What does it mean when you see a gray butterfly, and what do gray butterflies symbolize? Let’s find out.
This article is specifically about the gray butterfly, but we start by looking at butterflies as symbols in general.
There are almost 200,000 varieties of beautiful butterflies in the world, most of which originate in the Amazon rainforest. While they live only a few short weeks, butterflies have great significance in many areas of cultural importance, such as religion, folklore, ceremonial gatherings, and other cultural aspects of life.
Butterflies are interesting creatures, unlike any other. For instance, they drink with their feet. Their colorful wings are transparent and the colors that one sees are actually reflections of colors in nature. Butterflies have keen eyesight that can detect many ultraviolet colors that humans are unable to see at all. They are unable to properly regulate their body temperature, so they cannot fly at a temperature under 55 degrees Fahrenheit. They are unable to process solid food and live only on liquids, such as nectar. However, nectar alone does not suffice. They must also drink from mud puddles to pick up the minerals they need from rocks and soil. Many people believe these beautiful insects have two wings. In actuality, they have four, which overlap and fold into each other to enable them to flutter through the air.
Since the earliest recorded history, symbols have been used to indicate representations of thoughts and ideas, objects, and the relationships between humans and their relationships with the supernatural. They enable people to go a step further than that which is readily known, to create abstract links between various concepts and experiences. Symbols visually replace the written or spoken word to express beliefs that represent individuals and groups of people.
In terms of symbolic value, they hold value in the form of isomorphic, ideological, and comparative aspects. In terms of ideological or religious values, they often indicate the correct thing to do. Isomorphic symbols often represent cultural ideals and help guide people toward doing that which is best in terms of communal values. Comparative values approach the topic of fine art and which things in life are better or worse than others. Butterflies can contribute to each of these symbolic definitions.
Symbols take different forms in their usage, each serving a different purpose. These are:
The Use of Butterflies as Symbols
According to the University of Baylor, butterflies have been used as symbols since ancient times, often representing the human soul in its various incarnations or stages of life. Aristotle gave them the name psyche, meaning soul, and it was used by the Ancient Greeks. The Egyptians believed that butterflies represented those pleasures that awaited the righteous person in the afterlife. Ancient Romans also believed in the connection between butterflies and the soul and even put their images on coins.
The same ideas were supported by Native Americans in Mexico who made a connection between the soul, the morning star, and butterflies. In Aztec culture, the belief was that people who were happy in the afterlife would return to their families as assurance that everything was well after death. The Blackfoot Native American tribe believed that butterflies could carry dreams to those who were sleeping, and convey messages from the world of the supernatural. Different types of butterflies had various meanings, which were usually based on the insect’s color.
Butterflies also hold great importance at the Mexican celebration of Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. During this early November celebration of the lives of those who are believed to have entered the afterlife, Monarch butterflies symbolize the souls of the ancestors who are believed to return to the planet for an annual visit. Village residents often dress as monarchs and decorate the graves of their relatives with butterfly symbols.
It is noted that in Andalusian Spain, relatives of the dead are instructed to pour wine over the relatives’ ashes to symbolize the soul leaving the body as a butterfly, which departs the earth to fly into the afterlife.
Irish folklore holds that a white butterfly symbolized the death of a child, so killing white butterflies was, during the 1600s, prohibited by law. Another butterfly-related bit of Irish folklore centered around the dealan-dhe, which referred to butterflies as well as to other meanings. It meant the lightning of the Gods.
Butterflies as Religious Symbols
In the Christian religion, butterflies symbolize the three steps that are associated with metamorphosis:
- Winged insect
The caterpillar represents earthly beings that concern themselves with the shallow physical plane of existence. The pupa represents the tomb of Jesus, in which the resurrection occurred. The butterfly itself symbolizes the rebirth of Christ.
The Jewish religion believes that the butterfly symbolizes doing good by mankind, and reminds people to always remember their humble beginnings, just as the beautiful butterfly derived from a lowly caterpillar. To followers of this faith, the butterfly also represents all phases of life and the Resurrection.
In Jewish religious folklore, Tziporet Kramim was a butterfly who was referenced in an Elchanan Levinski text as a creature of reverence. In some Islam religions, it is commonly believed that butterflies indicate that the person who sees them will soon depart the earthly realm and fly into the heavens.
Butterflies in Culture and Art
Throughout the history of art, butterflies have stood as an important symbol that has been used by famous artists across the world. As a symbol, the butterfly can signify lightness, transition, and celebration of spirit and life. It signifies the power of the air itself and celebrates its ability to be carried freely in the breeze. In many cultures, it symbolizes metamorphosis and transformation, which is reflected in many great works of art. Incidentally, Adam’s soul is depicted by either butterfly wings or an entire butterfly, and paintings of the Virgin Mary and her son show butterflies as symbols that represent God’s care for human souls.
