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Interconnectivity: Animals Mourning Together in Modern Stories and Mythology

Joslyn C, Author

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Introduction: A Look Into Folklore and Modern Stories Drawing Connections Between Human and Nonhuman Animal Mourning, Death and Spirituality.


Entwined with life is the inevitability of death in our surroundings.
The human mourning process of death or suffering is often privatized and
personal. As humans mourn, nonhuman animals can provide comfort,
whether through a physical presence or spiritual connection. In
centuries of myths and folklore the human and nonhuman relationship
through life and death demonstrates the importance of acknowledging the
possibilities of human and non-human spiritual connection. As well as in
modern stories, humans create a dependency on nonhuman animals for
relief near death or during mourning. By creating a ‘Scalar’ website, I
will reference stories from myths and modern times to bring forth
instances of human and nonhuman connection. The stories shall be used as
examples of animal spiritual symbolism, human healing during the
mourning process and nonhuman animals mourning other animals. I would
like to present a different way of how humans are reliant on other
animals to survive to help break down the hierarchical barrier between
the human and nonhuman; for example, the connections we make with
animals in order to heal ourselves. By looking at the significance of
spirituality and similarities in emotions all beings share during the
mourning and healing process, I hope, will allow humans to acknowledge
the similar experiences human beings share with nonhuman animals
throughout life.

Initial Questions:

-Are there similarities between human and nonhuman mourning?

-What relationships do humans have with non-humans during death, mourning or healing?

-What are the spiritual symbolisms of animals-specifically the butterfly and the dragonfly?

Personal Connection:

What is the purpose of this project? Why dragonflies and butterflies?: 

           I hope that by presenting stories of human and nonhuman relationships during the mourning process and acknowledging connections and similarities shared between animals during the context of death will help to break down the barrier between human and nonhuman. By looking at similarities through death may help move towards looking at similarities all animals share throughout life. Also, looking at stories from the past in myth and folktales will show the connections between human and nonhumans that have been told for centuries. I hope that revisiting these stories will remind humans, in our growing, busy, and technological world, that these relationships have existed for generations among all cultures around the world and it is important to recognize the spiritual, emotional relationships all beings share historically and currently. 

         I have chosen to research the butterfly and the dragonfly specifically because of my own personal experiences and curiosity towards these insects in the context of death. When I was in high school, December 2009, I witnessed my grandfather leave this earth. My presence at his passing was a life changing experience for me and my family. He was the first person close to me that I have known to die. After his passing my mother and I started to notice the presence of dragonflies. When speaking with a family friend whose husband had passed away a year prior, she mentioned her experience of also noticing the dragonfly after his death (pictured below). This coincidence in similar experiences always stayed with me and sparked a curiosity and dozens of questions about spirituality and the possibilities that could lie beyond this earth.

(Pictured above is the dragonfly that visited both my family and the widowed family friend. This dragonfly is nicknamed "Widow Dragonfly" or "Widow Skimmer Dragonfly". The nickname is explained as," The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe"(

     In July 2011, my grandmother was in the hospital, very near to death. The last few days that she maintained consciousness we visited her and my family stayed at my grandparent’s old house in Eastern Washington where my uncle now lives. We visited during one of the hottest times of the year and the house is surrounded by wheat, mint and corn fields. The only water around the house is from the well a couple of roads away, but even then, the water in underground. My mother, two uncles and I went to the backyard to look at the garden and were astounded to see dozens and dozens of dragonflies in the yard. The sight was spectacular; I have never seen anything like it before or since in my life. It was incredibly strange to me because dragonflies like to be near water, but there was no water near my grandparent’s house and there are no neighboring houses, just fields. As I stood in the garden dozens of dragonflies, perhaps even  hundreds, flew around me, circled the house and some landed on tree branches. There were far too many to count and most were constantly flying about. When I asked my uncle if this had happened before he said no and he has lived there for 20-plus years. We asked if the dragonflies had been there for a few days and he said no; we went back the next day and they were gone. The dragonflies had been in my grandparent’s yard for just that one day; there was no explanation, there was no answer.


(One of the two butterflies that visited on multiple summer afternoons.)   

    A few days later in July 2011, my grandmother passed away. While still in mourning a month later in August, my mother and I noticed a butterfly, unlike any we had seen before, appear in our garden (pictured above). The butterfly amusingly stayed near to us on a bush for the 20-or-so minutes we were outside. The next day we were in the garden again and the same butterfly appeared, but this time they brought a friend. There were now two of the same butterflies hanging out on the bush in our garden near to us that afternoon. This carried on throughout the week and my mother and I couldn’t help but think perhaps it was grandma and grandpa checking up on us. Since then, we have rarely seen those types of butterflies, but when we do, we think of that week when the two butterflies came to visit for lunch, giving us a little comfort during our time of mourning. Ever since these events, I feel a comfort and connection with dragonflies and butterflies and I always notice when they are around. I’d like to think of the day in the summer in my grandparents yard with all of the dragonflies as some kind of gathering of souls, for just that day. Perhaps there is no significance in those dragonflies and butterflies appearing on those summer days. Perhaps it is just my own projection of what I hope them to be, but even so, I will not let that devalue my appreciation and admiration for dragonflies, butterflies, or any other animal. These past events have inspired my project to take a closer look at other spiritual symbolisms of animals in the context of death and mourning. Thank you for taking the time to explore my research with me about the human and nonhuman animal connections through spirituality, mourning and life.      


Myth v.s. Folktales

Both myths and folklore can become stories of legend but the styles,
functions and definitions of myth and folklore differ from one another.
Both forms of narratives often do share the similarity of not having
specific authors credited for the origins of the stories. The difference
however, lies in the purpose and content of their stories;

‘Myth’… anonymous stories that seek to explain the origins of the world, including human society and culture.” [1]

The preservation of myths and oral story telling allows for thousands of
years of culture to stay alive. The histories in myth from societies
around the world, both ancient and present, make it a unique narrative
medium due to its explanations and connectedness to the world, “Although
myth ceaselessly changes and develops, it somehow never loses touch
with its roots in tribal shamanic experience. Because this experience is
about the interconnections between all aspects of life- visible and
invisible, terrestrial and celestial, human, animal, vegetable and
mineral- myth cannot but be all-embracing, cosmic in its range.”[2]  In
many Northern Native American traditions, there are distinctions
between types of myths; “sacred myths” as origin or rebirth stories and
“profane stories” which tell adventure stories.[3]

Myths are considered “true stories” while fables and tales are considered “false stories”.[4] The subject matter of myths is often about origins of the world and human connectedness to life and death, but
the subject matter of folktales is different than myth,

‘Folktale’ is the product of societies…The content of the folktale characteristically has to do with social conflict and problems rather than the cosmic issues addressed in myth, (the anonymous and orally transmitted folktales, must be carefully distinguished from “fairytales”, the literary creations if the 19th-century
Romanticism.)” [5]

[1] Willis, Roy G. "Introduction." World Mythology. New York: H. Holt, 1993. p.13.
[2] Willis, "Introduction." World Mythology p.16.
[3] Eliot, Alexander. "Myths and Mythical Thoughts." Myths. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976. 18. Print.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Willis, "Introduction." World Mythology. p.15.
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