Saturday, November 17, 2012

Guest Post: Insects, Folklore, and Bugfolk, by Fel Wetzig

Fel Wetzig outdid herself on this post!  I hope you enjoy it!
There are references to termites here that I definitely will have to research!
       When I was asked by Lorinda to do a folklore segment on insects, I didn't really know where to start. I know a few scattered beliefs about insects. For example, a single cricket chirping in a house where a cricket has never been heard before is a sign of an impending death, and Vampires are associated with the death head moth ( But, folklore involving insects is varied and widespread.  
       Consider the fact that these creepy crawlies live all around us, and whether we realize it or not they impact human activity on a regular basis—competing for resources, carrying disease, serving scholarly scientific pursuits, and even providing resources. It's no wonder that some of them have captured our imaginations. In fact, a field of study, cultural entomology, is targeted specifically at studying the role of insects in human affairs.
       Most people who have read widely or watched movies or television are familiar with the use of insect behavior as a surrogate or symbol for human relationships. The literary use of insects as subjects of entertainment or bugfolk includes humanized insects that talk or dress like humans. Bugfolk appear in nearly every literary and art form and include Jiminy Cricket, as well as the characters of A Bug's Life and The Ant Bully. This mechanism allows writers to use insects in human-like roles, usually to make a statement about the human condition and to teach people something about themselves.
       These representations are nothing new, throughout history, insects have symbolized important aspects of the world, provided teaching examples through their behavior and traits and have been objects on which humans have projected qualities essential to the framework of human ideology and social structure.
       The most famous insect used in mythology is the scarab—Egyptian symbol of the sun god Khepera and also associated with the creator god Atum. The scarab was believed to be responsible for moving the sun across the sky, as well as representing the soul emerging from the body, which lent to its association with mummies. The scarab likeness was found almost everywhere in Egyptian art and jewelry.

Many creation myths involve insects:
The Hopis explained the origin through the Spider Grandmother
Yagua Indians of Peru attributed Amazon River to wood-eating insects
Jicarilla Apaches of New Mexico attribute fire to a mythical campfire ignited by fireflies
Cherokee and Cochiti creation myths include beetles
Hindus represent the force that created the transient world with a spider in the center of a web (a spinner of illusion)
Papago and Pima Legends mention termites in their creation stories
The mantis was a god of creation in Bushman legends

Insects played a major role in many important legends around the world:
Insects were mentioned throughout the Popul Vul—Yellowjackets were used as weapons by the Quiche and Fireflies were used by Hunahpu and Xbalanque who later became the sun and full moon. They used the insects as false lights to deceive sentries of the underworld.
The guardians of the four cardinal points in Warao cosmology include arboreal termites, 2 kinds of bees, and wasps
Xochiquetzal the Aztec goddess of beauty love and flowers; patron of domestic labor; and symbol of the soul and dead was represented by the swallowtail butterfly
Itzpapalotl the Aztec mother deity and goddess of human sacrifice, war, and travelers was represented by the saturniid moth
TschunWan was the Chinese insect lord over crop pests
Babylonian legend included scorpion men
The Hopi had several insect spirits which were personified in the form of Kachina dolls

       Observations of insect metamorphosis led many cultures to equate such changes to the life cycle usually equating an adult insect with the soul. Some believe this association led to the imaginings of beings in the afterlife with wings.
       Through other observations, cultures found other traits among insects that they admired or scorned. Some insects were adopted as totem animals, forging a strong link between the organism and human kinship.

Social insects like ants, termites, and bees represent desired qualities—unity, cooperation, and industriousness
Butterflies and moths are very commonly used, but in varied contexts—sometimes they symbolize spirits and souls
Moths are often used to represent the soul's search for truth because they are attracted to light
Flies most frequently play negative roles, symbolizing evil, pestilence, torment, and disease; as a result they have come to be associated with evil entities and devils
The emblem of the Roman city Ephesus was the honey bee—their "Great Mother" was also known as the "Queen Bee"
42 states currently have an official state insect—17 states use the honey bee
Insects have played an important role in almost every culture. Because of their wide usage and varied associations, it is difficult to adequately summarize their roles. If you're interested in learning more on the subject, the Cultural Entomology Digest ( is a wonderful resource.
About the Author
Fel Wetzig is a paranormal writer and folklore enthusiast who spends most of the day arguing with the “Peasants,” with whom she shares her blog, aptly named The Peasants Revolt (


  1. Thanks for having me, Lorinda. It was certainly an opportunity to research an aspect of folklore I wasn't familiar with. I never imagined it could be so expansive. Good luck researching the termite references further.

    1. Thank YOU for writing the post! As of this moment, it's had 68 views, so it's definitely popular! Probably that's because you're widely followed and well known for doing this kind of research!
      As for my doing further research, it's going to be a while! Seems like I've got twelve projects going - you know how that is!