In William Hone's Table Book (1827, I, col. 678), a young woman describes having recently seen, in a Devonshire lane, 'a man running at full speed, with his hat in one hand, and a stick in the other'; he was trying to kill a butterfly, the first he had seen that year, because 'they say that a body will have cruel bad luck if a ditn'en kill a furst a zeeth'. In Lincolnshire, anyone who crushed the first butterfly of the year underfoot would crush all his enemies that year. A related omen was that if the first butterfly you see is white, you will eat white bread all year (implying enough money for good food); but if it is brown, then you will eat brown bread, i.e. be unlucky and poor (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 51).
   Butterflies and moths were associated with death, sometimes merely as *omens, sometimes as the soul or *ghost (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 266-7). In Devon and parts of Yorkshire they were thought to be souls of *unbaptized babies (Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 77-8).
   See also *wasps.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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