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Butterfly of Death and Rebirth

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"The white wings of moon butterflies
Flicker down the streets of the city,
Blushing into silence the useless wicks of sound-lanterns in the hands of girls."
Elizabeth J. Coatsworth, "Sky Lotus" (as quoted (without attribution) in the H. P. Lovecraft and Anna Helen Crofts collaboration Poetry and the Gods)

Whenever you see a pretty (usually blue or black) butterfly show up, things are about to get Symbolic.

For millennia, the world has latched on to the image of the butterfly: its metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly used as a metaphor for death and rebirth. In brighter series, it means "Don't worry, be at peace, the great circle of life continues on." In others, it means "You're going to die and turn into something else and it being pleasant isn't necessarily an option." Dead butterflies are an especially ill omen.

When the butterfly is used as a symbol of change in general, not just death and rebirth, see the Super-Trope Butterfly of Transformation.

Not related to Butterfly of Doom or Schrödinger's Butterfly. See also Pretty Butterflies and Moth Menace.

Compare with:

  • Cherry Blossoms, a chiefly Japanese symbol for the beauty and evanescence and renewal of life.
  • The Ouroboros, a snake consuming its own tail, emphasizes the cyclical nature of life. Its occult overtones also make it appropriate for more mystical and/or weirder cases of endings tangled up with beginnings.
  • The Phoenix, a mythological being reborn from its own ashes.

