25 May 2009: If you live in a region with fireflies, please consider volunteering as a "Citizen Scientist" for the Firefly Watch at Boston's Museum of Science (see links below).
MYTH*ING LINKS
An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

COMMON THEMES, EAST & WEST:

IN THE ORLD
and
IN YTHOLOGY:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
IREFLIES
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To: General Insects Page
TO: BEES PAGE


Fireflies at the "Entrance into Earth"
Copyright © Gilbert Williams

17-18 May 2009
Author's Note:

Remembering Fireflies and Other Insects in my Life

During summers in my homestate of Michigan I spent much of my childhood at my maternal grandparents' home a few miles from our house. They lived across the street from a Nurses' Home, part of a larger hospital complex, which was surrounded by parklike grounds and towering trees. My favorite tree was an old, gnarled oak with wide-spreading branches that grew on a spacious lawn in front of the Nurses' Home. I don't remember seeing fireflies on our side of the street, perhaps because of nearby children and activity. But the hospital grounds were private, quiet, and serene. To reach their residence, the nurses used convenient rear doors that were closer to the hospital beyond; the front area, closest to my grandparents, remained undisturbed, a world apart. Under that oak is where fireflies would appear every summer, flickering through the dense leaves and spreading out around the area delineated by the tree's canopy of branches. I would watch from my side of the street in awe, marveling at such creatures.  Even later, when I was supposed to be in bed, I'd stare out my upstairs bedroom window, watching them in the night.

Melancholia: Imprisoned Firefly
Artist: Kat on Myspace
    Other children sometimes snuck across the street and tried to catch "lightning bugs," as we called them, and put them in Mason jars. It never occurred to me to want to do that. I couldn't have explained why it upset me to see them caught, but it did. I now know from Boston's Museum of Science (see links below) that it doesn't hurt them to be kept briefly in a jar and then released, as long as one is careful not to harm them when catching them. But children usually aren't very careful --  and once captured, I suspect many fireflies found freedom only in death. I wouldn't have wanted one to be in a jar even for five minutes. It didn't seem right. Such beauty deserved space.

I left Michigan for New York City in the early 60s when I was in my early twenties. I don't ever remember seeing a firefly there, not even up at the Cloisters or in Central Park. Those were strange years for me.  At first I stayed in the decrepit Circle Hotel on Eighth Avenue across from the old Hearst building. There were occasional cockroaches there, but I ignored them -- sharing a bathroom down the hall with transients was worse. When I found work in the Film Services department at ABC-TV, I moved to an Upper West Side rooming house called Gallivan Gables, a place run by a frowzy Irish landlady who catered to struggling actors, artists, and alcoholics. The rambling brownstone once had had an elegant charm but it was squalid and depressing by the time I lived there. Bugs were the least of its problems -- before I could bathe and go to work, for example, I often had to clean up after other boarders, who had vomited in the bathtub of the shared bathroom on my floor. Yet it seems I was destined to be in that place because one day, while collecting my mail at the front office, I met a vibrant young woman, a fellow-writer named Jane Dargy, who would introduce me to the work of Carl Jung, which would change my life. She worked in TWA's Records/Reservations Department in the old West Side Airlines Terminal on West 42nd Street and soon persuaded me that it would be a less dreary job than what I had at ABC-TV. She was right. I liked the people at ABC, but organizing and cataloguing commercials and kinescopes before shipping them to affiliate stations around the country was sheer drudgery.

When I left for a telephone reservations job with TWA, I moved some ten blocks south to a large one-room basement apartment on West 76th Street: it was immaculate, zen-like, had a lovely wooden floor, a simple fireplace, and its own spotless tiled bathroom.  I really liked that place but at about $80/month, it cost more than I could really afford. Besides, I was in New York because of a young Michigan actor with whom I had been in love since 1959. He lived on the Lower East Side in a big, 5-room, run-down apartment. I was tired of taking subways down there from the Upper West Side, especially late at night, so I finally found a small, 3-room, $33.85/month rent-controlled place on Allen Street around the corner from him on Rivington Street (if the story of that relationship interests you, see my Journey of a Dream Animal -- Amazon.com usually has used hardcover and paperback copies for a few dollars).

Allen Street is where I was finally forced to take daily notice of some rather nasty, sneaky insects -- huge waterbugs the size of my palm and a steady stream of disease-bearing cockroaches. The water bugs soon capitulated to pesticides but it took me months to get rid of the majority of the roaches (there would always be a few around).  Late one night after my 3:30pm-midnight shift at TWA, I remember coming home and turning on the kitchen light. Sudden light would always startle a roach or two, making it possible for me to kill them before they could scurry away -- I disliked the stink of pesticides so had gotten quite adept at dispatching them with a stainless steel fork (one set aside specifically for this purpose).  That night, in addition to a few roaches, I saw a row of tiny, strange insects climbing up the wall near the door to the toilet (the apartment had no actual bathroom: the toilet was in a narrow closet walled-off from the kitchen generations earlier when indoor plumbing was added; in the kitchen, next to an old-fashioned, deep utility sink, stood an old claw-legged bathtub with a metal cover, which enabled it to serve as a kitchen countertop when it wasn't in use as a bathtub).  The new insects were flat, very small, a dark reddish-brown, and vaguely triangular in shape. I sighed -- they looked harmless enough. I took no pleasure in killing bugs, not even ugly roaches, so I decided to let the little guys live.

That was a mistake.

They turned out to be bedbugs. Until then, I knew them only from the old rhyme: Goodnight / sleep tight / don't let the bedbugs bite. Where it took months to get rid of the roaches, the vicious bite-inflicting bedbugs took years (and a ruined mattress) of unrelenting vigilance and seriously disturbed sleep-patterns.

The actor was long gone. Several other affairs petered out. I often thought of words from one of Buffy Ste-Marie's songs: Have I been born with so little art / as to love the ones who would break my heart? After fifteen years of chaotic life and three published books, I took the money from one of those books and left New York for southern California. A few blocks from the Pacific, I found a spacious 3-room apartment with cathedral ceilings, a loft bedroom, and a patio garden with its own graceful eucalyptus tree (I named her Lara). I never thought I'd ever live in such a fine place. Except for a few spiders, flies, moths, and ants at times, there were no indoor insects.  Outdoors there were bees, flies, sand fleas, butterflies, dragonflies, ants, mosquitos, spiders, and crickets. In the twenty-six years that I lived there, I never saw any fireflies.  I had forgotten all about them -- they were part of my long-gone childhood.

After forty-one years spent on both coasts, I semi-retired and returned to Michigan late in April 2003. I had bought my first house the preceding October -- a charming, solid, ivy-clad Sears house built c. 1910. Feeling like a new bride, I spent all that May and June unpacking, organizing, cleaning, painting, arranging books, clothes, dishes, and falling into an exhausted sleep late each night. I neglected the outdoors -- there was too much to do indoors, including grading a great pile of student papers in the midst of stacks of boxes and clutter. I made an exception the evening of the 4th of July because neighbors told me there would be a fireworks display that I could see from my yard.  I've always loved fireworks and when a couple across the street invited me over to watch the fireworks from their porch, I accepted, touched by their friendliness. As we watched, we shared pieces of our life stories -- they from Arkansas, me from a town some hours north of here. Twilight deepened into night and the fireworks were grand. Our eyes were fixed on cascades of brightly colored fire soaring through the skies. But suddenly, out of the corner of one eye, I noticed tiny flickering lights darting among the trees and tall grass of my own yard across the street. I hadn't seen such lights in nearly half a century yet I instantly recognized them. "Fireflies!" I cried in amazement, pointing across the street, not to the Nurses' Home of my childhood but to my own home. "Yes," my neighbors said, "we get lots of them this time of the year." There were dozens of fireflies twinkling everywhere. The fireworks paled before the sight. I was dazzled and thrilled.

The next day, however, I returned to many more weeks of indoor unpacking and organizing. I remember one night when I saw an unfamiliar, unattractive brownish beetle in my kitchen. Remembering my experience with the bedbugs, I wasn't willing to take a chance on having my house infested with something invasive or dangerous. I captured it in a piece of kleenix and squashed it -- a pale greenish fluid oozed out into the tissue. That had never happened before. Roaches are flimsy and basically dry inside, nothing ever oozed out. My mind began racing. I realized I had never seen an actual firefly -- only its lovely bioluminescence. I always imagined that fireflies were delicate-looking insects, like tiny dragonflies, something with more inner-light than bodily structure. But as I stared at the beetle lying in its green fluid, I realized to my horror that I must have just killed a firefly. The ebbing fluid was its bioluminescence.  I started to cry. "I'm so sorry," I kept whispering. I was devastated. I wrapped the beetle in fresh tissue and put it in a small matchbox so I could bury it later.

A new poignancy now entered my relationship with fireflies. The next year, 2004, they again appeared around July 4th, staying about a month. The same happened in 2005 and 2006. Each year, I saw them as a renewal, a precious gift of wonder. I would walk among my maples and bushes late at night, marveling at the fireflies' exuberance as they flitted through the shadows.

