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Noctuid Moths (Erebus macrops, Catocalinae, Erebidae)

In Chinese folklore, legend has it that moths are human souls transformed. During Qing Ming (or Tomb Sweeping Festival) the souls will take the form of flying insects like butterflies and moths, to pay the living a visit.

The hills of Pu’er are dotted with hundreds of graves, some in congregations, others you will come across out of nowhere as individuals. Until recently, it was permitted (or at least unchallenged) to choose a family burial site on a hillside with a view at your discretion. Most of these tombs comprise a monumental headstone and altar and are tended annually at Qing Ming and/or on the anniversary of the deceased’s passing - the grave is cleaned, vegetation and weeds cleared, food offerings made and gaudy reflective decorations to deter evil spirits are erected.

Here is my “supernatural” story. On one of the walking tracks I traverse regularly, is a pair of well-tended graves; one is a single, the other contains a couple. This past summer, on each occasion I passed, these mighty Erebus moths (they are as big as my hand) were in attendance. Always one on the single grave and two on the couple’s grave (pictured), tucked away in a dark corner under the tiled eaves of the tombstones. ( I am not kidding you). I have always done my best not to disturb them as this is one “myth” I have come to respect. Occasionally though they flew away as I passed, yet obviously they return. Presumably over the span of the summer months, these cannot be the same individual moths and they invariably were in pristine condition, but regardless, it is sobering to think that the souls of the deceased are amongst us, and not too daunting to think they take the form of a noble moth.

Pu’er, Yunnan, China

See more Chinese moths on my Flickr site HERE…..