Friday, June 27, 2014

Firefly Folklore

A Big Dipper Firefly seen from below

     It seems that Lampyridae beetles, the so-called fireflies and lightning bugs, are universally loved. There are so many stories, myths, and legends surrounding them that I thought I would relate some that I have collected over the years.
     In Japan, a legend is told about an aspiring young student by the name of Ch'e Yin. He had no money to buy oil for his lamp but instead collected fireflies so he could use their light to continue his studies at night. A word, Keisetsu meaning "to study deligently," is said to be derived from his name.
     Japan also has the folktale of Hotaru, Princess of the Fireflies, who would only marry that insect who could bring her the gift of fire. Insects to this day continue to try to do so by flying into lights and fires, all supposedly trying to win her heart by capturing fire.
     Other Japanese tales suggest that lightning bugs are stars that left the skies to instead wander the earth for a while. While yet others tell how they are the souls of the warriors who had died for their country.
     A Chinese legend tells of an evil stepmother who gave her stepson a bag with money in it to buy some oil. Along the way though, the child lost the money. Afraid that he would get beaten, he looked for it well into the night using a torch, until he fell into the river and drowned. It said that to this day he is out there looking for the money he lost in the form of a firefly still carrying his small torch.
     A Dine (Navajo) story relates how the First People made the stars. Using great pieces of quartz, First Man and First Woman fashioned first the sun, then the moon, and finally were arranging the stars out of pieces of quartz. They tried to arrange them in the sky in such a way that they would make sense, including helping people where to find North. They had many tiny pieces left to go sitting on their blanket when Coyote insisted he could help. He grabbed the blanket, in a tug of war with First Man, throwing pieces all over. Some became stars and meteors, but others, the smallest pieces, are still floating through the air, as today's fireflies.
     Supposedly in Buddhist belief, the firefly represents shallow knowledge which sheds little actual light on ignorance. In Bengal, folklore claimed that swallowing one would cure blindness. But to some others, getting hit by one in the eye would actually leave you blind. To the Penobscot people, they were the harbingers of salmon. In the South, a firefly in the house signals good luck.
    Perhaps it is best to wrap up with a poem by Ogden Nash:
The Firefly's flame
Is something for which science has no name.
I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person's posterior.

No comments:

Post a Comment