by Stanley Messenger
Behold the plant:
It is the butterfly
Fettered by the earth.
Behold the butterfly:
It is the plant
Freed by the cosmos.
When John asked me do a piece on butterflies I was very pleased, much more so than if he had suggested I do one on crop-circles. It is not that I think that crop-circles are getting too much attention, far from it. I think it is vital that paranormal matters get as much airing as possible now that paranormal experiences are conspicuously on the increase. However, it is painfully apparent that some aspects of natural observation have suffered through this change. It would be a good starting point to enquire why this should be so, especially in a field of observation like the world of butterflies, an area which remarkably few people are moved to enter.
I don't think the reason for this is very far to seek, provided one is open-minded enough to admit that the appearance of things like crop-circles and UFOs, as matters to be taken seriously by people who are not necessarily irremediably eccentric, has made a lot of natural science as treated by Kantian/Cartesian materialists profoundly boring, and indeed unconvincing, to many more people than just a few wild croppies and ufologists. Sooner or later their studies are bound to make more people ask provocative questions about how much paranormality we have been missing, in many more well-trodden areas of natural observation than have hitherto been found just in corn fields, or for that matter in the night sky, where we don’t exactly tread, but where we certainly strain our eyes towards something transcendent.
I have to warn you at this stage that the gap between the ‘Entomology of Lepidoptera’ (much of which consists of endless arguments about names, so-called ‘taxonomy’) and anything real and meaningful about the actual nature of the butterfly, is a huge one. To bridge that gap we practically have to pull to pieces everything contemporary science has to say about the orders of nature. If you’re prepared for this, read on. I know this sounds arrogant, but it is I believe less arrogant than much of contemporary science, which has little to offer apart from left-brain analysis of ever more detailed factual information. It has largely lost the capacity to observe or even recognise whole entities.
To return to the topic of provocative questions, it is these questions, questions about largely unobserved paranormalities, that I have found myself asking for many years, such questions, for instance, as this. Do you really think a butterfly is just an insect? I mean really, just a secular bug? But then, have you ever actually looked? Don’t imagine I’m imputing blame or taking the mickey. But I quite seriously suggest that very few people have through their education any consistent opportunity to look at what is really there in the world around them. As far as butterfly is concerned, most of what was conveyed to me as a child about them was essentially trivial. I was dismissed as a silly bug-hunter and not a proper boy. It wasn’t the other kids’ fault, not even that of parents and teachers who did their best to facilitate if not to actively support my interest. But there was certainly the implication that I could be more healthily occupied. Of course in many ways it is better now. Television has made a big difference and many of the nature programmes are beautifully done. Young people are encouraged to take an active interest in ‘wild life’, particularly in such creatures as tigers and dolphins, anything which is in danger of extinction through human perversity, ignorance and greed.
But there is a down side. The emphasis on so-called ‘higher animals’ is invariably linked with the cliché ‘man and other animals’. Many find this a revolting affront to natural feeling if not specifically blasphemous, quite independently of religious affiliations or even of their insights into alternative realities. This misconception is often linked with feelings about so-called animal rights, which on a feeling level are perfectly valid and of great importance. We shall return to them.
Meanwhile, however, the man and other animals misconception needs looking at in more depth since it fouls up so much of our communication with them. Let’s look at some of the implications. If we say man and other animals we can say animals and other plants, plants and other minerals, minerals and other energy manifestations. These are all justified provided we ignore the downgrading implications. The fact is there is a thoroughly unpleasant emotional tone implicit in reductionist science. At times there is a repulsive unwillingness to attribute to each order of nature an orientation towards the next higher level to which its life-form aspires, a kind of fart in the face of divinity, a denial of the possibility of upgrading in the process of becoming, of a spiritual element in the reality of metamorphosis, of an evolutionary step onto a higher level of being. Instead we have an obsession with entropy, Big Bang at one end and nought degrees absolute at the other. Darwin perceived the evolutionary process and promptly turned it on its head, so that life became a fortuitous blip in the general entropic slide towards death. None of this has any relationship towards the nature of truth. If one is looking for proof as between reductionism and upgrading in nature the case is as broad as it’s long. It depends where you start with your axiomatic assumptions and in which direction you are looking. Logic does what it’s told; it is we who choose the starting points and orientation for the rational process according to our intuitions. Axioms are always in this sense arbitrary. When it comes to the deepest self-observation in our relation to what we regard as true and real we have an inbuilt bias in the direction of aspiration and enhancement which is our only yardstick for judging what is true and false. In this respect there is sheer willful blindness in our refusal to recognise that between one order of nature and the next there’s an enhancement of principle, an evolutionary step onto a higher level. Let’s list them:
Mineral Embodiment of matter out of energy as far as crystal form – Physical
Plant Crystalline form enhanced to metamorphic form: life principle – Etheric
Animal Awareness of feeling and motivation. Dawn of psychic nature – Astral
Human Self identity, unique ability of individual to say I to itself – Ego [I]
There is even a dawning awareness on the human level of a spiritual awareness beyond the psychic, forecasting the possibility of further ‘kingdoms’ beyond the human to which the human can aspire and even evolve.
This brings us back to the subject of Animal Rights. Acknowledgement of these rights recognises that their capacity for pleasure and pain, even prior to self-awareness, confers upon both animals and ourselves a two-way relationship of nobility which it is a privilege to acknowledge. Individual animals are even able to aspire to a step beyond this, but usually only when drawn into higher and deeper experience by a gifted human being. This is a counterpart of the ascent of human consciousness onto a level beyond the human, impulsed as a rule by an entity on an angelic or higher level of evolution. Many a horse-whisperer, dog-lover and cat companion has magical tales to tell of insights closed to the many who despise, thoughtlessly devour or otherwise mistreat animals. People who ‘collect’ butterflies without otherwise relating to the true being of Butterfly are conspicuously in this category. But to regard and attempt to treat animals as a limited kind of ‘people’ becomes a sort of sentimental sucking up to them that does no credit to true humanity, and certainly not to a true recognition of animal nature. It springs from a failure to awaken to the reality of the human-I nature and ultimately to its spirituality. This, although founded upon animal nature, is not identical with it, just as animality is grounded upon vegetable nature and plant upon mineral nature, but in each case transcends the less evolved identity.
The practice of thoughtless meat-eating while still being a sentimental animal-lover introduces us to the vital reality of what we call the ‘food-chain’. Thoughtless meat-eating violates the evolution of the human beyond the animal to a level where responsibility for the nature upon which humanity is grounded becomes possible.
Possibility means obligatory if valid human nature is to be maintained. This does not make meat-eating wrong, although it often makes it inadvisable. It certainly imposed on us the obligation to be personally responsible in our attitudes towards the animals we eat, as tribal societies always were. So-called ‘materialistic’ science is shown by such considerations to downgrade human capacity for conscious self-aware thinking, and its implication for moral action. Practising the conscious exercise of these thoughts awakens us further to the mysteries of the food chain. It begins to dawn upon us that we too have our place in this chain, which is an essential, indeed inevitable, feature of the process of metamorphic evolution. This means taking on board the possibility that there are higher grades in the food chain than the human as well as lower.
What can they possibly be?
No, I don’t mean that crocodiles, tigers and sharks occasionally eat people. Such a reversal of the food-chain if it became widespread could ultimately destroy humanity. Disease resulting from abuse and depletion of necessary nutrients is already widespread and could deteriorate further. Part of the function of the food chain is precisely to clear the field of what has become diseased or superfluous. We largely misinterpret the function of parasites, viruses, etc. So far from causing disease they limit its effects by feeding on the rubbish. (Keep your eyes open, crocodiles!)
All this is an anomalous function of the food-chain as it should normally operate. But there is, so to speak, a ‘real’ food chain as well, which is a love-based dialogue between each order of nature and the orders above and below it. The plant gave rise to the animal towards which it aspires and offers its superfluous matter to keep its beloved in existence. The animal in turn fertilises the plant, helps in its distribution and pollination, acknowledging at the same time its own and the plants’ dependence on the mineral which they repay in subtle ways, by maintaining it in form and modifying its rhythms in the direction of further creativity. Turning towards the animal offers its living, psychic ground as a base for human consciousness and its flesh for sustenance, pending the time when humanity can free itself from animal, plant and mineral in turn, become self-sustaining and raise the planet to the level of a star. At that stage each kingdom in turn ascends to the level of the one above it and manifests there in forms of which even the gods themselves are still in ignorance. And so on up. Big Bang? Ultimate energy death at 4 degrees absolute, when the word ‘event’ ceases to have meaning? Possibly not.
