Many insects are considered ugly and unpleasant. A few exceptions include the ladybug, the dragonfly, and many colorful species of moth. But perhaps the greatest exception is the butterfly. The famous Italian opera, Madam Butterfly, is a tale of unrequited love. Butterfly sanctuaries are wondrous places to see when they are full of the flying insects, and they are tourist hot spots. Like the moth, which has a number of symbolic meanings – many of which are rather dark, the butterfly holds a special place in the occult, in folklore, and in esoteric philosophy.
Here, we will take a closer look at 11 of the most admired and symbolic butterfly colors and find out what they mean.
Butterfly Color Symbolism
The various colors of butterflies, you will find, have more or less the same and similar meanings to the colors themselves, which at the surface level are very intuitive. Colors, however, it should be said, have a number of less well known meanings. For example, the color green often indicates purity of intention, a kind of raw magnanimity, and is associated with the heart. Purple is generally thought of as a royal color, and it is, but it is also associated with divinity, wisdom, and the intellect as it applies to higher ideals.
The two color meanings we have mentioned above are found within both the eastern chakra system and the more western Kabbalistic tree of life. This is the level of esotericism we will need to dive into in order to understand the full symbolic meanings of the various butterfly shapes, patterns, and colors.
Butterflies in Religious Traditions
There are no mentions of butterflies in the Bible and Egyptian art contains them only rarely. However, the Mycenaean culture took quite an interest in them. For them, the Goddess of the dead, Despoina, is often accompanied by a butterfly. Many researchers believe that the butterfly in these images represents the return of a soul to the world of the living.
Indeed, we think you will find that the relatively diaphanous nature of butterflies, their lightness, their being subject to the dictates of the wind, make them similar in character to a spirit, or spiritual things.
In pre-Biblical Christianity, butterflies represent an early form of earthly things. This is not unlike the Mycenaean idea. The Gnostics thought of it as a representation of a purified soul. This runs parallel to the Egyptian notion that the Goddess Maat weighs the hearts of the newly dead and only those with a conscience unburdened by guilt and sin may pass into the afterlife. The rest were weighted down by karma and forced to return to earth.
With these ideas in mind, it is interesting to consider the fact that many early Christian and Pagan thinkers and followers of the Mystery traditions considered the underworld to exist in the air between the surface of the earth and the upper heavens. A soul, like a butterfly, could begin its journey into the underworld, and if it could continue to become more unburdened by error, it could ascend into the upper spheres.
Taking this tradition of spiritual philosophy to heart, it is even more interesting to consider the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly. The caterpillar is also often admired for its charming appearance, its energetic nature, its ambition, and its enormous appetite. The caterpillar is ravenous, charming, and is fated to become “entombed” in a cocoon. After a period of time in its tomb, the caterpillar becomes the spirit-like butterfly to begin its journey into the upper spheres – if it can.
It is through this journey that we will find the meaning of the colors and patterns of various butterflies. For this, we may need to dig quite deeply into the unconscious and into occulted ideology.
Butterflies in Art
Almost everywhere, the butterfly represents the immortality of the human soul. Its colors represent various qualities that the soul could possess, love, striving, vigor, grace, wisdom, guilt, love, vengeance, and so on. A swarm of butterflies might represent an outpouring of divine blessing. Interestingly, this is the case because a swarm of butterflies is beautiful. Therefore, it is construed as grace rather than as the result of a massacre.
In African tribes, butterflies are seen as a sign of the beginning of the rainy season, which is a form of blessing. Southwestern butterfly petroglyphs appear to represent the creatures as a fertility sign. This would follow the image of the butterfly as a symbol of the reincarnating soul. Ancient art from Mexico uses butterflies to depict the souls of fallen warriors.
The Chinese, conversely, use the butterfly as a symbol of longevity, and the Japanese use it to denote feminine beauty, transient joy, and womanhood.
To the English, butterflies symbolize the spirits of the dead and a cluster of four butterflies as witches. In English lore, three butterflies are a sign of good fortune and red butterflies are a symbol of evil. This shows the full range of associations to which the image of the butterfly can be attributed.
The one most common meaning of the butterfly is immortality and rebirth based on evidence going back to the dawn of the Stone Age. The Japanese idea of fleeting beauty being linked to butterfly imagery is also a global phenomenon. But more universal are the notions of the immortality of the soul and freedom being linked to this tiny creature.
Butterfly Color Meanings
It is serendipitous that our research brought us to note the fact that red butterflies are seen as a symbol of evil and that a cluster of four is seen as indicating the presence of witches. Our research does not show us whether or not a cluster of four is necessarily indicative of evil witches. In pre-Cristian and early, pre-Biblical Christianity, magic practitioners, and even witches are not always seen as evildoers necessarily. Rather, they are seen as practitioners of magic or sorcery (not the same thing) for either good or for ill, like any technology, science, or art can be used for good or for ill- for giving and for taking.
