“…as everyone knows, if the first butterfly you see is yellow the summer will be a happy one. If it is white then you will just have a quiet summer. Black and brown butterflies should never be talked about – they are much too sad.”
Tove Jansson, ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’.
It is the same every year, as soon as the sun warms the earth for the first time, I start looking for butterflies and even after all this time, I am hoping the first is golden. I don’t know why that passage left such an impression on me as a child, but no spring has passed without me thinking about it.
I have never been able to find out whether Tove Jansson based her premise on imagination or on local folklore. It doesn’t really matter. Whether it is truth, myth or fantasy, I choose to believe it. And, if it isn’t true, it ought to be. Especially as the brimstone butterflies with their golden wings have been flitting through the blossom and daffodils all week promising an abundance of happiness.
As portents go, it is a good one.
Is a ‘good sign’ something of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Because we accept the often strange and hopeful signs that drop in our lap, do we become predisposed to success or failure depending upon the nature of that sign and what it means to us? Regional variations can teach us different meanings. Black cats, for example, can be seen as lucky or unlucky, depending on where you are from…or who you listen to.
Signs and portents can be drawn from so many sources. Some are traditional, others are personal; small rituals we create for ourselves and to which we attribute meaning. Some years ago, when the nine-to-five had me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me from sleep way too early, I would sit at the computer with my first coffee and play three games of solitaire to wake my brain up. After a while, I noticed that on the days when all three games worked out quickly, I had a good day. On the days when they got stuck, things were not so good.
Logic made me laugh at myself. There could be absolutely no correlation between the day and the game! Even so, I began to take heart when the solitaire went well and feel a pang of apprehension when it didn’t. It was only then that it occurred to me that I had the whole thing back to front.
It was not a good day because the puzzle had worked itself out. When I had a good day, I had looked back over the events of the day and noticed that even the solitaire had worked. But I had made a connection and, remembered chronologically, the solitaire had started that day. So next time the games went well, I expected a good day…when they went badly, I expected a bad one… and was almost always proved right.
It wasn’t something in the virtual cards, it was me.
The portent didn’t exist, but the way that I faced each day shaped how it went.
So, when I see the golden wings of the butterflies in the sunshine, I choose to remember Tove Jansson’s words and take them as a portent of a happy summer. And I know that, if it is, I will have chosen that too.
Oddly though I have never managed to capture a brimstone on camera…
I wonder what that means? 🙂