In Search of Symbols

A fellow lupie warrior posted on her facebook status yesterday that the Empire State Building shone in orange lights in support of New York’s Lupus Foundation.  Orange? Really? Well, according to the “Cause and Awareness Ribbon Colour Chart,” (yes, there is a chart) orange is in fact, the colour for lupus awareness, as well as Prader-Willi Syndrome, leukemia, hunger, and cultural diversity.  Ah, but wait, purple is also the colour for lupus. Curiousity and procrastination in doing some work I brought home last night led me to a website that identified the purple ribbon with a knot tied in it to be one of the official symbols of lupus.  The purple signifies courage and endurance, while the knot represents the complexity and uncertainty of the disease.  The other symbol, is, of course, the butterfly.  It represents the lovely butterfly shaped rash I cover with powder everyday and is the go-to image that, when put on any item, makes it certifiably “girly.” In saying that, you can’t argue with the beauty of the real thing, and I have found, in recent years, even before realizing it’s “lupie significance,” this particular insect has grown on me.

It made me think about the power of symbols, that they can unite people from all walks of life towards one goal, that it gives them something to fight for, a way to identify with each other.  My immediate distaste for “orange lupus awareness” made me realize that it was important to me that the lupus symbol is something I like in concept and aesthetic.  It made me wonder, does the butterfly represent my fight, my journey living with lupus?  And if it doesn’t, what symbol would I choose?  Would I have more than one?

Out of curiousity and genuine interest, I compiled a list of what the butterfly has meant to some cultures around the world:

  • In Native American culture, it is said that if you have a secret wish, capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since butterflies cannot speak, your secret is ever safe in their keeping. Release the butterfly, and it will carry your wish to the Great Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of butterflies.
  • In Japan, the butterfly was seen as the personification of a person’s soul, whether they be living, dying or already dead.  One Japanese superstition says that if a butterfly enters your guestroom and perches behind the bamboo screen, the person whom you most love is coming to see you. However, large numbers of butterflies are viewed as bad omens.
  • The ancient Greek word for butterfly means soul or mind.
  • The Nagas people of Burma trace their ancestry from a butterfly.
  • In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together are a symbol of love.
  • Some people say that when a butterfly lands on you it means good luck.  However, in Devonshire, people would traditionally rush around to kill the first butterfly of the year that they see, or else face a year of bad luck.
  • In the Philippines, a lingering black butterfly or moth in the house is taken to mean that someone in the family has died or will soon die.
  • Butterflies symbolize rebirth into a new life. (source)

This past summer, this purple butterfly followed me during a hike. It paused patiently in the sand as I hovered inches from it with my camera, taking flight as soon as lifted the camera away.

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