But noting that some colors on a butterfly can be seen as indicating misfortune, harm, evil, illness, and the like – leads us nicely into our complete list of butterfly color meanings.
Red Butterfly Meaning
The red butterfly color is a great one to start with since, as we know, it can represent evil. According to our research, the only truly historical meaning of the red butterfly is evil. The juxtaposition between the flitting, ephemeral nature of butterflies and the active nature of red suggests that evil, hatred, or a disposition that is conventionally demonic would be the proper, classical interpretation of red on a butterfly.
However, in a more modern context, it is difficult to see a butterfly as evil in any circumstance. Red is a color of bloodshed, naturally. It is a sign of danger. But it is also the color of romantic love, lust, desire, etcetera. It is certainly evocative of earthly emotion or animal desire. But, the taming and productive harnessing of the basic desires is a hallmark of all spiritual traditions that come to mind readily. Certainly, the combination of the butterfly and this most vital of colors could signify temperance, which is always positive.
Perhaps we could think of the red butterfly as a dualistic symbol denoting lust, or something akin to lust, in a spiritual form. This could be a good thing or an evil thing depending on the context, the flip of a coin, the orientation of a card, or what have you.
In the animal kingdom, a red butterfly could serve as a warning to predators that the insect is not safe to eat.
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Green Butterfly Meaning
Less rare than red butterflies, but still vanishingly unusual, is the green butterfly. The surface interpretation of green is one that denotes life, plenty, well-being, and goodwill. When the light of the Sun shines through the wing of a green butterfly, the image you get is something like the leaf of a tree on a beautiful sunny day. This fact alone makes it curious why there are not more butterflies of this color.
An esoteric interpretation of the green butterfly would lead us to say that it represents the heart, and especially the balance between the masculine and the feminine nature- much as the Yin/Yang and the Star of David represent. In literature, The Green Man denotes the wild, wonderful, and powerful aspects of nature – think the Jolly Green Giant, the Incredible Hulk, etcetera. Quite accurately, the Incredible Hulk is a modern version of the classical Green Man. He is immensely powerful, borne of the womb of the natural world in a very intensional way, and most of all, he is not to be trifled with.
In the comic book, the Hulk more than anything else wants to be left alone – but is rarely left alone. This is the nature and the challenge of all freedom seeking people. Therein lies the meaning of The Green Man.
So a green butterfly could be the literary foil of the natural manifestation of the red butterfly, that is, it is a warning to predators. It could be the message of innocence to the Adversarial Principle, saying, “Don’t tread on me.”
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Blue Butterfly Meaning
Blue butterflies are also rare, but less so than green and far less so than red. In terms of a naturalistic interpretation, the blue butterfly might be seen as the intellectual counterpart to the green. Blue is a symbol of the intellect, the imagination, and all things mental. It is associated with the daytime sky, and the butterfly is associated with both dusk and dawn as it represents the period between life and death.
Like green, blue wants to be left alone – not necessarily in an anti-social way. Blue wants the freedom to think, to imagine, to play in the spaces of the mind just as green wants the liberty to move, grow, love, need/desire, and so on.
While green might use force to achieve its liberty, blue would be more likely to use subterfuge or stealth. Blue can be seen as an immature form of purple which is royal or divine. It is the color of the mind which is the central aspect of God in the Mystery traditions.
Sighting a blue butterfly is thought to indicate good fortune or a sign that a departed loved one is attempting to communicate with you. Almost any way you cut it, blue butterflies are positive. However, in its most negative aspect, it could predict the noble death of someone near to you, or your own noble death. Remember, death often means change- not necessarily the dissolution of the body.
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Orange Butterfly Meaning
Entirely orange butterflies are almost unheard of, but not quite completely. Orange is similar to red in that it indicates lust, passion, and emotion wedded to intention. It sparks movement and is an indicator of temperance in romantic love – but it is an indication of temperance that strains to reign in the passion it bridles.
In reality, orange butterflies are probably not an actual species. If you see one, it is probably the result of a – what would you call it, metamorphosis defect? Therefore, if you see one, the sheer rarity of it makes it that much more meaningful.
An orange butterfly sighting could mean someone is pining for you ferociously. You’ve still got it, you old devil. Or it could mean that you are pining ferociously and that your passion is bordering on dangerous – not the worst problem you can have in life.
An orange butterfly might be the McGuffin of the symbolism world. That is to say, it is like an object that spurs characters into directed action. Sounds exciting, eh? In reality, you are unlikely to see a real one, but if you do, consider calling that number you have stashed away in your little black book.
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Purple Butterfly Meaning
Of all the butterfly colors we have discussed so far, purple might be the least rare, and that is a good thing because it sort of agrees with the notion that butterflies represent something spiritual if not divine. Purple is like the spiritually advanced form of blue. It has incorporated red, therefore the reticence of blue is tempered by action. Green and red create a burnt-yellow-brownish color. Considering that a kind of foil for purple might be ill-advised, but there is some sense in it. It shows that blue is more amenable to mixing since it is a primary color. Green is not a primary color, which seems to show that purple is a more pure secondary color than the mixture of red and green.
