Saturday, September 21, 2013

(Black) Butterflies revisited.........

who is arguing with the storm
passing over oxen in a field
not me just a butterfly

whose eyes blind my shabby self

"Old Pajamas", 2010

"The Ancient Greek word for “butterfly” is “psuché/psyché”(ψυχή, 1st.declension) which is used in the meaning of ‘butterfly’/ ‘moth’ by Aristotle and Theophrastus, though its usual meanings are :
breath, spirit, life, soul, departed spirit, ghost, living being, person.  In Ancient Greece the butterfly was a symbol of the soul, because it changes from caterpillar to a beautiful winged creature. Plus it has a shape of a double ax which was an Minoan symbol of the Great Goddess. Greek paintings often showed a small butterfly - "soul" - flying free from the mouth of the dead."

Lately I've been thinking about butterflies again (maybe because I've been painting them), and felt like re-examining this post from 2010.  Butterflies are a universal symbol of transformation.  BTW, Antero Alli has recently finished a new film, THE BOOK OF JANE, which will be premiered in the Bay Area of California this coming month.  As with all his previous films, I'm sure it will be beautiful, fascinating,  and well worth seeing.
I think this is going to be a wandering/wondering post, because what I'm trying to approach with my capture net of words is the magical butterfly, a black one at that, a creature that clearly exists on such an elusive multitude of dimensions and metaphors........that it's impossible to consider her mysterious flight without a "holographic" approach. Butterfly is a creature that flies right into the Dreamtime as she so chooses. So, I'll begin by slipping, momentarily and gratefully, back into mythic time and mythic place, the life-renewing, fluid land of the Fey, the imaginal** (!!!).......for any hour I can spare.

I recently had energy work with a healer. With eyes closed, lying on a table, she did something similar to Reiki, running energy, helping me to connect with different areas of the "subtle body" that are blocked. Within this holistic approach, mind is viewed as being not only in the cranium. We perceive through at least 7 or more different "brains" - energy centers, symbolized by the Chakras, which represent different ways of receiving, experiencing, perceiving, responding to, and expressing consciousness. For example, the Base Chakra, identified with the color Red, is about physicality, the interface with nature and the planet; the Heart Chakra, Green, is associated with the ability to love and experience com-passion; the "Third Eye" Chakra, violet, is associated with psychic perception and visioning.

In energy medicine, practitioners help patients achieve integration between the chakras, the different "brains". Much of the work is surprisingly psychological, and is often concerned with helping clients to identify emotional "blockages", accessing, while in an altered state, old traumas, environmental issues, or erroneous belief systems that have caused an individual to close the heart or the doors of perception.

I had a vivid vision throughout this energy work of butterfly wings (not butterflies, just wings)...........folding, unfolding, before my closed eyes. I cannot help but feel that this was a kind of Grace, the wings offered were, perhaps, mine.

The butterfly has much significance to me, as personal archetype, and a sometimes visitor from the angelic realms, fulfilling the angelic role of messenger. Of course, I'm not alone in this. I've spoken with many people over the years who have had mystical Butterfly stories, among them my friend Fahrusha (her name, in Arabic, actually means Butterfly), who recounts an amazing synchronicity with a black butterfly in her blog.

Out of curiousity, I looked up "Black Butterfly" on recently, and was stunned to find there were 27 books with that title. I think a black butterfly is about the transformation that happens when the Shadow, in Jungian terms, is also given wings, transmuted.

I have met many people who have told me about butterflies appearing in connection with the loss of a loved one, or at times of personal despair. I list below a site that is devoted exclusively to "miraculous butterfly experiences". **To me, and I'm no psyche-ologist .....but to me, butterflies wonderfully participate in the interface between dream and waking life, flickering on the wings of synchronicity with their multi-dimensional messages, disappearing into the field of dreams just as mysteriously. A "Butterfly Experience" can be utterly intimate in the meanings they bear, and equally, universal and impersonal. For me, dealing as I have been for years now with therapy, and caretaking my mother and brother.........there is great personal meaning in my vision, meaning that has to do with karma, long patterns of family dysfunction, the work of emotional and psychic transformation.

Perhaps the most dramatic "butterfly experience" I had occured 10 years ago. Since this experience had to do with both dream and synchronicity, I don't know if I can tell it very cohesively, but I'll try.

It began with a disturbing dream. I dreamed I was on a ship, and on the deck many people sat in deck chairs, all of them playing with masks, taking them on and off. I seemed, in the dream, to be two people at once. I knew that there was, down in the lower decks of the boat, a demon. One of the women that I was was a kind of priestess or missionary - she was about to descend into the depths of the boat, where the demon below would torture and kill her. She thought that if she did so, offering herself as sacrificial victim, she could save the people above.

The other "me" was a cynical observer who thought she was a ridiculous martyr, and knew everyone, especially her, was doomed. I woke up as the "martyr self" began her descent.

Without going into the many circumstantial and psychological meanings of this dream, I'll skip ahead in real time. About 6 months after having this dream, I actually found myself, with a lot of actors, and a few masks, on an old decommissioned ocean liner (the "art ship"), which was anchored in the industrial harbor of Oakland. I was acting in a movie, and the writer and director of the film, Antero Alli, had decided to do his filming in the very bottom of this 5 level boat; the old, cold, dark, dank, cargo bay.

