An optimist on wings

“…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? 🙂

cabbage white butterfly in close up

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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43 Responses to An optimist on wings

  1. One of my favourite writers. She was so full of wisdom. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a yellow butterfly first. It’s nearly always a red admiral. What intrigues me is what they do in the winter. I saw the first one this year about a month ago. Why did it hatch out in mid-February? Surely they don’t hibernate!


  2. jenanita01 says:

    Yesterday, in the unexpected sunshine. I took a walk in the garden and was joined by a cabbage white butterfly. For several minutes it flew around me as if looking for a place to land, but it was not to be and it flew way, leaving me the better for the encounter… aah!


  3. Last week I watched a yellow sulfa waltz among the daffodils. It brought me happiness.


  4. if I can just see a butterfly, any butterfly, I would be happy


  5. Mary Smith says:

    I haven’t seen any butterflies yet but the sun is hsining again so perhaps soon. The most enormous bumble bee landed the other day – had to persuade sister’s dog it was not something to play with.
    I laughed at your solitaire logic. It’s like me not watching Andy Murray play tennis in case he loses!


    • Sue Vincent says:

      We do get some strange ideas…yet I think there is something in them that is real 😉
      I haven’t seen the first bee yet. Or I don’t think so…something flew in front of the car that could have been a bumble bee, but I wasn’t sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mary Smith says:

        Something to do with tempting Fate? In Afghanistan (and other countries) there is a strong belief in the evil eye. If you say something nice about someone such as ‘what a lovely baby’ or ‘what a strong boy’ you must add Mash’Allah – thanks to God – to prevent the evil eye harming the person. We know it can’t but…


  6. Usually (although not this spring, because I saw butterflies in Ojai) the first butterfly I see is brown and beige. It pops out of the trees and into the sunlight as I walk, and it fills me with great joy 🙂 I see it as a woodland fairy coming out to greet the sunshine and me. A last vestige of the dull browns before the world turns green again. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We do tend to fulfill our self-prophecies. That’s good to know if we want to manipulate ourselves into good days 🙂 “If I wake up tomorrow, it’s going to be a glorious day!” Ha ha. Beautiful photos, Sue, and a lovely post. ❤


  8. Sri Sudha K says:

    Great post Sue…loved the title most…an optimist on wings…


  9. Sri Sudha K says:

    And those butterflies are really beautiful


  10. Those butterflies are so very pretty, Sue, and I am not surprised that it is a yellow butterfly that is supposed to bring happiness! 🙂


  11. I had an icky feeling for years that I would die when I turned 68. Why? Because some dumb psychic told me that years ago. Did I believe her? No, but something in me believed her … at least enough to make me worry about it. Weird the way little things get stuck in your head, isn’t it?


  12. noelleg44 says:

    Haven’t seen a butterfly yet, Sue, but I’ve got my eye out…


  13. May you see lots of golden butterflies this year! And save a few for me!


  14. dgkaye says:

    A beautiful story and photo Sue. I know it begins ‘everybody knows’ but lol, I didn’t know how that tale went about the color of the first butterfly we see portends the summer ahead. 🙂 ❤


  15. Rae Longest says:

    Wonderful, wonderful. Bravo! What a post!


  16. Pingback: Writing Links 3/20/17 – Where Genres Collide

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