The Cycle of Life: Monarchs, Mythology, and All Soul’s Day

“Come, Little Ones, it’s time to leave.”

“But it’s cold out there.”

“It’s cool but the sun is shining. I’ll carry you to a place where you’re protected from the wind.”

“We like it inside in our crate where it’s warm and safe. We like the oranges, grapes, and the aster bouquet you picked for us.”

“You can’t stay, Little Ones. Cold weather is coming. You have a long journey ahead.”

“Where are we going?”

“You’re going to Mexico for All Soul’s Day. Your bodies will know when you’ve sipped enough aster nectar and the wind blows from the north. You’ll lift your wings and soar. I promise you’ll know and go without fear. Along the way, you’ll rest and find more nectar. I offer each of you a prayer of protection for the journey.”

“I like it here.”

The smallest one opens her wings to a ray of sun coming through the window. Orange, black, and white patterns spread to receive the warmth. I want her to stay, too.

“Let’s go. Now’s your chance.”

I place my finger in front of the larger of the two. She climbs on board and I lower her into a plastic container with a bamboo towel bottom she can grip. She flutters and settles. Then I coax the smaller butterfly off the asters with my finger, put her in the container, and close the lid. They flutter together, but quiet soon.

Carrying the butterflies and followed by dogs, I walk west down the hill toward iridescent red maples and turn south into a protected cove lush with asters and goldenrod. The wind is quiet here.

I remove the lid and put my hand inside. The biggest girl climbs on, gripping gently with little pincher feet.

“You’ll like where you’re going,” I say as I guide her to an aster. There’s no use focusing on the harrowing challenges for her and all Monarchs. We can only count on this moment.

Now.

“There will be more and more butterflies when you get closer to Mexico. In Michoacán  at the Biopreserve, there will be millions of Monarchs. They’ll call you ‘Mariposa’ there. You live an isolated life here, but you’ll meet a large family there.”

“Will they like us?” the little one asks.

“The Monarchs will welcome you, and school children wait for you. They’ll celebrate with flowers when you arrive. They see you as souls of the dead, arriving from unknown lands. They won’t know about the life you led here with me. It’s our secret.

“In June. I’ll watch for a flash of orange in the milkweed field and know your great grandchildren have arrived. When I see them, I’ll search for eggs and begin again.

“Blessings on your journey, Little Friends. I’ll miss you, but I promise you won’t have trouble crossing the border. Spread your wings and have faith.”

***

My conversation with the Monarchs uses a Jungian technique called Active Imagination. We often speak inwardly to things that don’t speak back to us in words, just as we have conversations with the dead. Active imagination helps make these inner dialogues conscious. My imagined conversation with the butterflies brings me into the depth of my feeling for them, my sadness about their leaving, and my faith they will return.

For other posts about raising Monarchs, see Monarch Medicine: A Meditation on Transformation. You might enjoy my first Monarch blog from 2017, Mothering Monarchs, Mothering My Soul.

19 Comments
  1. Oh, how the heart flutters to follow your tête-à-tête with the Little Ones! Believe me Elaine, your heart-to-heart mothering not only the beautiful Monarchs but many a reader’s soul too by sharing the revelations of beauty and splendour that these winged divinities bring. For I have followed your butterfly photos and stories throughout this summer and loved them all.

    With the touch of the poet you recognise the timing, the necessary moment of release for as I read “Let’s go. Now’s your chance.” my heart leapt in circles and spirals of delight! And again … “They’ll call you ‘Mariposa’ there. You live an isolated life here, but you’ll meet a large family there.” And a deep knowing rose within me and brought tears to my eyes. There are no words …

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful Monarch stories these past four summers. It must’ve felt like you were living inside a mythical poem each time you witnessed the butterfly leave its cocoon, transforming in ways in which many will never see. “They won’t know about the life you led here with me. It’s our secret.” … just beautiful! Love and light, Deborah.

    • Their mystery is sacred to me, Deborah. I wanted to tag the migrating butterflies this year, but the pandemic got in the way and I didn’t get the needed materials. Maybe next year and then I’ll have an idea how many make it to Mexico, but the mortality is great during migration and part of me doesn’t need to know what happens after I release them. I just want to help them live and open those wings. What happens next is not up to me. It’s a bit like wondering what happens after someone we love dies and is born into a new life.

