The iconic Monarch Butterfly, central to the symbolism of Dia de los Muertos and Mexican folklore, faces extinction. Day of the Dead conjures images of comforting hot chocolate, fragrant pan de muerto, and monarch butterflies decorating a cempasuchil-covered ofrenda. To continue our mission to help save the monarchs, we would like to commemorate and celebrate what the long history, mythology, and meaning behind the butterfly in México.
The Indigenous Roots
The arrival of the monarch butterfly has always been a culturally significant event for many indigenous communities throughout mesoamerican history and into today.
- In Teotihuacan, c. 200AD–900AD, stamps, headdresses, nose rings, frescos, and ceramics were adorned with imagery of butterflies.
- For the Toltec, c. 900AD–1168AD, the butterfly appeared on the breastplates of Tula warriors.
- Chichʼen Itza', the famous Maya temple from c.600–1200AD, bore motifs of the butterfly carved into its ceremonial walls.
- The Pre-columbian Mexica, later to become the Aztecs, created feather artisanry, codices, murals, stamps, headdresses, ceramics, blankets, and more adorned with images of butterflies.
- Various groups associated the butterflies with the spirits of fallen warriors, important figures, or simply the spirits of ancestors returning to visit their families.
- The Purépecha, as well as the Mazahua of Michoacan, Mexico associate the return of the monarch butterflies with the corn harvest. Their arrival symbolizes the arrival of ancestral spirits, joining us in celebration of the harvest.
In Contemporary México...
The butterfly, namely the monarch butterfly, remains an important cultural symbol for many indigenous groups and within the national culture of Mexico (even appearing on the 50 peso bill!)
- The cities and regions of Papaloapan, Papalotepec, Papalotipac, and Papalotlan are all named after butterflies. Papalotepec meaning "Hill of the Butterflies" and Papalotlan meaning "Place Abounding with Butterflies".
- Contemporary Otomí, Nahua, Wixarika, and Purépecha are just a handful of indigenous groups today that continue to make artisanal goods adorned with images of monarch butterflies.
- Día de Muertos celebrations have adopted the monarch butterfly, taking its original ancestral spirit lore and fitting it nicely with the holiday of celebrating our ancestors.
- The Monarch butterfly, traveling between countries in North America freely, have become an important icon of immigration and a symbol of immigrants.
The Monarch Butterfly, as culturally significant as it has been for the people of Mexico throughout time, is under threat of extinction. Numbers have dropped by 97% and conservation is crucial to ensuring the species survives. La Monarca Bakery and Ecolife Conservation have teamed up, with 1% of all proceeds donated to protecting and preserving the monarch butterflies.