Things were different in 2007. That year on June 7th, fierce winds snapped a great bough off one of my massive trees, a maple I had named Starfinder four years earlier. The limb crashed through electrical wires and fell into the street, narrowly missing a passing car.  Where it had been torn from its trunk, the tree was completely rotted out -- there was no way to save him and I knew the city would have to take him down, perhaps even the next day. Late that same night, I went out and leaned my head against Starfinder's rough bark, saying goodbye to his spirit, wishing him well as he left to seek the stars for whom I had named him. I couldn't stop sobbing. As I finally turned away and headed back to my house, a firefly flashed ahead of me and I saw a few others nearby. It was a month early! -- where had they come from? Unwilling to trust such a comforting but impossibly strange phenomenon, I went back outside several more times that night -- each time, I saw the fireflies. They stayed longer too, late into August.

The following year, the first fireflies again appeared in early June -- and stayed even later -- I saw the last one on 11 September 2008.

I look forward to seeing if the pattern will hold this year as well. It is for all those fireflies, the once and future fireflies, here and around the world, that I have created this page -- and for humans of all ages who will always delight in their presence.......

IREFLIES IN THE ORLD


Firefly on Leaf
(from Boston's Museum of Science -- see directly below)

https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/
Boston's Museum of Science started a volunteer Firefly Watch in May 2008.  After learning about it some four months later, I joined the project on August 30th when the season was nearly over. Here is their explanation for why volunteer work as "Citizen Scientists" is important:
Despite worldwide curiosity about fireflies, there is little in the way of natural history books, field guides, or websites to teach us more about them. What does exist can be decades old, underscoring how important your work as a member of Firefly Watch is to updating our knowledge base....
Unfortunately, I should warn you that I found it a nightmare to join Firefly Watch last year -- their website was full of glitches and incomplete explanations, which meant my submissions kept getting bounced back to me without any information about what was wrong with them. It was maddening. With my dial-up modem and endless revisions and re-submissions, it took over an hour just to register.  In sheer frustration, I finally wrote their discussion board about their "crazy-making website" (my complaints are online at: https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/discussion_board/node/33 but you might not be able to access them until you're a member).  Their response was that it was their first year, the site was still being beta-tested, and things would go more smoothly in 2009. Hopefully, this is true -- please let me know if you have a better experience than I did & I'll post the results here! [Update, 10 June 2009: last week my friend Michaela (aka Links-Elf) signed up and reports no difficulties whatsoever in the process. So I'm delighted to report that Firefly Watch must have worked out all the glitches!]

After I finally figured out how to join, I must say that I really enjoyed being part of the project. I sent nightly observations. They only ask for a weekly report, which takes no more than 10 minutes, but I had joined late and wanted to make up for lost time -- besides, it gave me a chance to get away from my computer <smile>). I logged the last firefly sighting for my area on 11 September 2008. I kept looking for at least a week afterwards but they were indeed gone.

I don't expect to see the first fireflies this year until early June but I've already been looking for them since mid-May, just in case. I hope that many of you will join me in being part of this Firefly Watch <smile>.

If you join, the museum's website offers a great deal of useful information. See the following links for some of their pages -- they don't have a site map and some of these links are well hidden within other categories, which makes them easy to miss:


Firefly turned on its back so that bioluminescence can be seen more clearly.
From Photobucket

https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/flashing_facts
Here is the opening to: "Why Do Fireflies Flash?":
All living creatures that sexually reproduce must attract a mate, and their mating behavior varies widely throughout the animal kingdom. For animals active in the dark, visual signals are not always possible, so they use other cues. For instance:
    * Crickets sing.
    * Moths use pheromones — a kind of animal perfume.
    * Some spiders stomp their feet while others pluck the web threads. Daddy longlegs use touch.

Fireflies — at least the ones that flash — are unusual in that they have light-producing capabilities, making visual signals in the dark. Male fireflies flash while patrolling an area. If a female is impressed, she answers him by flashing from a perch, either on the ground or at some spot above ground, like a shrub. It is up to the female to decide if she wants to mate with a particular male; if she doesn't respond to his flash, he cannot find her in the dark....

http://www.flickr.com/groups/fireflywatch/pool/
This is a Flickr page reserved for members of Firefly Watch with 11 fine close-up photos (as of 18 May 2009).


Firefly Lights Up in Flight
Photo from Britannica: found on krvfpd.org

https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/understanding_fireflies
This page, "Understanding Fireflies," briefly explains what they are not:
Also known as lightning bugs, fireflies are neither bugs nor flies; they are actually beetles, which have two pairs of wings. The outer pair, called elytra, are hard and held outright during flight like the wings of an airplane. The softer inner pair beat to power and control the beetle's flight....
https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/virtual_habitat
This is "Virtual Habitat," my favorite page (but hard to find). It's interactive and lets you see the flashing colors of different firefly species, where they are found in a habitat, and the 6 different flash patterns, depending upon species -- e.g., single, doubles, etc.
https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/view_and_explore_data
This page provides a map that shows where all the volunteer habitats are located across the country (or wherever fireflies are found). The map is quite neat, even though it doesn't always interface reliably with older browsers (e.g., Netscape 7.2). You can search by year and month. A red bulb means there was no sighting at a given locale that month. A green bulb means at least one firefly was seen -- if you click on the bulb, you'll learn how many were seen, first and last sighting-dates for that month, and under what conditions (e.g., time, temperature, etc). Some places have big clusters of bulbs, which means many volunteers have signed up there. Others just have one or two. Whole regions have none at all -- so do check it out and maybe you and your family can fill in some major gaps. Enjoy!

Fireflies At Ocha No-Mizu
Kobayashi Kiyochika  (1847-1915)
First Art Gallery

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1538912/firefly_populations_are_fading_out/index.html?source=r_science

This article, carried by a number of news outlets over a period of several days in late August 2008, was sent to me via a Yahoo newflash by one of my friends last year. Reading the startling report, then clicking on its link to Boston's Museum of Science, is what compelled me to join the museum's Firefly Watch a day or two later last year. The article is "Thailand's Firefly Populations Fading Out" by Michael Casey. Here are the excerpts that so moved me:
Preecha Jiabyu used to take tourists in a rowboat to see the banks of the Mae Klong River aglow with thousands of fireflies. These days, all he sees are the lights of hotels, restaurants and highway overpasses. He says he'd have to row a good two miles to see trees lit up with the magical creatures of his younger days. "The firefly populations have dropped 70 percent in the past three years," said Preecha, 58, a former teacher who started providing dozens of rowboats to compete with polluting motor-boats. "It's sad. They were a symbol of our city."...

...Another much-loved species imperiled by humankind? The evidence is entirely anecdotal, but there are anecdotes galore. From backyards in Tennessee to riverbanks in Southeast Asia, researchers said they have seen fireflies - also called glowworms or lightning bugs - dwindling in number. No single factor is blamed, but researchers in the United States and Europe mostly cite urban sprawl and industrial pollution that destroy insect habitat. The spread of artificial lights could be a culprit, disrupting the intricate mating behavior that depends on a male winning over a female with its flashing backside.

"It is quite clear they are declining," said Stefan Ineichen, a researcher in Switzerland who runs a Web site to gather information on firefly sightings. "When you talk to old people about fireflies, it is always the same," he said. "They saw so many when they were young, and now they are lucky if they see one."...

...Lynn Faust spent a decade researching fireflies on her farm in Knoxville, Tenn., but gave up on one species because she stopped seeing them. "I know of populations that have disappeared on my farm because of development and light pollution," Faust said. "It's these McMansions with their floodlights. One house has 32 lights. Why do you need so many lights?" But Faust and other experts said they still need scientific data, which has been difficult to come by....

...The problem is, a nocturnal insect as small as a human fingertip can't be tagged and tracked like bears or even butterflies, and counting is difficult when some females spend most of their time on the ground or don't flash. [...] European researchers have tried taking a wooden frame and measuring the numbers that appear over a given time. Scientists in Malaysia have been photographing fireflies along the Selangor River. But with little money and staffing power to study the problem, experts are turning to volunteers for help. Web sites such as the Citizen Science Firefly Survey in Boston encourage enthusiasts to report changes in their neighborhood firefly populations. "Researchers hope this would allow us to track firefly populations over many years to determine if they are remaining stable or disappearing," said Christopher Cratsley, a firefly expert at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts.

Scientists acknowledge that the urgency to assess fireflies may not match that of polar bears, but they insist fireflies are a canary in a coal mine in terms of understanding the health of an ecosystem. Preecha, the boatman, couldn't agree more. He has seen the pristine river of his childhood become polluted and fish populations disappear. Now, he fears the fireflies could be gone within a year. "I feel like our way of life is being destroyed," Preecha said.

[Note: if the above link disappears, click here for another backup.]

Purdue University: Firefly Sketch
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly
I normally avoid Wikipedia because one never knows how credible the unknown authors are but the firefly page has some remarkable photos and looks solid enough. Here is an interesting passage on bioluminescence:
Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence. This process occurs in specialised light-emitting organs, usually on a firefly's lower abdomen. The enzyme luciferase acts on luciferin, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP (adenosene triphosphate), and oxygen to produce light. Genes coding for these substances have been inserted into many different organisms (see Luciferase – Applications). Luciferase is also used in forensics, and the enzyme has medical uses.

