Monarch butterfly and its connection to the Day of the Dead

Posted on 1 Jan, 2018

Monarch butterfly


Monarch butterfly (in Latin Danaus Plexippus Linneo) was called by the Aztecs Xochiquetzal (precious flower) or Quezalpapalotl (holy butterfly). It was considered the goddess of motherhood, love, flowers, beauty; symbol of spirituality, dead and fire, as well as the spirit of the forest.

Tribal beliefs

The Aztecs believed that the monarch butterfly represents the souls of dead children who are returning to the earth; and the natives saw the image of a human face in the motif of the butterfly’s wings.

The Mazahua tribe called these butterflies “daughters of the sun” referring to the color of their wings or to the fact that the awakening of these butterflies meant the arrival of the spring sun.

In the Teotihuacan era, the monarch butterflies were depicted on seals, nasal rings and head ornaments. They were presented from a faithful portrait of this butterfly to advanced stylizations.



In the Náhuatl tribe, the monarch butterfly was called “papálotl“. This butterfly symbolized fire and war. The legend of the Náhuatl tribe says that if someone wants happiness, he must whisper this wish to the monarch butterfly. Only a butterfly that can move without sound and is the only living creature who is able to take this request to Xochiquetzal, the goddess of joy and flowers.

According to legend of Guerrera, this butterfly represented the heroes and important people who died. It also represented warriors who were killed or sacrificed on the altar of sacrifices. It represents as well women who died during childbirth. According to legend, the souls of these dead transformed into butterflies or hummingbirds with colorful plumage.

The Mexica, Mixteca, Teotihuacan, Tolteca and Zapoteca tribes protected the wintering sites of the monarch butterfly.

From the pre-Hispanic era the monarch’s butterflies represent the souls of the dead who return to earth to visit the living. But it was only in the nineteenth century that these butterflies gained an additional status, when the day of the dead on November 1 and 2 was officially established. Monarch butterflies appear in Mexico around this date to winter in Mexico and Michoacán.

In this region, the descendants of Purépecha and Mazahuas still consider the monarch butterflies to be envoys of the gods representing the souls of their ancestors, offering them a wax and resin copal.



The monarch’s migration takes place from Canada, through the United States, to the sanctuaries in Mexico established to protect this beautiful butterfly.

Monarch butterfly in a winter sanctuary

Monarch butterfly in a winter sanctuary

Butterflies in everyday culture

The monarch butterflies have become a part of culture and are presented on everyday objects such as stamps, porcelain and drawings.

The well-known Mexican fashion designer Pineda Covalin has dedicated the monarch butterfly a whole range of products in many color variants.