The lightness of souls

by Gail Emerson May 30, 2016

How does the soul fly?

butterfly sketch

In contrast to the flighty lover of fable, another strain of mythology links the butterfly as an embodiment of the the human soul. The Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche, is often depicted with butterfly wings. Rather unusually, after a journey to the underworld, she is happily married - though I guess it helps if your spouse is Eros, the god of love. 

Of course, human souls leave the body after death and much of the mythology suggests a butterfly existence is a kind of initial after-life. This belief is prevalent in Japanese legends, There is also a saying in Ireland that butterflies are souls of the dead waiting to pass through purgatory and in 1600s it was prohibited to kill a white butterfly, which were believed to be the souls of children. 

It's a rather lovely combination of sadness, loss and beauty and lightness - exemplified by this tale from Japan:

A gardener and his wife had no children but instead spent many hours tending to their own garden. No one had ever seen such a beautiful space, with neat, leafy shrubs perfectly interspersed by wonderful floral displays.

In late middle age, they were unexpectedly blessed with a child. They taught the boy all they knew, and he too came to love the plants and flowers in their garden. When they died while he was still a youth, the boy was bereft but continued to tend to the garden.

The following spring, he noticed a pair of butterflies flitting from plant to plant and pausing, as if to consider each stem. That night he dreamt of his parents walking through their garden as they used to, stopping to discuss how best to care for each plant. As the dream faded, the couple turned to butterflies.

Then he knew that his parents' souls rested in the butterflies he had seen and they were still with him and enjoying the garden he now cared for.

See Daniel's completed butterfly design - available as greetings cards and art prints.

Shop the whole DM Bugs and Butterflies Collection


Gail Emerson
Gail Emerson


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