In this scenario where does humanity figure? Who looks from above upon us as we look upon the animal? Whom do we provide with ground for their existence as we aspire to attain their level of evolution?
We have been taught by implication through our Kantian-Cartesian philosophy and the science based upon it that we, humanity, are at the top of the evolutionary tree. There appears to be no kingdom of nature physically perceptible above us to which we can look up in aspiration as mineral looks on plant, plant on animal and animal upon us. Paranormality, breaking through from God knows where in the largely speculative form of UFOs and in our crop-fields has re-opened in the last 50 years a kind of desperate hope that what was once passionately believed in through religion would at last appear in comprehensible form in common consciousness on Earth. But we are still hamstrung in our whole conceptual life by an inability to grasp that layer after layer of dimensions is hammering at our consciousness from above. Esotericists and New-Agers, grasping at the theosophy of 100 years ago, speak glibly of etheric and astral dimensions, but few are able to look into these in a concrete way. Many of these, like Rupert Sheldrake for example, have had great difficulty in breaking free from analogies with the electromagnetic processes in the physical world when trying to describe such concepts as the morphogenetic field.
Rudolf Steiner specifically calls the etheric realm two-dimensional. We have been conditioned to think of ascension beyond three dimensions as passing into fourth or fifth dimensional reality. Two-dimensional experience is the realm of picture. The astral, animal realm is one-dimensional, the world of sound. If we are to conceive of beings in a world immediately accessible above our own we need to do so by first picturing them and then beyond picturing them, hearing them. These are the processes Steiner calls Imagination, picture-forming, and Inspiration, speech and music beyond the physical and etheric. We look and listen to something beyond our perception though not beyond our thinking, and the thinking then begins to open our perception of the next order of nature above our own. Steiner and many others call this the angel realm. Castaneda speaks of eagles. The eagle’s gift to us is to open the door to communication with the next dimensional sphere and ultimately to our ascension onto that level. Our gift to them is nourishment. Angels and archangels feed upon the surplus astral mailer left from our excess emotions. This gives them the vitality to heal us and open doors whereby we can draw near to them, just as the horse does to the ‘whisperer’.
I believe we now have enough perspective on the various realms of reality and their interactions to ask again what I called my ‘provocative question’ about Butterfly. Is a butterfly just a bug? We can now add a further question. If it is not a bug, where does Butterfly stand in the food chain in the light of the exposition I have developed above?
The starting point is that it doesn’t. Its egg does. Its caterpillar does. Its chrysalis does. Even the insect body which emerges from the chrysalis does. But Butterfly itself doesn’t. Because Butterfly itself is etheric not physical. Even science partly recognises this when it calls the final stage of the butterfly’s metamorphosis ‘the image’. Butterfly itself therefore is a two-dimensional etheric picture, which actually also speaks out of a one-dimensional astral background. It comes towards the completed insect from elsewhere. The insect provides a screen upon which this picture from elsewhere is thrown. The insect is an animal. The animal nature yearns towards the image and the yearning forms in the screen. Upon this screen the picture, the evocative, articulate, mathematical colour-form of Butterfly is thrown.
Now we come to the most mysterious question of all, By what medium, by what language of communication does this transmutation from pictorial to physical substance take place? We can give the answer in a single word.., dust! This shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it probably will be to many unless they look at the many realms in which particulate consciousness has started to emerge in recent times.
Particle physicists become aware that some particles respond to their intentions.
’The Mother’, Sri Aurobindo’s companion, spent a lifetime trying to access the individual consciousness of the cells of the body (ref. Satprem, The Mind of the Cells)
Read Philip Pullman, His Dark Material. Too many aspects to specify here.
Transubstantiation doctrine. Relation of ‘the host’ to what moves beyond physical substance in the Mass.
Sai Baba’s ‘vibuti’.