Bioluminescence is a very efficient process. Some 90% of the energy a firefly uses to create light is actually converted into visible light.[citation needed] By comparison, an incandescent electric bulb can convert only 10 percent of total energy used into visible light, and the remainder is emitted as heat.[1]

http://www.springerlink.com/content/p177k84271316626/
Still on bioluminescence, this is a highly technical summary of a journal article, "The fine structure of the light organ of the glowworm Lampyris noctiluca," by V. C. Barber and P. N. Dilly, both from the Department of Anatomy, University College, W.C.1 London. It was originally published in 1966 in Cell and Tissue Research. It was put online in 2004 so must still be relevant. It comes with a great many references to other firefly studies, some from the mid-late 19th century. Hopefully, the data will be of use to readers with the background to make sense of it.
Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
This link is for a book "with intriguing firefly perspectives" briefly reviewed by Steve Irvine and sent to the discussion board of Boston's Firefly Watch on 6/9/2009 8:18 am:
The book, Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, by Steven Strogatz (Hyperion 2004) has a great deal to say about fireflies; it even has fireflies decorating the cover.

Strogatz is a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell, and his book is about how many systems, both man made and natural, have a tendency to develop synchrony. Fireflies, as self-sustained oscillators, are referred to throughout as examples of how chaotic systems can develop towards synchrony. The strategies by which fireflies do this have been useful models for understanding and solving problems in internet engineering and computer clocking circuits.

An entertaining and interesting book.

Steve

Note: the subtitle on the above link is different from Steve Irvine's but the book is the same. The page has excellent, informative editorial reviews as well as 59 reader reviews, if you wish to explore further. Here is a brief comment from the book's author about how fireflies became involved with his project:
"Some twenty years ago I saw, or thought I saw, a synchronal or simultaneous flashing of fireflies..."
http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2008/sep/legend/
Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine published this essay in September 2008 about a group of 5th graders' first encounter with fireflies: "Fire Beetle" by Wendee Holtcamp. Here is how this essay opens:
The firefly's flame
Is something for which science has no name
I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person's posteerier.
                                                                        - Ogden Nash
Along the banks of the briskly flowing Colorado River, 11 boys and girls and half as many adults have set up camp. For many of these fifth graders from Houston's Holy Trinity Episcopal School, this is the first tent camping experience of their lives, with all its associated fears and joys – setting up a tent, swimming in waterholes with "gross" algae, skipping stones, taking a night hike, roasting marshmallows around the campfire. In nature, kids can overcome fears, see things in new ways, and witness phenomena they've only seen before in books. Magic lives outdoors, and in a trip filled with a dozen new thrills, nothing embodies that more than seeing the dancing fairy lights of fireflies for the first time.

The orange-yellow lights started blinking around dusk. It was May, early in the season for fireflies, which come out during summer nights. "Look! Fireflies!" I said when I noticed the tiny glittering lights and pointed them out to the kids....

...Imagine what people thought of fireflies before electricity! Ancient Mayas believed that fireflies carried the light of stars. In Japanese culture, fireflies contain the souls of soldiers who have perished in battle and have represented passionate love in Japanese poetry since the 8th century. More than 2,000 species of fireflies live throughout the world, with the greatest diversity in the tropics, particularly Asia. The United States has approximately 175 species, mostly in the east, and Texas has 36 known species. The commonly seen Big Dippers make a J as they flash, starting at the lower hook and moving up and right....

...British evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane frequently remarked, "If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles." Equal parts star and beetle, I'd be willing to bet fireflies would be the beetle people would miss most if they disappeared.

Unfortunately, it does seem that fireflies have declined throughout much of their range. Retired professor Jim Lloyd has studied fireflies since 1962, has personally seen every North American species and has corresponded with hundreds of people about their concern over diminishing firefly numbers. "Bottom line, yes, I think we are quickly losing and have lost many populations of fireflies. Though some species are exceedingly common and will endure and be seen, some are very rare. It is the latter that will go first, if [they're] not gone already," he says....

...The first time these Holy Trinity fifth graders saw fireflies will surely remain a cherished memory. Nobody got scared or disgusted by them – unlike a giant brown spider on my tent tarp. It amazes me how a simple flying beetle with a glowing posterior can transform kids' attitudes toward insects from "eww," "yuk" and "gross" to "cool," "wow" and "awesome!"

It is an informative, engaging, well-honed essay -- well worth a read.
IREFLIES IN YTHOLOGY
[also art, literature, and cinema]


Fireflies Smoking Cigars:  Kerr Number:  K8007
http://research.mayavase.com/kerrmaya_hires.php?vase=8007
Photograph © Justin Kerr: all rights reserved.  May not be reproduced without permission of the copyright owner.
  "These insects have been classified as fireflys.  This vase was not excavated at Tikal.
It was confiscated from a looter. EG = Xultun, Chan Weel K'inich"
[Myth*ing Links' use of this image abides by mayavase.com terms and conditions]

http://www.mesoweb.com/features/lopes/Fireflies.pdf: [Note: this is a pdf file]

This is "Some Notes on Fireflies" by Luis Lopes -- it's a wonderful 15 pages -- 7 of them full of fabulous photos of the firefly in ancient Meso-American art (both in color and black and white) -- but it's a pdf file, which means I can't copy and paste either text or image to my own webpage. As a 2-finger hunt-and-peck typist, I can't take the time to re-type it either. So here's a quick summary:

The firefly is associated with cigars in Meso-American sacred scenes. The author points out that seeing a lit cigar on a dark night does indeed resemble a firefly's light -- and in ancient art, especially ceremics, the firefly often holds a cigar either in its mouth or hands. (Lest that image suggest a Groucho Marx comedy routine, it should be remembered that tobacco is considered highly sacred by many indigenous peoples and is used as an offering to the gods.) In the Popol Vuh, the hero twins trapped in the Dark House of the Underworld are each given a cigar and ordered to keep it lit and yet intact all night. The twins succeed by attaching fireflies to the ends of each cigar, which keeps them lit and yet still intact at dawn.

In the Maya period, the firefly was a "common metaphor for stars and cigar smoking." The "queen of the stars" is a firefly; other fireflies carry "lights from the stars." Elsewhere, "firefly" is the ritual term used for a cigar or smoking tube. Comets and meteors, called "smoke stars" in several Mayan languages, are also compared with cigars, which is to say, with the firefly.  In a darker vein, several vases show fireflies witnessing and probably providing light for "grim nocturnal scenes" such as the "sacrifice of the Baby Jaguar."

Near the end, Lopes carefully lays out the iconographic characteristics of the firefly -- based on these, he argues that a major Tikal deity seems to be connected to the firefly, perhaps as a "smoke-star."

http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/sta/sta48.htm
Sacred Texts gives its own version of the Popol Vuh ordeals of the hero twins -- it's taken from Manly P. Hall's 1928 The Secret Teachings of All Ages:
...The second trial was given in the House of Shadows, where to each of the candidates was brought a pine torch and a cigar, with the injunction that both must be kept alight throughout the entire night and yet each must be returned the next morning unconsumed. Knowing that death was the alternative to failure in the test, the young men burnt aras-feathers [macaw-feathers] in place of the pine splinters (which they closely resemble) and also put fireflies on the tips of the cigars. Seeing the lights, those who watched felt certain that Hunahpu and Xbalanque had fallen into the trap, but when morning came the torches and cigars were returned to the guards unconsumed and still burning. In amazement and awe, the princes of Xibalba gazed upon the unconsumed splinters and cigars, for never before had these been returned intact....
http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/maya/cbc/cbc14.htm
Again from Sacred Texts, this is from the Maya Chilam Balam -- a brief passage in which "firefly" and "jaguar" are used as euphemisms for something else, explained below:
"Son, bring me the firefly of the night. Its odor shall pass to the north and to the west. Bring with it the beckoning tongue of the jaguar." "It is well, father." What he asks for is a smoking tube filled with tobacco.  The beckoning tongue of the jaguar for which he asks is fire.
http://www.mayavase.com/comcodex.htm
This is another paper by Luis Lopes, totally unrelated to fireflies except for this note about some of the images illustrating the paper:
Plate 2:
K2226 , a magnificent plate with the shape of a gourd and with a firefly head smoking a cigar (see K521 , K1003 , K1815 ) in the bottom.
Here, at a link on the K2226 page, I found what I think is a wonderful image of a firefly smoking a cigar, but the actual image is poorly labeled ("firefly" isn't even mentioned). Mayan art has its own characterstics, with which I'm unfamiliar, so I have written Dr. Lopes to ask for confirmation. Update 5/30/09: no word from Dr. Lopes over the past few days but from other Mayan art I've found since I e-mailed him, this is definitely a firefly. Here's the link -- when you get there, near the bottom of the left column, hit on "CLICK for the shape of the vessel"): http://research.mayavase.com/kerrmaya_list.php?vase_number=2226


"Twilight Fireflies"
(Unnamed artist)
zdnetasia.com

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/apache/RusJipa.html
From The Journal of American Folklore Vol XI, No. XLIII, 1898 comes a lengthy collection of narratives told in the late 1800's to ethnographer Frank Russell by Laforia, an elderly Jicarilla Apache woman (whose grandson translated for her). One of them is "Fox Takes Fire from the Fire-flies" -- there are no links to individual stories but you'll find this one if you scroll down about 40% from the top.

