A butterfly landed on my head the other day.
It was gentle as tissue paper, and yet my skin still gripped with the thought of tiny little bug feet in my hair. I stood, frozen, reluctant to swipe away the radiant creature and yet also throbbing with anxiety, until it decided on its own accord to move on to chiller pastures. The next day a butterfly flew into my face. Its bright orange wings fluttered right into my eyelashes as it swooped up from the grass and over my head, not bothering to look back as it glided into the sky.
Then, this past Saturday as I sat at a wood table eating oatmeal and toast on retreat in the middle of a horse farm in the Hudson valley, I mentioned to the other women having breakfast that I’ve had some serious butterfly encounters, and one replied, “Yeah, there’s been one flying over your head all morning.”
That night we all sat around a bonfire in the pitch black, Jupiter to the south of us and Mercury to the east, we each pulled a card from the Goddess Guidance oracle deck. Being familiar with the deck, I thought, “If I pull the Butterfly Maiden, there’s some real magic happening here.” And I tugged on a card, pulled it out, and there was the Butterfly Maiden.
I used to believe in the unambiguity of signs and symbols—if a butterfly flies over your head three times and then you pull the Butterfly Maiden there is definitely something remarkable happening. I would poke and pull at these types signs, dissect them, hold them in front of me at every angle trying to force some confidence in exactly what the message must be. But what would happen more often than not is I’d become frustrated, desperate. Every blurb of wisdom that entered my ear could be “it”. I found myself in a whirlwind of “take the leap,” “go slow,” “trust your intuition,” “seek self-love,” until I was dazed and jaded and ready to give up on the sign altogether.
But this time something different happened in me. Maybe it was the peace of the retreat, maybe it was the fuzziness of Mercury retrograde, but when the message didn’t immediately pop into my head, I just reveled in the wonder. I felt the magic, rather than attempted to explain it.
But in the back of my head I still anticipated some message to eventually appear. The next morning we were going riding, and I was fully prepared for a serious sun-breaking-through-clouds kind of moment, a positively glorious burst of golden energy while on horseback with a whole flurry of butterflies overhead. Instead I had an allergy attack, sneezing and sniffling, but I went for my ride anyway. Petting and patting the silver-haired, jittery Archie, we walked quick-paced along the ring, and I felt pointedly uninspired. The retreat leader invited us to close our eyes, to feel the breeze, to sense the beast carrying us gracefully, and just be alive. But I was too preoccupied with my runny nose and the truly unbearable heat and the smell of horse shit and my meaningless message.
I spent my downtime stewing. I had forgotten about my sense of wonder. What the hell were those butterflies about? Why was I being tortured like this? Why give a sign if there’s nothing behind it? I lifted my head and watched two sleek red-brown horses get walked over to their paddock and let loose to roam. One began to happily trot around, but the other stood utterly still. It looked up, down, over to its friend, and over to me, as if looking for a butterfly or a message or some solar flare. Then it dropped like a rock to the ground, rolling back and forth on its back in a state of unencumbered joy. If it had been looking for something, that thing no longer mattered. Only the cool dirt on his back mattered, only the afternoon sun on his belly.
And there was the click. There was a message coming through, easy and open, without any antsy gripping. Whether it’s the right message, or actually a message at all, is not the part that matters. It’s the fact that I was watching, listening, open to experiencing the magical touch of the divine, like a butterfly as delicate as tissue paper landing on your head.
Our lives are constantly presenting us a collection of signs and symbols, and every moment is an opportunity for sun-breaking-through-cloud feels. But sometimes we won’t “get” it, and sometimes the sun won’t break through at all. Sometimes we will be lost in confusion, where it feels buggy and hot and stinky and strange, and that’s also part of the transformation. The butterfly’s metamorphosis inside the chrysalis is complete and brilliant and incomprehensible and traumatic: it’s caterpillar body gets holed up in a teeny tiny shell where it dissolves into goo and reforms into one of the most gorgeous creatures on the planet. It doesn’t need signs and symbols to do this. It only needs faith.
And even after this miraculous transformation, butterflies still have little bug feet. They are still insects who sometimes alight on horse manure, iridescent wings and all.Butterflies and horses are majestic, but mortal. They live and they suffer and so do we. And sometimes when a butterfly flies over your head three times and you pull the Butterfly Maiden it’s a reminder that life is undeniably magical sometimes, and undeniably not, but as long as I am alive inside of it, I’m getting the message.
I think the most incredible thing I learned this weekend is that butterflies have twelve thousand eyes. Can you imagine? They go into the chrysalis as chubby wormy things and come out as exquisite, vibrant, brilliant beings coated in eyes.
What if we were coated in eyes, watching every moment we are in, acknowledging and then releasing everything invisible to us, everything we could never truly grasp?