The Symbolic Meaning of Crossing Paths With a Monarch Butterfly

Photo: Getty Images/ Matt Champlin
If you spend enough time outside, you’ve likely laid eyes on a monarch butterfly. While they’re just one of many common backyard creatures, including cardinals, fireflies, ladybugs, and praying mantises, few can bring on a childlike sense of enchantment like a monarch—and happening upon one can indicate something significant for you, much in the same way as seeing angel numbers. According to spiritual experts, the sighting of a monarch butterfly can be a message from the universe—a sign pertaining to your personal journey, a transformation, or a new chapter in your life.

Experts In This Article

The symbolism and spiritual meaning of the monarch butterfly

There are many types of butterflies, each with their own meanings and symbolism—and while unique in their own ways, “the monarch butterfly is considered to be the king of butterflies and the most beautiful of all butterflies in the world,” says Cristina Panescu, spiritual healer and psychic at Psychics1on1.

The monarch butterfly’s significance also extends beyond its appearance; monarchs hold a special meaning in some cultures around the world. In Mexico, for instance, monarchs have served as a symbol of connecting the living to the dead, and in Indigenous folklore, it was thought that they were the souls of ancestors visiting from the afterlife. The annual migration of Eastern monarch butterflies from their North American breeding grounds to the oyamel fir forests of Mexico also happens to coincide with the celebration of Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, adding to the mystique surrounding the monarch butterfly.

As such, one can consider the sighting of a monarch butterfly as “a guiding light that directs you to your highest spiritual self,” says Panescu, and moreover, as a symbol of one’s soul evolution, which is, at times, arduous and not without challenges. One could even draw similarities between the soul evolution journey and the migration of the monarchs. The migration entails monarch butterflies traveling thousands of miles, which is made harder with the effects of the current climate crisis, like severe weather changes and increasing droughts that lead to a shortage of milkweed—the plant that provides monarchs with the sustenance needed to carry out the excursion.

The monarch’s ability not just to face these challenges during their long migration journey, but also to reach their final destination using an “internal compass” can serve as a powerful reminder of our intuition—which “never ceases to point us in the right direction,” says Panescu—as well as our inner strength. While monarchs might remain steadfast in their journey despite difficult circumstances, “they constantly go through phases of life and death during their migration,” she says.

“Death for the monarch butterfly is as important as life because their shorter lifespans allow them to complete migration while solving the problems of overpopulation and genetic diversity. It is almost as if the monarch butterfly knows that death is not to be feared—it’s just another essential part of the journey,” Panescu says, bringing to mind the series of small deaths that humans must undergo in order to grow and evolve to reach their highest potential.

While the monarch’s migration is what sets it apart from other types of butterflies, it also undertakes journeys closer to home, like its relatives do.

Intuitive advisor and animal communicator Shifra Nerenberg calls attention to the transformation of a butterfly from a caterpillar: “Too often we forget about the caterpillar who built the cocoon and dissolved in primordial goo in the cocoon in order to recreate itself and tear itself out of the cocoon and become the butterfly.” The transformation that the monarch butterfly undergoes adds an additional layer of meaning to its significance. “When butterflies come up, I think of it as a reminder that we’ve gone through our own transformations and that we have healed parts of ourselves and that we have reached a new level of healing and a new or deeper level of being ourselves,” she says.

With all this in mind, the monarch butterfly is a sign of “strength, endurance, spirituality, trust, sustaining what they believe, transformation, and evolution,” says Panescu—and if you happen upon a monarch, it could signify something in relation to any of these themes.

The spiritual meaning and significance of a monarch butterfly sighting

The context in which you encounter a monarch butterfly—or any type of butterfly—can convey different meanings, but they will typically share the common thread of the aforementioned themes.

For instance, when a butterfly lands on you. “A butterfly landing on you is a spiritual sign that represents you in a season of transformation, growth, spiritual pursuits, and the discovery of your inner truth and wisdom,” says Panescu, and particularly when a monarch lands you, it might offer a message that “you are on the right path and heading in the right direction.” It could also serve as a simple reminder to pay attention to what’s right in front you. “It can be a sign of being careful and grateful for what you have in your life right now,” she says.

If you see a monarch butterfly, simply and peacefully fluttering around you, it might point to a profound internal change that you may not yet be aware of—and in this instance, it can serve as inspiration to trust in the journey and embrace your truth, says Panescu. And if you happen to see a dead monarch butterfly? This event—though perhaps a dismaying one—can have a profound meaning. “It means that you are about to begin a new stage in your journey, which means stepping into a new vibration and growing from there,” she says.

Whether a monarch butterfly flutters into view, lands onto your arm, or appears in your dreams, it’s both a sign and an invitation: “It’s an invitation to see your own transformative possibilities. It’s an invitation to transform. It can also be an invitation to see your own beauty or tend to your own inner beauty,” says Nerenberg.

What to do when you see a monarch butterfly

“When we see monarch butterflies, it’s an opportunity for us to see where we can offer additional sustenance or support,” says Nerenberg. Monarchs, which were once a common sight, are now an endangered species, as pesticides, urban developments, and climate change have drastically reduced the numbers of the creature. For example, monarch experts recommend planting milkweed and nectar plants that are native to your region to help save the species.

Spiritually speaking, “when you see a butterfly, especially a monarch butterfly, take a deep breath into and from your belly and just soak in the beauty of the sight of them and feel that loveliness in your whole body,” says Nerenberg. “It is a blessing when you see a butterfly, whether they stop on a flower or something nearby or touch down on a part of your body or take a rest on your car while you’re parked. It’s about awareness and being present in the moment so that you can receive the blessing of that beautiful sight and really embody it.”

If a butterfly flutters into your dreams, it may also indicate a transformation. While the butterfly often has positive connotations, it’s possible to wake up feeling unsettled from the dream, which could be a sign of a different meaning altogether. “When we’re feeling unsettled after a dream, it’s usually because there is resistance to whatever came up or that we are continuing to hold ourselves back in some way,” says Nerenberg. “I think that when we have dreams that leave us unsettled, especially if it was about a butterfly or monarch butterfly, I would encourage folks to really lean into how to love themselves more.”

No matter how they show up for you, encountering monarch butterflies on a regular basis—whether in dreams or real life—is something to take note of. “Butterfly symbolism is potent and meaningful. It has the power to guide and inspire us through life’s challenges,” Panescu says. “Many cultures look at this ornately beautiful flying insect with deep reverence and use it as a symbol for many life concepts, so it may be a good idea to keep a diary and document events and how you felt during your encounter with this phenomenal creature.”

Frequently asked questions

What is the spiritual meaning of the butterfly?

Generally speaking, “it’s all about transformation because that’s what butterflies do,” says Nerenberg. “They are transformed into the cocoon and then come out of that as something new, as a new version of themselves.”

What does it mean when a butterfly visits you?

When considering the meaning of a butterfly visit, it’s important to think about the context of the encounter. If you see a butterfly, for instance, it could point to a change on your horizon or invite you to pay closer attention to what’s in front of you. A butterfly landing on you might indicate a transformation that will inspire your own metamorphosis, or serve as a reminder to follow your truth.

Why is a butterfly a good omen?

According to Nerenberg, “I like to think in part that [butterflies are good omens] because they’re so beautiful and so fascinating to watch and witness. There is a sense of wonder and delight.” Butterflies also symbolize themes related to transformation, strength, and trust, and spotting one can be a reminder of our own ability for positive change, our inner strength in overcoming challenges, and the importance of trusting in our own internal compass.

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