Butterfly Tattoos: Symbolism and Meaning

The butterfly is a curious creature. It starts out life as a caterpillar and then goes through a miraculous transformation as it turns into a delicate, beautiful butterfly.

It is truly one of life’s miracles and it has also inspired ancients and moderns alike. It is also one of the most popular tattoos for women, but what does it really mean and what does it symbolize?

Curious Butterfly

The butterfly makes for a fantastic-looking tattoo. In fact, many people love to paint the wings with colors and make it really stand out in a crowd. But it’s also worth noting that the butterfly also has many meanings, including:

  • Freedom and Liberation
  • Grace, Dignity, and Beauty
  • Transformation of the Spirit, the Body, and the Mind
  • Rebirth after Trauma and Difficult Times
  • Coming out of a Personal Shell and Being True to Yourself
  • Personal Confidence

Power of Change, Resurrection, and Rebirth

The butterfly is one of few creatures that quite literally transforms into something else. For this reason, it has always been associated with rebirth and resurrection.

In the Christian tradition, the butterfly represents a rebirth of the soul and is also directly associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The caterpillar represents a grosser material form, just as most of us are on this planet. But as it transforms into the butterfly, it is liberated from this base form and becomes free. In this sense, the butterfly symbolizes a spiritual transformation and not just a resurrection of the physical body.

Butterfly Effect

Should you ever wonder about what power the butterfly has, just think of the term “butterfly effect”. Whilst this term originated in chaos theory, it has come to be used in popular culture too.

The great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote about this effect in his story “A Sound of Thunder”. In the story, a group of hunters travels back 66 million years to the Cretaceous period of Earth to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

They must stick to a specific pathway so as not to make changes to the future timeline.

As they are dealing with the angry dinosaur, one of the groups steps off the pathway and accidentally crushes a butterfly underfoot. Once they return to the present time, they notice that many things are different, including how people speak.

This is attributed to the single small change of a dead butterfly and the far-reaching effect that it can have, just like a ripple in the water spreading out from a central point.

Symbol of Hope and Freedom

We have always been fascinated with flight. The butterfly is unique in that it starts out life as a creature that is completely earthbound and then is rebirthed into a delicate flying insect.

In this context the butterfly not only reminds us that flying equals freedom and liberation but also reminds us that we may one day liberate ourselves.

Just as the caterpillar escapes its earthbound life and becomes the majestic and colorful butterfly, we might too one day be liberated from our fears and attain our own dreams.

Soul of the Butterfly

We must also go back to the ancient Greeks to look at how the butterfly was important to them. In Greek, the word psyche means butterfly. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because we take our word psyche from the Greeks.

While to us, psyche is about the mind of a person, it was more closely associated with the human soul for the Greeks.

Just as the butterfly is liberated from the shell of the chrysalis and the caterpillar’s skin as it flies away, our souls are also liberated upon our deaths as they fly to the underworld.

In this context, the butterfly’s soul is trapped within the body of the caterpillar before it is transformed. It is bound to a form that is not free and is also considered ugly by many.

The chrysalis becomes the shell and the vehicle through which the magical transformation takes place. Thus, the butterfly is created just as the soul is liberated from the body.

Should You Get a Butterfly Tattoo?

One of the many great things about the butterfly is that it is very flexible as a tattoo. It can be inked in a variety of pigments, making it look unique. It can be done in the micro tattoo style, making it small, or it can be placed over a larger area such as the back or the chest.

In many ways, the butterfly is most closely associated with women and femininity. That is not to say that it has never been considered important by men. Indeed, for the ancient Greeks, the symbolism was very clear.

But in today’s world, many women love both the beauty of the butterfly and the symbolism.

If you happen to love the delicate beauty of the butterfly, this may be reason enough to have one done. You may simply enjoy the colors and the associations with personal freedom that the butterfly conveys.

Others may have a profound connection to the transformative power of the butterfly. As it transforms from caterpillar to butterfly within the shell of the chrysalis, it symbolizes our capacity to undergo trauma and come out a better and more hopeful person on the other side.

It also represents our capacity to transform ourselves through sheer hard work and experience into a more liberated person.

People of all types can relate to the butterfly whether they are shy and withdrawn or loud and passionate. It is one of the wonders of life and we should be thankful that we can celebrate life through the beauty of a butterfly tattoo.

Types of Butterfly Tattoos

So what kind of butterfly tattoo should you get? Here are some ideas:

Two Butterfly Tattoo

In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together represents love.

Colorful Butterfly Tattoo

A butterfly with many colors in the wings is not only beautiful and eye-catching but may also appeal to those who are more extroverted, or those who simply relate to the grace and beauty of the butterfly.

Large Butterfly Tattoo

A large butterfly tattoo across the upper back can resemble fairy wings or small angel wings and may symbolize one’s capacity to undergo personal transformation and rebirth or find hope and freedom in a dark world.


The butterfly is one amazing creature and we have been inspired by it for centuries. It symbolizes many things including freedom, soul, love, grace, transformation, and rebirth.

For these reasons, it has also become one of the most popular tattoos for women around the world, though it is sometimes used by men as part of larger tattoo designs and to convey meaning.

Whether you feel some profound connection to the butterfly as a transformative motif, have a spiritual connection to it, or simply love the grace, dignity, and beauty of the creature, there is no doubt that a butterfly tattoo can be an eye-catching motif.

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