In some modern Pagan traditions, animal symbolism is incorporated into magical belief and practice. What’s really interesting, though, is when you take a look to look at the smaller critters and creatures that are around, and their magical associations – specifically, insects. Believe it or not, many insects are associated with a variety of magical properties – from predicting the weather to communicating with the dead. Let's look at some of the ways people have incorporated insects into their magical practice throughout the ages, as well as specific insects and their folklore and legends.
Depending on where you live, you probably see spiders starting to emerge from their hiding spots at some point in the summer. By fall, they tend to be fairly active because they’re seeking warmth – which is why you may find yourself suddenly face to face with an eight-legged visitor some night when you get up to use the bathroom. Don’t panic, though – most spiders are harmless, and people have learned to co-exist with them for thousands of years. Nearly all cultures have some sort of spider mythology, and folktales about these crawly creatures abound!
When spring rolls around, you'll see bees buzzing around your garden, partaking of the rich pollen in your flowers and herbs. The plants are in full bloom at this time of the spring, and the bees take full advantage, buzzing back and forth, carrying pollen from one blossom to another. In addition to providing us with honey and wax, bees are known to have magical properties, and they feature extensively in folklore from many different cultures. These are just a few of the legends about bees.
Watch a caterpillar, inching along. They’re determined little creatures, who spend their entire existence preparing to be something else. Someday, that caterpillar will wake up as a butterfly or moth – and so, the caterpillar can be associated with any sort of transformative magic and ritual. Want to shed the baggage of your old life and embrace a new and beautiful one? Work a caterpillar into your rituals. In some areas, the caterpillar is associated with magical wisdom – take, for instance, the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Alice tales, who offers deep thoughts while indulging his habit.
The woolly bear is a caterpillar that has folklore all his own – in fact, he is tasked with foretelling the weather. If you’re going to do some weather divination and magic, consider bringing the woolly bear in. Our About.com Guide to Insects, Debbie Hadley, says, “According to folk wisdom, when the brown bands on fall woolly bears are narrow, it means a harsh winter is coming. The wider the brown band, the milder the winter will be.”
While the woolly bear’s predictive ability may sound magical (and has been known for centuries), it was actually scientifically studied in the early 1950s, by Dr. C. H. Curran. Dr. Curran analyzed a group of woolly bears, and examined the colors in their segments. He then used it to predict winter weather, with a pretty good success rate.
The praying mantis is a beautiful insect – and can also be deadly, if you’re another praying mantis. The female sometimes eats her male partner after they mate, so many people associate the praying mantis with aggressive sexual power. However, once you overlook the post-coital cannibalism of the praying mantis (which seems to happen mostly in a laboratory setting), they are also connected with finding one’s way. An old Arabic folktale tells of the mantis pointing towards Mecca, and early French stories indicate that a lost child could find its way home by following the directions of a praying mantis. Much like a compass, the mantis can be associated with the four cardinal points of a compass. Use the mantis in workings that involve finding new directions, re-orienting yourself, and gaining your bearings when you’re lost, either physically or emotionally.
In ancient Egypt, the scarab beetle was well known as a symbol of the gods and eternal life. In fact, the scarab beetle – also known as the dung beetle, because it rolls animal droppings into balls – factors predominantly into legends detailing the creation of the earth and the universe itself. The scarab, in some tales, represents Ra, the sun god, rolling the sun across the sky. In an interesting contrast, although beetles are typically found in less-than-clean places, and are sometimes associated with filth and disease, they are also part of the cycle of life that leads to new beginnings and creation.
Dig into the soil in your garden, and chances are that if the dirt is healthy, it will be chock full of earthworms. Worms are (obviously) associated with the element of earth, and so can be incorporated into workings related to growth, fertility, the life cycle, and even the underworld. In dream symbolism, earthworms indicate a need to delve into one’s subconscious. Is there something troubling you that you can’t quite get a handle on? Incorporate the earthworm into your magical workings.