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  • Writer's pictureMandira Antar

Butterfly tattoo symbol - Ideas & meaning

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Butterflies, symbol of the Spring and Summer, amazingly coloured by the hand of God himself, are a constant reminder that whatever is really beautiful is bound to be hard and never eternal.

back of a hand with a realistic butterfly black and grey tattoo
Black & Grey realistic Butterfly tattoo inked by Mandira

Isn't it true that we feel a bit of joy and admiration every time we meet with a butterfly that happily flutters among the flowers?

Symbolically speaking, the archetypal analogy of metamorphosis / transformation is very common in many cultures around the globe when it comes to the butterfly.

(Διαβάστε την Ελληνική έκδοση εδώ )

One of the most meaningful koans of the great Master of Tao, Chuang Tzu is about the butterfly:

"Once Chuang Tzu dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased.  He didn't know he was Chuang Tzu.  Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Tzu.  But he didn't know if he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu. Between Chuang Tzu and a butterfly there must be some distinction!"

This story is about the awareness that everything we perceive is nothing but a dream.

The butterfly is connected to the inner transformation that can happen to our spirit. In order to evolve we have to pass through all the stages of the butterfly transformation. We have to meet, accept and endure our inner caterpillar and wait patiently through the dark stage of the chrysalis so that we can be born again into the free and beautiful butterfly.




Native American cultures believe that butterflies can take wishes up to the Great Spirit.

In Greek mythology, in the myth of Cupid & Psyche, we see the Psyche usually depicted with butterfly feathers (left image). Anyhow, the Greek ancient word for the butterfly is "psyche".

In Ancient Greece and Rome the soul left the body in the form of a butterfly.

There is also a symbolic connection between the butterfly and God Hermes. Each stage of the butterfly transformation is connected to the three levels/characteristics of God Hermes:

  1. Protector of commerce / the stage of caterpillar

  2. Messenger of Gods / stage of the chrysalis and

  3. Psychopomp, guiding the souls / stage of the butterfly

In many cultures the butterfly is a reminder of beauty, Spring, fertility, happiness, love and always has a connotation to our spirit and soul, our connection to life and death.

White butterflies where often considered to represent the souls of ancestors or babies.

Did you know?

Norwegian photographer Kjell Bloch Sandved, devoted his career in finding the entire Latin alphabet in butterfly feathers, creating a mesmerising iconic image .




Butterfly tattoo meaning and placement

The butterfly is, not surprisingly, a very common tattoo choice. Black or coloured, in every available style, it is safe and impressive. Watercolour, new and old school, Japanese, linear, mandala style, realistic, you name it, there is definitely a design that will make you feel connected to this symbol.

It can be placed in every part of your body and look amazing. We often see it in hand/arm placements relating the movement of the wings with your hands, or on the upper back where the wings would be if we had any... The neck placement is very standard, giving a freedom of expression and enhancing creativity. I also adore the leg placements: upper ankle, shin, calf or thigh. Leg placement gives us strength to accomplish whatever our higher self knows is best for us. It gives a connection between the earth and the sky, the material and the spiritual. Coloured butterfly around the first and second chakra - especially in pairs - is assisting our fertility and sexuality / sensuality as well.

Sometimes, we see them combined with flowers, enhancing the energy of fertility and femininity. Pictured on a face - placed on the mouth or the eyes - , in my perspective is a reminder of changes that need to take place in our lives as well as ability to see and speak our inner truth.

Never forget that a tattoo and a symbol take their meaning from the wearer as well!

Following, some butterfly tattoos I chose to share with you:



  1. The Living Labyrinth: Exploring Universal Themes in Myths, Dreams, and the Symbolism of Waking Life, Jeremy Taylor


Check out my tattoo page and message me for a custom design that we co-create with love and enthusiasm! Like our facebook page to stay in touch! About Mandira Antar

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