If you look at a butterfly under a microscope you will see that the wing bears a startling resemblance to a magnified television screen. Serried ranks of microscopic scales, particles of shellac dust sculptured into light-refracting ridges. So the paranormal picture which manifests in the physical world as Butterfly does so by means of a systematic mathematical arrangement of fine particles. Hence the term Lepidoptera, scaly wings from the Greek lepis, a scale. Steiner says that no physical matter in nature more nearly approaches the next level of manifestation, the etheric, than these scales. Even when they cease to be functional as the picture-forming element on the wing, as happens continuously throughout the insect’s life, they are scattered into the atmosphere, where they do not decay as happens to most organic matter; they simply evaporate, transubstantiate into the etheric dimension. Steiner compared this with the transubstantiation of the host during a Christian Mass. When the picture has gone, therefore, even the dust particules which carried it are transformed back into the etheric substance which carried them into the physical. Much can be learned about this from Philip Pullman’s recent work, His Dark Material.
I have indicated that dust is a language of communication. So far from being a rare and exceptional phenomenon this linguistic secret is virtually universal in organic life. Its unique character in the Butterfly situation is that the true form of the being is so ephemeral. One drop of oil on the wing and the picture disappears leaving only the ‘screen’ on which it was projected. When ants devour the dead body of the insect, the wing ‘screen’, which they do not eat, has dessicated, turned to dust, almost before they have finished their meal. So even the ‘screen’ escapes the food-chain.
Although the line of communication between substance and form always involves a language of particles, in most cases the resultant form is more firmly grounded in the substance, which makes it more persistent. In human beings for example there may be scattering of the form by a bomb explosion, or by the slow deterioration of the aging process ending in death. In either case the scattering of the dust, in this case the actual cells of the body, which are more tightly bound together than scales ranged like roof-tiles on a wing, causes the disappearance into another dimension of what we recognise as a person. If we look for correspondences, the person is the ‘imago’, which approaches the organic substance of growth through a similar yearning to that already described for Butterfly. The person is a soul, and it is significant that the Greek word for Butterfly is psyche. What this means is that, contrary to popular notions, what we recognise as a person is just as paranormal as a butterfly, a crop-circle or a UFO.
Much more can be said about the connection of dust, or particulate existence, with the crossing of the frontier between physical and etheric levels of manifestation. Whether, for example, consciously imitating life or no, the inventors of television employed a screen, the particular units upon which may be compared with those on the wings of butterflies. Rows of particles of a mineral nature are successively illuminated from within by lights of different intensities and colour values, which the human being interprets as pictures. In a sense human technology has gone beyond the process in nature in that the picture portrays movement. Television pictures, however, only imitate life. Butterfly as picture is life. It carries the manifesting instrument, the insect body, around with it like a suitcase, says Steiner. It has a longing to be released from this, but cannot achieve this unless it is perceived in human consciousness. I shall describe later how I came to this realisation through a particular Butterfly.
Crop-circles too reveal a transcendent geometrical form language, spoken through particulate wheat grains, which are whipped into the outlines of geometrical shapes on the ends of the stalks upon which they were raised in growth out of the soil. The task of the ‘croppie’ investigator is to listen to the meanings implicit in this language of the corn. Like the scales on the Butterfly wing, the grain forms a particulate typographical language of mathematical shapes which we have not yet learned to read. We have here another important clue to what has gone wrong in the world of nature study as practiced by natural scientists. They have become increasingly obsessed by ‘taxonomy’, the practice of naming things, even calling the forms they have identified ‘taxons’ in preference to thinking of them’ in the familiar way we do with flowers. Instead of daisy and buttercup we get something like Argynnis paphia valezina var nigrisina, which is hardly conducive to the kind of familiarity which people need if they are looking in the Butterfly world for something nearer to the warm relationship many experience with plants. No wonder that when you buy those very popular plates and dishes with beautiful portrayals of wild and cultivated plants on them, the plants are all carefully named, but the butterflies flying around them remain anonymous.
Taxonomy taken to excess starts with the careful identification of the letters of an alphabet and ends with preventing you from reading with them, or even from realising that someone is trying to say something. To be fair, in the Collins Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe, Lionel Higgins and Normal Riley attempted over decades to give familiar English names to every one of the 380 species they described. In their first (1970) edition they even told you the French, Swedish, German and sometimes Spanish names as well. This was dropped in later editions in the interest of space, and when they died Tom Tolman further modernised and extended their work to cover 440 species, also saying in his introduction that he is trying to widen and deepen interest in the butterflies themselves. This is a brave start to the process I feel is needed, since at least it makes the ever-growing straight information less formidable and more accessible. But clearly there is still a long way to go.
