The Medicine of the Butterfly

Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the wisdom of his people through stories and music, came to visit me in Rio de Janeiro. We had hiked through Floresta da Tijuca, one of the largest urban forests in the world. Located on a mountain, from there it is possible to see several districts of the city, some by the sea. We were a small group in a clearing high above Rio; which rested at our feet. In the silence of the mountain, we could hear the pulse of the city like a heartbeat. The concept of understanding a city as a living being became even clearer; its language, mysteries and transformations. The conversation ranged from the difficulty we sometimes find in adapting to a city to the problems we have to understand some moments in our existence where everything seems complicated and, sometimes, with no solution. Starry Song, who listened to everything without saying a word, meddled in the conversation: “It all depends on whether the eyes are still those of the caterpillar or if they already belong to the butterfly.”

The comment aroused the curiosity of some people in the group. The shaman explained that the philosophy of animal power was a cultural heritage of his people. He added that animals have no conscience. However, each species has its own instincts and characteristics. The different behaviours form energetic waves in the planet’s psychosphere. Capturing and taking advantage of these vibrations for the healing of the soul, as an aid to overcome difficulties in certain moments of life was part of the religious tradition of his ancestors. Everything in the universe is interconnected, like the neuronal ramifications of a brain, he explained. He deepened the reasoning: “The brain is the exact miniature of the universe. Therefore, everything that exists in the world concerns us, as it has a connection with us. It somehow influences us. Nothing should be overlooked. Understanding and applying this to do good is an essential part of my ancestors’ wisdom. Therefore, with every step we take towards the light we illuminate the whole world.”

“I often use the medicine of the butterfly to bring an existential cycle to a close or even to allow an idea to expand from the imagination into reality.” Upon hearing these words, the group’s interest increased. Starry Song expanded the explanation: “Often, when we face hindrance, a situation that steal our balance or an unthinkable moment, everything seems to collapse. The walls are insurmountable. I’m not just talking about the inevitable problems in life, I’m also talking about dreams, those life projects that make our hearts rejoice. Some seem unreachable because they are monumentalso we don’t even dare ourselves to try. We strive to forget about them and keep going on with our lives. However, it is as if a piece of ourselves fell apart.”

“It is in the caterpillar stage that the hindrances appear. A situation presents itself to obstruct the journey. Because it crawls on the ground to get around, the caterpillar sees everything as difficult, any objective is far away. A small stone becomes like a huge wall blocking the road. A disheartening sense of helplessness envelops the caterpillar when facing of the harshness of the world. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this phase is devoid of value. Do you remember that everything in the universe has its reason for being and existing? That everything is interconnected and is explainable? Every difficulty brings a lesson and a tool to overcome it. The butterfly’s medicine, depending on the case, can become this aid instrument. It teaches the power of transmutation. Transmuting is transforming yourself. To do so, it is necessary to understand and overcome all phases of the cycle, as in any evolutionary process.”

“At first, the difficulties are apparently insurmountable. Don’t see yourself as weak because of it. Everyone feels that way at beginnings of cycles; everyone feels like caterpillars when faced with unknown problems. But the difficulties, all of them, are only in the appearance. Understanding and accepting this is a prime assumption for this shamanic healing and also a valuable lesson. Of course, you can give up and perish in front of the wall. The other option is to transform yourself and overcome it. When choosing to overcome the obstacle, we opt for evolution. We are ready to start the transmutation process. This is the butterfly’s medicine.”

“There is no magic for a caterpillar to become a butterfly; a mere desire or a simple snap of the fingers is not enough. It is necessary to have the firm intention to change. Not changing the obstacle that gets in the way, but changing yourself, as an efficient way to overcome the obstacle and move forward. When we change our perspective, life changes. Note that for the crawling caterpillar, a stone is like a huge wall; for the flying butterfly, a wall is as height as a chalk line on the ground.”

“However, don’t fool yourself; no transmutation is easy. It is an exercise of will, a hard battle fought in the insides of the caterpillar. The transformation of the caterpillar only begins when it accepts itself as exactly the size it actually has; with no rebellion or grievance. This is not demerit; it’s wisdom. Accepting yourself as being small is an essential step for growth. Without the first there is not the latter. Humbleness is a fundamental condition for transformation. Those who delude themselves as being big have no room to grow. After all, we only deserve power when we understand its real value. In fact, we never achieve it until we learn to use it with humbleness and love.”

“These are the premises for transmutation: courage, wisdom and love.”

“The next step is the caterpillar understanding that no other animal can grant it the power of wings. Not even the lion, the king of the jungle, has such power. The power of the wings is the caterpillar’s legacy, a heritage hidden within it, asleep, waiting to be awakened. All power offered by anyone else is illusory and ephemeral. It is necessary to understand and accept yourself as a caterpillar in order to continue the journey. It is necessary to understand and accept the power of the wings as rightfully yours. Or you’ll never get them.”

