I’ve been drawn to dragonflies for some time now, perhaps because I love rivers and lakes and these peaceful creatures are mesmerizing as they flit and skimmer across the water. They have brought me great peace, and even their life spans symbolize change and transformation. The first year or more of their lives, they live in the water as nymphs. When they metamorphose into the flying creatures we recognize as dragonflies, they live only a few weeks. I like to compare this pattern to a person who has spent her whole life working her way to her truest path and then finally has the strength and means to express her purest nature. Even if for a short while, this person will flit and skim across the days of her life, inspiring those around her to live joyfully, as well.
According to Jessica Palmer in her book, Animal Wisdom, in Native American lore, “dragonflies are equated with mirage or illusion” (Palmer 126). The Lakota believed that dragonfly had a special power that allowed it to evade hailstones, and because of this, the Lakota decorated their shields with images of the dragonfly for protection against arrows and bullets (126). In other traditions, dragonfly held the special power of changing forms and manipulating space and time; “the metamorphosis is one of transformation and maturation, rather than that found with the shape-shifting of raven and crow” (127). So dragonfly symbolism, one can assume, has a depth to its magic. While raven and crow signify shape-shifting and change for the moment, perhaps to enter an altered state, dragonfly symbolizes a more permanent change in maturation and ability, much like the swimming nymph who changes to the winged lightness of the air.
Additionally, on a more magical and attractive note, Palmer explains that lore from Europe associates dragonfly with the world of the faeries. “The ‘wee’ ones of Ireland used dragonflies as their steeds — birds, such as robin, being reserved for drawing their coaches. One fable suggests that dragonflies are actually faeries who when looked at in a certain way can be seen for what they truly are” (127).
Most importantly for the symbolism of healing, however, is that dragonfly “medicine” is the “reawakening of the magic and mystery of life” (128). One calls on dragonfly energy to facilitate “letting go of the past, which is always the first step in spiritual expansion” (128).
Native American Elder and Turtle Island Storyteller, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, is the chairwoman of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, 13 elders of various global tribes who have banded together to travel this earth and bring their peace and wisdom to our clashing urban ways. She tells a story of Daldal, the dragonfly, saying:
Some of the animal stories tell of the dragonfly – dal dal. The dragonfly is a transformer of the people because they believed they went to the Star Nation and came back as dragonflies. Dragonflies were born in water like us and like us when they are born and come out of the water they can’t go back to where we were all water babies. Water will always attract the two-legged people of this earth” (http://www.turtleislandstorytellers.net/tis_oregon/transcript_a_pilgrim.htm).
Speaking of dal dal, I’ve also read of Dal Dal being the great peacemaker between tribes, and there is an ancient wooden throne in the American Northwest that is reputed to be Dal Dal’s throne. I have read the legend, but I have not been able to locate it for this post – I will try to find more details and update this when I do.
Ted Andrews, a brilliant mind who understood the guidance and blessings animals bring us, notes that dragonflies have:
similar symbology around the world. To the Japanese, they are symbols of new joy and light, and many traditions speak of how they are the dragons of old in a new expression. When dragonfly appears, it is time to trust in the power of light. (164)
He notes that when the nymphs are fully grown, they split their skins in order to transform into adult dragonflies. This is powerful change – much like the snake shedding its skin to become new again – but this time with wings! One might see this as a direct symbol of dying: leaving the old body to become a new, lighter creature inhabiting a different realm. There may be things you miss from your earlier existence, and the watery home had its peace and comfort, but the lightness of the air, the brightness of the sun, the joy of flying – truly there is nothing to fear!
Jamie Sams and David Carson rely on Native American wisdom in their description of dragonfly. They say:
Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and the communications from the elemental world. This elemental world is made up of the tiny spirits of plants, and of the elements air, earth, fire, and water. In essence, this world is full of nature spirits…If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation…Follow Dragonfly to the place inside your body where magic is still alive, and drink deeply of its power. This strength belongs to you. It is the power of becoming the illusion. This ability is ever changing, and contains within it the knowledge that you are creating it all. (145-146)
Chris Luttichau, in his book, Animal Spirit Guides, echoes these authors when he says, “Dragonfly encourages us to see the illusions that define us. Let him guide you to the forgotten part of your soul, so that an understanding of your true self can begin to emerge” (106). He continues by saying, “Realizing our true potential, in a way that also benefits other people, is the ultimate expression of the power of the dragonfly” (106).
The peacemaker, the symbol of transformation, the being of light who helps us see through our illusions: the dragonfly as a symbol helps us defy obstacles in order to become our most powerful selves – the dragonfly as an example (in its lifespan) literally demonstrates the journey we all must take to become our truest selves. (Note that one never sees a tired or depressed dragonfly!)
Let us listen to the dragonfly, learn from its journey, and take inspiration from its life-force and powers. We should realize with its longevity over time –it dates back to 300 million years ago, before the dinosaurs — comes great wisdom and strength (http://www.motherearthnews.com/Nature-Community/2006-08-01/Dazzling-Dragonflies.aspx).
Surely we can learn to live in a smaller, more natural niche, take only what we need, and leave room for other creatures to thrive. Surely a life lived in joy, harmony, gratitude, efficiency, purposefulness and respect is a life well-lived.
And so, perhaps this answers why the dragonfly is an apt symbol for my life’s work, and why I have been drawn to spiritual health coaching and natural healing. The dragonfly inspires me to do my best to live in a clean, pure, and efficient way, and it reminds me that the world around us is quite magical and beautiful, as it has been for millions of years. I hope that dragonfly inspires you to find your own unique expression of the powerful magic within you, and then to have courage to share it with the world. We need you to do so!
Andrews, Ted. The Animal-Wise Tarot. Jackson, TN: Dragonhawk Publishing, 1999.
Luttichau, Chris. Animal Spirit Guides. London: Cico Books, 2009.
Palmer, Jessica Dawn. Animal Wisdom. London: Thorsons, 2001.
Sams, Jamie and David Carson. Medicine Cards. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.