The more we look at individual butterflies with the same sense of familiarity many give to flowers, the more the letters form themselves into words. Each variety feels more like a hieroglyph than an abstract letter, just as a crop-circle does. A wholly new and deeper experience of meaning opens up to the observer in nature who can transcend the obsession with names and achieve a simple direct observation of Butterfly itself as a picture. This can become as clear a channel of meaningful communication as do the eyes and mouth of someone one loves when these are expressing and receiving that love. This is an integral part of the meaning one reads in the picture. Patient observation over many years not only hugely increases one’s capacity for receiving information, it reveals, often quite unexpectedly, that Butterfly is returning the compliment. We can be quite specific about this and report frequently upon what Butterfly is ‘saying’ in response to our attentions. Different species, genera and families of Butterfly ‘speak’ very different meanings. (Here taxonomy is in its rightful place.) Too much verbalising of these on our part partly blunts and distorts these meanings, which demand more listening than we are usually prepared to give. (Here we are beyond the etheric picture and into the astral sound dimension.) I suspect this applies to the paranormal everywhere. It certainly applies to crop-circles, and even more so to what goes on in loving relationships between people.
At this stage we need to jump off the cliff of generalisations and tell a few stories. The field guides are necessary and excellent, but they don’t have room for many stories.
One. There is one butterfly in Europe which is the only member of its entire family which is found here. This family is based in America where they are called Metalmarks. Our representative has none of the metallic-looking markings but has the other characteristics: small size, angular form, multiple dark, squarish spots in rows and, outstandingly, tremendous speed and accurate direction of flight; it is hard work to follow it visually as it darts from one plant head to the next, often many yards away. These characteristics give it an intense presence, which suggests intention and a desire to communicate. Many butterflies have this and speak to different aspects of human temperament. ‘Duke of Burgundy’ as we call it (heaven knows why, particularly as it is usually referred to as a fritillery, a large group of quite unrelated to it and bearing only a superficial resemblance to it), Duke of Burgundy seems to relate directly to our seeing (rather than directly to the heart as the Red Admiral does, or to the flirtatious as the Painted Lady does). Duke of Burgundy looks at you. Like many others it is constantly in danger of extinction.
We have at least one small colony of Duke of Burgundy only a few miles out of Glastonbury. This has shifted about a bit during the nearly 20 years I have been here, but only by a quarter of a mile or so. For over 10 years it occupied a space hardly bigger than a large living room at the corner of an open ride in a wood where the food plants of its early insect stages grow, namely cowslips and primroses. Local conservationists certainly helped it to hang on there, though whether the more radical notions of county scientists will preserve the habitat or do for it finally remains to be seen. Others tell me it is still about in the area.
I left the district for five years. Before I left it was one of the Butterflies I said goodbye to. There was a lot of emotion in this. I was deeply aware that the being might not ‘make it’ in its struggle to survive pollution, apathy and misplaced biological enthusiasm. I asked it what I could do to help. The burden of its response was that what I habitually did was what was needed, but much more of it. Technical intervention often did more harm than good. More than anything, however, the boot was, so to speak, on the other foot. What it was able to do for humanity, and humanity’s openness to this, which is hard for us to be aware of, does far more to maintain Butterfly existence on the planet than any amount of ‘conservation’. I asked it what precisely this deed for humanity was. It said I knew perfectly well what it was since I actively responded to it whenever I was aware of Butterfly. It was simply the intensification of the power to see, what Steiner calls ‘imaginative cognition’, the ability to create pictures, the thing television is systematically killing in us, particularly in children. One of the principle things which loosens our hold on the natural world is the weakening of our will to visualise by substituting for it a constant barrage of imposed pictures from the projected virtual world we mistakenly refer to as reality, in other words the media. It is a losing battle for the etheric ‘imago’ reality unless we find ways to counteract this spirit drain. Duke of Burgundy again:
"You have no idea what a fundamental place Butterfly has in your picture-forming process. Be conscious of it. This is how we can repay your awareness and concern with ever greater love and power."