Contrast with Macabre Moth Motif; they are similar but moths tend to have a more obviously sinister feeling.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle:
  • Basilisk: Hotarubi summons butterflies among the insects and reptiles she uses to attack her enemies. When she dies and her lifeless and mutilated corpse falls off a cliff, a bunch of butterflies appear in the sky.
  • Black Butler:
    • Before his apparent death, Lau tells the story of a Chinese boy (reflecting himself) who dreamt he was a butterfly. This doubles as a Genius Bonus; the story is word for word based on the philosophical musing of Zhuangzi.
    • In one of the ending songs, there's a constant blue butterfly flying around screen.
  • Bleach:
    • Specially bred ghostly (i.e., only seen by spirits and supernaturally sensitive people) black butterflies (Called Jigoku-chou, or "Hell Butterflies", for extra cheeriness) are necessary as guides for those wanting to cross from Soul Society to the Living World, and vice-versa. Otherwise, they'll be forced to pass through the Dangai, or "Forbidding World", where death is (un)surprisingly easy. They're also used to carry messages within Soul Society as well, which makes this trope a bit more mundane.
    • A VERY squicky example is the Octava Espada Szayelaporro Granz. His release form is similar to a giant butterfly with wings that look like blood drops leading down from the wings among other creepy additions. His ultimate ability that makes him perfect in his eyes is his Gabriel ability. This lets him impregnate another person (done to a female but he implies he could do it to the guys too), absorb their energy and nutrients, and then become reborn from their now empty husk of a body.
    • Take a good look at Aizen's third form in Chapter 415. No wonder it's nicknamed Butterflizen.
  • Blood on the Tracks: Butterflies are prominently shown flying around for several panels just before Seiko pushes Seichi's cousin off the cliff.
  • Buso Renkin has Papillon, the butterfly-themed villain whose entire deal was that he replaced his dying, mortal body with an immortal (but still sick, oddly) homunculus body.
  • Cool Devices: In one episode of this hentai show, these appeared. The Moe girls got brutally raped by a bunch of Scary Black Men, then sacrificed. But it's all okay because in the end, their spirits turn into butterflies. Or something.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door: Anyone afflicted with the synthetic virus begins to hallucinate swarms of golden butterflies shortly before death. The main villain is a man who can't remember a time when he couldn't see the golden butterflies, and he's thus convinced he's in some sort of limbo or purgatory that he needs to escape.
  • D.Gray-Man: Tyki Mikk uses black butterflies as weapons that are capable of removing an opponent's internal organs without causing them any other injury.
  • Digimon Adventure 02: In the final episode, Yukio Oikawa's dying wish is to transform his body into a mass of butterflies, which spread across the Digital World to protect it and restore its weakened barrier after his Family-Unfriendly Death. Digimon Adventure's Anime Theme Song is titled "Butter-Fly", though its lyrics barely involve this trope; however, it does play over 02's distant "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, during which Oikawa's butterflies do show up.
  • Gundam:
    • G Gundam: Sai Saici's Hyper Mode Ultimate Attack and the Shaolin Temple's final and secret technique is a suicide attack in which his Gundam gains chi-created butterfly wings (much the same as the Naruto example with Chouji above, but with a Giant Robot). He also gets better. Multiple times.
    • ∀ Gundam's Moonlight Butterfly means a literal change in the world, destroying all the technology on the Earth two thousand years before the beginning of the series, thus forcing a reconstruction of the civilization, and after the series finale, imprisoning the Big Bad and protagonist's Humongous Mechas in a cocoon, signing the end of the war.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Butterflies appear in the second season 2 OP, although they range in color, and a separate one appears for each of the four different female characters (Marina, Feldt, Louise, and Anew) featured. It's possible that the symbolism isn't death here, but rather a drastic change set for them all. The fourth woman dies.
  • Harukanaru Toki no Naka de: Purple butterflies similar to those seen in Pretear appear as a manifestation of Ran's Dark Dragon powers. These can be used for attack purposes or for defilement, and on one occasion in the manga/anime, Ran uses them to curse Akane.
  • Hell Girl:
    • The season one opening theme is called "Sakasama no Chou," or "Upside-down Butterfly," which adds another layer of meaning to the equation.
    • In Hell Girl: The Cauldron of Three, the deceased Enma Ai's spirit takes the form of a blue butterfly.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: Heavily seen in the first opening and ending. That one of the butterflies is dead is a sign of how dark the series is. Similarly, in Umineko, the Golden Witch Beatrice is said to appear in the form of glowing, gold butterflies.
  • Hunter × Hunter: There is a type of butterfly that is attracted to fresh blood. In one of the Hunter Exams, Gon tracks these butterflies, which lead him to Hisoka, which is his target.
  • Iris Zero: Hijiri has an Iris that allows him to see black butterflies that gather around people who are supposed to die in the near future.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean: Butterflies appear to accompany Jolyne's death. Appropriate to the trope, she and the others (except Emporio) who were killed during the final battle are revived in the newly restored universe.
  • The Kindaichi Case Files: This is a prominent theme in the "The Black Butterfly Of Death Murder Case" (aka "The Undying Butterfly Murder Case") arc, where the entire murder case arc is set inside the mansion of a wealthy butterfly collection fanatic.
  • Loveless plays this for all the symbolism it can get, especially with Soubi, complete with Ritsu-sensei musing on how "humans are able to be reborn".
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic: The rukh, which are the souls of those who have died. They're described by characters who can see them as looking like birds, but they're drawn to look more like butterflies.
  • Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro: In the opening, Sai crushes a blue butterfly in his hand. He's a murderer who is constantly regenerating at the loss of his memories.
  • Megalo Box: A blue butterfly is the Animal Motif of Shell-Shocked Veteran Aragaki. He encountered (or hallucinated) one shortly before an IED blew off his legs and half his face, and had it tattooed onto his chest as a result. Joe ends up seeing the same butterfly the first time Aragaki lays him out in the ring.
