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I usually paraphrase texts found the Internet, but when reading about the symbolic meanings of the butterfly I ran across the article "Animal Symbolism: Meaning of the Butterfly" at Whats-Your-Sign.Com. I really like what it says so I have chosen to quote most of the article.
Overwhelmingly, cultural myth and lore honor the butterfly as a symbol of transformation because of its impressive process of metamorphosis.
From egg, to larvae (caterpillar), to pupa (the chrysalis or cocoon) and from the cocoon the butterfly emerges in her unfurling glory.
What a massive amount of transition this tiny creature undergoes. Consider for a moment the kind of energy this expends. I daresay if a human were to go through this kind of change we'd freak out!
Imagine the whole of your life changing to such an extreme you are unrecognizable at the end of the transformation. Mind you, this change takes place in a short span of about a month too (that's how long the butterfly life cycle is).
Herein lies the deepest symbolic lesson of the butterfly. She asks us to accept the changes in our lives as casually as she does. The butterfly unquestioningly embraces the chances of her environment and her body.
This unwavering acceptance of her metamorphosis is also symbolic of faith. Here the butterfly beckons us to keep our faith as we undergo transitions in our lives. She understands that our toiling, fretting and anger are useless against the turning tides of nature - she asks us to recognize the same.
The text lists some of the symbolic meanings of the butterfly but it focuses primarily on the butterfly being associated with the soul.
... in many cultures the butterfly is associated with the soul - further linking our animal symbolism of faith with the butterfly.
In Greek myth, Psyche (which literally translates to mean "soul") is represented in the form of a butterfly. Befittingly, Psyche is forever linked with love as she and Eros (the Greek god of love, also known in Roman myth as Cupid) shared an endlessly passionate bond together - both hopelessly in love with the other.
Christianity considers the butterfly as a symbol for the soul. To wit, the butterfly is depicted on ancient Christian tombs, as Christ has been illustrated holding a butterfly in Christian art. It's connection with the soul is rather fitting. We are all on a long journey of the soul. On this journey we encounter endless turns, shifts, and conditions that cause us to morph into ever-finer beings. At our soul-journey's end we are inevitably changed - not at all the same as when we started on the path.
To take this analogy a step further, we can look again to the grace and eloquence of the butterfly and realize that our journey is our only guarantee. Our responsibility to make our way in faith, accept the change that comes, and emerge from our transitions as brilliantly as the butterfly.
I will close with this fantastic YouTube video showing the complete lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly from a tiny caterpillar hatching from an egg on a Milkweed leaf through metamorphosis to become a glorious adult butterfly. (Filmed utilizing high powered microscopic cameras and time-lapse photography. Produced for the Chicago Nature Museum in Chicago, IL.)