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A visiting soul? Legends of the butterfly from around the world
Seeing a butterfly has meant different things to different peoples over time. Some cultures think a butterfly is good luck, while others believe seeing a butterfly means a dead person's soul is visiting them.
Here are two legends about butterflies from opposite sides of the world.
The white butterfly, Japan
Takahama was a kind old man who lived alone near a cemetery. His neighbors liked him, but thought he was a little crazy because they had never seen him look for love.
One day, Takahama became very sick, and he asked his family to come and see him. As they sat at his bedside, he fell asleep, and a white butterfly flew in through the window and rested on his pillow. The family waved it away, but the butterfly came back three times.
Finally, Takahama's nephew chased the butterfly out of the house and into the nearby cemetery, where it rested on a tombstone for a woman named Akiko. The tombstone was decades old, but was surrounded by fresh flowers.
When the nephew returned to the house, he learned Takahama had died. He told his mother about the grave the butterfly led him to and she said, 'Akiko? That was the woman your uncle was going to marry when he was 18, but she fell gravely ill. He promised to never love again, and has tended to her grave ever since. When he stopped visiting her grave, Akiko must have come to see him. The butterfly was her loving soul.”
- adapted from the University of Pittsburgh
The legend of the parakata, Mexico
A long time ago, a family of Indigenous people were living in the cold Rocky Mountains. Wanting to be somewhere warmer, they decided to start traveling south.
But on their journey, the elderly and the children weren't strong enough to keep going. So the group decided they would stay behind, and they prayed to the moon goddess to keep the kids and the elderly safe.
The moon goddess kept watch over the people left behind, and saw them cover themselves with a blanket of pollen to try to stay warm. She felt sorry for them, and decided to help.
She turned the children and the elders into Monarch butterflies, and called them 'The Parakata.” As Monarchs, they could follow their hearts and find the rest of their family.
- adapted from a story by Adriana Fernandez Escutia via The Chicago Field Museum