  • Mr. Stain on Junk Alley: In Episode 8, a baby dies, and a glowing blue butterfly crawls out of its mouth. The child's soul-butterfly gets killed by a cop. Mr. Stain, later on in the episode, revives the baby by sticking his hand down his throat, retrieving his own butterfly inside, and using his own butterfly to revive the child.
  • Naruto:
    • Used for double significance in the Sasuke Retrieval Arc. After Choji defeats Jirobo, allowing Naruto, Kiba, and the rest of the retrieval team to continue on, he staggers to a tree and sags against it in a very moving Disney Death scene. Right after he collapses, a blue butterfly passes Shikamaru, who looks dismayed. Doubly significant in that Choji's name means 'butterfly', and that is the form that his supposedly fatal final attack takes: glowing butterfly wings of chakra.
    • In Shippuuden, Choji achieves this form without pills, and it enables him to defeat his undead sensei. It also symbolises Choji's growth as a person; indeed, the Akimichi clan's oath, which clan members take as a coming-of-age ceremony, uses the symbol of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and taking flight.
  • Nijigahara Holograph: Cabbage butterflies appear throughout the story, both on their own and to some of the characters, sometimes glowing. Swarms of them pour out of the Nijigahara channel, and other such channels at various points, and sometimes cover characters who are in severe physical or emotional trauma. By the end, their numbers have increased to the point of causing significant public alarm.
  • Petshop Of Horrors: One chapter elevates this into mindfuck: Leon (a cop) accidentally shoots a childhood friend (Harry) who turns out to have become a criminal over time. Count D allows him to experience Harry's life for himself, trapping him inside an illusion given by a magical butterfly. Just as Leon experiences being shot to death, D crushes the butterfly, giving Leon his normal life back.
  • Prétear: the Big Bad Takako attacks with purple butterflies. They can be used as spies, too.
  • Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka spots a footprint that attracts butterflies. It belongs to the Great Forest Spirit, who has power over life and death.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The first witch that appears seems to have a motif partially based around butterflies, as seen on her minions, in her barrier, on her Grief Seed, and on the witch herself. In addition, once she's defeated there is a quick shot of a butterfly in a web afterwards. Fridge Brilliance / Horror kicks in when you realize it may or may not be Foreshadowing that witches start out as a normal girl who gets contracted by Kyubey, followed by reaching the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Keeping this in mind while you're watching any version of the show may help your sanity.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Sailor Heavy Metal Papillon (Butterfly) was a manga-only servant of the final Big Bad in the Sailor Moon series, who turned the souls of all the Crystals that Galaxia captured literally into butterflies.
    • The original version of Super Sailor Moon came with a butterfly motif. It is revealed later that she has the power of rebirth, to match Sailor Saturn's power of destruction.
    • Sailor Stars apparently uses butterflies as a symbol of the Light of Hope (ChibiChibi).
  • Saint Seiya: Hades's spies are butterflies and appear during the Hades arc whenever Saga, Shura, and Camus are about to reveal their true motives (not to kill Athena, merely to see her again) as a grim reminder of their fate. One scene uses both this and the death version of Cherry Blossoms. There's also the Spectre Papillon, who starts off as a revolting caterpillar-like thing and then evolves into a pretty (scary) butterfly-boy with glowing butterfly minions.
  • This Ugly Yet Beautiful World is packed with crimson butterflies that are the souls of beings that have died and have yet to be reborn.
  • Towa Kamo Shirenai: Some of the demonic entities that attack Kosumo and Hitsuji take the shapes of butterflies. In fact, Kosumo first saw Hitsuji when he killed one of these devil 'flies and scolded him for doing so, not knowing their real role.
  • Tsukiuta's January Anthropomorphic Personification idol Hajime (and his Distaff Counterpart Yuki) have a butterfly as their icon. It fits well enough as a symbol for the New Year, but in The Multiverse, Hajime's other forms are all, essentially gods of life itself. From his Origins incarnation known as the Lord of Beginnings, the oldest being in the universe and a god so powerful he has entire worlds nestled in the feathers of his wings, to the simpler Tsukino Hyakki Yakou Spirit World where Hajime is Kurotenko, a divine fox spirit so powerful that sometimes he can't even speak or any sound he makes would shake the entire world. Deny it as he may, in several places Shun (who is fully aware of his power even as an idol in the main setting) has implied that Hajime is just as powerful in the main setting as in any of the alternate worlds...
  • Umi Monogatari: The solar eclipse is accompanied by the appearance of thousands of eerie blue butterflies which represent Urin's corruption and rebirth into Sedna's host, complete with growing wings after hatching from a cocoon.
  • Undertaker Riddle: The people's souls take the form of butterflies.
  • ×××HOLiC:
    • Yuuko has butterflies on her clothes and many of her possessions, and is often depicted wearing a kimono with butterfly wings attached to the obi. An old fortune-teller friend of hers mentions that the butterfly is Yuuko's particular symbol.
    • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-: After a certain dramatic moment, the concurrent ×××HOLiC chapter featured Watanuki dreaming of her death - then, when he wakes up, a butterfly appears over his clenched hand and vanishes into thin air. Naturally, when he goes to look for Yuuko, she's gone, having moved on as payment to fight Fei Wong Reed's Gambit Roulette.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos turns his (equally) evil clone into a butterfly as he passes on...and then eats it.
  • In a Doom Patrol story written by Grant Morrison, Red Jack has found a way to keep himself immortal by imprisoning hundreds of butterflies and absorbing their life essence. When the butterflies are freed, he dies.
  • In Pretty Deadly, the entire story is being narrated to a butterfly. As well, when Big Alice dies, her body turns into a flock of butterflies.
  • Psylocke of the X-Men has always had a butterfly motif. Her successor Kwannon shares it, though for a different reason; as of Fallen Angels (2019) she associates it with her metaphorical rebirth as a hero. She discusses it in the second issue of that series.

