Butterfly Tattoo meanings vary from culture to culture, but just because of that it doesn’t mean you have to choose one just because of some deep meaning. They are just beautiful and there is no reason you can’t have one just because of that. In fact, you could say that the meaning for you is simply it’s beauty.
Transformation is one of the key Butterfly Tattoo meanings, the caterpillar transforms to the butterfly and moves on to a whole new phase of life, what could be more representative of a change in your life than the ephemeral beauty that is revealed when the chrysalis breaks open and the butterfly emerges. This also equates to a sense of freedom that moves through many of the different cultural meanings of the Butterfly and also Butterfly Tattoos.
In many cultures the Butterfly symbolises spirituality, but not the kind that is associated with a religion, more a personal sense of spiritual harmony, the kind of spirituality that we lose as we grow up and if we are lucky, regain. The struggle of the caterpillar to emerge from and survive all the trials in life before it transforms echos that journey of growth and development in the human spirit until we reach a point of harmony with ourselves and with the world around us.
The Butterfly is seen mainly as a feminine image, but the Aztecs saw them as the embodiment of the spirits of dead warriors whose courage was unquestioned. The journey from caterpillar to Butterfly was seen as the journey of the soul from it’s earth bound home to the spirit realms of the gods. The Mayans also saw the Butterfly as the spirits of the dead returning to their earthly home for a brief visit. Many cultures held this belief in slightly different forms. It is Butterfly Tattoo meanings like this that make them cross gender, rather than just tattoos for women.
The Greeks believed that each time a butterfly fought free from its cocoon, a new human soul was created by the gods. This belief was also found in the Germanic cultures of Middle Europe where the sighting of a butterfly was seen as a sign that a birth was imminent. In Eastern European cultures, where the term witch meant ‘Wise Woman’ rather than the meaning we ascribe to it today, the Butterfly was the soul of the witch. In the Middle Ages spiritual beings often had Butterfly wings rather than the now traditional feathered wings, much as we see in images of fairies today. These beliefs can be tracked back to ancient times through the excavation of high status burial mounds, where female occupants are often found to have butterfly tattoos.
Native American cultures, Arapaho, Hopi, Apache, Piute see the Butterfly as a symbol of abundance and good harvests, a belief that carries through to Mexican descendants of the Mayas and Aztecs. The ‘Bulitikibi’ Butterfly Dance of the Hopi Indians is a moving prayer to the Gods for a good harvest. The symbol for the Morning star is the Butterfly, the coming of a new day as night is transformed by the dawn, so here the butterfly tattoo meanings are health, abundance and wealth.
The Butterfly is firmly rooted in the feminine in Asian cultures, the transformation of a girl into a young woman, the cycle of birth and death and thus the immortality of the human spirit, the return of the spirit to earth to continue its journey of transformation to a higher level of spiritual understanding. Having said that their is little less feminine than the Japanese Samurai Warrior tradition where Butterflies were a traditional symbol and they are often included in some of the Yakuza tattoos.
So Butterfly tattoo meanings can represent any, all or none of these. For each of us, they have their own meaning and purpose, and a beauty that is so stunning we want to wear it permanently. The dainty, gossamer wings or the strong definition of a tribal butterfly tattoo all look equally effective. The nature of the shapes means that they move with the muscles and the skin giving an illusion of flight a sense of freedom, as if they are about to take off into the wide blue skies of life.
Photo courtesy of Sylvie Szafranski