Belittled as the butterfly’s drab cousin, moths rarely receive the same sort of positive attention that London’s more charismatic creatures do. So they are often relegated towards the bottom of the pile by those who take any interest, passing or passionate, in the capital’s wildlife. Although this is a common attitude here in Britain, in many cultures around the world moths have played an important and even positive role in local beliefs.
An example of this is in history is the with the communities that settled in and around the Appalachian Mountains in North American: The Appalachians believed that white moths were the spirits of their ancestors and therefore respected them. A similar belief is held in modern China where moths, including the owlet moth with its huge eyespots, often start emerging in spring at the same time that the Qingming Festival or “Tomb-Sweeping Day” takes place. It is taboo to harm or even bother a moth during this time as they are seen as a physical manifestation of an ancestor’s souls.
In the Bahamas, black witch moths are called “money bats” (bats being a catch-all term for any flying animal that isn’t a bird) with the belief that if a moth alighted on someone then that individual would experience monetary success. In the folklore of the Native American Blackfoot tribe, moths and butterflies were believed to transport dreams so mothers would often embroider the insects on strips of animal skin and tie it into their baby’s hair, so that good sleep may come to their children.
In Java, Indonesia, the cocoons of the cricula silkmoth were considered so beautiful they were turned into jewellery and the Kanembu people of Chad call moths and butterflies “kouli malimi” meaning “marabout insect” as the flapping of their wings resemble the movements of the Muslim marabouts as they repeatedly bow and stand or kneel and prostrate whilst praying.