Like butterflies, moths are often used as symbols of transformation and growth. Unlike butterflies, though, moths are generally underappreciated and connected with many darker and less positive themes. In spite of this, recent years have shown an increased trend towards appreciating and enjoying moths. In this article we’ll examine the symbolism connected with moths, both good and bad, as well as the role of the moth in a number of folktales and mythological traditions.
Table of contents
- Moth Symbolism and meaning
- Moth Native American Symbolism
- Moth Christianity Symbolism
- Moth Celtic Symbolism
- Moths in Dreams
- Moth Encounters and Omens
- Moths’ Mythology and Folklore
- Moth Spirit Animal
- Moth Totem Animal
- Moth Power Animal
- Moth Tattoo Meaning
Moth symbolism and meaning
The first and most obvious piece of symbolism attached to the moth is transformation. Moths begin life as eggs, before hatching into their larval stage. In this larval form, they eat and grow until it is time to form a cocoon. From within their cocoons, moths grow their wings and take on their beautiful final shape. This life cycle connects moths with the process of growing into one’s true self and changing throughout the course of one’s life. (1)
A moth can also symbolize moving towards light. Moths are attracted to light sources. Sometimes, this is used to connect moths with death and the afterlife. When someone passes away, it is often said that they are “going into the light.”
Additionally, moths and light can be connected with manipulation or predictable behaviors. The idiom “like a moth to the flame” refers to a situation where a person is easy to manipulate because they cannot resist something. In most cases, this saying is used for situations wherein the “irresistible” element is harmful to the “moth.” In real life, moths are often killed in traps that use light to attract them. Thus, a moth may represent the idea of coveting something that is actually harmful or hazardous to one’s self.
Most people do consider light to be a positive thing. So, despite their connection with death or traps, the moth and the flame can also represent a guiding light. Moth symbolism may refer to finding one’s own path forward.
Because moths are known to eat cloth as well as dry foods in pantries, these insects are commonly thought of as nuisances and pests. Moths can be connected with old things and decay, because discarded objects become “moth-eaten” with time. (2)
Finally, in contrast to their ability to destroy clothes, some moths are actually vital to the production of luxury textiles. Silk is produced by silk worms, which are larval forms of silk moths. The cultivation of these moth larvae is what produces silk, So, moths can be connected with luxury, industriousness, beauty, softness, and comfort. (3)
Moth Native American symbolism
In many Native American cultural traditions, moths are predictably connected with growth and change as well as ephemeral concepts such as dreams and consciousness. Moths are important to a few tribes, however much of our understanding of Native American moth symbolism is shared with widespread butterfly-related traditions.
In parts of California, moths are important because their cocoons are used as sacred rattles which hold ritual significance and are used for ceremonies. The moth is often connected with death and ghosts. (4)
Since moths are nocturnal and come out at night, they are the teachers and guides of the nighttime realm. Moths are thus heavily associated with dreams and with altered consciousness.
Amongst several Native American tribes, the butterfly is thought of as a good luck charm and is connected with childhood and youth. The moth can be assumed to hold similar meanings as moths and butterflies belong to the same family of insects. (5)
Moth Christianity symbolism
Moths are referred to in a few biblical parables from which we can derive some of the Christian meanings connected with these insects. In Matthew 6:19-21, the parable of the moths, rust, and thieves is famous:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6)
Moths and rust settle on costly objects. Moths even eat silk garments while rust damages and corrodes perishable treasures on the earth. Moths and rust work from the exterior to the interior and eat their way through these objects. The Bible warns us that earthly treasures are impermanent and corruptible. Only in heaven can true value endure forever. (7)
The Bible continues to connect moths with mortality, impermanence and decay in further sections. In Job 13:28:
“Man wastes away like a rotten thing,
like a garment that is moth-eaten.” (8)
And from James 5:1-3:
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” (9)
Throughout these sections, the moth is used to refer to both the impermanence of mortal life and the folly of coveting and protecting earthly fortunes when spiritual enrichment is everlasting. (10)
Moth Celtic symbolism
In Celtic mythology, butterflies are represented for their beauty and delicateness. Moths, on the other hand, are more frequently connected with death and decay. Certain species of moth were sometimes involved with superstitions predicting an imminent death or major loss.
The myth of the Wooing of Etain is an Irish story which includes a beautiful fly which begins as water, becomes a worm, and then becomes a ‘fly’ before being reborn as a woman. The wooing of Etain follows the tail of an otherworldly gentleman named Midir who is enchanted by the beauty of a young maiden named Etain. When Midir is wounded at the home of his foster son, he is given Etain in marriage as repayment for his injury. Midir and Etain love each other deeply, but Midir’s first wife is deeply jealous and is gifted in witchcraft and sorcery. Out of spite, she transforms Etain into a pool of water, but Midir keeps this water by his side still. Then she transforms her into a worm, but Midir treasures the worm as well. Finally, Etain is made into a giant jewel-colored fly which Midir cherishes. The witch is so angry that she conjures a great wind to blow Etain away from Midir. In this form, Etain is blown into the goblet of her own mother who accidentally drinks the fly. From this, Etain’s mother becomes pregnant and gives birth to Etain anew. After much hardship, Midir finds and reclaims his bride. (11)
The “fly” in this story is often depicted as a butterfly. Its many transformations connects this story to the moth. For this reason, moths can be connected with femininity, transformation, and longing.
