Death of the Butterfly: Part I

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Three

Earlier in the Interior Castle we saw the Death of the Silkworm and its transformation into a butterfly (moth): “You must have already heard about his marvels manifested in the way silk originates, for only he could have invented something like that. The silkworms come from seeds about the size of little grains of pepper. . . . When warm weather comes and the leaves begin to appear on the mulberry tree, the seeds start to live, for they are dead until then. The worms nourish themselves on mulberry leaves until, having grown to full size, they settle on some twigs. There, with their little mouths, they themselves go about spinning the silk and making some very thick little cocoons in which they enclose themselves. The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. Now if this were not seen but recounted to us as having happened in other times, who would believe it?” 

The silkworm “died” and became a butterfly. Now, the butterfly dies and becomes one with Christ. Teresa says, “Now, then, we are saying that this little butterfly has already died, with supreme happiness for having found repose and because Christ lives in it. Jesus used the death/new life metaphor to describe his own life/death/new life and then applies it to his disciples: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

So the Christian spiritual journey can look something like this:

  1. By God’s grace and intervention we seek Christ.
  2. We grow spiritually by entering the Interior Castle and practicing “ascetic prayer” and other spiritual disciplines.
  3. We (the silkworm) spin a cocoon, “die”, and are transformed into a butterfly (new life).
  4. God initiates further transformation in our lives through mystical prayer.
  5. The butterfly dies and lives as one spirit with Christ (spiritual marriage).

Each of these stages produces effects or outcomes. The Death of the Butterfly is no exception. In Chapter Three of the Seventh Mansions, Teresa says, “Let us see what life it lives, or how this life differs from the life it was living. For from the effects, we shall see if what was said is true. By what I can understand, these effects are the following.”

Teresa occasionally begins enumerating things and doesn’t always continue her pattern clearly. She gets there, but it’s not always easy to follow.  Keirnan Kavenaugh and Otilio Rodriguez in their translation of the Interior Castle suggest the effects of the butterfly dying are as follows:

  1. Forgetfulness of self
  2. Desire to suffer
  3. Deep interior joy in persecution
  4. Desire to serve
  5. Great detachment
  6. No fear of the devil’s deceits

This may not seem like an encouraging list of what it means to be one with Christ. Who wants to suffer, endure persecution, and serve others? We want to actualize self and conquer the world. But the point is, as we become one with Christ we cease to be a prisoner of self and others. While we may suffer, endure persecution, and be subjected to humiliation — these things no longer victimize us. On the contrary, we become more “powerful”. We also cease to be deceived by the devil into living an inferior life. Everything we do — everything we experience brings great fruit because we are one spirit with Christ.

For an additional post on this topic see: The Most Christian Person I’ve Ever Met.


For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

Jesus Follower, Blogger, Public Speaker.

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3
4 comments on “Death of the Butterfly: Part I
  1. Brian says:

    Dave, a helpful explanation … the whole human spiritual dying and renewal is a difficult concept to grasp, especially while we are alive.

    After reading the Saint’s book, a key insight stood out for me; we are within Him. St. Teresa says that “God is a large and beautiful mansion” and since we reside in the mansion any sins we commit are “done in the palace itself, inside God”. A WP keyword search of your blog shows discussion of this topic in the post “God’s Presence: Part Two” 1/9/16. A massive ideology shift for me and a key revelation in the book, IMHO, confirmed in the blog. More later.

  2. Christy B says:

    I believe in transformation and the butterfly as a symbol of it. Sometimes though it can be hard to tell what phase of the transition we are in… Such a great write you’ve penned here, Dave.

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