Two. Now for a very different scenario. This shows how taxonomy is not always a waste of time provided we realise that there is also an area of Butterfly activity which overrides genetic differences. We have a very attractive little blue butterfly here called Holly Blue. It is easily distinguished from the more usual Common Blue by its very pale underside peppered with tiny black dots with no orange, black and white ones round the edge. In the spring you are most likely to see it round holly bushes, but there’s a second brood in the autumn when the caterpillar feeds on ivy. One of its attractive habits is to fly closely over flowing streams in the sunshine and then to settle on sand or mud to have a drink. I think it was unique in this, but when I first went to the Continent I saw a number of other blue butterflies doing this.
One year I stayed on the Riviera near Toulon and to my surprise saw a number of what I thought were Holly Blues drinking by a stream in mid-Summer. I soon realised, however, that there were subtle differences, the blue less purplish and the underside dots more definite and regular. Also the hindwings had a minute irregularity, almost a tail. The book said this was the Provençal Short-tailed Blue. It was placed in quite a different genus and was clearly not genetically close to the Holly Blue. But its habits and general place in nature felt the same. On the Continent its caterpillars and those of the Holly Blue even eat the same plants, a wider variety than just holly and ivy. Some years later I was in Kansas, again in the summer, and thought I was seeing Holly Blues again. This time it turned out to be a Tailed Blue, a member of the same genus as the one I saw in Southern France, but quite a lot smaller and with a definite tail on the hind wing and two bright orange and black spots next to the tail. But there it was, drinking away at a stream, creating a feeling climate very similar that surrounding the other two species.
Scientists talk about creatures occupying what they call ‘the same ecological slot’. This is a neat way of describing the events from their rationalist angle. It is also an accurate description of the way in which similar environments make an impact on different insects with divergent biological histories widely separated on the earth. They are, however, wholly unaware of a particular picture, paranormal and trans-dimensional, thrown onto the wings of a number of different, widely separated insects. In this instance we can describe a non-localised pictorial being, pale bright blue when it faces the light, appearing bluish white and spotted when it faces the earth, and with a particular relationship to moving water. The important thing to realise is that these are holographic representations of a single picture which exists in the etheric realm. It is the same picture which is reflected off the insect-wings, modified according to local circumstances, but appearing wherever suitable biological conditions present themselves. According to Steiner, these etheric archetypal pictures came into being when the sun and earth separated. What went with the sun was Butterfly. What remained with the earth was Flower. We stand between, with a tremendous job of reconciliation and healing to do.
If I had space I would tell many more such stories illustrating how Butterfly responds to people’s growing ability to initiate dialogue in this realm: how the Red Admiral recognises and settles on the awakened human heart chakra: how the Painted Lady changes course in mid-flight to look into human eyes; how a mountain butterfly in Spain, which I had gone specially to that range to seek out, followed me across bare scree at 9,000 feet and settled on the ground by me whenever I stopped.
How to summarise? The connection between the growing frequency of paranormal experiences at this millennial time, such as UFOs and crop-circles and the emergence of our ability to distinguish between so-called normal and paranormal aspects of our observation of nature, is of course not accidental. These realities have always been here for people with special abilities, though the language in which they are described is different, because the experiences have become more frequent and widespread. I am sometimes asked where I expect explosions of a paranormal nature to manifest next in the world. Here are some clues.
Television pictures move. TV pictures are dead. Crop circles are alive. Crop circles rest on the plant. Crop circle pictures are still. Butterfly is alive. Butterfly rests on the animal. Butterfly pictures are still...
This is an ongoing story which needs many people to continue it.
First published in Avalon Magazine, Summer 2001
Stanley Messenger (1917 – 2013) was a philosopher and metaphysician, dedicated to the healing of perception. He spent his last years in Glastonbury, England.
With an esoteric background in Anthroposophy, he has been well known as an individualistic thinker in this and all areas of interest he pursued. He has worked in the theatre and in teaching. In recent decades, apart from living in Glastonbury, he has also lived in Languedoc, France and the Scots Highlands, making periodic visits to USA.
He has been amongst other things a cereologist, with many profound observations on the nature of the crop circle phenomenon, serving as a mainstay speaker at the Glastonbury Symposium. He spent decades studying butterflies, seeing them as very special representatives of the elemental kingdom. His understandings of history, the natural world, human society and the cosmos have been erudite and enlightening to all who hear his discourses. Thanks to: The Stanly Messenger Archive