Purple is the color of the divine mind. Since butterflies represent a soul in between incarnations, a purple butterfly could represent a soul on its way to union with the creator. There is no negative way to interpret the sight of a purple butterfly unless you have aligned yourself with infernal things. So don’t.
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Yellow Butterfly Meaning
Yellow is as close as you can get to gold without adding metal. Some beetles display metallic gold, but they have hard exteriors whereas butterflies are subtly furry, like moths. Gold is the color of the Sun. There is nothing more divine in ordinary human experience than the Sun, and there is no object that has been more worshiped throughout history than the Sun.
Gold is associated with the maturity of the mind. It represents wealth and it is symbolized as the hair of the Sun Goddess, Sunna, whose golden hair stretches out to lavish all life on Earth with light and warmth. A yellow butterfly can be seen as an emissary of the Sun, a messenger of truth and wisdom. Like any object made from the precious metal, a yellow butterfly may be in danger of being stolen by covetous actors.
Stealing the truth is akin to disinformation, lying, or occultism since occult means hidden. No harm comes to those who are touched by the yellow butterfly, but harm may come to those who misuse its omen, just as anyone who disregards the truth runs afoul of reality.
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Pink Butterfly Meaning
Pink is a tempered form of red. Before the 1950s, when red children’s toys got left out in the sun to bleach, pink did not really exist. Finding Red Rider wagons turned pink by the Sun, we adopted it and proclaimed it a girl’s color. Therefore, pink has little to no historical symbolic meaning. Still, it is not void of meaning.
Red is a lusty color, and pink is the softening of lust. It might be seen as the non-erotic love between siblings or between a child and parents. That being the case, it could be the sweetest thing in the universe. After all, a child is the symbol of perfect innocence and unlimited potential. A child is God manifest in the world with fresh eyes and an uncorrupted mind. Since pink is a child’s color, it could be seen as equally pure and good.
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Brown Butterfly Meaning
It might surprise you to learn that brown butterflies are quite common. Brown is always an earthy color, representing things practical, living, yet hard and sure – like a well established tree. A brown butterfly is a well adapted creature indeed for life in wooded areas, even more so than a green one.
Brown is also the color of bodily waste. We know, that is not a very pretty notion. But dreaming or seeing a brown butterfly could indicate the need to eliminate waste, or that you had better get out of bed quickly and visit the facility.
Do not be put off. Eliminating waste is a key part of the natural and non-stop healing process. A brown butterfly could have a meaning similar to the Death card, that is to say, it could indicate change, which is what death is. Further, death and elimination are more or less the same thing.
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White Butterfly Meaning
In Japanese mythology, the color white is the color of death- like sun-bleached bone. Furthermore, as we have established, a butterfly represents the transition of the soul from life to death, or from the afterlife to incarnation. In any event, it is a soul in transition. A white butterfly is death, as in the Japanese way of thinking. But, as we have learned, butterflies and death are far from negative things in every case.
A white butterfly is rare indeed. It would be extremely easy for any bird to see, snatch, and eat a white butterfly. Therefore if you see one in real life, cross yourself and give thanks for the good omen, because the little animal is certain to be eaten very, very soon.
A white butterfly might indicate a pure soul found to possess a weightless heart on the scales of Maat. That being the case, it represents something that is as rare in spiritual terms as an albino butterfly is rare in the natural world.
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Black Butterfly Meaning
One might assume black butterflies are both rare and come with negative connotations. In truth, neither is the case. Black butterflies are very common, though it is rare for them to be pure black. Usually, they will be predominantly black with yellow or orange details, which have a host of valid potential interpretations. The color black is a mysterious one indeed. In conventional terms, we associate it with darkness, deception, death, and ill intent.
But in the esoteric world, black is the color of the primary mother goddess, Pistis Sophia, otherwise known as the Black Madonna. The black Madonna is the consort of the ultimate God whose primary attribute is mind. She is the deep, black darkness that is the universe, and her womb is the gestation place for the Gnostic Creator God Yaldabaoth.
Yaldabaoth is the Devil and Christ at the same time, the former being the immature version and the latter the mature, divine version. All life and matter are born out of the womb of the Black Madonna. Since a butterfly is a symbol of a soul in transition, it could indicate the ensoulment of matter itself, which is the combined work of the Divine Father and the Divine Mother.
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Gray Butterfly Meaning
Perhaps the most mysterious butterfly color, gray is white with a touch of brown or black mixed in. In magical terms, a gray magician is the wisest of all, making the transition of Gandalf the Gray into Gandalf the White either poorly advised or subtly dark.
If you spot a gray butterfly, in a dream or in waking life, take care that it is not simply dusty. If you can determine that it is truly gray, it could be a uniquely special omen.
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If you love these beautiful winged creatures and want to see more of them, here is a guide on colors that attract butterflies.