Descending into the bottom of the boat brought my dream back vividly, and every superstitious notion of prophetic dreams I ever had came right to the fore. I didn't like it there! Between shoots, the cast hung out in what must have once been the crew's cafeteria - located in a middle deck, it had round portholes, all of which were closed because it was a cold day in March. As we waited, the Director offered everyone a card from his own fascinating deck of oracular cards (with his artist wife, Sylvie Alli), and there was lively interest as each person contemplated his or her card.

I took a card from Antero with trepidation, and sure enough, damn if it wasn't the "DEATH" card.

Not five minutes later, as I stood with the card of doom in hand, a small orange butterfly landed on my shoulder.

There was absolutely no explanation for how that butterfly could have gotten into that closed room. I had lots of witnesses - and after the miracle revealed itself, several of them helped to catch the butterfly and get it upstairs where it could be released.

As a kind of synchronistic post-script, in 2005 I was back in the Bay Area for a two-person show (with Rye Hudak) at Turn of the Century Gallery, in Berkeley. I was surprised that, of all the works in the show, the gallery owner chose to put on the card announcing the show the one above, "The Butterfly Woman". When I came to hang the show, I went to nearby Cafe Trieste for a cup of coffee. Two stacks of cards were on the table there, side by side.

One was the card for my show with the image above. The flyer next to it was an announcement of the premiere of a new movie by Antero Alli called "The Greater Circulation" (a gorgeous film inspired by the life of poet Rainier Maria Rilke). The image on his announcement was a face encased in a skull - a Death's Head.

***"The caterpillar spins or weaves the cocoon, and in that cocoon, what the caterpillar is creating is his own tomb. We don’t know if he knows that or not. And he crawls into it, and his body liquefies. Complete disintegration of caterpillar. But in that caterpillar soup are these cells that have been in the caterpillar’s body all along, called imaginal cells. Isn’t that a fabulous word? Imaginal cells. It’s called imaginal by botanists because the adult form of that creature, the butterfly, is called imago. So these are imaginal cells, but to me those cells are ‘imagining’ flight. And these imaginal cells know how to take the soup and reconfigure that into a butterfly, an adult. I believe nature has designed us humans to go through a similar experience."

Imagine your Imago - Liberating the Imaginal Cells of the Human Psyche

 Bill Plotkin


** The Butterfly Website - miraculous stories
Alan Moore and the Butterfly Gardeners Asso.



The black butterflies of night
Clipped for sleep to nightshade and widowgrief,
Or in shaking luminous flight
On paired and silver wings, are rare,
And rarely seen by human sight.

Yet, they are there, surfacing
Out of range of neons and streetlights,
Preferring underleaf
And the dark offshores of air
To man and moth-maddening glare of things.
Tonight, As crisis after crisis
Cracks our skies like lightning,
I think of death,
Of different ways of dying,
And of Egypt and the myth
That once held black butterflies
Sacred to Isis.

They lived forever in flight
In her private groves, compelled like
Flickering minutes
Never to touch leaf nor stone,
Never to rest, except upon her nakedness
When she turned to love.
And here is death to be envied;
To be crushed to a personal breast
Between goddess
And whatever bird, beast, lover
Fell to her lips.
We are something else. . .

Myth and love will miss us
When the night is suddenly turned on,
Turned blank white,
And the black butterflies
Appear against that vellum sky
As far, flitting, burnt-out stars.

Frank Polite


PonderSeekDiscover said...

This is so incredibly amazing! In many of my early artworks (drawings mostly), even from a very young age, I have included butterflies; usually they are bursting forth from some implicitly polymorphous shape. I haven't drawn or painted a butterfly in a piece since probably 97'. Well, I'm working on the last couple of paintings in a series and two nights ago I was given the vision for an additional painting to add to the series. It's kind of a crazy construct piece which includes references to the John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Mitch Harris classic PainKiller/The Executioner. That album contains two CDs, one called "Guts of the Virgin" and one called "Buried Secrets." It also contains references to the Kevin Drumm classic Sheer Hellish Miasma and is really about the journey through every level of Hell and emergence in spiritual birth. So anyway, in the bottom left corner of the piece I envision a complex hive like structure (this came from the Joness Jones painting "Hive I've" I feel certain since I recently took a look at it)and some chambers in the hive are filled with bulging and screaming Death Masks. Some of these bulging and screaming Death Masks have burst free from the hive and float upward assuming implicitly polymorphous shapes with the highest one bursting open and a butterfly emerging! It's a psychophysiological transformation, that's the whole point! It's not just psychological but physiological as well! So to continue my ramble, even artists have to eat so I alternate weeks: one week I paint and/or build constructs from found objects; the next week I collect scrap metal to sell (although I often find perfectly good food in the garbage - you'd be amazed), find interesting materials to build constructs from, and otherwise attend to business other than painting. This week is my painting week and I don't normally bother with coming to the worksource center but today I had to mail a letter and had the overwhelming urge to check my email. I didn't have one single email message, not even spam, but did a cursory check of blogger and found this post. This is a very positive development in my humble opinion . . .

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I so remember this story, one of the best butterfly experiences I've ever read.

Lauren Raine said...

Well, thanks Wes, and thanks again to you, Trish!