Insects and the Initiation of the Self

CicadaThe ghostly white moths and the persistent cicadas come to my window at night. The moths are silent as the spectres they resemble, but the fat cicadas hum and buzz as they try to find an opening in the screen to fly through the bedroom window. I didn’t know there’d be a cycle of cicadas metamorphosing into winged adults during my visit. I’ve already found a few dead ones while weeding my mother’s garden. I have seen the golden cicada of myth twice, both times at natural thresholds, of course, since it belongs to the old forest gods of crossroads and doorways. Along with the honey bee, cicadas are creatures of intoxication and ecstasy and make excellent familiars for mystics, seers, and wanderers between worlds.

Moths and cicadas symbolize change, metamorphosis, and rebirth. They belong to the moon and Old Woman. She sends them to remind me, to push me, to warn me –all things change. It’s best not to become complacent, stuck, or too accommodating as no matter what you want, hope, or expect, things will always change. Like the bees and beautiful tiger swallowtail butterflies that stalk me while the sun is up, the moths and cicadas also represent initiation. We witches like to think there’s only one initiation (wouldn’t that be so much easier and less painful?), but in truth initiation is ever constant as we continue to experience, learn, grow, and change as human beings and as magical practitioners through our varied, and many, rites of passage. Everything is a lesson, an initiation, but this is especially so of all the pain and sorrow we undergo. As with insects, you must find beauty and necessity within what causes you fear and discomfort.

Fireflies, Honey, and SilkAny time I get stuck in a rut or a bad place in my life, Old Woman stands at the crossroads waiting for me, reminding me that I must make decisions to be catalysts of change in my life. Old Woman guides, but Old Man is also there putting obstacles and doubts in my path to show me my strengths and weaknesses. If I choose to ignore such a threshold, choosing instead to make no choice, it will always come back to me and no matter where I run or hide, I always end up back at that damn crossroad again with the same decision to make surrounded by butterflies, moths, bees, and cicadas. After all, we cannot run from a fate we create for ourselves, now can we?

To learn about the necessary, but painful process of metamorphosis and initiation, I read about insects. If they can survive it maybe I can too and maybe they can give me some helpful hints along the way. I quickly realized I’d judged these much maligned creatures wrongly and harshly. I learned the facts I believed about insects that made me fear and dislike them were untrue. I learned they’re actually quite wonderful, beautiful, and necessary to the survival of our ecosystem. Maybe some of the things I believe about myself are untrue and maybe I have been focusing on the bad instead of the good. Old Woman says I told you so and Old Man just winks at me.

If you want to peek into the magical world of insects for yourself, I highly recommend Fireflies, Honey, and Silk by Gilbert Waldbauer, a professor of entomology who is my grandfather’s age and wrote a book of beauty, history, mythology, folklore, and natural science on his favourite creatures. And now to seek out some honey in the pantry to help smooth my way for the transition and initiation that is metamorphosis…

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  • Thank you for posting about this subject… I have a hard time understanding and appreciating ground insects. This makes me a wonder a little bit more about their purpose in the spiritual world.


  • Snow says:

    With my Shadow having Cockroach as a totem we are often much more mindful of the little guys, I’d just made a post about how City vermin are still animals, people forget that they represent totems and messages too! I am glad insects are in your life as of late too! They are on the brain for us as it gets warmer!

    • I was totally thinking of the Roach as well. I just dropped a cockroapocolypse in my house as a neighbor or something (maybe city work on pipse) moved a horde from somewhere into my kitchen. Wipping out drawers, bottoms and sides. Cleaning out everything so that the vermin don’t continue to multiply. The thought of the little buggers crawling over my utencils, on surfaces and then eating off them. *SHUDDER* BLECK*

      I always give apology and blessings for their passing. Heck I even send out a little message that says, “don’t come here, I don’t want to kill you.” Yet they still come.

      I am going to think about the totemic aspect of that.

  • It is going around at the moment i think… I saw my first ever Stag Beetle the other day (the biggest insect we have in the UK), spotted a maybug bashing against the window and bees have been on my mind quite a bit.

