway, thank God. I called 911 to report the accident. Then, I looked at my mirror and the winged creature was gone.

It was only later when I described the experience to my mom that she confirmed that it was most likely a sphinx moth that had been on my mirror. To this day, I am convinced that that moth was sent by an angel.

Moth Mythology and Folklore

Polyphemus Moth
The polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is named of the Greek cyclopes Polyphemus. Photo: Stephen Lody Photography.

Moths live on every continent on Earth except for Antarctica, and they have been here long before we have. This is undoubtedly why moths appear in the mythologies and folklore of many cultures. Here are some of those stories and meanings:

Moth in Greek Mythology

The ancient Greeks associated moths and butterflies with the soul. In Greek mythology, the goddess Psyche is depicted with the wings of a moth or butterfly. Fittingly, her name means “soul” in Greek.

Many moths, notably silk moths, have names from Greek and Romany mythology. For example, the polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is named for the famous Greek cyclopes Polyphemus. The moth got their name because of the single spot on each wing that looks like an eye, which wards off predators.16

The Story of Icarus

Fall of Icarus
The Fall of Icarus by Merry-Joseph Blondel, 1819. Source: Louvre Museum.

The motif of a moth to a flame has also been compared to the Greek myth about Icarus.
As the story goes, King Minos of Crete hired a master craftsman named Daedalus and his son Icarus to build a massive labyrinth. The king’s intent was to imprison the Minotaur there (a giant half-bull and half-human monster.)

However, as things go, Daedalus fell out of favor with the king. So, King Minos punished both him and his son, Icarus, by imprisoning them in the labyrinth. Now trapped, Daedalus devised a plan. He began collecting bird feathers, and eventually he had enough to fashion two sets of wings for himself and Icarus so they could fly out of the labyrinth and escape.

A Warning Ignored…

Daedalus’ one warning to his son was to not fly too high as the closer he got to the sun, the higher the risk would be that its rays melted the wax that held the wings together.

To Daedalus’ relief, the wings worked and both men were able to escape. However, Icarus became drunk with the power of being able to fly and he grew reckless. He flew ever higher, eventually getting too close to the sun. As his father warned, the sun’s rays melted the wax in the wings and Icarus fell to Earth.

Like a moth that flies too close a flame, the Greek myth of Icarus warns us of becoming so enamored with the glamour of power or achieving some goal that we lose sense of what truly matters.

Persian Moth Meanings

As in Sufi beliefs, in Persian culture, the moth symbolizes our desire to connect with the diving and unconditional love.

Moth in Celtic Mythology

Celtic cultures traditionally has a lot of superstitions around moths. In generally, the Celts believed that moths could move between the natural and supernatural worlds. And as nocturnal creatures, moths had some fear-based negative associations. For example, the Celts believed that a white moth in the house signified that someone would die. However, a black moth was viewed as a visit and a message from a loved one who had passed. Brown moths signified that an important message or letter was forthcoming.17

Moth Meaning in China

In Chinese culture, moths are viewed as messengers for loved ones who have passed. Hence, it’s considered bad luck to kill a moth. In addition, disturbing a moth during the during the Qingming Festival in April (a festival that honors one’s ancestors) can push away the angels of your deceased loved ones.18

Moth Meaning in Japan

Mothra
A scene from the film Mothra, 1961. Source: Too.

In Japan, moths are also viewed as spirits. In fact, some Japanese believe that when people die their souls become moths or butterflies before traveling to the afterlife.

When thinking about moths in Japanese culture, it would be impossible not to mention the epic moth creature from Godzilla movies, Mothra. A giant yet benign moth monster, Mothra is often accompanied by fairies who speak for her. She is also a protector of her home base and culture. Mothra does die in the stories. However, not before giving birth to offspring. Thus, Mothra symbolized the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Incidentally, she is a character from the Godzilla movies who is especially popular with women.19

Native American Moth Meanings

Native American tribes have mixed views about the meanings of moths. For some tribes, including a number of California tribes, the moth symbolizes transformation and messages from the spirits of loved ones and ancestors. In fact, moth cocoons are used to make rattles, which are used in sacred ceremonies.20

Other tribes viewed moths negatively, associating them with death, unfriendly ghosts, and even madness. The Navajo tell stories of an illness they call Iich’aa. The symptoms include a loss of self-control, nervousness, convulsions, self-destructive behavior, and even rage. The name translates to “moth craziness” or, literally, “one who falls into the fire.” According to Navajo legends, moths (or moth people) are the result of butterflies (or butterfly people) who go mad from committing certain cultural taboos.21

