This is National Pollinator Week and I’ve been spending time paying attention to the bees and butterflies, and thinking about Mary Oliver’s admonishment:
“Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood…
Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.”
My love of bees has led me over the years to intriguing obscure facts, symbolic meanings, and folklore. For instance, the Pythia, oracle priestess, was known as the Delphic Bee. The ancient Egyptian book of Am-Tuat compares the voices of souls to the hum of bees. And Pythagoreans revered bees as sacred creatures of Aphrodite who knew how to create perfect hexagons in their honeycombs. Incidentally, these very units of the honeycomb, the hexagonal cells, have walls that are only 2/1000 of an inch thick, and yet are able to support 25 times their own weight.
Butterflies have also had my attention, and beyond enjoying their beauty I’ve been thinking about transformation. They have so much to teach about stages of change, transmutation, going within and coming out whole again. There are teachings about when it’s time to incubate precious new ideas, and knowing when it’s necessary to withdraw during a transition, and equally important when it is time to emerge. But of course butterflies have other messages as well. They are a symbol of fragility – not in the sense of weakness, but more because they are so light and transparent. To watch a butterfly is to pay attention to the environment, and butterflies are one of the first species to react to climate changes. This sensitivity speaks to our need to be far more mindful about our environment certainly, but it’s also a reminder of the gifts of being receptive to the nuances all around us that can help us navigate with more wisdom and insight. Their flitting nature is also associated with joy and freedom, and a reminder to look where to make more room for that in our lives.
Butterflies have a soul connection in many cultures, and in classical Greek the word for soul and butterfly are the same. For the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest, Raven was considered the creator of the world, but Butterfly was Raven’s spokesperson. The Hmong have a traditional tale that attributes the creation of the local peoples to the eggs laid by Butterfly Mother. Butterfly Maiden is a Kachina connected to Spring; and for the ancient Egyptians the butterfly was the emblem of Osiris. The Aztecs honored Itzpapaloti (Obsidian Butterfly) as a fierce warrior goddess; and Hina is a butterfly goddess of the Pacific Islanders associated with inspired and truthful communication. So many different entry points into the exploration of Butterfly, and each one intriguing.
Of course watching butterflies I’ve also been thinking about them as pollinators. Drinking nectar with their long probiscus and gathering pollen as a by-product of visiting the flower, then passing it on at the next stop. That seems like such an interesting metaphor to me right now – how we can be of service in ways that are ancillary to what we believe we’re here for. That one really has me thinking. And because I’m spending so much time watching butterflies, particularly as they visit my garden flowers, color and scent have been on my mind as well. It’s the color of the flowers that attracts the butterflies – and they’re able to sense more color wavelengths than humans, or even bees. Butterflies themselves come in so many beautiful colors and patterns, so I’ve been thinking about that as well. How to show up dressed in all our beautiful “simply beingness” finery.
Our pollinators, particularly our bees and butterflies but also birds and bats, are in serious danger, with multiple interacting issues at play. Clear to almost everyone is the critical issue of pesticide exposure, but we must also take into consideration the effect of extensive GMO farming practices; habitat loss; pathogens; and generalized stress. While we know much of what needs to be done and what changes need to be made, it’s probably safe to say there will be no government support forthcoming to rectify things. So more and more it’s up to us to do what we can. This means, among other things, planting and supporting pollinator-friendly gardens; demanding and supporting organic food production; being very vocal and active opposing GMOs, and of course, committing to the support of as many environmental actions as we can. Clearly, we need to be as busy as the bees and butterflies are.
Celebrating my beloved bees, earlier this year I did a 100-day project creating a quick drawing daily of a whimsical bee. In the end, I had a “charm” of bees, which is one of the delightful collective noun names for a group of bees. One of the things I plan on doing in celebration of this National Pollinators Week is creating a zine honoring bees. And you can bet I’ll be in the garden as well. As someone I know always says, “See a flower, thank a bee,”
How are the bees and butterflies doing in your area? Have any projects you’re hoping to “pollinate” this season? Do tell – you know I love to hear..