Once the Butterfly Lets Its Guard Down

“Is it possible to become friends with a butterfly?”

“It is if you first become a part of nature. You suppress your presence as a human being, stay very still, and convince yourself that you are a tree or grass or a flower. It takes time, but once the butterfly lets its guard down, you can become friends quite naturally.”

” … I come here every day, say hello to the butterflies, and talk about things with them. When the time comes, though, they just quietly go off and disappear. I’m sure it means they’ve died, but I can never find their bodies. They don’t leave any trace behind. It’s like they’ve been absorbed by the air. They’re dainty little creatures that hardly exist at all: they come out of nowhere, search quietly for a few, limited things, and disappear into nothingness again, perhaps to some other world.”

Haruki Murakami
1Q84

 
 

Philosopher watching a pair of butterflies, by Hokusai Katsushika.

The subject might be the Taoist philosopher, Zhuangzi, who once had a dream about being a butterfly that flew without care about humanity; however; when he awoke and realized that it was just a dream, he thought to himself, “Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?”

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The Personification of Human Soul

Woodblock prints by Mori Shunkei

 
 

According to Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a book by Lafcadio Hearn that features several Japanese ghost stories and a brief non-fiction study on insects, a butterfly was seen in Japan as the personification of a person’s soul; whether they be living, dying, or already dead. One Japanese superstition says that if a butterfly enters your guestroom and perches behind the bamboo screen, the person whom you most love is coming to see you. However, large numbers of butterflies are viewed as bad omens. When samurai Taira no Masakado was secretly preparing for his famous revolt, there appeared in Kyoto so vast a swarm of butterflies that the people were frightened — thinking the apparition to be a portent of coming evil.

The Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi adapted four Hearn tales into his 1965 film, Kwaidan.