“From there, the caterpillar moves on to the next stage: the cocoon. It is the phase of studies, introspection and encounter with oneself; of knowledge, stillness, solitude and discovery. Of books, meditation, putting the ego to dialogue with the soul. The cocoon is the closing in oneself, it is the plunge into the darkness of our being to find our own wings. It is the discovery of all that you can become, the hidden power that dwells in each of us and there’s no exception to this. This power is represented by the wings, symbol of freedom. To be free from the fears that oppress, the shadows that delude, the ignorance that deceives, the conflicts that disorient, the weaknesses that forbid. It is the cure for the sufferings that bothers us so much at those moments of our existence. That’s why my people call this process a medicine. The wings are there, inside the caterpillar, but don’t believe this is like entering the market and picking up a product displayed on the shelf. It will be necessary to make them germinate in their own entrails. In this phase of the cocoon, the caterpillar will need those three virtues aforementioned: courage, wisdom and love. Courage to meet yourself in the darkness of the being; wisdom to know yourself fully; love to carry out a structural reform in thinking and living.”

“In order to find wings, you have to stop thinking like a caterpillar and start thinking like a butterfly. For the wings to grow, it is essential that you no longer want to live like a caterpillar anymore and be willing to live like a butterfly. It’s not as easy as it sounds. A butterfly is not just a caterpillar with wings, it is another being entirely, completely different, as it sees and acts differently. Trust me, it’s not easy. But it’s beautiful.”

“Then comes the moment of magic, the time to return to the light. For that, it will be necessary to break the cocoon shell. How does the butterfly tear the shell? It uses the wings. The cocoon is solid, being made of fibres that are hard and offer enormous resistance to the butterfly. But it’s perfect that it be like this so that the new being can strengthen their wings and their will. At this point it is important that the butterfly breaks the shell alone, without help from the outside, in order for its wings don’t be weak or to prevent doubt about its own power. Only strong and grown wings, capable of tearing the cocoon, will be able to take meaningful flights. It’s a lonely yet magnificent moment; it is the release of the shell, the exit from darkness into the light. It is the discovery of their own wings, their strength, their power.” 

“If the caterpillar refuses the transformation, it will perish in the sadness of the prison of the stones or in the bitterness of the darkness of the cocoon. There are caterpillars that never enter the cocoon; others cannot get out of it. Depression and violence are symptoms that usually represent these two metaphors.”

“By overcoming this stage and leaving the cocoon behind, you will be symbolically abdicating a way of being that no longer matches your new personality. It is not a matter of denying the past, a valuable source of experience, but of no longer allowing situations from the past to be obstacles that prevent you from going on. After all, you no longer crawl yourself on the ground. You have wings. With no explanation needed, people will be surprised by you. They will talk about how different you are. How your speech and posture changed; about your serenity and choices; your look and joy. These are the wings I am referring to. They will say you look like someone else. As a matter of fact, you did turn into someone else.”

“Notice that the caterpillar didn’t change the world; the caterpillar transformed herself. When she became a butterfly, the world changed for her.”

After a few moments of silence, the whole group was enchanted by the words of Starry Song. People began to talk at the same time. They commented on the philosophy and poetry contained in the shamanic medicine of the butterfly. The outlandish perception that such a fragile animal has such power was the common opinion. The shaman corrected the reasoning: “It is part of the lesson: the power lies in the small, in the improbable. To create the new where many believe there is nothing left. Unpredictable as a butterfly’s flight; creative as the colours of her wings. The insignificant caterpillar has a fantastic power denied to the huge rhinoceros. The strength is not just in the physical, but mainly in the emotional and mental. It is not in material conditions, but in spiritual capacity. Power goes beyond appearance; it is hidden in essence. The handling of the sword is of great importance to the warrior, but however prepared and skillful he may be, if he is overcome by fear, if he feels mentally weak and don’t understand the reason for the battle or does not believe in his own gift, he will be defeated. Remember that the people who changed the course of humanity were physically frail, but with immeasurable strength in their souls. The wings speak to the power of the soul.”

“Furthermore, it is worth clarifying that there is a specific cure available by each animal, applicable to certain moments of life. There are moments we need to enter the cave and wait for the winter to pass as the bear teaches; when we need the protection of the pack as the wolf does; to hear the raven, the messenger from other dimensions; to fly high altitudes to be able to see from above as only the eagle can. In short, there are countless possibilities, each with its own beauty, meaning and cure.”

Of course, there were many questions about how to use this medicine objectively. Starry Song explained that these are methods that need to adapt to the characteristics of each individual and the specific hindrances of the moment. Therefore, the guidelines were always subjective in nature so that they could be adapted to each case. Because, in the end, with or without therapeutic guidance, each person will always remain with him or herself. “This is the house of truth, power and light,” he concluded.

Before anyone could say anything else, the shaman insisted on adding: “I still haven’t finished explaining the whole subject of butterfly’s medicine.” Seeing our surprised eyes, Starry Song said: “The last phase of the transformation cycle is missing, an equally important step: pollination. The butterfly’s reason of being is not just to fly over the walls. It is necessary to give sense to the flight. The butterfly not only wanders through the gardens, but flies among the flowers sharing the richness of life. The pollen she receives here is offered there. She offers life to multiply life. This way she alters reality. Then, the world reciprocates in beauty.”

With his chin, he pointed to the city that pulsated at our feet and said: “We begin by pollinating our own soul. From it we extract the best essence to perfume our home. From there we walk through the city streets, sowing the virtues of the heart. Life welcomes us and makes us citizens. This is the butterfly’s lesson.”

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic

1 comment

Leigh Ann Ledbetter May 17, 2023 at 5:43 pm

Thank you for this beautifully written inspiration.


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