The Folklore and Magic of Witches and Butterflies

Updated on September 27, 2017
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Holding a complete fascination with the folkloric witch, Nicole has studied the history and folklore of witchcraft since she was a child.

Witches have had a connection to butterflies for centuries.
Witches have had a connection to butterflies for centuries. | Source

Witches and Animals

Going back to the first magical people in history, the shamans and wise men, the connection between what we deem as magic and animals is clear and abundant. Shamans wore headdresses, masks, and costumes that helped them take on the appearance of animals for various purposes—to help with hunting and also to engage in journeys of the soul. Moving through the ancient times and into the Dark Ages, the shamans and wise men and women seemed to be forgotten, and in their place the witches arose.

Witches were accused, tormented, and executed during the Dark Ages through until modern times. And throughout the witch's tumultuous history, she has had an obvious connection to nature, namely animals. This is because witches practice beliefs and traditions that honor the earth and all its inhabitants. Today, modern day witches have a love for animals and even call their pets their "familiars". One of the animals that many witches are drawn to is the butterfly. Upon research, butterflies and witches are connected on a deeper level than we might've originally thought. Their tale goes back through the pages of folklore and legend.

Folklore of Witches and Butterflies: A Forgotten Connection

Do you know how butterflies got their name? It was thought in the Middle Ages that butterflies were insects who stole butter. This is in direct relation to witches, who were also said to steal their neighbors' butter. And so we see a direct connection between butterflies and witches apparent in the name of this beautiful insect.

Butterflies were thought to be the souls of witches, which is probably why they were thought to steal butter! Witches could shapeshift or enter the body of a butterfly and fly around to do their bidding in disguise. Because of the superstitions surrounding butterflies and witches, butterflies were also linked to the Devil. How anyone could think such a lovely creature was the Devil's helper is beyond me!

According to Jacob Grimm in Teutonic Mythology, when a witch travels at night (astral travel), her spirit comes out of her mouth in the form of a butterfly. The people of Slovenia believed souls were like butterflies. The alp, a shapeshifting nightmare bringer of Germanic folklore, was also said to appear as a butterfly or a moth. So did the holden of the Furious Host (Wild Hunt) and elves...both creatures connecting with witches in the Dark Ages.

Butterflies are magical in so many ways...the wise people of the past knew this.
Butterflies are magical in so many ways...the wise people of the past knew this. | Source

Butterfly Superstitions

  • In the Ozark mountains in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were all kinds of superstitions surrounding butterflies. One anecdote says that if a little girl wanted a new dress, she had only to catch and chew up the butterfly that matched the color of her desired new dress.
  • Never kill a white butterfly or moth as this is the vehicle to carry a soul of the departed.
  • Often, when you see a butterfly, this means you have a time of transformation that will lead to happiness ahead.
  • Some Native American tribes believed butterflies to be similar to birds in that they were messengers who would carry your wishes and prayers to the Heavens. You had to catch the butterfly gently in your hands, whisper your wishes and let it go.

Butterflies have also had negative connotations, as noted in the previous section, and some believed they were the souls of stillborn or unborn children who died in the womb. Some say they are unbaptized children's souls. These superstitions no doubt relate to the fear of butterflies during the Dark Ages and their connection to witches or those who rebelled against the Church's will during that time.

Butterflies are self-propelled flowers.

— R.H. Heinlein

Butterfly Magic: Physical and Spiritual

Butterflies are pure magic. Have you ever just sat and watched a butterfly flit from flower to flower? Their bodies are as light as the air in which they fly, and their carefree attitude is inspiring. They are connected to the element of air and earth. Butterflies are a symbol of transformation: they begin as an egg, turn into a caterpillar, enter a cocoon and undergo a huge metamorphosis, then emerge anew as a totally different creature, the butterfly.

Butterflies are a representation of rebirth and renewal. If you are feeling down or like you've come to a dead end, use butterfly magic to help transform your life and channel a period of rebirth. In the same light, they also symbolize spiritual growth.

Butterflies are not only beautiful, they are beneficial to the environment in numerous ways. They are pollinators. This means they aid in the pollination of various plants, mostly flowers. Those include: lavender, nettles, a few milkweed species, daisy species, and so much more. Because of the butterfly's connection with flowers, flower magic can be used in conjunction with butterfly magic.

How can butterflies be used in every day magic? Here are a few suggestions:

  • create a butterfly garden: by planting just a few host plants in your yard or garden, you can attract and support the life cycle of butterflies. Even if you only have a balcony or front stoop, butterfly host plants can be grown in pots.
  • wear butterflies: there are clothing articles, jewelry, and hair accessories adorned with butterfly designs and patterns. Add these to your wardrobe and wear butterflies on days when you need your spirit lifted.
  • decorate with butterflies: decorate your altar, sacred space, and home with butterflies. You can find artwork, candles, and other decor with a butterfly design and add to your decor to bring butterfly's magic into your rituals and daily life.
  • butterfly meditations: meditate and use the image of the butterfly to help guide you along your journey. Or do a meditation in which you imagine you are a butterfly and see where the magic takes you.

Visit a butterfly garden and sit among the butterflies, let them bring you messages of joy.
Visit a butterfly garden and sit among the butterflies, let them bring you messages of joy. | Source

Test your butterfly knowledge.

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Nicole Canfield


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    • Umesh Dyahal profile image

      Umesh Dahal 6 months ago from Beaumont

      Great article. I'll be practising the butterfly meditation, for sure.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 months ago from England

      So cool! I never knew the connection between witches and butterflies. but yes it makes sense about the butter thing! I went into a butterfly house in London a few years ago. so amazing! huge butterflies flying round my head and landing on me! witch or no witch they were amazing! interesting stuff!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 6 months ago from Chicago Area

      I wish we had more butterflies! With crazy weather in the Midwest, I haven't seen many this year. :( But when I do, it is special. Thanks for sharing more of your insight on nature!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 6 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful photos! Butterflies are pretty and so many types.