Friday, March 11, 2016

White butterfly, a painting by Shirley Deane/Midyett

“White Butterfly” (5" x 7")
Aboriginal Australian symbolism

By Vic Midyett

In this latest painting of Shirley’s, she wanted the butterfly’s wings to be the focus of attention, so she purposely only hinted at the creature’s body. She did the painting for a couple of reasons: A story in our Cherokee heritage features a white butterfly. And she has a passionate interest in aboriginal Australians, in one of whose stories a butterfly plays an important symbolic role.
    Here is another photograph of the painting, in different natural light:

“The Bat and the Butterfly” is a Dhuwa teaching story told in the Rittharngu language in Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, which is the expanse north of the state of Western Australia, where we now live. The Northern Territory isn’t yet a state because of its very low population. (Its capital is Darwin, where the U.S. Navy has a base.)
    I derive the essence of the story from the publication Dust Echoes, by Robert Lewis, who writes: “The theme is one of breaking the law, as well as explaining the origin of two creatures in a dramatic way.”

A young man – admired in the camp – abducts a girl and imprisons her in a cave. He blocks the entrance with large rocks so that neither of them can leave. The girl’s family tries to rescue her but fails.
    The young man tries and tries to gain the girl’s affection, but to no avail. One night she allows him to lay his head on her lap. And then she calls on her ancestral spirits and musters great energy to turn herself into a butterfly, thus enabling her to escape to freedom through a gap between the rocks. She gains the outside (which represents freedom, light, and goodness).
    Upon waking and seeing her gone, the young man turns himself into a bat, hoping to exit the same way. But the girl’s family prevents the young man from slipping out of the cave and forces him to stay inside (which represents confinement, darkness, cowardice, and deceit).
    Lewis writes: “This story is about aboriginal moieties (separate families or blood lines with close ties) and what happens when an individual doesn’t follow aboriginal law.” In Central Arnhem Land, there are (even now) two moieties, Yirritja and Dhuwa. Yirritja families must marry into Dhuwa families, and vice versa.
    In “The Bat and the Butterfly” story, the young man behaves like a coward when he abducts the girl from the camp. She is relatively powerless, but her strong will and goodness empower her to transform herself into a butterfly. In stark contrast, the young man is banished to live forever as a bat in the darkness.

Shirley will soon be doing some work with the Spinifex Health Service, a remote hospital in the Australian bush, or outback, and she has framed “White Butterfly” to present as a gift there:

    We look forward to reporting Shirley’s experiences.

Copyright © 2016 by Vic Midyett & Shirley Deane/Midyett


  1. Another very personal reason Shirley is excited to do this two day communication workshop, is that these people are known worldwide for their art -
    Click on "shop", then "paintings" to get examples.

  2. Wow...just beautiful miss Shirley. Thank you for sharing:-)