I should tell you that this narrative has been "ghosting" around the edges of my mind for three days now. Much like a zen koan, it seems to come from a different level of consciousness. On one level, it presents itself as a typical piece of "fire-stealing" folklore. But it keeps pulling its punches and going in other directions. First, there is no opposition between fire-stealer (fox) and fire-owner (fireflies) -- for contrast, think of the intense animosity between Prometheus, who steals Zeus's fire and is then condemned by Zeus to a horrific punishment; or think of Raven, wooing Sun's daughter and discovering how to steal fire from a small box in which miserly Sun had hidden it. Second, there are extra characters (birds) that seem to be part of another story and yet have somehow been spliced onto this one, both at the beginning and again at the end. Third, without the usual trickster element, no one gets outsmarted -- in fact, everyone is quite helpful. Finally, the "punishment" doesn't fit the "crime." Elsewhere in this collection Laforia does tell other stories about Fox in which he is continually outsmarted, even killed, so it isn't as if the Jicarilla Apache lacked the concept of Fox as an inept trickster. In a few of her other stories however, Fox is again a hero, ridding the people of enemies like Bear-monsters.

The narrative's setting is in a strange, almost surreal world:

At that early day the trees could talk, but the people could not burn them, as they were without fire. Fire was at length obtained through the instrumentality of the Fox.
The story begins with Fox going to visit a flock of geese (Note: Sacred Texts -- see next link below -- says Laforia's word was mistranslated, probably by her grandson/interpreter: it should be cranes, not geese; also, Fox should be Coyote).  Fox wants to learn how to make their cry -- no reason is given for this and no footnote tells us if the cry of geese (or cranes) has a special significance to the Jicarilla Apache. They agree to teach Fox but only if he will --
...accompany them in their flights, in order to receive instruction. They gave him wings with which to fly, but cautioned him not to open his eyes while using them.

Detail from "Fox" by Stephen Aitken for The Fox, the Dog, and the Coyote, retold by Ann Weil.
Copyright © Sundance, an educational publisher of PreK–8 reading instructional materials
and books for below-level readers in middle and high school.
[Permission pending]

The presence of birds at the outset of this story might be one of those illogical, loose-end devices common to folklore except that birds also return at the end, becoming part of a three-way relay-race in spreading fire around the world.  We are not told why they instruct Fox to keep his eyes closed but gaining a new form of wisdom often requires undergoing an ordeal. In this case, however, it is only a mild testing -- Fox must temporarily give up access to the realm of sight in order to gain geese (or crane)-magic from the realm of sound. It seems a fair trade. Something goes wrong, however -- something well beyond Fox's control:

As darkness came on, they passed over the inclosure where the fire-fllies, ko-na-tcic'-æ, lived. Some gleams from their flickering fires penetrated the eyelids of Fox, causing him to open his eyes. His wings at once failed to support him, and he fell within the walls of the corral in which were pitched the tents of the fireflies.
More unanswered questions: didn't the birds see the fireflies below? Couldn't they have flown a different route? Or was this their way of tricking the fox into coming here? But why? If they didn't want to teach their cry to Fox in the first place, they could simply have flown away. Yet they provided him with wings instead. Is this what they wanted all along -- to have Firefly power spread more widely over the earth? After all, later on, when Fox is too tired to keep scattering sparks, a hawk and then a brown crane take over for him.  Were all these birds co-conspirators? But why? -- what do birds gain by having fire made available over the earth?

Meanwhile, Fox is still lying where he fell within the encampment. When two fireflies approach him, he gives each a necklace of juniper berries and asks how he might get past the wall surrounding the encampment (see my comments below on reciprocity).


Detail from "Fox" by Stephen Aitken for The Fox, the Dog, and the Coyote, retold by Ann Weil.
Copyright © Sundance, an educational publisher of PreK–8 reading instructional materials
and books for below-level readers in middle and high school.
[Permission pending]

The fireflies showed Fox a cedar tree which would bend down at command and assist any one to pass over the wall.
Instead of leaving at once:
In the evening Fox went to the spring where fireflies obtained water, and found colored earths suitable for paint, with which he gave himself a coat of white.
No reason is given for this -- is the "paint" to protect his coat from sparks of fire later on? Or is there a shamanic element in this? None of the fireflies ever comment on Fox's changed appearance nor on his rather rude use of their spring, which of course would have been holy to them. It's not that I am expecting folklore to "make sense" -- it's that some of these elements, at least on the surface, simply don't seem to belong here and I have to ask why.

When I was a Religious Studies graduate student studying Native American philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), Professor Ines Talamantez, a Mescalero Apache, used to speak of the earth-deity, Changing Woman, one of whose native names the early white missionaries translated as "Painted Woman." To call someone a "painted woman," of course, implies that she is a whore, something to which Apaches and Navajos (who come from the same Athabaskan language-group) strongly objected. The correct translation, as Professor Talamantez made clear, was "Woman Adorned [for a sacred purpose] with White Clay." From Laforia's story, one could surmise that Fox, in adorning himself with white clay, is also functioning with sacred purpose and that perhaps this narrative provides clues to hidden levels that only Laforia's own people could follow.

Returning to camp, he told the fireflies that they ought to have a feast; they should dance and make merry, and he would give them a new musical instrument. They agreed to his proposal, and gathered wood for a great camp-fire, which they ignited by their own glow.

Before the ceremonies began, Fox tied shreds of cedar bark to his tail, and then made a drum, the first ever constructed, which he beat for some time.


Detail of fox and drum from "Fox" by Stephen Aitken for The Fox, the Dog, and the Coyote, retold by Ann Weil.
Copyright © Sundance, an educational publisher of PreK–8 reading instructional materials
and books for below-level readers in middle and high school.
[Permission pending]

This new musical instrument is another strange touch. If Fox needs a drum, why not just make one? Why does it specifically have to be "the first ever constructed"?  That makes it seem as if it should belong to a narrative called "How the First Drum Came To Be." Just suggesting a "merry feast" would have sufficed to distract the fireflies, if that was Fox's intent. The drum isn't needed to outwit his hosts, it just adds one more element to an already festive event. So what underlying purpose does it serve? Afterr puzzling over this for many days, the probable reason became clear to me: among the Apache, Navajo and other Athabaskan peoples (as well as other Native peoples), reciprocity is a core concept. One never takes anything without leaving something in its place. Even taking a pebble from a riverbed, for example, requires reciprocity -- it might be leaving behind a strand of hair, a flower, a pinch of tobacco, a song, a blessing -- but something must be left behind or one is a thief, which disrupts the underlying flow of harmony, or blessingway, of life.

Fox, in Laforia's sacred narrative, already knows he is going to make fire available to the whole world. He does not take fire for himself -- he takes it for everyone.  To make one more drum would be fine but it would not match the enormity of what Fox is about to do. Since he intends to take a holy gift from the realm of light, in return he creates -- not replicates but creates -- a holy gift from the realm of sound (that may be why he white-painted himself, shaman-wise, because of the nature of what he was about to do).  He fashions the first drum for a ritual (festive gatherings are rituals among Native peoples). Remember that in the beginning of this narrative, Fox closed his eyes to the realm of light in order to win magic from the realm of sound. Here, there is an inversion  -- he gives sound-magic and takes light-magic. It is an awesome, perfectly balanced way to answer the challenge of sacred reciprocity.

After creating and demonstrating the drum's use, Fox finally gives it to the Firefly People, just as he said he would when he first suggested the feast. Only after the gift is given does he put his tail into the fire -- this is subtle however, not an obvious tit-for-tat.  Fox does not wish to tip his hand just yet -- he lets tiredness appear to be his motive for giving the drum away:

Tired of beating the drum, he gave it to one of the fireflies and moved nearer the fire, into which he thrust his tail, in opposition to the advice of those about him, who said it would surely burn.
The reaction of the fireflies to Fox's tail being thrust into the fire is intriguing. First, they are clearly not distracted -- those around him are well aware that he has just pushed his tail into the fire. But no one jumps up to rescue the tail of their seemingly foolhardy guest. There is no panic. Instead, they only advise him not to leave his tail in the fire since it will "surely burn." Their own "tails," of course, are fire-lit, but that's "cold-fire" and they know the difference. Fox's response is equally remarkable.
"I am a medicine-man," said Fox, "and my tail will not burn."
The implication here is that he, like them, is a medicine man and thus will be safe with fire in his tail. In other Fox tales told by Laforia, various animals perform supernatural deeds that poor Fox tries to imitate; after he fails miserably each time, the other animals tell him that they could do those deeds only because they are medicine-men and he is not. This narrative is different, however -- when he makes that claim here, the fireflies apparently respect it.

Nevertheless, he pays close attention to his tail and once the bark is safely burning, he calmly says:

"It is too warm for me here; stand aside and let me go where it is cooler."
They stand aside and he dashes off, "tail blazing." What the fireflies cry out to him is this narrative's strangest aspect of all. One would expect them to shout something like, "Stop, thief! Come back! How dare you betray our hospitality? Stop! Stop!" But such drama is entirely missing. As Fox flees, he is --
... followed by the fireflies, who cried, "Stop, you do not know the road; come back."
"Stop, you do not know the road -- come back"? What road? What are they talking about?  Who/where are these fireflies?  On one level (leaving out the reciprocity of the drum), Fox has just stolen their fire and yet they are worried he will get lost because he doesn't know his way?  These are weird "victims." It makes me wonder if the geese made Fox close his eyes so they could fly him into what we would call an "alternate universe."  It almost has that kind of feeling. He got there blindfolded, so to speak, and certainly won't know the road home. But Fox, meanwhile, the cedar bark tied to his tail still burning, runs straight to the cedar-tree that the first two fireflies had shown him earlier. He calls:
"Bend down to me, my tree, bend down."
My tree? -- another curious detail. How has this tree become "his"?  It makes sense, however, from the creator/shaman perspective.
The tree lifted him out of the inclosure, and on he ran, still pursued by the fireflies.
As he runs, sparks fall from the burning cedar shreds and ignite brush and wood along his path. Intuitively, he does seem to know the "road," but as fire spreads over the earth, Fox grows exhausted. That's when this turns into a three-way relay race, for Fox turns a firebrand over to the hawk, who spreads fire still farther, and when the hawk tires, the brown crane takes over. Fox, by now, has finally returned to his own home:
The fireflies pursued Fox to his burrow and informed him that, as punishment for having stolen fire from them and spread it abroad over the land, he should never be permitted to use it himself.
That is just a standard boilerplate conclusion tacked on at the end. Fox never wanted fire for himself in the first place or he would have gone straight home with it. Instead, he wore himself out by deliberately spreading the fire as far as he could. And the birds took over where he left off. You can't punish someone by denying them what they never claimed in the first place. There is no punishment here because there was no crime. It was a transfer of energies between the realms of sound and light.

By focusing on the concept of reciprocity, I have tried to give a sense of the depths present in this sacred narrative. To interpret yet deeper levels, one would have to know a great deal more about the Jicarilla Apache (they have not been studied as much as the other Apache groups or the Navajo, all of whom are in the same language group).  As I have mentioned, the above webpage offers a whole series of Laforia's Fox stories after this one in which there are clear contrasts, cruelties, and creatures who die. None of this happens between the Fox and the Fireflies. The more I think about this story, the more mysterious its levels of consciousness become. I do not need to know whatever deeper meanings Laforia might have been protecting.  I only hope that they have not been lost to the Jicarilla Apache.

http://sacred-texts.com/nam/pla/jat/jat17.htm
Now that we have gone so carefully through Laforia's narrative, you might find it of interest to compare it with other versions. This next one comes from Sacred Texts'  fabulous collection of early ethnographic documents about Native Americans (see their Native American Index page for a sensitive explanation of this project). From their section on Jicarilla Apache Texts, this is "Coyote Secures Fire." This one is a straightforward fire-theft story. There are no birds, no drum, no white paint, no strange road. The setting is very different from Laforia's and yet you can see how various elements remain, albeit differently combined. Here is how it opens, with Coyote and Firefly children:
Fireflies had their camp where high rocks stood around it in a circle and there was no trail leading down to it. They were the only people who had fire. They were playing the hoop and pole game with Otters. In vain Coyote walked around the rocks seeking a place to go down. He went where some children were playing beyond a hill and asked them where the trail was that lead down. They would not tell him. Having gathered some red berries and having made two strings of beads from them, he came again to the children. "Now tell me where the trail is," he said as he gave them the beads. "Right by the edge of the rocks stands a cedar tree," they told him, "one takes hold of it and it bends with him to the ground. If one says to it, 'Bend down to me' it will bend down and you may go out with it." Coyote pulled off some cedar bark and made a bundle of it to serve as a torch....
In the footnotes, the Sacred Text editors comment:
... Russell obtained this story with additional details. The hero in his account should be Coyote instead of Fox, an error probably due to the interpreter. The birds with whom he was flying, if named tetl, (deL) were cranes instead of geese, (a). p. 261. While this form of the story seems to be peculiar to the Southwest, a similar origin for fire is found in many other localities. Teit, (a), pp. 56-57; Goddard, p. 195; Lowie, (a), p. 244; Kroeber, (c), pp. 252-260.
http://sacred-texts.com/nam/pla/jat/jat18.htm
Sacred Texts provides a second version -- to my surprise, some of the missing elements we found in Laforia's version can be found here in a very abbreviated form. Thus, the sense of something hidden and mysterious is gone. Also the cedar tree has been replaced by a piñon. The unknown "road" has become "the trail up the wall" which Coyote does know about, thanks to the Firefly children. And in the end, credit is given to the the kingfisher bird, not to coyote, for bringing fire to humans. Here it is in full:
Coyote came where there were three children. "Show me where the trail goes up," he said. "I will give you these beads if you will show me the trail." Then he gave them the beads. They showed him a piñon tree by means of which the people went up and down. He went down by the aid of the piñon tree by means of which the people went up and down. He looked for some white clay with which, when he found it, he whitened his face, making zigzag lines.

He came where they were dancing and mingled with them. "Coyote, your tail is burning," one of them said to him. "I have supernatural power for that. It won't burn," he replied. He went among them again, poking the fire with his tail until it took fire, when he jumped over them and ran away with it. "Coyote does not know the trail up the wall," they said. He ran away with the fire and they all ran after him.

When Coyote was tired out, he gave the fire to Duck who ran with it. When Duck was tired he gave it to Dove. Dove ran with it until he was tired and gave it to Kingfisher who ran with it. "Fire came from me," he said. Kingfisher flew entirely around the border of the sky with the fire.

"Fire came from me. All the people secured their fire from me." The people ate with it and their food became sweet. The people all over the world were pleased. Something good happened.

Note a crucial "road" distinction: in Laforia's version, the fireflies cry out directly to the fox, saying "Stop, you do not know the road..."  Here, the fireflies only address one another: "Coyote does not know the trail up the wall," they said. The implication is that he will therefore be trapped and easily captured, which is completely different from Laforia. (I wish we knew more of Laforia's background -- I googled for biographical data, but found nothing.)
http://www.turtletrack.org/Issues01/Co02242001/CO_02242001_Fire.htm
This is another retelling of Laforia's version, this time from "Canku Ota (Many Paths): An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America." Some of her elements (e.g., the road) are missing, but it's nicely illustrated (younger readers will enjoy the animated fox and firefly); it also includes a useful, well photographed section on the American Red Fox, for those interested.
http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ait/ait05.htm
This is "Snowbird and the Water-Tiger" from American Indian Fairy Tales, by Margaret Compton, [1907].  Where fireflies are concerned, what is of interest is the brief but lovely description of the aquatic fireflies around the underwater throne of the Great Horned Serpent, mother of Chief Water-Tiger:
...When night came and the sun no longer shone down into the lodge and the color went out of the walls, there were fireflies—green, blue, crimson, and orange—that lighted on the bushes outside the Water-Tiger's wigwam; and the most beautiful of them passed inside and fluttered about the throne of the Serpent, standing guard over her while the purple snails, the day sentinels, slept....
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/657271/native_american_myth_fireflies_save.html?cat=37
This is "Native American Myth: Fireflies Save the Day," posted March 17, 2008 by the prolific Charlotte Kuchinsky.  As background, the author tells us she found papers written by her great-grandmother with this story about Cherokees and how fireflies saved a little girl. I don't know how authentic it is so won't quote from it but it's a nice tale and conjures up some compelling images of fireflies.

"Anansi and Firefly": Illustrations by David Hohn
Story adapted by Matt Evans
One day Firefly came to Anansi the Spider's house and invited him to go egg-hunting. "If you would like to go with me, then come to my house late this evening." Anansi was very excited and immediately agreed to go. [See directly below]
http://www.afro.com/children/myths/firefly/intro.html
This is "Anansi and Firefly," an African tale illustrated and retold for children but charming for any age. Anansi, the spider, shows his greed in this story. Taking advantage of Firefly's source of light, Anansi gathers up many eggs, claiming he saw each one first and therefore it belongs to him. Firefly finally goes home empty-handed. Without any light, however, Anansi gets lost. Read the story to find out what happens next. It unfolds over a series of 15 brief pages (click on the forward or backward spider-figures to navigate). At the end, you'll reach an index page with many more tales.

(Here are two more Anansi tales (without fireflies) from this site: This is Anansi Tries to Steal All the Wisdom in the World, an Ashanti tale retold in a series of 11 pages. It's actually a very sweet tale about how the spider learns to be honest with himself. And this is Anansi and Turtle, a Yoruba tale from Nigeria -- another delightful one, unfolding in 14 quick pages. Its moral at the end: "When you try to outsmart someone, you may find that you're the one outsmarted.")


Star Apple

http://www.philippinesinsider.com/myths-folklore-superstition/the-myth-on-why-fireflies-have-lights/
From Philippines Insider comes an exquisite myth about how fireflies got their fire. I hope they won't mind that I'm quoting it in full -- data on commercial sites tend to vanish and I wouldn't like this one to get lost:
The Myth on Why Fireflies Have Lights

Fireflies in the Philippines are fond of roaming around star apple trees. They can be seen especially in summer when apple trees are in season. At first they appear like twinkling stars around the tree, but going closer they become obviously flying insects with curious lights in their bodies. How did they have those lights in them? A myth goes like this.

According to a local myth, fireflies were simply “flies” a longtime ago before they were called fireflies. But they did not fly around dirt or garbage dumps like ordinary flies do. They liked flying around star apple trees. The myth says the tree and its fruit so mesmerized them that they frequented star apples when the day started to fade out. And they especially became a gleeful congregation around the tree when the night became very dark. The myth says at such time, they only had the moonlight to guide them and see everything around them.

Then one night, as they were flying around the star apple tree, the myth says they noticed the twinkling stars above. According to the myth a story went that time that a tribe was said to have been languished and famished by a long hunting travel and had ended up in the middle of the forest with nothing to eat. It had been so dark, but suddenly the nocturnal clouds were parted and revealed the silvery full moon and the stars.

