Thursday, March 25, 2021

Easter: Of Butterflies and Moths

 We know butterflies as a symbol of resurrection. Caterpillars enter the hardened chrysalis, and turn into "caterpillar soup" before emerging as butterflies. Life. Death. Resurrection. 

Odilon Redon created multiple paintings of multiple butterflies. The creatures are against semi-natural backgrounds. Cloud-like smears of color are located toward the top of the MOMA image (top left). Paint suggesting rocks and landscapes are toward the bottom of the image. Cool colors dominate the image. The other painting is dominated by warm colors. 

In both images winged creatures seek to soar upward, some cartwheeling through the sky. 

Are they all butterflies? Are some of them moths? Does it make a difference for our celebration of resurrection on Easter?

Butterflies aren't mentioned in the Bible. We bring the meaning of resurrection to them, but that is not an image from scripture.

Moths are mentioned in scripture, though not in the most positive light. Isaiah 50:9, Hosea 5:12, and Job 4:19 all mention moths as things that eat or consume. Think about what can happen to a sweater when moths get hold of it. Actually it's the larval stage of the moth that causes all the destruction. The insects lay eggs on (preferably) wool cloth. When the eggs hatch, the larval moths feed on the wool. It isn't really the adult moths that are harmful for our stored winter garments. 

And yet, the moth passes through the same three stages that a butterfly does: larval, cocoon, moth. Life, death, resurrection. Why don't we think of the moth in the same way that we do the butterfly? 

Are they parallel symbols? Can we embrace the moth this Easter as well? Or should we let butterflies be butterflies and moths be moths. What counts for resurrection symbols? 

(Top left) Odilon Redon. Butterflies. c. 1910. NY: Museum of Modern Art. (Bottom left) Odilon Redon. Evocation of Butterflies. c. 1910-1012. Detroit Institute of Art. 

How do you distinguish moths from butterflies? Click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment