The legend of many Native American tribes is that if a butterfly is captured and a wish is whispered to her, she will carry the wish to the Great Spirit.
By then setting the butterfly free, respect is shown for the balance of nature, and the wish will be granted.
Because a butterfly cannot speak, the only one who will know the prayers that the butterfly carries will be the Great Spirit himself.
Many tribes consider butterflies to be symbols of good luck, and have taboos against killing them.
The Blackfoot people associate butterflies with sleep and dreaming, and butterfly designs are used to decorate cradleboards and other children's items to help them sleep and bring them good dreams.
In Native American traditions, the Monarch butterfly is believed to carry the spirits of their ancestors, returning to visit and provide guidance to their living descendants. It is seen as a messenger from the spirit world, delivering messages and blessings to those who encounter it. The Monarch butterfly’s presence is considered a spiritual sign, reminding individuals to remain connected to their roots, honor their ancestors, and embrace the wisdom of their lineage.
The Zuni people see butterflies as indicators of weather to come.
White butterflies meant the summer weather was about to begin–but if the first butterfly seen was dark, that meant a long stormy summer.
Yellow butterflies, as you might suspect, hint at a bright sunny summer season.
The Tohono O'odham tribe of the American Southwest believe that the butterfly will carry wishes and prayers to the Great Spirit. To do this, one must first catch a butterfly without harming it, and then whisper secrets to the butterfly.
There is a Shoshone legend that says that many, many years ago when the Earth was still quite new, there was a beautiful butterfly who lost her mate in battle.
To show her grief, she took off her beautiful wings and wrapped herself in a drab cocoon. In her sadness, she could not eat and she could not sleep and her relatives kept coming to her lodge to see if she was okay.
Of course she wasn't, but she didn't want to be a burden on her people so she packed up her wings and her medicine bundle and took off on a long journey. She wandered about for many days and months, until finally she had gone all around the world.
On her journey she kept her eyes downcast and stepped on each stone she came to as she crossed fields and creeks and streams. Finally, one day as she was looking down, she happened to notice the stone beneath her feet, and it was so beautiful that it healed her sorrow.
She then cast aside her cocoon, shook the dust from her wings, and donned them once more. She was so happy she began to dance to give thanks for another chance to begin her life anew. Then she went home and told The People about her long journey and how it had healed her.
To this day, The People dance this dance as an expression of renewal, and to give thanks for new seasons, new life, and new beginnings.
The shawl in the Fancy Shawl Dance represents the butterfly's wings, the fancy steps and twirls represent the butterfly's style of flight. This is another reason you will sometimes hear the Fancy Shawl Competition Dance referred to as " the butterfly dance."
A Papago butterfly legend says that one day the Creator was resting, sitting, watching some children at play in a village. The children laughed and sang, yet as he watched them, the Creator's heart was sad. He was thinking: "These children will grow old. Their skin will become wrinkled. Their hair will turn gray. Their teeth will fall out. The young hunter's arm will fail. These lovely young girls will grow ugly and fat. The playful puppies will become blind, mangy dogs. And those wonderful flowers - yellow and blue, red and purple - will fade. The leaves from the trees will fall and dry up. Already they are turning yellow." Thus the Creator grew sadder and sadder. It was in the fall, and the thought of the coming winter, with its cold and lack of game and green things, made his heart heavy.
Yet it was still warm, and the sun was shining. The Creator watched the play of sunlight and shadow on the ground, the yellow leaves being carried here and there by the wind. He saw the blueness of the sky, the whiteness of some cornmeal ground by the women. Suddenly he smiled. "All those colors, they ought to be preserved. I'll make something to gladden my heart, something for these children to look at and enjoy."
The Creator took out his bag and started gathering things: a spot of sunlight, a handful of blue from the sky, the whiteness of the cornmeal, the shadow of playing children, the blackness of a beautiful girl's hair, the yellow of the falling leaves, the green of the pine needles, the red, purple, and orange of the flowers around him. All these he put into his bag. As an afterthought, he put the songs of the birds in, too.
Then he walked over to the grassy spot where the children were playing. "Children, little children, this is for you," and he gave them his bag. "Open it; there's something nice inside," he told them. The children opened the bag, and at once hundreds and hundreds of colored butterflies flew out, dancing around the children's heads, settling on their hair, fluttering up again to sip from this or that flower. And the children, enchanted, said that they had never seen anything so beautiful.
The butterflies began to sing, and the children listened smiling. But then a songbird came flying, settling on the Creator's shoulder, scolding him, saying: "It's not right to give our songs to these new, pretty things. You told us when you made us that every bird would have his own song. And now you've passed them all around. Isn't it enough that you gave your new playthings the colors of the rainbow?" "You're right," said the Creator. "I made one song for each bird, and I shouldn't have taken what belongs to you."
So the Creator took the songs away from the butterflies, and that's why they are silent. "They're beautiful even so!" he said.
Native American spirituality is deeply rooted in the belief that all living beings are interconnected and sacred. From animals to plants to the earth itself, each element of nature plays a vital role in the spiritual practices of Native American tribes. One such element that holds a significant place in their beliefs is the sacred butterfly.
The journey of the butterfly symbolizes transformation, renewal, and rebirth. This is why the butterfly is seen as a messenger of hope, love, joy and peace. It is believed that when a person needs guidance or is going through a difficult time in life, the appearance of a butterfly signifies that they need to embrace change and believe that everything will work out for the better. The power of the sacred butterfly is not just limited to spiritual growth but also extends to the physical realm. For example, the Monarch butterfly is known to be an important pollinator and helps maintain ecological balance, providing nutritional and medicinal benefits to entire ecosystems.