The myth says that with aid from the faint light lent by the moon and stars, they were able to make out a tree nearby. They climbed it and ate its edible and soft, apple-like fruit. It was so sweet and fibrous, re-energizing them for the long trek the next day. The tribe, according to the myth, had called the tree and its fruits star apple, imagining that it was a gift from the stars.

So, the myth says, the flies thought that, since they were the guardians of the tree and its fruits, why weren’t they called starflies? So together they wished upon the stars to let them become starflies. But since stars were really burning balls, the stars gave them fire in their bodies instead. Since then, the myth says, they became (and were called) fireflies.

This local myth on why fireflies have light in their bodies somewhat shows that sometimes, admirers take on the image of the thing they admire or worship.

http://www.mikelockett.com/stories.php?action=view&id=90
Again from the Philippines comes a folktale, "Why Male Mosquitoes Do Not Bite" as retold by Dr. Mike Lockett. Here is how it begins:
A long time ago in the Philippines there lived a very wise and wonderful man.  He lived among the animals and acted as a judge whenever the animals had an arguement or dispute.

"Judge, Judge," complained the Bird. "What am I to do?  Each night the Frog makes so much noise that I cannot sleep."

"Bring me the Frog," demanded the judge.  "We will find out why he is disturbing you"....

A whole series of creatures end up being involved -- and the firefly plays a key role in this amusing tale.
http://cass.ucsd.edu/personal/ron/CVNC/odonata/cultural_odonatology.html
From the Solomon Islands in the SW Pacific comes a folktale in which the firefly steals his fire from the dragonfly. Here is a summary of the tale from a 1975 book:
Animal Stories from Bellona Island (Mungiki) by Rolf Kuschel pg 110-111 c 1975
pub. by National Museum of Denmark

The firefly wanted a drink but was unwilling to go about during the daytime. If they went at night, his friend the dragonfly could light the way with his lantern. The firefly drank first, and then the firefly held the lantern for the dragonfly. The firefly ran away with the lantern, leaving the dragonfly in the dark. Because of the theft, the dragonfly now sleeps at night, and lives in and near the water. The firefly roams at night, his way lit by the stolen lantern.


Raw Emerald
(Found on Ball State University site in 2004 but no longer there)

http://www.ellensteiber.com/thestones.htm
A firefly legend from India is mentioned in novelist Ellen Steiber's "About the Stones" page -- its focus is on the lore and traditions surrounding gems and other minerals. Here is her lovely entry on emeralds and their connection to fireflies:
Emeralds:
The bright green variety of beryl. Emeralds are the gem of spring and rebirth, a protection at sea, an antidote to certain poisons. Of course, they've also been connected with jealousy, and it's said that some emeralds can be used to call on the dark angels and spirits. Bruce J. Knuth, citing Forbes' Oriental Memoirs, relates an Indian tale about emeralds originating from fireflies in moonlight. That captured my imagination, and emeralds from fireflies found their way into [my novel, A Rumor of Gems]....

A Young Couple Catching Fireflies At Night On The Banks Of a River
Suzuki Harunobu
http://store.doverpublications.com/0486270459.html
F. Hadland Davis' work, Myths & Legends of Japan, published in 1913, includes insects, one of which is the legend of the "Firefly Battle" (with full-page illustrations) -- no further details are given but you'll find references to this "Battle" in links below. (Note: as far as I can tell from various online summaries, it's not really a literal battle between fireflies. Instead, two Japanese firefly species are believed to be the souls of two long dead, warring Samurai clans, still revered by their human descendants. Also see below for further meanings.)
http://www.geocities.com/worldkigo/fireflies.htm
From Dr. Gabi Greve in Japan comes the first page of the World Kigo site with environmental data on protecting fireflies in Japan as well as a useful summary of the "Firefly Battle":
To understand the deep appreciation of the Japanese for fireflies, you need to know a bit about Japanese history and the conflict between the clans of the Heike and the Genji [or Minamoto] around 1180, which ended in the fall of the Heike clan. The Heike Monogatari, the Story of the Heike, is a piece of the world literature.

It was a long feud between two big rival of samurai clans, Genji and Heike in the late Heian period. In a broader sense, it includes Hogen and Heiji disturbances but in a narrow sense, it began in 1180 when Minamoto no Yoritomo revolted at Ishibashiyama after a demand of prince Mochihito to punish the Heike. After the loss of the Fujigawa battle, the Heike gave up the capital in Kyoto and retreated to Western Japan, their power base. Then they lost Ichinotani and Yashima battles and ended in the famous battle at Dan-no-ura in 1185.

The remaining families of the Heike in Western Japan lived secluded in the mountain areas, even here where I live in the Okayama mountains there are many farmers with the Chinese character ??hira in the family name, like Ujihira, Shigehira, Hiramatsu, Hirayama and so on, quoting the names of my neighbours. They are all proud to be the descendants of the Heike clan and when they go see the fireflies, it is like seeing the souls of their dead ancestors. Two special types of fireflies, the Heike-hotaru and the Genji-hotaru, are also special kigo in Japan.

Anyway, these fights (Genpei Gassen) are the subject of many books, Noh-and Kabuki plays and other media of Japanese art.

The page's Yahoo frame is distracting as it means you'll have to keep scrolling back and forth, but the page isn't that long, it provides links (some unfortunately broken) to art based on the literary epic, and is worth the small effort of scrolling.
http://worldkigo2005.blogspot.com/2005/06/fireflies-hotaru-05.html
This is Dr. Gabi Greve's page two of the World Kigo Database, "an educational site for reference purposes of haiku poets worldwide" (no distracting frames on this one). The page is specifically focused on the firefly (hotaru).  It offers great haiku, stories, and relevant links (also some fine, albeit small, photos). Here is one entry, excerpts from a tale within a tale about "The Battle of the Fireflies."
From the Tale of the Heike:

... The meadow glimmered with the light of a myriad glow-worms. Asagao smiled with sudden delight. Descending to the river she gathered the fireflies by scores, and, prisoning them in her veil, made a gleaming torch....

....The trembling girl crouched upon the balcony. Affrighted by the clash of arms, a swarm of fireflies rose from the river bank, soaring upon the night like sparks from a mighty conflagration.

The souls of the Minamoto!” cried Asagao despairingly. “Father, we are lost!”....

[Note: following the above passage is a link to the full tale within a tale.]

Here are firefly passages taken from F. Hadland Davis' book (see above):

From the Uji river-bank dart myriads of these flashing insects, and in a moment they form a great silver-shining cloud. The cloud breaks and the flowing river, once dark as black, becomes a winding stretch of gleaming jewels. No wonder the Japanese poet cries:

Do I see only fireflies drifting with the current?
Or is the Night itself drifting, with its swarming of stars?

and:
Fireflies are fond of swarming around willow-trees, which are the most eerie trees in Japan, and this is part of their "ghostly" role as Minamoto Firefly and the Taira Firefly. In ancient days, the fireflies were said to possess medicinal properties. Firefly ointment was said to render all poisons harmless, and, moreover, it had the power to drive away evil spirits and to preserve a house from the attacks of robbers.
Here's a neat haiku from Gabi Greve:
Chasing fireflies -
all I catch is
haiku
Note: near the end, the page includes some lovely haiku poems by "anonymous."
http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/~watson/heike/heike.html
Here is another site (found on the World Kigo site) with background on the warring clans:
A litttle history: the Genpei War of 1181-5
The twelfth-century struggles between the Taira and Minamoto clans mark a violent end to the long and largely peaceful Heian period (794-1185). The Minamoto or "Genji", were severely weakened in two "disturbances" of Hogen and Heiji in the 1150s, power struggles at court. The Minamoto leaders were executed, but the lives of two young boys were spared, the brothers Yoritomo and Yoshitsune. For twenty years the Taira were dominent at court under the leadership of Kiyomori, encroaching on the traditional power of the Fujiwara nobles. Different factions plotted against the Taira with little success until Yoritomo rose in revolt in 1180. Yoritomo left the bulk of the fighting to be conducted by his relatives: Yoshinaka, Noriyori, and Yoshitune. Yoshitsune was a master tactician, winning decisive victories at Ichi-no-tani (1184.2.7) and Yashima (1185.2.18). The Taira were finally defeated at the naval battle at Dan-no-ura (1185.3.24). There is surprisingly little description of Yoritomo, who destroyed who ruled from Kamakura in eastern Japan as the first shogun after the war.


Pond Fireflies
Found on a MySpace site
(where it has no apparent relevance to anything else on that site -- but it's a gorgeous image)

http://haikuguy.com/issa/search.php?keywords=fireflies&year=
The "haiku guy," translator David G. Lanoue (also found on the World Kigo site), shares 67 firefly haiku from the poet Issa (1763-1828). This is my favorite:
planting a willow
will become nights
of fireflies
About the "Firefly Battle," Lanoue has these comments after three Issa haiku (I'm only including the first haiku):
in grass, in trees
the army of the Genji...
fireflies flit
This haiku alludes to the historical battle between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans. The swarming fireflies remind Issa of a great army lighting campfires or carrying torches in the night.
and:
..."The battle of the fireflies is being compared to a battle that took place at Osaka's Ishiyama Hongan Temple"; (Nagano: Shinano Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1976-79) 3.540, note 2.
and:
...Shinji Ogawa notes that a swarm of fireflies in Japan is called "a firefly battle."
Addendum, 4 June 2009: when I launched this page yesterday, these "battle" quotes were still bothering me -- since I find fireflies magical, numinous, and otherworldly, the battle-emphasis seemed grotesque. Yet I recognize that the Japanese perspective perhaps comes from a simple love of drama. Just as dreams tend to exaggerate, so too do our conscious minds enjoy "juicing up" phenomena that grip us emotionally, especially if we love drama -- and the Japanese love it more than most.  Anyone who's sat through a day of Kabuki at that wonderful old theatre in Tokyo, where all eyes are on the stage, no one notices women quietly nursing babies, no one cares how well dressed or shabby one is, no one notices anything except the intense drama unfolding far below where one's sitting -- anyone who's been fortunate enough to have that experience, even if one didn't understand a single word being said on stage, which I did not, knows how deeply, marvelously steeped in drama Japanese culture is. If the Japanese want to see a swarm of fireflies in terms of a battle, that's their business and none of mine.

But today the quote is still nagging me because its boundaries have spread beyond Japan. So I'm going to add a few comments, expanding on what I've already written below on the Gita.

To any male-dominated culture, which means all the world's major cultures and a great many of the lesser ones, the Japanese view wouldn't seem weird or grotesque at all.  If you see insects swarming through the trees, lights flashing everywhere like miniscule explosions, so small you can't even hear them but you can surely see them, well, that's obviously a battle going full throttle. Yet fireflies are far smarter than we. Their swarms of flickering lights are about mating, perpetuating their species, not obliterating their species. We humans haven't evolved that far yet. And if we continue to interpret nature in terms of our own proclivities and in-denial prejudices instead of what is actually occurring, we may never have a chance to evolve that far. I am reminded of Marlene Dietrich's famous WWII song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" -- and the final line: when will they ever learn / when will they ever learn?  We're a strange species.

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fv20000607a1.html
Published 7 June 2000 in The Japan Times Online, this informative article about firefly-watching in Japan is "A magical world of wonder on the urban fringes" by Stephanie Gartelmann. The article is geared to tourists as well as locals. Here are some excerpts, including the best firefly-focused data so far on the "Firefly Battle":
...The bugs have long been considered a symbol of this season, and appear in countless poems extolling the simple pleasures of rural summertime. Early each June, firefly-watching events are held around Japan. These can be magical experiences: intimate quartets, for example, held in quiet forests and known to only a handful of people. Unfortunately, many events have a more adverse effect. Noisy crowds that arrive with glaring lamps and car stereos, leaving behind garbage and trampled riverbanks, frighten away every last firefly in the area.

Fireflies are found in verdant, unspoiled countryside with clean rivers, far from the bright lights and refuse of human settlements. After mating, eggs are deposited into these rivers, where they hatch into larvae and grow. The larvae crawl out of the river the following April, develop into chrysalides and then sprout wings in June, before beginning the mating process anew....

...The most common species in Japan (of around 40 types) are genji-botaru and heike-botaru; a naming with an interesting history. It is said the souls of countless soldiers, killed in the Dannoura Battle of 1185 between the Minamoto (Genji) clan and their rivals the Taira (Heike) clan, turned into fireflies. The larger and more profuse genji-botaru fireflies were no doubt named after the winning Genji, and the smaller heike-botaru after the defeated Heike. Now heike-botaru, found in wet rice fields, are declining even further as the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers increases....

...Old stories associated with fireflies in Japan and China tell of diligent but poor students, working by the light of fireflies. The Japanese words to "Auld Lang Syne" use images of fireflies and moonlit snow to convey the song's original solemnity. Fireflies are associated with silence and simplicity. But they are a significant indicator that one is in truly clean, pure natural surroundings....

http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/hotaru-net/hotaru/english.html
This is an illustrated 2001 article, "Information on Japanese Aquatic Firefly Habits" by Yoshihito Furukawa. Aquatic species predominate in Japan, unlike the species with which I'm familiar. Knowing this, it makes sense that Japanese art and literature associate fireflies with rivers, whereas in the United States, they are associated with trees and woodland areas.

Unfortunately, although the page is an html, not a pdf file, it's been rigged so that one can't copy and paste anything from it. Further, a quick look shows that random passages and the entire final paragraph would appear to be copied word for word from Stephanie Hartelmann's article (see directly above), published a year prior to Furukawa's -- unless both authors copied from an unnamed earlier author. Perhaps copyright laws are not taken as seriously in Japan as they are here in the US.  Regardless, the not-copied contributions that both make to their articles are useful.


Fireflies: Koromo River below Tennoji Temple, 1880
Detail from a print by Kobayashi Kiyochika  (1847-1915)
Prints of Japan
http://www.printsofjapan.com/Index_Glossary_Hos_thru_I.htm
"Prints of Japan" in Port Townsend, Washington is the source of two artworks I have used on this page (see directly above as well as below). I thought of that site as a slow loading art page but a few days ago, when the page had fully loaded, I saw that text was included. The above link is to their alphabetical topics from "HOS thru I," which is where "Fireflies" fit. Since the site interfaces very poorly with my Netscape 7.2 (it splays all over the place), and perhaps with other browsers as well, I'm taking the liberty of quoting nearly everything from their well-referenced firefly data:
Fireflies: Merrily Baird in her Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design (pp. 110-111) notes that "As early as the Nara period..." fireflies were a poetic symbol for passionate love. During the Heian period the nobility went on outings to view and capture these insects on warm summer nights. "From the Chinese, the Japanese appear to have derived the custom of viewing fireflies as souls of the dead..." The ones at the Uji River near Kyoto even came to represent the deceased warriors of the opposing armies of the struggle between the Minamoto and Taira clans during the 12th century.  "Given its size..." Baird concludes "...the firefly does not lend itself to solo treatment on a large scale."

On Firefly Cages: The bijin shown here appears to be carrying a cage filled with hotaru[fireflies]. She could have caught them herself as seen in an early print by Harunobu or she could have bought them from an hotaru-uri or firefly merchant. Such hawkers are mentioned in J. E. De Becker's Yoshiwara: The Nightless City (p. 14) as hanging out during summer months in the Yoshiwara.

More on Fireflies: The entry on fireflies in the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan entry by Saito Shoji (vol. 2, p. 280) mentions the "...legend of a poor scholar who unable to afford lamp oil, studied by the glow of fireflies in the summer." Sei Shonagon made a list of attractive things and placed fireflies on a moonless night at the top of her list. "In The Tale of Genji... Prince Hotaru, Genji's half-brother, catches his first glimpse of Lady Tamakazura by the light of fireflies." Saito ends this section by noting the popularity of 'firefly viewing' during the Edo period. "There were special boats for viewing fireflies at the river Ujigawa in Kyoto and at Ishiyama on the shore of Lake Biwa."

Firefly Viewing: The following entry on 'firefly viewing' is by Inokuchi Shoji. Hotarugari originally was a pastime for Heian aristocracy (794-1185), but by the Edo period (1600-1868) it was popular among all groups. "Since the number of fireflies in Japan has decreased because of pollution and agricultural chemicals, fireflies are raised for hotels and large restaurants, which sponsor firefly displays to attract guests."

A wonderful web site run by the University of Virginia notes the use of pesticides as a major problem in the decline of fireflies. The pesticides kill kawanina or river snails off which firefly larvae feed.

In Mock Joya's "Things Japanese" (Japanese Times, Inc., 1985 edition, pp. 124-125) children are described hunting for fireflies with fans and bamboo branches. When caught they were often put in cages covered in gauze. "In cities, hotaru are sold in cages at street stalls." "Hotaru-gassen or firefly battles are one of the most wonderful summer sights. Huge masses of fireflies come from different directions and mingle in confusion as they come together, making hillsides and streams bright with tiny yellowish lights."

http://www.socyberty.com/Folklore/Fly-Louse-and-Flea-in-Religion-Myths-Mythology-and-Folklore.246461
This is an interesting and informative survey of the "Fly, Louse, and Flea in Religion, Myths, Mythology and Folklore." [Note: the full annotation is on my Insects page.] This firefly excerpt, which adds a few details to what I have already cited from other sites, comes from the opening paragraph:
...Among the Montagnards of Vietnam, fireflies have traditionally been considered the spirits of departed heroes. In Japan and China, fireflies are the companions of impoverished scholars engaged in nocturnal study. Because they provide moments of illumination, short poems written on fans or pieces of silk have been known as fireflies....

