The Butterfly Effect
At A Glance
Author Camdon Wright
Contact Camdon [email protected]
IAM Camdon
When N/A
When I first heard that Britney Spears had a tattoo I would have been willing to put $100 down that it was a butterfly. A purely elitist reaction on my part to the stereotype that the media presents of her. I would have lost touch with my pal Ben Franklin if I had made that bet. The tattoo so worthy of national news coverage was, in fact, a fairy. I think most people have heard derogatory remarks made about women who have an image of a butterfly on their lower back, hip or ankle. I myself have tattoos of the insect so why do I have such a biased reaction? Why does the image get such a bad rap in the United States?

"What is in a name?" asks the famous question. The more I said the English name, of Papilionoidea, the weirder it sounded. To my ears it seemed nearly as clever a moniker as "He-Man." Where did such a silly name for such an ancient creature originate? Modern etymology suggests that the word butterfly comes from the Old English word butterfleoge. There are separate schools of thought on why "butter" and "fly" were combined. Some believe that the name comes from the fact that butterfly excrement looks like butter, but most butterflies only pass excess water and do not in fact excrete anything. Others hold that it was due to the belief that witches and fairies, in the form of the insects, stole milk and/or butter. The remaining theories involve butter colored insects, butter churning in spring, and the Shakespearian word "flutterby". A linguistic neophyte such as myself would not even hazard a guess as to which might be correct.

As I began to research the symbolism and history of the butterfly it became clear that some common themes appear around the world. Many humans believed that these insects contained the life force of the departed or were the vehicle for the soul's ascension to another existence. The ancient Greeks called our celebrated bug psyche. A word that also meant soul or breath. The Mayans believed that pepen were the souls of women lost to childbirth and men fallen in battle. The Irish believed that a white feileacan carried the souls of departed children and it was illegal to kill such a creature. Hindu, Maori, and Aztec all believed in a connection between spirit and butterfly . In some indigenous American cultures the butterfly was the bringer of dreams, guide of the soul, and messenger of the Great Spirit. It is also tied to creation myth in many cultures. Often the context in which you find the image of the insect tells you its intent.

The idea of rebirth and second chances seems, to me, a natural connection to make with the mariposa. Our terrestrial home is filled with tales of gods and men besting death to return to the mortal realm. Butterflies and moths have such distinct and visible phases to their lives that it is easy to believe each is its own creature instead of a natural evolution. Their masterful power of transformation might seem rooted in magic to the less pragmatic of our species. Humans who have to live with the weight of immutable mistakes often dream of a second chance at life. An image that represents a spiritual and physical "do over" might be compelling to some that have lived a colorful life. Perhaps even more so to those that feel they've missed out on their dreams and opportunities.

In the United States people often speak of the feminine nature of the butterfly. I personally think this is a little bizarre, but I looked into the bug/girl connection nonetheless. I was unable to find a quantifiable modern link to women and butterflies in U.S. I discovered that in China the image of hu die represents a young man while in Japan chou chou symbolizes a young girl. To confuse things further several butterfly species are sexually dimorphic like we humans. Why, if there are visible differences between male and female, have I never heard anyone concerned with the gender of their butterfly tattoo? Is the image so iconic that it transcends mundane reality? Perhaps it is simply that butterflies are beautiful, delicate, and slightly mysterious. Our friends at Revlon would have us believe that these qualities encapsulate the ideal woman.

I remember reading an article years ago about a man who celebrated life with butterfly artwork. He explained that each tattoo represented a person who had passed on and their soul's journey to heaven. These dermal pictographs were a literal living tribute to a death that had touched a life. That article lived in the obsessive jungle of my mind for years. While preparing to write this article I tried to find the original magazine article but even a journey into the dreaded depths of our garage was fruitless. I am saddened at the thought that I might never remember his name.

My own butterfly tattoos are also tied to the departed. While I have know my share of death I only carry two butterflies. It is an image I reserve for those that have truly effected my life or illustrated a lesson I do not wish to forget. The one on my shoulder keeps close the memory of my child that I will never meet. A child that did not come to term. It is a physical link to an intangible possibility.

I remember when a former employer caught sight of the butterfly near my left ankle. He remarked in his usual condescending tone, "What the fuck is that? It looks like something a 40 year old house wife would get."

I smiled and quietly replied, "I got it done when my aunt died of ovarian cancer. She died because she refused to go to a doctor until it was too late. Her selfishness left her children parentless. It helps me remember my responsibility to my family; when I have one."

He stood there with a stupid bovine expression staring at me. "Oh," was his witty reply.

Is an inked image which purely represents a desire for dermal adornment to automatically be considered of less value than one of researched significance? Does a butterfly created for its aesthetic properties devalue one born of equal parts grief and love? While I would like to hold myself out as a paragon of nonjudgmental virtue I still assume that all blond sorority girls pick butterfly flash off of the wall while giggling. Being disappointed in my own prejudicial reaction doesn't seem to make it any easier change. Just for the record, Britney Spears is alleged to now have a butterfly tattoo.

Disclaimer: The experience above was submitted by a BME reader and has not
been edited. We can not guarantee that the experience is accurate, truthful,
or contains valid or even safe advice. We strongly urge you to use BME and
other resources to educate yourself so you can make safe informed decisions.

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