The Metaphor of Metamorphosis

The Story:

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” — Richard Bach

The story of how the caterpillar transforms into the butterfly has long been used as a metaphor for the process of transforming states of consciousness from one dimension to another, from knowing something on the surface, then undergoing a deep experience that leads to a whole new capacity and perception.

Biological processes are often very helpful in giving a model for what describes our inner experience. But the caterpillar/butterfly is an insect. Our human bodies don’t transform in this way, so it is important to recognize where this story applies, and where it doesn’t. It is not necessary for all of our physical and civic structures to melt down totally into mush for us to make a profound change.

What this story describes best is a felt sense of how our psyches change or how our consciousness grows. It can feel like one’s beliefs and understanding are going along just fine, even optimally, and then suddenly they just stop working. One can’t “eat” any more of the same old ways of thinking. People often withdraw at this time and feel like they are dissolving—not physically, but in their dreams, ambitions, and ideas that no longer hold meaning. There may be a long period of confusion and disorientation on the inside, even if it is not showing on the outside.

What takes a caterpillar a few weeks can often take a human a few years. For those humans in a transformational process, however, this story offers an integrating image of a new possibility past the feelings of dissolution and helps to draw attention to new ideas as they arise.

The biological steps of this mystery of transformation is well-described by renowned evolution biologist and futurist, Elisabet Sahtouris:

A caterpillar can eat up to three hundred times its own weight in a day, devastating many plants in the process, continuing to eat until it’s so bloated that it hangs itself up and goes to sleep, its skin hardening into a chrysalis. Then, within the chrysalis, within the body of the dormant caterpillar, a new and very different kind of creature, the butterfly, starts to form. This confused biologists for a long time. How could a different genome plan exist within the caterpillar to form a different creature? They knew that metamorphosis occurs in a number of insect species, but it was not known until quite recently that nature did a lot of mixing and matching of very different genome/protein configurations in early evolutionary times. Cells with the butterfly genome/ proteins were held as aggregates, or ‘discs’ of stem cells that biologists call ‘imaginal cells’, tucked inside pockets of the caterpillar’s skin all its life, remaining undeveloped until the crisis of overeating, fatigue and breakdown allows them to develop.

Such metamorphosis makes a good metaphor for the great changes globalisation, in the sense of world transformation, is bringing about., as Norie Huddle first used it in her children’s book Butterfly. Our bloated old system is rapidly becoming defunct while the vision of a new and very different society, long held by many ‘imaginal cell’ humans who dreamt of a better world, is now emerging like a butterfly, representing our solutions to the crises of predation, overconsumption and breakdown in a new way of living lightly on Earth, and of seeing our human society not in the metaphors and models of mechanism as well-oiled social machinery, but in those of evolving, self-organizing and intelligent living organism.

If you want a butterfly world, don’t step on the caterpillar, but join forces with other imaginal cells to build a better future for all!


The Evolution of the Butterfly

in “The Evolution of the Butterfly,” renowned cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton narrates the process of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. This short film uses the metaphor to provide an inspirational context for contemporary social activism.


Here is an elegant one-minute video on metamorphosis.

“This video translates a message that was originally put forth by the author/public speaker/creative consultant, Norie Huddle, and further substantiated by the biologist and futurist, Elisabet Sahtouris. Using imagery, music and words it tells the story of a great shift in consciousness and reality that is occurring on planet earth. Following an example from the biological world, this video parallels the transformation that occurs in the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly with the socio-eco-spiritual transformation that is occurring all over the world as we speak. This metaphor for the great turning of our time is a beautiful one and I hope it helps to inspire the emergence of more imaginal cells as the shift continues.” (Source: