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Published on Aug 10, 2012
Artistic depictions of butterflies have been used in many cultures including Egyptian hieroglyphs 3500 years ago.
In the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, the brilliantly colored image of the butterfly was carved into many temples, buildings, jewelry, and emblazoned on incense burners in particular. The butterfly was sometimes depicted with the maw of a jaguar and some species were considered to be the reincarnations of the souls of dead warriors. The close association of butterflies to fire and warfare persisted through to the Aztec civilization and evidence of similar jaguar-butterfly images has been found among the Zapotec, and Mayan civilizations.
A serving tray decorated with butterfly wings
Today, butterflies are widely used in various objects of art and jewelry: mounted in frame, embedded in resin, displayed in bottles, laminated in paper, and used in some mixed media artworks and furnishings. Butterflies have also inspired the "butterfly fairy" as an art and fictional character, including in the Barbie Mariposa film.
According to Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn, a butterfly was seen in Japan as the personification of a person's soul; whether they be living, dying, or already dead. One Japanese superstition says that if a butterfly enters your guestroom and perches behind the[bamboo screen, the person whom you most love is coming to see you. However, large numbers of butterflies are viewed as bad omens. When Taira no Masakado was secretly preparing for his famous revolt, there appeared in Kyoto so vast a swarm of butterflies that the people were frightened — thinking the apparition to be a portent of coming evil.
The Russian word for "butterfly", бабочка (bábochka), also means "bow tie". It is a diminutive of "baba" or "babka" (= "woman, grandmother, cake"), whence also "babushka" = "grandmother".
The ancient Greek word for "butterfly" is ψυχή (psȳchē), which primarily means "soul" or "mind".
According to Mircea Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion, some of the Nagas of Manipur trace their ancestry from a butterfly.
Butterfly and Chinese wisteriaflowers, by Xü Xi (c.886--c.975), painted around 970 during the early Song Dynasty.
In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together symbolize love. Also, Butterfly Lovers is a famous Chinese folktale. The Taoist philosopher, Zhuangzi, once had a dream about being a butterfly that flew without care about humanity; however; when he awoke and realized that it was just a dream, he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"
In some old cultures, butterflies also symbolize rebirth after being inside a cocoon for a period of time.
Jose Rizal delivered a speech in 1884 at a banquet and mentioned "the Oriental chrysalis ... is about to leave its cocoon", comparing the emergence of a "new Philippines" with that of butterfly metamorphosis. He has also often used the butterfly imagery in his poems and other writings to express the Spanish Colonial Filipinos' longing for liberty. Much later, in a letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal compared his life in exile to a weary butterfly with sun-burnt wings.
Der Schmetterlingsjäger (The butterfly hunter) by Carl Spitzweg (1840), a depiction from the era of butterfly collection.
Some people say that when a butterfly lands on you it means good luck. However, in Devonshire, people would traditionally rush around to kill the first butterfly of the year that they see, or else face a year of bad luck. Also, in the Philippines, a lingering black butterfly or moth in the house is taken to mean that someone in the family has died or will soon die.
The idiom "butterflies in the stomach" is used to describe a state of nervousness.
In the NBC television show Kings, butterflies are the national symbol of the fictional nation of Gilboa and a sign of God's favor.
Researches on the wing structure of Palawan Birdwing butterflies led to new wide wingspan kite and aircraft designs.
Studies on the reflection and scattering of light by the scales on wings of swallowtail butterflies led to the innovation of more efficient light-emitting diodes.
The structural coloration of butterflies is inspiring nanotechnology research to produce paints that do not use toxic pigments and in the development of new display technologies.
The discoloration and health of butterflies in butterfly farms, is now being studied for use as indicators of air quality in several cities.
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