      I spent so much time with Monarchs this past summer. I could have been reading Jung’s Red Book or writing about mythology, but the butterflies are my personal mythology and the calming influence I needed. They and the dogs are deeply embedded in my symbolic soul. Disco who chases after everything watches me with the butterflies but never tries to grab or chase one. She knows they’re mine. So much of this piece is about projections, as you know. Having faith, living an isolated life, longing for a large family (I was able to see both my sons for 3 days recently!), the desire to stay here and not leave the safety of home. Those things are all mine to grapple with, but I enjoy letting life around me carry some of the psychological load.

      I received an email notice that your second book of poetry is on the way to me. I can’t wait. I’m also reading wonderful things about the new publication of C.G. Jung’s “Black Books” or diaries and their connection to Egyptian mythology. So much to read, but I find myself wandering outside taking in October color. It will soon be stay inside time, but not yet. Sending love and joy to you, dear friend across the sea.

      • Oh, I had no idea Elaine that you could tag butterflies?! Hmm, I’m not sure whether I would track them either for fear of seeing them falling of the radar too. I’ve only read The Red Book once (in too much of a hurry I feel) but am planning a second reading this winter but will read Monika’s fab posts (she’s written at least 25 posts about the book on her blog “Symbol Reader” if you haven’t already come across her.) That’s wonderful that you got to see both Anthony and David for three days! I hope that you all enjoyed a wonderful family reunion. Re, my new book, thank you so much my dear friend for ordering a copy. I really hope you enjoy it! xx

        • There are tiny circular patches that go under the wing and don’t hamper their flight. This can be put on the wing before releasing. Scientists have learned so much from tracking them (they’re little GPS or radar systems), so in this way they can understand how to help them. I’d like to help in that way. I read a piece by Monika on Facebook this morning where she shares fantastic Toni Wolff quotes about her connection to Egyptian mythology. (Apparently these quotes are in the Black Books, but I don’t know enough to say for certain.) Aladin Fazel often shares quotes from “Symbol Reader.”
          The best part of David’s visit was watching how much he and Anthony enjoyed each other. A Mother’s Joy!

  2. So much beauty and love, both visible and invisible.

    Thank you so much,

    Myra

  3. It says a lot about faith, too.

    It is what it is, and it will continue.

    Keep the faith. Life goes on.

    • Thanks for commenting, Rita. There is so much faith in the process–and anticipation and hope for them. They don’t think about the long journey ahead, but I do. They’re a wonderful lesson in living in the present moment and not worrying about the future. I released these last two, but there was a third late chrysalis. I could see the butterfly wings at one point, but it browned and died instead of eclosing. That’s part of the process of life, too. They’re excellent teachers.

  4. Your Active Imagination through dialogue has given me quite an education, Elaine. I had no idea until I viewed the video how many butterflies migrate and congregate at once. Wow!

    And the Day of the Dead illustrates the cycle of death and life, a holiday which roughly coincides with All Hallow’s Eve, Hallowe’en. My Google search: “Day of the Dead is a rare holiday for celebrating death and life. It is unlike any holiday where mourning is exchanged for celebration.”

    It’s no secret that you are Queen of the Monarchs in your neck of the woods and will faithfully nurture the grandchildren of those flashes of orange to whom you bade farewell months earlier.

    I like the actor’s (Will Smith?) remark that the earth has no borders, borders being a manmade construct.

    It was effortless to read this well-crafted post. Thank you for a lovely meditation at the end of my rather stressful day! 🙂

    • Thank you for that lovely quote about the Day of the Dead, Marian–and I love that you followed your curiosity. Easter also combines a grieving on Good Friday of the death of Jesus and the celebration of rebirth just three days later, so I think of that loose connection. Yes, it’s all Hallow’s Eve or All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2)–the spiritual meaning behind Halloween. In that small area of Mexico, the celebration of the Monarch’s return is part of religious ritual. I looked hard for a few years and contacted a few Mexican scholars who study the pre-Hispanic mythology, but the Monarch mythology before Spanish conquest has never been discovered. I’d think I found a clue, but the archeologists and language experts corrected me. The festival lasted for many days and there were special days for babies who had died at birth or warriors who had died in battle–all symbolized by returning butterflies. Seven days of honoring the dead as I remember. And then other rituals when the Monarchs left around February since there was no way of knowing where they were going.

      I’m sorry your day was stressful, Marian. I’m thinking of you in this hard time. I was grateful my son tested negative for covid and could visit. I hadn’t seen him for too long and I needed family. We’re trying to figure out how to get together at Christmas, but it’s hard to plan ahead when so much seems uncertain. We’re holding the possibility and I hope there will be a way. May today be peaceful and gentle.

