Ladybugs and Mary

Q: Are ladybugs or lady beetles named for the Virgin Mary?

A: The ladybug and its symbolism is not exclusively linked to Our Lady. This most poetic of all insects has a variety of names which are not connected with Mary. In some cultures the ladybug is assimilated to the chicken and called puolette du Bon Dieu (French), gallineta de la Mare de Deu (Catalan),or pola, pula (Italian), or reference is made to the dove, palomella (Italian), and cucusor (Rumanian). English culture knows an alternative name which assimilates the ladybug with the cow: It becomes lady cow or cow lady. Other variants are: porceletto de S. Lucia (piglet), pecorella della Madonna (sheep), Herrgottsmückel (insect), Maikatt (cat).

It is true that most of these names–patterned after well known domestic animals and thus suggesting familiarity and loving relation–are connected with either God himself or the Holy Virgin, as in ladybug and Herrgottskäfer. The ladybug is used as an attribute of the divine, and frequently plays the role of a messenger or servant of God. The ladybug establishes a connection with heaven as is evident in many children's rhymes, for example, "Barbelote, barbelote, monte au ciel, / Garde-moi une place auprès du bon Dieu." (fly-fly to heaven to ready a place for me...)

A variety of cultures make this connection between ladybug and God and/or Holy Mary. The lady bug is called boarina del Signor (shepherdess of Christ, in some regions of Italy and Sweden), Indragopa (Sanscrit, meaning Indra's shepherd) or Jungfru Marias nyckelpiga (Swedish: Our Lady's servant in charge of the keys) and arca de Dios (Spanish: the ark of God).

According to some authors (Mannhardt, Riegler) this points to a pre-Christian origin where the 'lady bug' was the symbol of one or several divinities. Christian faith and culture assimilated these symbolisms, renamed them and gave them a new (sometimes not so new!) content.

The ladybug is the preferred little creature of Our Lady. It lives under her protection. To kill a ladybug means to anger Our Lady for nine days. The ladybug is a bringer of gifts. It brings oil to Jesus, wine to Mary and bread to God the Father. It is, in particular, the bringer of good things to humans: clothes and pots and jewels. These gifts are usually in gold, thus also the name 'goldie bird' for the ladybug in parts of England. The ladybug brings children and is therefore called 'little midwife' (commaruccia) in some regions of Italy. There is also a relation between the ladybug and the sun. In several European cultures the little insect is called 'child of the sun' or 'little sun', and stands for sunny weather. Flight directions are interpreted as weather forecasts and as oracles in matters of the heart: "fly where the man is found, I love the best."

The ladybug is a porta fortuna or charm (good luck) and, last but not least, a symbol of the soul. In this latter capacity the ladybug is called anima della Madona (soul of Our Lady) or anima del paradiso. Should anybody have the misfortune to kill the bug, he or she would die the very next day.

The connection with Our Lady is therefore not an exclusive one. The bug was assimilated with Mary probably in an effort to baptize it and to make it Christian without depriving it of its office as divine messenger.

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