Moth Symbolism in Mexico

In Mexican (as well as Caribbean) culture, a black moth, particularly the black witch moth, in the house is viewed as sign of bad luck and that possibly someone will die. In addition, some say that if a black witch moth flies over a person’s head, they will lose their hair.22

Moth Mythology in Central and South America

People of Central and South America also associate moths with spirits. For example, the Goajiro People of Columbia believe that a white moth in the home, especially the bedroom, is the spirit of a loved one or ancestor and should therefore be treated with respect.

Ecuadorians, Peruvians, and Brazilians, on the other hand, view a moth in the home as a bad omen and a harbinger of death.23

Moth Spirit Animal

Moth Spirit Animal

Although they are insects, moths are important spirit “animals” to those who feel a kinship with these nocturnal, flying creatures.

Those who view the moth as one of their spirit animals have a special ability to transform areas of their lives. They are not the kind of people you can write off as “set in their ways.” Moth people are intent on learning, evolving, and reaching their full potential as human beings.

The moth spirit animal also inspires those who believe to seize the moment. Moth people are not time wasters. They want to live life to the fullest. They also believe in throwing themselves fully into whatever endeavor they choose to take on. Furthermore, moth people are highly intuitive and especially sensitive to metaphysical activity when the sun goes down.

In addition to the moth, if you are curious about other animals who might also be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s Spirit Animal Quiz in my overview post about spirit animals.

Moth Power Animal

Just as their name implies, a power animal can inspire and empower you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, consider the attributes of the moth power animal.

For example, you can meditate on the moth power animal in situations where you:

  • Want to transform an area of your life, such as getting more fit, changing a career path, moving, over even overcoming an addiction or attachment to something that doesn’t serve you.
  • Hope to build or expand an area of your life, such as your family, a business, or a creative endeavor.
  • Need to keep something under wraps or in stealth mode, such as when you’re building on a new idea or going into a negotiation.
  • Want to honor and acknowledge the spirit of a loved one who has passed.
  • Would like to hone your intuition and psychic abilities.

Moth Totem

Animal totems encapsulate the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the moth totem is a helpful symbol when you want to expand or transform an area of your life. The moth totem is also a helpful symbol to remind you to be more spontaneous, live in the moment, and take advantage of opportunities that come your way. The moth totem is also a fitting symbol for psychic protection, to remind yourself to walk in God’s light, or your higher power’s, when you explore your psychic abilities and the supernatural world.

Moth Dream Meaning

What does it mean if you dream of a moth or moths? Dreams are personal to each dreamer, so there is never a one-size-fits-all for dream interpretation. However, many believe that dreaming about moths or butterflies means that you are getting messages from the spirit world, possibly from loved ones who have passed or your ancestors. After all, your spirit guides are always present. Sometimes you just have to find moments of stillness (such as in sleep or rest) to better tune into them.

When it comes to dream interpretation, it’s also important to consider the emotions you felt in your dream. For example, did you feel peaceful, anxious, or energized? These feelings can clue you in to an issue you should address in your conscious, wakeful state. Hopefully understanding more about moth symbolism, meanings, and folklore can bring added insights into what your dream is trying to tell you.

Moth Tattoo Meaning

Moth Art

A moth or moths are ideal designs for a tattoo, as you can be as simple or complex as you choose in your design and still easily convey what your tattoo is. A moth tattoo can show the world that you are a person who is undergoing a personal metamorphosis and that you believe in our power to transforms our lives. It might also convey you unwavering commitment and to your spiritual faith.

A moth tattoo can also signify that you believe in the mystery of life, you value your intuition, and that magic is happening all around us. Obviously, tattoos are deeply personal to those whose skin they adorn. Hopefully understanding more about moth meanings, symbols, and mythologies can bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.

Moth Conservation Organizations

Like their fellow pollinators, bees, butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds, moth populations are in decline around the world. Threats to moths include pesticides, genetically modified seeds and plants, habitat loss, and climate change. However, we need more detailed studies on what is causing moth populations to plummet and how we can help them. In many ways, we can help moths in the same ways that we help similar species. You can read about that in my post about how to help bees and butterflies, which also helps birds.

In addition, you can support organizations that are working on moth conservation, such as these:

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