In some parts of the Celtic world, moth superstitions connected these insects with witchcraft and madness. The moth was thought to be a supernatural force which could act as a harbinger of serious misfortune. (12)
Moth in dreams
In much of the world, the moth is connected to dreams thanks to its ethereal nature and nocturnal lifestyle. Dreaming about moths can have a number of different possible interpretations. Like butterfly dreams, moth dreams can symbolize an upcoming change or transformation. The moth refers to the growth that one must undergo in order to unlock their potential. (13)
Dreaming of moths may also represent a particular goal in one’s life. Moth dreams may signify that you must follow the light of your passion in order to approach your goals. On the other hand, dreaming of moths and flames or traps may be an indicator that the path that you think is right will only lead to pain. Sometimes, the things that we want most for ourselves are not the same as the things that we truly need.
A moth dream can also refer to death or the soul. Sometimes, people interpret moth dreams as visits from departed loved ones. Moths may represent the grieving process or the enduring love for a person who is no longer with you.
Moth encounters and omens
Encountering a moth may indicate changes on the horizon. A moth encounter can mean that a difficult period lies in your path. Change is often very hard. The moth reminds you that such change is necessary and will bring out your true potential. Endure future hardships with this in mind and they may not turn out to be as bad as they seem. (14)
Like moth dreams, moth encounters are sometimes thought of as visits from deceased souls. For a person struggling with loss or grief, a visit from a moth may mean that the one you love is missing you as well or that you are not as alone as you might feel.
A moth in the home signifies neglect. Moths often feed off of decaying items. A moth inside the house can be an excellent reminder to clean and refresh your space. Clear out clutter and minimize mess. Doing so will refresh both your physical surroundings and your mind.
A moth may also symbolize one’s goals. Moths entering the home might act as a reminder that the things you have are worth being excited about and worth working hard to maintain. (15)
Moth mythology and folklore
According to much of the art and mythology surrounding moths, these insects are stand-ins for the human soul. They may represent the untethered human soul at the time of one’s death or the growth and progression of one’s soul throughout their life time. (16)
The Polyphemus Moth is named after a figure from Greek mythology. In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero, Odysseus, finds himself on an island inhabited by a cyclops named Polyphemus. Polyphemus has one eye and is the son of the god of the sea, Poseidon. Polyphemus eats many members of Odysseus’s crew, however in the end Odysseus pierces Polyphemus’s eye out. Polyphemus asks who has wounded him and Odysseus claims that his name is “Nobody.” Thus, when Polyphemus cries out to the islands other inhabitants, they think that “Nobody” has hurt him. This episode causes a lot of problems for Odysseus because it puts him at odds with Poseidon. The Polyphemus moth gets its name because of the large eye spots that it has on each wing. (17)
According to one Chinese myth, the silkworm and silk moth originated from a young girl who became the silkworm goddess. According to the legend, this young girl was very close with her father until he went out one day and did not return like normal. The girl was distraught and very worried. She clasped her prized horse and told him that if he could return her father to her, she would marry him even though he was a horse. The horse understood her and promptly retrieved her father. When the father returned, he was furious at the promise his daughter had made. He killed and skinned the horse. The daughter blamed herself for the horse’s death and was terribly distraught. She wrapped herself in the horse’s hide and wept all day, Eventually, the horse hide on the girl’s shoulders became wings. The girl was turned into a goddess as a reward for her earnest nature. She became the first silk moth. (18)
Moth spirit animal
If your spirit animal is the moth then you are probably a bit of a dreamer. The moth spirit animal is known to live with its head in the clouds. People with the moth spirit tend to strive for big things. They are ambitious, however they may need occasional reminders not to covet things which they cannot obtain. Success will not bring happiness unless the person in question works on self-fulfillment as well. (19)
The moth spirit animal tends to choose a path and become obsessed with following it. This can lead to intense drive and high achievement, however this can also lead to inflexibility and burnout. People with the moth spirit animal should practice spontaneity and try to roll with the punches as much as they can.
The moth spirit animal is full of potential and capable of amazing growth. People with this spirit animal tend to be curious about the world around them and are always asking big questions.
Moth totem animal
The moth totem animal refers to healing, relaxation, and spiritual renewal. This totem is especially connected with comfort and relief from pain. The moth totem is often connected with grief and loss. When one has lost something substantial, this totem animal can be a powerful source of peace and comfort.
The moth totem also brings restfulness. For people who are exhausted or overworked, the moth totem animal is connected with rejuvenation. This totem reminds you to relax and set boundaries so that you can protect your sense of peace.
Moth power animal
The moth power animal is connected with both creation and degradation. Moths are well known for their tendency to eat pantry items, textiles, and other discarded things. The moth power animal brings change and ushers out the old. The moth is also capable of creating beautiful things. Moths are responsible for weaving the incredibly soft, strong, and luxuriant silk thread which becomes silk fabric. Thus, the moth represents the balance between creation and destruction and old and new. (20)
Moth tattoo meaning
Moth tattoos may be chosen to represent decay and death, however most moth tattoos hold brighter and happier meanings than this. A moth tattoo is a common choice for a memorial tattoo for a departed loved one.
Moth tattoos may also represent growth, peace, light, or transformation. A moth tattoo may be chosen as a reminder to stay on the path of “light” or to pursue one’s goals.
Unlike butterflies, which are almost universally beloved, moths are the subject of quite a lot of disgust and fear. Despite this, the delicate beauty of the moth has made it a major favorite amongst people who appreciate these nocturnal insects. Moths are great reminders of the incredible cycles of life.