    Fan Works 
  • BloodRayne: Chronicles of Blood: As revealed in Origins chapter 2, it was the sight of a butterfly that helped Eliza regain her sanity after Kagan's rape drove her insane.
  • Persona: The Sougawa Files: Nobuyuki Itou, the head of the Shadow Syndicate, is primarily associated with butterflies, tying in with his goal to bring about a "new age" in Sougawa. This comes to a head when he reveals his Persona, Humbaba - a giant, mechanical flaming butterfly. He's also the only major character in the story who's outright killed.
  • When It Rains: When Chroma banishes Queen Chrysalis near the beginning, the Queen is able to split off and preserve a tiny fragment of her essence in the form of a white butterfly. This butterfly offers guidance to Adagio at a couple of key points in the plot and transforms back into Queen Chrysalis once Chroma is defeated.

    Films — Animation 
  • Corpse Bride: At the end, the undead Emily dissolves into a cloud of blue butterflies, signifying her peaceful transition to the afterlife.
  • Encanto has a lot of butterfly symbolism. In the opening narration, Alma's husband dies, but she's gifted with a magic candle that has butterfly decorations (implied to be his spirit or something). Later on, Bruno's vision has a butterfly guiding Mirabel to the path that will save the magic; her actions lead to the collapse and "death" of the Casita, but also to its restoration.
  • Tarzan: During the song "You'll Be In My Heart," Kala and the baby Tarzan are surrounded by blue butterflies, one of which lands on his face and flaps its wings. Kala's baby and Tarzan's parents were killed by Sabor the leopard, so her taking in Tarzan as her son symbolizes the life and death cycle that takes place in the jungle.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: A variation as The Grim Reaper tries to take a black butterfly from the Baron's mouth, symbolizing his life force. Or maybe it's a moth...
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010), the Tim Burton version: Absolem the blue caterpillar disappears into his cocoon. Later, when a blue butterfly lands briefly on Alice's shoulder, she greets him with a friendly "Hello, Absolem."
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): In the final scene, Paul is shot and killed while reaching for a butterfly.
  • The American features a butterfly several times throughout the movie.
  • The Craft: When the four girls who form the central coven perform a ritual together for the first time, they find themselves surrounded by dark blue butterflies as an indication that the deity they worship approves of their actions.
  • The Fall: The butterfly Darwin has sought for years heralds only tragedy. His monkey partner, Wallace, gets shot when trying to obtain it.
  • Godzilla: Mothra, grand kaiju of the Pacific and eternal frenemy of Godzilla, is literally one of these. Almost every appearance of Mothra will have it die, only to have its Generation Xerox offspring take over for it.
  • The Hunger Games: Right before the bloodbath ends and the cannon signaling deaths is sounded, Katniss watches a black and blue butterfly fly away.
  • Jojo Rabbit: Jojo sees a blue butterfly on the town square and follows it. It leads him to the gallows where he discovers his mother's dead body, having been executed for being part of La Résistance against the Nazis.
  • The Lord of the Rings: In the Peter Jackson-directed movies, a white butterfly or moth appears to Gandalf twice, apparently as a messenger from the giant eagles. In both instances, the heroes are hopelessly surrounded (evidently about to die) and eagles are going to swoop down and rescue them (returning them to life). The moth used in the scene at Orthanc was real; to make that scene work, they had to get a bunch of chrysalises from a giant moth species and incubate them for weeks.
  • Love In Thoughts: This German romantic tragedy features a scene in which, while Gunther is dicking around with his pretty, pretty gun, as per usual, a butterfly lands on the barrel and distracts him with its pretty, pretty wings.
  • The Matrix: Neo's speech at the end was going to refer to the Matrix as a chrysalis, but the execs weren't sure if enough viewers would know what a chrysalis is. (It's this, by the way.)
  • Patch Adams: Patch's girlfriend has a fondness for butterflies and says that she hopes to be reincarnated as one. Later, after her death, Patch is elevated from his depression by the appearance of a butterfly on his shirt, as though her wish has come true.
  • The Seventh Doctor: In this Doctor Who TV Movie, Sylvester McCoy, dies on the operating table to the strains of Madame Butterfly to later regenerate into Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.

  • The first EP by morbidly depressing Finnish death/doom band Swallow The Sun, titled "Plague of Butterflies", contains a 34-minute-long song using butterflies as a key motif in the narrative. It ends with both characters dying.
  • Alluded to in "Even Flow" by Pearl Jam, in Ten.
    Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
    Oh he don't know, so he chases them away
  • A classic Greek nursery rhyme about a butterfly ends with the lyrics "When winter comes it falls down and bites the dust, and when summertime comes it comes to life and flies".
  • A lyric in Queen's "The Show Must Go On" goes "My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies. I can fly my friends!"

