The Myths of Monarchs

The delicate, exquisite beauty of butterflies as they flutter through the sky is poetry in motion to the eye of the beholder. The Mexican culture has long revered all insects, the butterflies in particular. The local people believe the monarchs are the returning spirits of their deceased relatives. Every year, millions of migrating monarch butterflies arrive at the mountain sanctuaries in Michoacán, mysteriously coinciding with the Day of the Dead. Although the rest of the world discovered the location of the overwintering sanctuaries in 1976, the locals knew for generations. The link between myth and the monarchs’ annual return spans centuries. Worldwide, many of the ancient civilizations believed that butterflies were symbols of the human soul.

For my novel, THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER, I researched the phenomenon of the migration of the monarch butterflies as well as myths and the Day of the Dead holiday in Mexico. I was amazed at how many people I met had a personal experience with the monarch butterflies. Many told of seeing a monarch at a loved one’s funeral and again when they thought of the departed. They believed it was the spirit of their loved one.

My father in law, Oscar, passed away last June. He was a great man, a gentleman to the end. He is missed by all his family. Oscar was a very spiritual man, but not a church going one. He didn’t want any service when he passed, and his wishes were honored by my mother in law. For me, however, who was not at his bedside when he passed, I longed to have some sort of ritual to mark his passing. To say goodbye.

Today the storms of the past week at last moved north and the sun broke through the gray clouds, warming the earth. The flowers in my garden lifted their droopy heads. I had two male monarchs that had recently emerged from their chrysalis and I was eager to release them to the garden. One I named Oscar. Mindful of my intention, my son Zack and I went to the garden to release the monarchs with thoughts of Oscar in our hearts and minds. The first butterfly flew off without hesitation and disappeared.
The second, Oscar, did not fly off. He climbed onto my finger and stayed there, seemingly reluctant to leave. Zack took photographs and we waited patiently, enjoying the moment and giving the young butterfly time to catch a breeze and alight. Yet, Oscar stayed. I couldn’t believe it--I had written a similar scene in my novel!

Oscar seemed perfectly content to stay on my arm for a while. I offered Zack the opportunity to hold the butterfly, too. Oscar stepped onto Zack’s hand and roosted.
We were both amazed how long the butterfly lingered, and would have remained longer, but after a while I suggested that Zack put his hand beside a flowering penta, one that butterflies love. He did so. Oscar wasn’t interested in the flower. He flew off and circled us, then alighted on the tip of a palm frond over our heads. There he stayed for another hour. One moment he was there. I turned my head, looked again, and he was gone.

Today we had a beautiful experience with a beguiling butterfly that chose to linger while our thoughts turned to our dear “Pop Pop.” I like to think Oscar was with us in spirit. Both Zack and I felt closure, having had a moment to say goodbye to this wonderful man we loved. 

As an artist, I am aware of how and why myths and stories are created in cultures throughout the world to help us through difficult times. I treasure them and hold them close, recognizing the power they have to elicit our deepest emotions. Butterflies hold some power to make us stop whatever we are doing when we see one and to point and smile. I call them flying flowers. But the monarch is unique among all butterflies and insects in that they migrate thousands of miles, like a bird or a whale. This king of butterflies is a messenger to the gods and holds the spirit of our beloved, recently departed.

Or so the myths say.

Farewell Oscar!


  1. Thank you, Mary Alice. A good neighbor of ours passed away a couple weeks back. I will now think of Fred when I see monarchs.

  2. Greetings Mary Alice, just stopped in to say hi and tell you I love the beautiful photos of the butterflies! Did you make your own photos?
    We met when you visited over @ Litchfield Books for a book signing, and you are one of the sweetest authors I've met!
    Enjoy your nice blog (enjoy the books more, but, hey---I dont think you can write them as fast as I can read them, ha/ha LOL)
    I have started a new blog myself, focusing on our beautiful Lowcountry.....come visit when you can!
    PS.......whens the next book coming? I eagerly await!

  3. Hey Mary Alice,
    We have not met, but I am a hopeful author seeking to publish forty books over the next ten years. Ambitious I know, but anyone named John T. Wayne must plan and expect greatness.
    I just wanted to say I like your work and ask you, how do you know who to go with for publishing in light of the number of books I have to offer on the Civil War? I seem to be having a tough time breaking through the egg shell of traditional publishing. Do you have any tips which would help an old Southern Author get his books rolling?

    John T. Wayne

  4. Mary Alice - Over the weekend, we planted a Milkweed plant and yesterday, a single Monarch found its way to it. It circles around it and in larger circles around our entire garden. At times, it lands on one of the flowers. We love watching it. In researching Monarchs I came across your story, above, and it reminded me of a family we know in Santa Barbara. They believe Lady Bugs are connected to the spirit of a relative. Every time they see one - inside their home, they carefully take it outside - all the while thanking their deceased relative for the visitation. Watching "our" Monarch, as it circles - sometimes coming very near to us as we sit on our deck - we feel so connected to it and everything else. We are thankful for its visitation and happy it found its way into our garden - and to our new Milkweed plant.


Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts. Learn more about my books on Facebook and my website www.maryalicemonroe.com.

All the best,
Mary Alice