    I have a lovely Death’ Head Hawkmoth pinned in a glass box on a shelf, i think it might be time to take him down and put him somewhere more prominent.

  • Oh so very well said…

    “Maybe some of the things I believe about myself are untrue and maybe I have been focusing on the bad instead of the good. Old Woman says I told you so and Old Man just winks at me.”

    Heh. Darn it. 😉

    Life is an intiation.
    xoxoxoxo Cyn

  • dre says:

    Ah, synchronicity. A wonderful (and timely) post. I’ve spent a long time being the weird girl who defends the cicadas and bees, beetles and flies. Especially the cicadas. I spend the summer staying the hands of a lot of bug-squashers, trying to get them to see insects in a different light (even just enough to let them live). Most won’t. It’s nice to see that other people get it, too—not only from a scientific or ecological point of view, but also from a place of understanding how we are all connected, and how that which seems so different from us can actually teach us much about ourselves.

    I can’t even imagine a summer without the cicadas’ song… Hearing that sound induces the same feeling as a meditative state. It is stillness and movement all in one moment. It is very powerful. And for me, very healing. No matter what else is going on in my life, when summer comes, and the cicadas sing in the long shadows of the golden evening, I know that everything is ok. It is difficult to explain, but it is an innate feeling of everything being exactly as it should, and a sense of my place in the universe and the knowledge that I am ok, no matter the changes and difficulties going on around me. I breathe deeper.

    Someone should study whatever special brainwave inducing frequency they’re emitting. Lol. It hooks straight into mine. I wonder if it effects anyone else that way? Surely it must.

  • black flight says:

    they are fascinating and to be respected.

  • Pombagira says:

    well gosh, the old woman and old man you say, bees, bumble bees.. *looks over shoulder* you been peeking?

    i am glad you posted this, i needed to read it.. *grins*..

    thank you!! timely as always..


  • Lovely! I am enamored with Cicadas and I think that they are my favorite insect. Their organic-mechanical buzz in August is the sound of the dying Solar King. I welcome their sound as the herald of Autumn. Several Cicada corpses have made their way into my keeping and joined the menagerie of snake skins, moths, and other discarded remains on one of my altars. Thanks for the insight into the initiations of the insects.

  • Harold Roth says:

    Back in the eighties, some folks into New Age shamanism told me that I should beware of insects, that they represented evil in the spirit world. I had no love for insects at that time, but I felt this could not be right. They are animals like any other, and that had to mean they also had spiritual powers. At that time I was experimenting with spinning wool and dyeing it with plant materials. I was growing a bunch of orange cosmos and would pick the flower heads to dry to later use. I remember the first time I accidentally grabbed a bee and it did not sting my palm, just scratched it and flew off when I opened my hand. It was the first time I realized that insects not only have a real intelligence (as opposed to a so-called “hive mind”) but could also have regard for other creatures. IOW, stinging wasn’t an instinct. It was a decision. To me, that meant an intelligence and that meant a soul.

    I am really sorry you are not going to be working with wood anymore, but I have enjoyed your artwork as well, and I know you will give us many wonderful images.

  • sara says:

    In my opinion, seeing as the insects outnumber us so vastly, and that many will outlive us as a species, we really need to show some respect and learn more about them. It’s not just living and letting live. It would be interesting to catalog how many insects appear in mythology, and how and when and which. Not just Spider Grandmother, mind you, or Arachne the weaver, or the Thriae. Everyone.
    We get the odd Asian cockroach in the house from time to time, and one of the cats will play with it until it escapes generally. And then of course there are ants. And moths, dragonflies, crane flies, ladybugs. The fact that these critters are denizens of my garden, along with more spider species than I can shake a stick at, tells me the garden is a good place to be.

  • yerbatera says:

    As always, a great post! I was the ‘wasp whisperer’ when living in the north Cali valley so that we could exit/enter the house and the wooden gated driveway, as my partner is allergic to them. I also enjoyed the curious and friendly honeybees who would visit with me when hanging my laundry on the line to dry.