Why do we believe that butterflies are the souls of dead relatives?

June 1, 2018 - 4:31 PM
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A meme went viral which featured the superstition of the Filipinos when it comes to butterflies and how it signifies the presence of the dead (Pixabay/Stock photo)

Filipino culture has many superstitious beliefs or “pamahiin” and among the most enduring of these is the belief that a butterfly is a sign of a dead relative making their presence felt.

Twitter user Patricia Teves shared a viral meme that was previously posted on Facebook with an accompanying caption “Very Filipino.”

It featured a guy who was supposed to represent a Filipino’s typical reaction whenever he sees a random butterfly.

Most users in the comments thread reacted with amusement, saying that it was true in their case.

Another user, Matthew, edited the meme to make it more relevant to the Filipino culture.

He pointed out that it was usually the older generations who perceive butterflies as such.

Origins of the superstition

Although the particular superstition has been around for many years, its exact origins or how it actually came to be remains vague or unclear.

Parapsychologist and paranormal consultant Jaime Licauco believes it stems from the idea that butterflies carry a symbolic significance.

He related it to how the butterflies transform from being an earthbound caterpillar to a flying insect, much like how a human being becomes a spirit in the afterlife.

What does death really mean in the first place? In death, the physical body disappears, and from it comes a spirit.”

“A butterfly was formerly an ugly earthbound caterpillar that transforms itself into something beautiful and capable of flying in the air,” he wrote. 

Licauco added that butterflies are recognized as a “symbol of transformation.”

The Comprehensive Psychological Assessment Services also noted that the insect symbolizes rebirth and resurrection.

In Filipino culture, butterflies are known to symbolize a deceased person’s soul. (Pixabay/Stock photo)

According to Licauco, there have been several accounts where people would encounter butterflies during mournings or wakes.

This eventually led to the association of butterflies to the presence of a deceased person in our culture.

“Butterflies have mysteriously appeared even in a closed room, especially during wakes or periods of mourning. Their behavior is often familiar to the living and not usual for butterflies.”

Licauco said that people would encounter butterflies appearing out of nowhere after a loved one has died and experience unusual actions from a butterfly, like being closely approached or encircled by it.

The symbolism of butterflies in other cultures 

Butterflies also have great significance in other countries. In Ancient Greece, they are believed to be the essence of a person itself. The Greeks usually portray Psyche, their goddess of the soul, with wings.

“The butterfly was telling us about our own lives,” Peter Marren, author of “Rainbow Dust: Three Centuries of Delight in British Butterflies,” said.

Through the years, the meaning of the butterfly became varied, depending on their colors.

According to the website of Butterfly Insight, black butterflies became associated with death or the forewarning of death in the Philippines, China and Central America.

In Ireland, black butterflies symbolize a restless soul of a deceased person unable to move on. Meanwhile, white butterflies portray the soul of a deceased child.

In Japan, white butterflies also represent the soul of a deceased person. In Germany, butterflies are believed to be the soul of a deceased child as well.