      • Thank you for the good wishes, Elaine. Today countered the earlier negativity with two positives. I hope you can see your sons at Christmas. We’ll both look for the silver lining! 🙂

  5. This is simply beautiful Elaine, thank you. And the accompanying video also was poetic. I’ve vicariously experienced your journey with the butterflies and its enriched my life in many ways. It’s been a labour of love and dedication from you and I’ve watched from afar with great admiration of your tender care for these gorgeous creatures. It’s extraordinary the distance they travel and how they have that homing instinct. No borders – and on a wing and a prayer off they go. We as humans can surely only be in awe at Mother Nature and her beauty.

    • Thank you for admiring them with me, Susan. They are so small and travel so far. The only other tiny migrator I know is a hummingbird, but they are substantial and large compared to a butterfly. Isn’t that video amazing? I would love to see that festival, but I’m grateful for the video which has a soulful dreamlike quality with that delicate message about our human interconnection (and migrations) at the end.

      What will I write about now? I thought. This week, I wrote about dreams. I’m also interested in the new publication of Jung’s Black Books and their connection to Egyptian mythology which I’m studying in a class.

  6. Beautiful imagery all around. A few days ago I put together a makeshift dispenser for seeds of common milkweed, with a few cutouts of monarchs and the flowers they love to attract the eye, and placed it in easy reach of passersby. I’m hoping someone will decide to take a small packet of seeds home and plant a patch.

    Did you and your sons notice improvements in your hearing and communication when they visited?

    • Hi Joe. What a great idea!! Did anyone take those milkweed seeds? It was so dry here this summer that few milkweed plants produced flowers–but next spring they’ll sprout just fine from this year’s roots. I wanted to plant seeds in one new area, but don’t have many seeds. My hearing had already improved the last time I saw my elder son in December. I don’t think it’s much better now except in quiet situations–but we’re all glad I got the cochlear implant and can communicate with them well at home (no music playing). I still struggle if I’m tired or of there is background noise–even strong wind when outside. I do best when I can read lips which is challenging in a masked world, but my sons and I didn’t wear masks because we knew everyone was covid free.

      • So far, one packet was taken. It’s just a wooden post that I found in the street from street-sweeping postings. I knew it would come in handy so I nabbed it back in the springtime, and when I made this thing, I glued shims in a line down the stick, and glued old clothespins to each shim, then clipped packets of seeds (with the fluff removed) in each clothespin. I wrote some sowing directions on a label and sealed the packets shut with the label. I’m not normally inclined to MacGyver maneuvers, but it works. 🙂

        I noticed that after leaps and bounds of improvement, the “wow” moments reduce in number as we acclimate. Being tired, noise and wind are all going to affect us, sorry to say, and now we add masks to the list. I wish people would wear clear ones. 🙁

        • Take those packets. Save your instructions for next year. Monarchs will need our support for a long long time.

          Six months after surgery, my hearing had made a big improvement. It was obvious to anyone, especially me–and there were no masks in the summer of 2019. I haven’t felt much improvement in listening fatigue, so still avoid podcasts, TV, lectures online, etc. That means I avoid a lot of what our computerized covid world offers. I read and spend lots of time outside. Hearing is now a slow grind with better and worse days. I’m so glad I have a cochlear implant so I can hear people, but it’s a burnout–or is that my age and political fatigue and grief about climate change and fires and floods? I’m gradually lowering volume in the hearing aid ear so the cochlear implant side is doing more of work. There is less echo in sound that way. I don’t know anyone with a clear mask. It will be more challenging in the winter when I can’t take mask-free walks with friends, but I’m good at being alone.

  7. A most beautiful post Elaine. Your telling was beautiful. And thank you for that beautiful video. It’s amazing how the butterflies know the way to Mexico – nature has its own secret language. And interesting how they congregrate on Day of the Dead. Perhaps this is where the saying came from – when a butterfly surrounds you, it’s a lost loved one?
    I hope you are busy now making soups and keeping busy. <3

    • Yes, nature has a secret language for so many things. Isn’t that a great video? I want to see this festival, but not this year. The migration is much older than the Catholic All Soul’s Day / Halloween / Day of the Dead, but it matched, so the butterflies became part of it. The belief in that area is clear that these are the returning dead and some areas have a week of celebrations. Much of the history is lost. There’s never a problem keeping busy. So many books to read and I’m studying Egyptian mythology again with women who have met since 1990. The story of Isis and Osiris is powerful.

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