  • In Deadhouse Gates, the second book in Malazan Book of the Fallen, a particularly bloody battle is fought on a river crossing that just happens to be the mating ground for a large group of migrating butterflies. Their symbolism is used to represent several things: the ephemerality of life, the instinctual drive to mate and then die, and as an omen of the slaughter to come, as they coat the river in a yellow coat first, before being replaced by the red of human blood. Finally, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of them are used as Psycho Pomps for the soul of a particularly powerful warlock. Imperial historian Duiker points out how this is a bad thing and implies that the fact that it was butterflies instead of crows means the warlock will not be able to be reborn.
  • In The Death Gate Cycle the kenkari titled the Keeper of the Door, Keeper of the Book, and Keeper of the Soul all have butterfly-esque clothes, they are a line of elves on Arianus who care for the souls of those elves of noble birth
  • In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, four aged people are revitalized by water from the Fountain of Youth, as is a dying butterfly drenched in the liquid. The butterfly's sudden relapse signals that this happy reprieve - and, by implication, life itself- is only temporary. Butterfly = Brevity of Existence is the probable symbolism.
  • In The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk, citizens of Aeland wear butterfly brooches when in mourning.
  • The cover art for the novel Luna, having (presumably) Liam/Luna on the cover with butterfly wings. Representing Liam's transformation into Luna throughout the book.
  • Making Money: Subverted when Cosmo Lavish uses a caterpillar becoming a butterfly as an analogy for him becoming Lord Vetinari. His sister Pucci gleefully tells him that a more accurate way of thinking about it is that the caterpillar dies and the butterfly grows out of its corpse.
  • Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory's The Obsidian Trilogy has, as one of the signs that the heroes are getting close to an evil place, swaths of dead foreign butterflies. Other signs include flocks of starlings flying endless, unnaturally precise flower-loops and familiar flowers with strange black petals.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel On The Razor's Edge, used as a metaphor: Mearana's fight with a Shadow has the observation that Shadows do not die easily, but harpers can die as easily as butterflies.
  • The Things They Carried: In "The Man I Killed", a butterfly crawls up the dead boy's face and flies away.
  • An alien butterfly is used as an analogy for what Vergere is doing to Jacen in the New Jedi Order book Traitor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: In season two, episode two, one of the security guards is trying to get the traitor who shot Security Chief Garibaldi to come out of the barracks by saying Ambassador Delenn, who had just come out of the chrysalis as a half human/Minbari, now sported wings, just like a butterfly.
  • On The Fades, butterflies are heavily associated with the Angelics' powers of healing — people who have been successfully healed are shown puking out a butterfly, and Paul's resurrection in the fourth episode produces an entire swarm of butterflies. In addition, Fades are shown becoming Reborns by breaking out of sticky cocoons, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
  • Kamen Rider 555 uses this in a more general way. The Monsters of the Week are Orphnochs, beings who are born when some humans die. The Smart Brain corporation, which secretly supports the Orphnochs, has a mascot named Smart Lady who's heavily associated with blue and black butterfliesnote . This has resulted in these butterflies becoming a symbol for 555 as a whole, appearing on its backdrop in Kamen Rider Decade and again in the direct-to-DVD movie Kamen Rider #4 when Shocker's Great Leader transforms into Faiz.
  • Kings: Monarch butterflies play a huge role, symbolizing the recognition of a king. Specifically, they herald the rise of David and the fall of his predecessor.
  • Lexx: A butterfly makes an enigmatic cameo near the beginning of one season finale. Shortly afterwards, an alien character's cocoon-like sleep pod is destroyed, severely limiting her life expectancy, but her spirit lives after death in the Dream Zone.
    • Also: Prince, the Satan/Death figure who formerly oversaw the judgment and reincarnation of all human souls, claims to keep a "butterfly room." "You'll love it. I'm very good... with butterflies."
  • Millennium (1996): One episode focused on a conspiracy among mothers murdering their daughters. The incident that began the episode was a plane crash, fatal to everyone onboard, caused by one of the mothers. At the crash site, there was an overly abundant amount of butterflies, said to be attracted by the chemicals in tears.
  • Mujeres Asesinas 2: A blood-red butterfly appears every time someone is murdered.
  • In episode 5 of Nikita, the civilian girlfriend of Owen, a secret Division operative, is an artist and makes stained-glass butterflies. Obviously, by the end of the episode, she's killed in the crossfire between Division operatives, Owen, and Nikita.
  • From Power Rangers RPM: One character, Dr. K, has been raised in a secret government think tank named Alphabet Soup under the pretense that she suffered from a sunlight allergy. A butterfly one day appears on her keyboard while she works on the Ranger suits. She follows it as it flies away towards an opening in the wall in which the sunlight shines through. She looks at her hands and realizes that her handlers have lied to her the whole time about the sunlight allergy. She attempts to escape along with her only friends Gem and Gemma by wirelessly uploading a sentient computer virus named Venjix in hopes that it would blind the security servers long enough for them to escape. However, before she can install the firewall which would contain the virus to the compound, guards take her and her friends away. In a span of three years, Venjix has destroyed every human city (except Corinth), killed almost every living thing, and destroyed almost every biome on Earth. Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, indeed.
  • Pushing Daisies: A group of children dressed like butterflies show up at the beginning of the episode "Circus Circus", an episode heavily focused on new beginnings.
  • Star Trek: Picard: In "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2", a synth butterfly is fluttering around Rios, Seven of Nine, Raffi and Elnor when they are reacting to Picard's death. While Picard's consciousness waits to be transferred and then revived within an android golem, a virtual butterfly appears in Data's hand, and it flies away when he explains why he wants his life to be finite.
    Data: A butterfly that lives forever... is really not a butterfly at all.
  • Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger: The Big Bad Deboss arrived on Earth in a form suited to kill the dinosaurs: a mutant creature resembling a T-rex. When he evolves into a form suited to killing off humanity, he turns into a humanoid figure with a butterfly motif, complete with one on his face resembling an enormous mustache. Additionally, his final form is given the title "Chouzetsushin", which takes the Japanese word for "transcendence" and replaces the first kanji with the one for "butterfly"; fansubbers Over-Time rendered this in English as "Lepidominant Lord", while That Other Wiki uses the much more on-the-nose "Transcendenterfly God".

    Mythology and Folklore 
  • Mesoamerican folklore:
    • In Aztec and pre-Hispanic folklore, the monarch butterflies were thought to be spirits of children and people coming back. In the 19th century, this carried over Dia Des Muertos, with the butterflies migrating to Mexico about a month or two before October.
    • In a legend of Guerrera, monarch butterflies were the spirits of women who died in childbirth and warriors who were either killed or sacrificed.
  • Japanese folklore:
    • There is a belief that someone dead can take on the form of a butterfly. Possibly unrelated to this, is that, in folklore, large groups of butterflies are seen as bad luck.
    • In a really old story of The Butterfly Soul, where a white butterfly landed on the dying Takahama's pillow. At first, his nephew chased out the butterfly but it kept coming back until he chased it to a graveyard where it turned into a young woman's apparition named "Akiko". After telling his mother what happened, he was told that Akiko was Takahama's Lost Lenore who died of TB and that she came back, in butterfly form, to guide Takahama to the afterlife.
  • Chinese folklore:
    • The folktale of the Butterfly Lovers. It starts out with Zhu Yingtai, the daughter of a good family wanting to go to the academy of Hangzhou. She eventually attends, disguised as a man as only men could go. On the way, she meets a fellow student called Liang Shanbo, whom she ends up being dormmates with, studying together and becoming 'sworn brothers'. Even though people around them gossip about her, Liang Shanbo doesn't notice them due to his studies. After a few years, Zhu Yingtai leaves, the rumors having become too oppressive. As she arrives home, she discovers that her parents already planned for her to marry a man from another family. Meanwhile, Shanbo can't concentrate on his studies and grows ill. Knowing he'd die, he asks for her to come. When she arrives, he gives her a letter that tells her to burn incense at his future grave on her wedding day. She does so, causing a lightning bolt to part the gravestone. Yingtai dives into the created hole without hesitation. The only thing that's left, are two butterflies fluttering away from the grave.

