The Butterfly Story
Elisabet Sahtouris | the butterfly story
A caterpillar can eat up to three hundred times its own weight in a day, devastating many plants in the process, continuing to eat until it’s so bloated that it hangs itself up and goes to sleep, its skin hardening into a chrysalis. Then, within the chrysalis, within the body of the dormant caterpillar, a new and very different kind of creature, the butterfly, starts to form. This confused biologists for a long time. How could a different genome plan exist within the caterpillar to form a different creature? They knew that metamorphosis occurs in a number of insect species, but it was not known until quite recently that nature did a lot of mixing and matching of very different genome/protein configurations in early evolutionary times. Cells with the butterfly genome/ proteins were held as aggregates, or ‘discs’ of stem cells that biologists call ‘imaginal cells’, tucked inside pockets of the caterpillar’s skin all its life, remaining undeveloped until the crisis of overeating, fatigue and breakdown allows them to develop.
Such metamorphosis makes a good metaphor for the great changes globalisation, in the sense of world transformation, is bringing about., as Norie Huddle first used it in her children’s book Butterfly. Our bloated old system is rapidly becoming defunct while the vision of a new and very different society, long held by many ‘imaginal cell’ humans who dreamt of a better world, is now emerging like a butterfly, representing our solutions to the crises of predation, overconsumption and breakdown in a new way of living lightly on Earth, and of seeing our human society not in the metaphors and models of mechanism as well-oiled social machinery, but in those of evolving, self-organizing and intelligent living organism.
If you want a butterfly world, don’t step on the caterpillar, but join forces with other imaginal cells to build a better future for all!
I love the idea of imaginal cells. It never ceases to amaze me what we can learn from nature and how many life lessons are right under our noses! Anyway that was Elisabet’s lovely story and now we can zoom in and see it from the viewpoints of the caterpillars!
A Tale of Two Caterpillars
“Once there was a brother caterpillar and a sister caterpillar. The sister spent all her time looking to the sky. She would watch the birds and all the other winged creatures with longing. She said to her brother ‘One day I’ll fly just like them. I really feel that I will.’
Her brother was scornful.
‘Don’t be so stupid,’ he said. ‘What would you even want to fly for. It’s lovely to be able to wiggle along the earth and to find a fat juicy leaf. I watch those silly birds and they’re always just darting about looking useless.’
She listened to him, but didn’t agree.
‘It’s not that I don’t like being a caterpillar and that I don’t enjoy every leaf and patch of earth that we explore, but I just can’t shake off the feeling that there’s something more. Haven’t you ever wondered why there are no old caterpillars? Where does everyone go?’
Her brother looked angry.
‘You are so STUPID,’ he shouted. ‘Why do you think those birds are so fat? That’s where we all end up – in their stomachs. We’re bird food! We just have a pointless reason here. It’s as simple as that. There’s nothing ahead except some sharp beak, then darkness. Just accept that and stop going on at me. And stop admiring the very creatures you should hate!’
Her brother was disgusted and wriggled away.
She curled on her little leaf singing happily to herself.
‘Maybe my brother is right, but it’s still lovely to look at all the other creatures,’ she said to herself.
Just then a dragonfly whirred past. He saw her on the leaf and landed to say ‘hello’.
She told him about her argument with her brother. The dragonfly clicked and hummed with laughter.
‘But of course you’ll fly. One day you’ll be a butterfly!’
She was thrilled and excitedly went to tell her brother.
‘And you believed him!’ he scoffed. ‘No one believes that mad fool. Even the very word, “butterfly”, I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.’
Time passed and the urge came for the caterpillars to start spinning their chrysalises. She was full of hope, sure that this was going to take her towards her dream. Her brother was melancholy.
‘This is just packing you know,’ he said sadly. ‘It’s a cruel trick. They’ve engineered it that we do this to fill their stomachs even more. We’re too thin as we are.’
She tried to argue with him but he wouldn’t listen.
They hung, suspended in their chrysalises, for what seemed like an eternity. Then one day her chrysalis began to move. She felt it slip away. She couldn’t figure out where she was, everything looked red. She shook herself and a trickle of red fluid gathered at her little feet. As she looked down she noticed the most beautiful sight. She had wings of lilac and gold with little green spots for decoration. She flapped her wings and began to fly. It was the most amazing feeling. She landed on a flower and sipped delicately at the nectar. It was exquisite, beyond any taste she could have ever imagined. As she looked down on the earth below she felt extraordinarily privileged.
‘This is even better than being a bird,’ she sang out loud, ‘because they have only ever been birds. But I know how cosy and warm it is to snuggle in the warm earth and to chew the deep green leaves and now I know the joy of flight and the magical taste of nectar. I have been given two lives, two experiences in this one lifetime.’
She heard a grumbling coming from a rich yellow flower. Perched on the flower was a beautiful orange butterfly. It was her brother! She flew excitedly to him.
‘It wasn’t a trick, it was real,’ she cried, fluttering her wings to him in greeting.
He looked bitter.
‘Don’t be so naive!’ he snapped. ‘Look at the colour of us both. You bright gold and me bright orange. They’ll see us for miles. We won’t last a second I tell you!’
‘Oh brother! Why can’t you see how amazing this is? You’re beautiful. And we can fly!’
‘What sort of awful stuff is this?’ he moaned, indicating to the nectar. ‘My teeth are gone. I can’t get a bite of leaf no matter how I try. And I hate flying. It makes my head spin. I tried to curl nicely on a leaf but these blasted wings keep slipping so I fall down.’
She shook her little head and spiralled upwards, realising that there was nothing that she could do to change his mind. He
was as determined to dislike their new life as she was to embrace it.
‘Perhaps in time he will like it more,’ she thought, as she caught a current of air and swooped and fluttered along it into the blue, blue sky.”
© Dance With Life page 126-129