Multicultural Muses

Muses to Inspire Creativity

Soaring with the Hopi Butterfly Maiden

Queen of Transformation, Metamorphosis, and Change

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated September 9, 2018

Dare to meet the Hopi Butterfly Maiden! She is a kachina, or nature spirit, of Springtime, the season of regeneration, newly blossoming hopes and warm breezes from the south. In the cold clutches of Winter, I reach eagerly for the hope that spring will surely return soon. No matter how much snow falls on our little home in the mountains, I know it will eventually melt away to feed the river. Soon, I'll wear sandals and short skirts again without risk of frostbitten toes.

It is this sure knowledge of spring's return that helps me to survive another long, cold night. The Butterfly Maiden, Queen of Transformation, Metamorphosis, and Change, has much to teach us; as creative souls, we would do well to embrace her lessons.

For artists and writers must also be alchemists and magicians, themselves, in order to do creative work. Alchemy is the art and science of transforming one type of matter into another; for example, the secret of changing lead into gold has been sought for years. Magic is the art and science of creating something where nothing existed before. An artist, a writer, must master these arts; an ace of creation is also an act of transformation. Changing a misty, half-formed inspiration into a real painting, sculpture or story is surely magic in its highest form.

In the high desert hills of Arizona, I meet the Butterfly Maiden by a small, flickering campfire at midnight. Without a word, she leaves the fire behind. We walk silently beneath the bewitching stars; slipping through tangles of sagebrush and cedar. The light of the full moon falls upon the pale sand, our only light. Her footsteps glimmer, as though they are lined with crushed opals.

We walk until dawn. Finally, finally, she finds what she has been seeking — a tiny caterpillar on a cottonwood tree, crawling slowly from leaf to leaf.

"See how she struggles to find just the right place — and time — to weave her cocoon? That shroud of mystery —" The Butterfly Maiden has a beautiful, rough voice that sounds like wind in the cedar trees, the cry of a hunting raven, raindrops beating upon thirsty stone, flames licking sweet grass braids and juniper wood. I nod, completely absorbed in the sight. The caterpillar moves precariously along the edge of a leaf, almost sliding off, then catching herself to trek across another leaf, and up a twig. She moves steadily towards a sheltering branch. Her pace is heartbreakingly slow. Once she has found the ultimate leaf upon which to entrust her survival, she begins to spin.

Long and long, we crouch there, watching with bright eyes. The Butterfly Maiden speaks slowly, and I listen. "So, too, must every artist find a place to work in peace and solitude. All creative endeavors begin alone, in the deep darkness. The artist must withdraw from the world outside, creating space in which to work the magic of transformation that is your true work in this world." As she speaks, the sun races across the sky, always pursued by the moon, late or early. Time stretches out, elastic. The caterpillar slumbers, dreaming butterfly dreams.

"Without a season of darkness and solitude, we cannot emerge into the light. We will never test those bright wings in the sunshine of a summer morning. Indeed, without that season of mystery, spent in a shroud woven of our dreams, we remain mere worms, eating leaves and worrying about blue jays. Without the time of darkness, we forget that we have the capacity for flight; that we carry bright wings inside of us always." As we watch, a wet, crumpled creature tears open the silken chrysalis and struggles out slowly. She basks in the sunshine, slowly warming up and taking the shape of a fabulous butterfly.

"You must face your own darkness without fear. Enter that place willingly, for nothing there will harm you, and, when the time is exactly perfect, emerge from the mystery, bringing back a little bit of magic from that dark place. When you are finally, finally, finally ready use your wings to ascend into the wind with your dreams lifting you ever higher." As she speaks, the butterfly flutters her wings and flits away into the blue sky.

When I turn back to the Butterfly Maiden, I find that she, too, has flown away to a place I cannot follow. Dreaming of butterflies and dragons, I drag my tired self home. I'm a bit worried that my husband has reported me as a missing person — it feels like I've been gone for weeks, maybe even a month. How long does it take for a caterpillar to transform herself into a creature of the air?

But when I arrive at home, it's still Tuesday evening, the same Tuesday evening I left behind when I began this strange adventure. I am utterly transformed, and ready to test my wings.

Try This!

A Hopi kachina doll is a sacred object given to Hopi children to remind them of the unseen spirit world which surrounds us. Today, create your own kachina doll to represent the Butterfly Maiden! Find a peaceful place to work outdoors, or a room in your home where you will not be disturbed. Cloth, wooden beads, twigs, and other natural materials may be used in this project — go wild! Rather than giving you a step-by-step tutorial on doll-making, I encourage you here to play, experiment, and mess around. Follow your intuition, no matter where it leads you. Create something surprising. Delight yourself!

When you have finished, you may wish to use dried sage or sweet grass to smudge the doll, blessing it for your use. Keep her in a safe place, and allow The Butterfly Maiden to inspire new creative projects and transformations!

Next Muse: Seeking the Elusive High Desert Gnome

©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.