    Video Games 
  • After L!fe - The Sacred Kaleidoscope: An Exaggerated Trope. Every purified Vengeful Spirit turns into a butterfly, hence why the game is rife with butterfly patterns. From this stage on, they will eventually be reincarnated. This is also a nice Hand Wave as to why the Vengeful Spirits you defeat in-game have a Bloodless Carnage.
  • Alice: Madness Returns: More for their connection to dreams than life and death, with Wonderland being one big dream... thing. The Caterpillar turns into a butterfly during one of the levels, and Alice's 'dodge' manoeuvre transforms her into a flock of butterflies. She also turns into butterflies whenever she dies.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: During her first battle against Absalom, Ann is quickly overpowered and receives a strike that renders her unconscious. After a brief venture into Hinterland, Ann's body becomes enveloped in energy as butterflies from the same power surrounds her as she awakens her Super Mode.
  • Arthur's Knights - Tales of Chivalry: Playing on the Celtic side: while in Avalon, Branwen's squire has to find which of the many reincarnated souls-turned-butterflies was Branwen's wife in order to restore the man from his Karmic Transformation, an in-game guide said that Butterflies were thought to contain the souls of the dead. Making this a rare Western example of his trope.
  • BioShock 2: The Big Bad of the game loves to use butterflies as a metaphor for the effects of ADAM upon the population of Rapture. Additionally, living and dead blue butterflies are seen in a few places throughout the game. But it really comes together during the Little Sister sequence when it's revealed that the Little Sisters perceive the flies swarming around the bodies of dead "angels" as butterflies.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm: A dream sequence… thing in Chapter 6 features a terminally ill little girl who transforms into a butterfly as she dies.
  • Cultist Simulator: While a Macabre Moth Motif dominates the aspect of Moth, the positive sides of the aspect invoke the death and rebirth aspects of lepidopterans. Moth is associated with change, growth, and transformation, for better or worse.
  • Elden Ring: The Scarlet Rot is heavily associated with butterflies. Butterflies are often found fluttering about the gardens of evil that the Rot leaves behind, followers of the Order of Rot venerate a cycle of death and rebirth while worshipping the Rot as the medium by which said cycle is carried out, and Malenia, in her Goddess of Rot form has massive butterfly wings made out of butterflies and sends butterflies flying with her attacks.
  • ESP series: Every single final boss in the series, as well as the player characters from the Galuda games.
  • Fatal Frame II: The twin killed in Crimson Sacrifice ritual becomes "united" with the other one through the butterfly-shaped reddened mark left on the Remaining's throat from where the other twin has choked him or her to death. The butterflies themselves linger on as spirits and are seen throughout the game.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has some butterflies at one of the artworks. It might mean that the dream world of Ivalice was born, but then dies at the end of the game.
  • Genshin Impact: Hu Tao is an undertaker who gives the dead their last rites to send them to the afterlife and is associated with flaming butterflies.
  • Hades, making use of an ancient Greek pun, often depicts disincorporated souls as a flurry of butterflies. Thanatos likewise has a subtle butterfly motif and gifts Zagreus one of the creatures as a keepsake.
  • Honkai Impact 3rd: Seele Vollerei is associated with butterflies, and she once went Only Mostly Dead thanks to an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong. She also wields a scythe as her weapon, and appropriately, her "Previous Era" self (from 50 millennia ago) is also the "Herrscher of Death". In the "Dance of Life and Death" arc (chapter 36-39), however, it becomes more explicit: due to the main villain Vita's machinations, Seele (and several other characters) are killed, though their souls haven't vanished yet; due to the gambits and plans our heroes concocted, they manage to wrest the "Herrscher authority" from Vita, and Seele's soul catches it, giving her a new body and turning her into "Herrscher of Rebirthnote ". After she beats Vita, she uses her newfound powers to grant the bodiless souls new bodies, saving them all.
  • Ketsui: Evaccaneer DOOM, the True Final Boss, has a set of energy wings that seem designed to evoke butterfly imagery. In this case, it's the death aspect being referenced more than rebirth, as DOOM is going to kill you a lot no matter how good you are.
  • Kirby:
    • Kirby Star Allies introduces Morpho Knight, the Reborn Butterfly, as a Bait-and-Switch Boss at the end of the "Guest Star ???? Star Allies Go!" mode. It is first formed when a red and orange butterflynote  absorbs Galacta Knight, the "Greatest Warrior in the Galaxy". Its Japanese pause screen descriptions refer to it as a knight from Hades and, as revealed in a support guide published by Famitsu, several of its attacks are named after Sukhavatinote .
    • Morpho Knight reappears in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Defeating it in the postgame allows Kirby to wield its sword.
  • Life Is Strange: Used throughout the game. Most notably in the first chapter, in which you see a blue butterfly right before Chloe is shot in the bathroom (death), but you are then able to rewind time to save her (rebirth). In the "Sacrifice Chloe" ending, the same butterfly perches on her coffin during her funeral, possibly implying reincarnation.
  • Magical Starsign: The final boss is Shadra, a giant dark-aligned butterfly that as grub has been eaten the sun from the inside out. It's supposed to create a new sun after it finishes devouring the old one, though there are implications that this won't actually be the case. The party killing it causes the sun's light to intensify, solving the robot apocalypse problem and saving everyone in the solar system in the process.
  • Mansion of Hidden Souls: Humans who travel to the titular mansion and choose to stay there are metamorphosed into butterflies, which one of the characters explicitly refers to as "the shape of souls".
  • Metal Gear:
    • They come up frequently in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, down to the names of the various AI weapons corresponding to the stages of metamorphosis in butterfly growth.
    • In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a butterfly appears at the end of Paz's side story. It's a figment of Snake's imagination, just as she was; she really died at the end of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes nine years ago. He then gets tapes of her personal recordings, the last of which explains it's time to move on.
      • Another, subtler Phantom Pain example: Quiet, a mute female sniper, has a marking resembling a butterfly appear across her face whenever she taps into her superhuman powers. The death and rebirth part? Thanks to the life-threatening burns and injuries she incurred as an XOF assassin in the prologue, XOF made her undergo parasite treatment to save her, thus she's effectively reborn as Quiet. Said parasites allow her to "breathe" through her skin, take in nutrients via photosynthesis, and grant her the aforementioned superhuman powers. Quiet can also reward the player the Butterfly emblem and codename by utilizing her skillset while having her tag along on missions.
  • Persona: Heavily featured in all of the games, with the High Persona Philemon having a butterfly mask in 1 and 2, and blue butterflies abound in 3 and 4 (according to Word of God, the current form of Philemon). Observe also Aigis and Metis's Butterfly masks.
    • The blue butterflies also serve as save points in Persona 4, which fits the death and rebirth symbolism considering how often you'll die and have to reload.
    • There's a blue butterfly fluttering around when Persona 3's main character dies.
    • There is also the black butterfly representing Philemon's foil and nemesis, Nyarlathotep.
    • In Persona 5, a glowing blue butterfly appears each time the protagonist is about to die in the story, urging him to overcome his impending doom. This includes when he's about to be executed in Kamoshida's Palace and when he's brought into the interrogation room where the conspiracy intends to assassinate him. Similarly, glowing butterflies surround a fallen character when you use revive items or magic on them.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice: In Khura'inism, it is believed that butterflies ferry the souls of the departed to the Twilight Realm. Butterfly imagery is ubiquitous in its religious artwork. A flock of spectral butterflies even appears from the Pool of Souls right after a "Not Guilty" verdict in lieu of the usual confetti.
  • Psychedelica Of The Black Butterfly: They are explicitly linked to the afterlife, as the title implies, and the mansion is full with butterfly imagery. Interestingly, they are either white or black - white ones are guides, meant as a signpost for wayward souls. Their presence indicates a safe place. The black ones do the polar opposite as they will lead to doom. This is exemplified when 'Yamato' turns, and even when he is partially restored, black butterflies are still attached to half of his body. These butterflies are both no real living insects, but rather particles originating from souls taken form.
  • Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song: One of the quests is appropriately called 'Creepy Butterfly', and involves a young wife being tormented by a strange butterfly visiting every night. Turns out it's the spirit of her father, who she thought abandoned her family after her mother grew deathly ill. He actually died searching for a cure; learning this helps her let go of her grudge, and allows him to move on.
  • Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes: Otani Yoshitsugu is associated with butterflies. His helmet looks like one, Oichi's nickname for him is "Swamp Butterfly", and if you use him enemy mooks will occasionally go insane and start raving about the butterflies coming for their souls.
  • Silent Hill 2: Butterflies play a big part symbolically, as rebirth is one of the game's main themes.
  • Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3: A character who was missing in action returns, and declares himself to have been resurrected. Butterflies appear in the background.
  • Street Fighter V: Butterflies are seen more than once in the cinematic scenes, specially the General Story Mode known as A Shadow Falls:
    • At the beginning of A Shadow..., right as Charlie Nash is Back from the Dead, he has a nightmare featuring a sheep turning into Necalli and attacking him, only to be staved off by a blue butterfly glowing in a blue-white light.
    • At the end of A Shadow Falls, another blue butterfly is seen floating around as Kolin/Helen confides with her boss Gill, who claims that despite Bison not being destroyed the way they wanted, the time has come for their group (none other than The Illuminati) to destroy and then recreate the world in order to restore its balance.
    • During Kolin's Story Mode, as she's saved from a snowy death by Gill and she accepts his offer to join the Illuminati, a butterfly begins to hatch from a chrysalis on a dead flower. The character's profile states that she loves butterflies, probably as a reminder of this life-turning moment.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario Galaxy: At the end of the game, after the entire universe collapses in on itself and then resets, a butterfly is resting on Mario's cap.
    • Super Paper Mario: Tippi counts despite not having been a real butterfly. When Merlon found her in her human form (Timpani), doomed by Blumiere's father to wander all the dimensions forever, she was almost dead. To save her life, Merlon transformed her into the butterfly-shaped Pixl we all know, love, and miss after she disappears at the end.
  • Touhou Youyoumu ~ Perfect Cherry Blossom: Weaponized by Yuyuko Saigyouji, the ghost princess of Hakugyokurou. She uses a lot of butterfly-themed attacks and butterfly-shaped projectiles. She also tends an evil youkai cherry tree to provide the cherry blossom death imagery as well. Her last-ditch Spell Card "Resurrection Butterfly" note  is a spell used for resurrecting the body under the Cherry Blossom.
  • Trauma Team has Monarch Butterflies showing up occasionally, in particular after a massive virus outbreak starts. Later on is discovered that these butterflies are directly related to the outbreak, working as carriers of the virus.

