Perhaps because butterflies have beautiful patterns and are rarely seen, people often attach meanings to the insect. A butterfly in the home is conspicuous, and people might relate unusual happenings that occur after seeing the butterfly to the sighting. Different cultures interpret a visiting butterfly differently, and diverse, even contradictory meanings exist across the world.
The different meanings of a butterfly sighting in the house can be contradictory, but they often have links to life and death. The transformation of a plain caterpillar into a vibrantly beautiful butterfly triggers images of a human's own life stages, including birth, marriage, death, burial and resurrection. People often interpret a butterfly to be a soul, perhaps because it flies in a hesitant manner, much like a soul reluctant to leave the living world.
The Japanese believe that a butterfly is the soul of a person, who can be alive or dead. When a person dies, he takes the form of a butterfly to announce his departure. Sometimes, the soul of a person who is alive and sleeping can also fly out as a butterfly. Because of this, the Japanese treat a butterfly that enters the home kindly, as the soul of a loved relative or friend might reside in the butterfly and has come to visit them. Similarly, the Irish prohibited the killing of white butterflies in the 1600s because they were believed to be the souls of dead children.
People in certain areas in North America, such as Maryland, believe that a butterfly that enters the home and flies around someone foretells his death or the death of someone he knows. Strangely, the same sign in Louisiana means that the person will have good luck. The Celts associate the butterfly with mortality, believing that seeing one at night serves as a death omen. Samoans don't catch butterflies because they believe they will be struck dead if they do.
A butterfly in the house can be taken to foretell another major life event: marriage. In Brunswick, England, if the first butterfly someone sees in a new season is variegated, it means that he or someone he knows will get married.
The meaning of a butterfly's actions falls in the field of mystic knowledge. No rational or scientific reason supports these beliefs. Because people glean the knowledge from personal insights and experiences, the meanings change depending on location and geography. A single person can change the meanings he attributes to a certain omen as he encounters and integrates other ideas into his beliefs. Therefore, a meaning that a person attributes to an omen is often highly personal, and there might be no all-inclusive meaning for the omen.