Mexican art has used butterflies to symbolize the god of vegetation, love, and the “Prince of Flowers,” or spring. Some works of Mexican art have portrayed the butterfly’s association with the sun, which is represented in paintings as a swaying fire. Some examples of cut stone have shown a butterfly goddess known as Itzpapalotl, which represents a night of flaming spirits in the night sky, also recognized as stars. This symbolizes the souls of mothers who have died during childbirth. Oftentimes, butterflies are represented in art as they flutter around flowers. This is a reminder to art lovers not to take life so seriously, to enjoy it, and to be grateful for it.
It is also believed that these beautiful winged insects symbolize light, color, and joy. Natives of Bwa Africa consider butterfly swarms as indicators that the rainy season has started. In Feng Shui culture, the colorful insects symbolize long life and innate beauty. Likewise, the Chinese believe that longevity is represented by the presence of butterflies. The Japanese consider them indicators of short-lasting joy, romance, and feminine beauty.
It was the belief of the ancient Aztec culture that butterflies symbolized comfort. They were considered to be special guardian angels that were released on earth by their ancestors. They also believed that the souls of their ancestors resided in flower blossoms and that the butterflies released by their ancestors would release souls each time they landed on a flower. It was, therefore, considered ill-mannered to sniff the fragrances of flowers from the top of a bouquet because that was the area reserved for the butterflies. Likewise, Mayans viewed butterflies as the souls of warriors who had lost their lives in battle.
Butterfly Color Symbolism
Butterfly colors are considered by many to be one of the most appealing spectacles in nature. Seeing their brilliant colors fluttering about in a flower garden can evoke countless emotions that mean different things to different people. It is not unusual for one to see colorful butterflies and believe that they convey messages and have spiritual meanings.
For instance, Chinese folklore suggests that white butterflies symbolize the souls of their dead friends and relatives, but that when one lays eyes on a green one, it symbolizes life itself. Conversely, Wiccans believe that one can unlock life’s mysteries by observing the different colors of butterflies, and that, like the Chinese, they believed white butterflies were symbols of the dead and would not allow anyone to kill a white one.
It is unknown who originally associated the colors of butterflies with specific beliefs and customs. The beliefs seemed to develop over time. Much of it is based on tribal folklore, location, religion and other things.
Gray Butterfly Meaning
The gray butterfly can represent a state of loneliness for some cultures. Some believe that they exacerbate loneliness, while others believe that they offer comfort and protection. On the other hand, some cultures consider butterflies to be symbols of hope or of change.
Some areas of the world associate dark gray to black butterflies with symbols of death, but not in a negative way. In these cultures, when someone who has suffered a loss of a family member or friend sees a dark gray or black butterfly, this can signify the dead person trying to deliver a message to the observer. People who adhere to this folklore believe that their dead relative or friend has reached out to them from the land of the supernatural world that separates the living from the dead to convey some important message that was not delivered before the person died. This is thought to be a message of vital importance, so serious that it could possibly save someone’s life or prevent other disasters from transpiring.
Dark gray or black butterflies can signify either positive or negative omens, or somewhere between. The interpretations are largely left up to the people who actually have the encounters with butterflies. On a more positive note, and like many other colors of butterflies, this color can also signify rebirth and starting afresh.
Types of Gray Butterflies
There are different varieties of gray butterflies. Some look completely different if viewed from a specific angle. For example, the Citrus Swallowtail butterfly looks almost white when its wings are open, but is a distinct dove gray when they are closed. The color shades range from almost gray-white to nearly black.
Included in the gray butterfly range are the following species:
- Gray Hairstreak
- Citrus Swallowtail
- Cream Striped Owl
- Black-tipped Diadem
- Great Mormon
- Angola White Lady
- Checkered White
- Glaucous Cracker
- Variable Cracker
- Great Orange Tip
- Gray Pansy
- Great Southern White
- Pearly Leafwing
- White Morpho
- Clouded Mother-of-Pearl
- Forest Mother-of-Pearl
- Mottled Emigrant
- Tree Nymph
- Wood Nymph
- Red-spot Diadem
- Mocker Swallowtail
- Zebra Swallowtail
- Cream-striped Swordtail
- White-angled Sulfur
- White Peacock
- Giant Glasswing
- Cramer’s 88
- Brazilian Owl
Learn More: Discover what all the other colorful butterflies mean – 11 Butterfly Colors Meanings and Symbolism.