The following is reprinted from Butterfly Legends by Tom Allen in Birds & Blooms Extra article printed in the 11/2008 issue.
"People have been fascinated with butterflies for thousands of years. Fossil records for butterflies and moths date back nearly 65 million years Butterflies have long been a symbol of beauty, and therefore, theyve been the subject of a plethora of myths and folklore...
Early Native American legends reveal stories of butterflies carrying various wishes to the Great Spirit.
The Shoshone Indians believed that the Great Spirit blew the breath of life into pebbles, which then became butterflies.
The Blackfoot Indians believed that butterflies brought them their dreams while they were sleeping. It was custom for a Blackfoot woman to embroider a butterfly on a small piece of buckskin. Then she would tie this piece in her childs hair when she wanted him or her to go to sleep. At the same time she would sing a lullaby to the child. This was her way of asking a butterfly to come and fly about to put the child asleep.
Hopi Indians used butterfly images on much of their prehistoric pottery, and they even performed a special butterfly dance. The spirit of the butterfly has been widely used in the Hopi Indians kachina figures. Kachinas are the spirit essence of everything in the real world. They represent game, plants, food, insects, birds and even death.
Native American Zuni tribesmen believed that butterflies could predict the weather. White butterflies indicated the onset of summer. They also believed that if the first butterfly of the season was white, that foreshadowed a rainy summer, especially if the butterfly flew out of the southwest. A dark butterfly meant the summer would be full of stormy weather, while a yellow butterfly predicted sunny weather.
Among many Mexican Indian tribes butterflies were a symbol of Earths fertility. Born out of a caterpillar in a chrysalis, butterflies became a symbol of rebirth, regeneration and joy."
More butterfly legends are from Butterfly Pages:
Papago Tribe - If anyone desires a wish to come true they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly can not reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish. So, according to legend, by making a wish and giving the butterfly its freedom, the wish will be taken to the heavens and be granted.
The Shoshone "Ladies Fancy Shawl Dance" Butterfly Legend
Many, many years ago when the Earth was still quite new, there was a beautiful butterfly who lost her mate in battle. To show her grief, she took off her beautiful wings and wrapped herself in a drab cocoon. In her sadness, she could not eat and she could not sleep and her relatives kept coming to her lodge to see if she was okay.
Of course she wasn't, but she didn't want to be a burden on her people so she packed up her wings and her medicine bundle and took off on a long journey. She wandered about for many days and months, until finally she had gone all around the world.
On her journey she kept her eyes downcast and stepped on each stone she came to as she crossed fields and creeks and streams. Finally, one day as she was looking down, she happened to notice the stone beneath her feet, and it was so beautiful that it healed her sorrow.
She then cast aside her cocoon, shook the dust from her wings, and donned them once more. She was so happy she began to dance to give thanks for another chance to begin her life anew. Then she went home and told The People about her long journey and how it had healed her.
To this day,The People dance this dance as an expression of renewal, and to give thanks for new seasons, new life, and new beginnings.
The shawl in the Fancy Shawl Dance represents the butterfly's wings, the fancy steps and twirls represent the butterfly's style of flight. This is another reason you will sometimes hear the Fancy Shawl Competition Dance referred to as " the butterfly dance."
An Indian Butterfly Legend
If anyone desires a wish to come true they must
capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it.
Since they make no sound, they can't tell the wish
to anyone but the Great Spirit.
So by making the wish and releasing the butterfly
it will be taken to the heavens and be granted.