  • Badirfilay is all about death and rebirth. The title transliterated in Spanish is the English word butterfly.
  • Charby the Vampirate: The Rose sisters' awareness of this symbolism becomes a major issue for Jozk. When he asks them to take his soul before expiring and promptly loses the ability to speak or move when his soul gem falls out of his chest Rosewood finds a nearby butterfly which Rosa immediately accepts as his soul instead. Rosebud actually guesses the correct item for containing his soul but gets shot down as trying to loot his corpse. An actual looter nearby overhears and quickly grabs his gem as soon as the girls have their backs turned.
  • Concession: A deep purple butterfly seems to be one of Miranda's spiritual forms.
  • Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name: Used subtly when Zombie, an undead character, is discussing his previous life with Hanna. He catches a moth in his hands and watches it for a moment, then lets it go.
  • In Homestuck, when Vriska and Aradia are resurrected and ascend to the god tiers, they are each granted a large pair of butterfly wings. Fitting, since their species begins their life cycles as larvae and sleeps in cocoons.
    • The Dancestors arc reveals that all God Tier trolls (save for Blood players) have butterfly wings.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: The newly sentient Roofus the Robot wanders off pursuing a butterfly. He later finds his destiny when he meets a giant butterfly, Princess Voluptua's true form.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: Finn remembers being the Catalyst Comet in a past life, crashing to Earth and reincarnating as a butterfly. The Catalyst Comet itself seems tied up in a long line of reincarnation, a cycle that includes Finn and the Lich and it's meant to induce change where it crashes.
  • Amphibia: Butterflies seem to show up a lot when Marcy's around. This is invoked in "Battle of the Bands", as she's dressed as one, because, as she puts it, "it's the personification of metamorphosis". In many cultures, butterflies are the symbols of souls, hope, and embracing changes, foreshadowing her fate in the season 2 finale.
  • Mighty Max: In one episode, Max teams up with a new band of heroes, all of whom are dead by the end of the episode. One of them, the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, muses that perhaps he'll come back as a butterfly. A butterfly appears in the last shot of the episode, even though, considering how long it takes a butterfly to become an adult, he should still be in caterpillar form.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: A butterfly emblem is a key symbol of the Big Bad, Hawk Moth. He uses butterflies charged with his powers to transform distraught civilians in Paris into superpowered villains, who frequently denounce their former selves. His powers are intended to empower people into superheroes, but he's twisted that ability to his own ends, the restoration of his wife from an endless sleep.
  • Regular Show: In "The Key To The Universe", when Pops is in his training, there are butterflies flying around. This is especially poignant after Earl reveals the purpose behind Anti-Pops and him when it concerns the universe.
  • Steven Universe: Butterflies are very much a negative motif. They represent bad thoughts and insecurities, white butterflies being the manifestation of said things when meditation happens, and have to be driven away. A notably heinous villain, Aquamarine, also has a strong lepidopteran motif. Ironically butterfly motifs are associated with stagnation; representing the negative emotions keeping people from moving on and Aquamarine being one of the few people who rejected redemption in the course of the show.

    Real Life 
  • This article notes the use of butterfly stickers on suicide kits.
  • Butterflies appear on "With Sympathy" cards in the UK. They aren't on every card, and are often small and discreet, but ... they're there.
  • Quite a few old tombs and headstones will be decorated with one or several butterflies.
  • In some hospitals in the UK, a purple butterfly sticker on an infant cot in the NICU means that a baby was born as part of a multiple-child pregnancy, but one or more of their siblings did not survive. The butterfly was chosen to represent the babies that "flew away", while the purple color represents both boys and girls.
  • What are the butterflies doing in the trope picture? They're "puddling", so they can get the nutrients they can't get from flowers and, while they usually do this on rotting fruit, animal waste, or mud, they'll puddle on dead things. They'll also puddle on blood, too. The elusive Apatura iris ("purple emperor") is especially known for primarily feeding on dead things and roadkill is their favorite.

Alternative Title(s): The Butterfly Of Life And Death