Woman with Fireflies
Detail from a print by Yoshitoshi
Prints of Japan
http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/gbf/gbf09.htm
From Gleanings in Buddha-Fields, by Lafcadio Hearn, [1897], this is a Japanese maiden's reaction to an unkind lover:
Numberless insects there are that call from dawn to evening,
Crying, "I love! I love!"—but the Firefly's silent passion,
Making its body burn, is deeper than all their longing.
Even such is my love . . . yet I cannot think through what ingwa[karma]
I opened my heart—alas!—to a being not sincere!
http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/iq/iq03.htm
       [Also, backup text-only link: http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/iq/iq.txt.]
Inspired by Jalálu’ddín Rúmí, the greatest mystical poet of Persia (1207-1273), this is The Secrets of the Self: A Philosophical Poem, by Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), a major figure in an important part of the world and yet I've never heard of him. According to an online biography, Iqbal "was an Indian Muslim philosopher, scholar, poet, lawyer, politician, and reformer who worked for the unity of Muslims of the world, and was the spiritual founder of Pakistan" [see hypertext for data's source and more info -- e.g., his family originally was from Kashmir; he was born and died in the region of British India that is now Pakistan, which finally came into existence nine years after Iqbal's death; he wrote in Persian, Urdu, and Arabic]. Considered his finest poetry, his first book, Secrets of the Self (Asrar-i-Khudi), was published in Persian in 1915, then translated into English by Reynold A. Nicholson and published by MacMillan in 1920. In this work, the Self's own burning song turns a speck of dust into a firefly -- lovely image! Here is the passage from the Prologue (lines 62-65, but you may wish to start many lines earlier to get a deeper sense of the context):
...Receive my lightning, if thou art a Sinai.
The Fountain of Life hath been given me to drink,
I have been made an adept of the mystery of Life.
The speck of dust was vitalised by my burning song:
It unfolded wings and became a firefly....
I love the way he plays with time. Many of the passages in this work really do glow and burn -- you could get rapturously lost among them <smile>. [For more on Iqbal, see: http://wapedia.mobi/en/Iqbal]
http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m08/m08024.htm
In an old museum near the river in Saigon in 1961, I saw an antique sword with a hilt inlaid with mother-of-pearl butterflies and flowers. I was stunned. What kind of mind could turn a weapon designed to cause a brutal death into an object of such aesthetic beauty? Would one inlay the supports of a guillotine in the same way? As far as I knew, even the West's much revered and legendary swords, although crafted with ornate metalwork, were not inlaid with such powerful, albeit frail, symbols of life.  I found it very disturbing and left the museum without looking at the rest of the collection. Now, nearly a half-century later, I have a similar reaction to the way a terrible slaughter in India's Mahabharata is described in terms of nature's beauty. Here is one of many such passages, chosen because this one includes fireflies:
... Nakula, however, thus suddenly shrouded with the arrows shot from Karna's bow quickly cut off all those shafts with shafts of his own. Then was seen overspread in the welkin a vast number of arrows like to the spectacle presented by the sky when it is filled with myriads of roving fireflies. Indeed, the sky shrouded with those hundreds of arrows shot (by both the warriors) looked, O monarch, as if it was covered with flights of locusts. Those arrows, decked with gold, issuing repeatedly in continuous lines, looked beautiful like rows of cranes while flying through the welkin. When the sky was thus covered with showers of arrows and the sun himself hid from the view, no creature ranging the air could descend on the Earth. When all sides were thus covered with showers of arrows, those two high-souled warriors looked resplendent like two Suns risen at the end of the Yuga. Slaughtered with the shafts issuing from Karna's bow the Somakas, O monarch, greatly afflicted and feeling much pain, began to breathe their last. Similarly, thy warriors, struck with the shafts of Nakula, dispersed on all sides, O king, like clouds tossed by the wind....
Note: that passage is taken from Book Eight, Section 24 of India's epic, The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli and published between 1883 and 1896; the Ganguli English translation of the Mahabharata is the only complete one in the public domain.

I might mention that well known Indologist and author, Professor Wendy Doniger, once commented at a colloquium I attended that she considers the Bhagavad Gita, widely heralded as a religious classic, the most evil book ever written because of the demonically cunning way in which it justifies war. There was a shocked silence but I know that for some of us her words came as a huge relief. The Gita, by the way, for those unfamiliar with it, is a tale-within-a-tale taken from the above same Mahabharata. [For further insights on war and religion, see the brilliant June 1,  2009 War is Sin by war correspondent Chris Hedges; also note the readers' powerful comments].

Finally, to approach this from a different direction, a colleague recently sent me the following quote from Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910):

As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.
That simple equation will seem farfetched to many but the underlying insight is accurate: what we can bring ourselves to do to animals, we will soon bring ourselves to do to humans.
http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sktdict.txt
This is a list of Sanskrit words. For those interested, tittibha = a firefly.  It turns out that there's a yoga "firefly posture": tittibhaasana. (Would any yoga experts out there care to comment on what it is?)
http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/bain/02dos/dos09.htm
This is from "The Indian Stories" of Francis William Bain (b. 1863, d. 1940) -- what struck me is this beautiful description involving fireflies and bees:
...And as he went, gradually the trees grew rarer, and at length he looked before him, and saw in a clear space a dark blue forest pool, studded with moon-lotuses, as if created to mock the expanse of heaven bespangled with its stars, a mirror formed by Wedasa [the Creator] to reproduce another world below. And all about it flitted fireflies, looking like swarms of bees that had returned with torches, unable to endure separation at night from the lotus flowers which they loved all day....

Fireflies Hounding Greedy Landlord to Death
(See Sacred Texts, directly below)
http://www.sacred-texts.com/shi/atfj/atfj46.htm
Here, an eerie Japanese story shows how fireflies take vengeance against a mean-spirited, thieving landlord who robbed and beat Kanshiro, a pious old man who sought refuge in the landlord's inn after taking ill on a yearly pilgrimage. In the artwork, thousands of fireflies are emerging from the old man's hillside tomb to attack the evil-doer.
http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/tib/deathtib.htm
This is very interesting data on "Death and Dying in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition," compiled by Ven. Pende Hawter, Karuna Hospice Service in Australia. He writes:
...Death begins with the sequential dissolution of the winds associated with the four elements (earth, water, fire and air)....
Much of this is quite wordy and complicated but of relevance here in the process of dying is the "Third Cycle of Simultaneous Dissolution," which involves the third element of fire. Here is where fireflies come into the "dissolving factors." The site's chart doesn't display well when copied and pasted so this is my own layout:
DISSOLVING: (Internal sign) fire element ------------------- (External sign) inability to digest food or drink

DISSOLVING: (Int) aggregate of discriminations----------- (Ext) no longer mindful of affairs of close persons

DISSOLVING: (Int) basic wisdom of analysis-----------------(Ext) no longer remembers names of close persons

It is at the level where the "basic wisdom of analysis" begins dissolving that, in the words of the author:
our ordinary consciousness [becomes] mindful of the appearance of fireflies or sparks within [the] smoke [of] individual names, purposes and so forth of close persons
In other words, as death nears, instead of remembering the names and/or interests of loved ones, the memories themselves may turn into clouds of smoke, within which are fireflies or sparks. Considering the frequent worldwide connection of fireflies to death and the Underworld, this seems to be a curiously astute observation.
Sacred Texts
Note: this link goes to my Sacred Texts' in-site google-search for "firefly/fireflies." Although the search turned up 51 references, in many of them fireflies appear only as a comparison to something else and not in their own right.  I gleaned those that seemed more relevant than easy similes and have scattered them around this page. I am providing the search-term link, however, in case anyone wishes to follow-up on the comparisons.


Fireflies in the Garden
From a lovely (but very long, slow-loading) page of poetry and photos collected by
Heather Mirassou for her Poetry Soul Closet [completely off-topic but there's an amazing Maya Angelou poem here]

http://medusaskitchen.blogspot.com/2008/05/fire-flowers-wandering-stars.html
This is a 3 May 2008 blog entry from Medusa's Kitchen: "Fire-Flowers & Wandering Stars" by Kathy Kieth (note: her blog is for Northern California poets and offers news of events, poetry, etc, which takes up much of her space). This particular page opens with an image of fireflies, some firefly poetry, and also this little piece:
Today's LittleNip

Firefly: In Japanese mythology, spirits can take the form of a firefly, and the firefly can take the form of a fire-flower, or fireflies can be stars which have left the sky to wander on earth. During the summer there is a Firefly Battle at Uji which is an occasion for Firefly Viewing.

Dictionary of Symbolic & Mythological Animals by J.C. Cooper

http://medusaskitchen.blogspot.com/2008/05/lightning-bugs.html
This page, "Lightning Bugs," again from Medusa's Kitchen(see directly above) is from a day earlier, 2 May 2008. There's an opening photo of fireflies in a jar as well as firefly poetry (including two by Joyce Carol Oates). Again, I like the "LittleNip":
Today's LittleNip

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

—Mark Twain

Twain's right -- "lightning" is fine but "lightning bug" isn't nearly as evocative as "firefly."

Moth (on right) following Firefly (on left) through a forest
© Hriday Aakash
(See directly below)
http://bonifisheii.blogspot.com/2009/02/hriday-aakash.html
Based on Kabir's insights, this site offers a few paintings from Hriday Aakash's "The Landscape of the Heart," a short, unfinished, animated film -- a modern fable taking place within a world of illusion in which a moth starts following a firefly (a symbol here of desire that will distract the moth from his true quest). It looks like an intriguing contemporary role for the multifaceted firefly.

From The Grave of the Fireflies, 1988
Marquee Movies
http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/grave/
A very different role is played by fireflies in a 1988 animated film, The Grave of the Fireflies, based on a book by Akiyuki Nosaka, "who lost his little sister during the war to malnutrition." Here fireflies represent, not illusion or maya, but a realm of souls who have died.  As we have seen, this death-element is a continuation of an ancient theme in many cultures connecting fireflies to the stars as well as to the Underworld. Here is a summary of the film from this page:
Alternately known as Tombstone for Fireflies, Grave is a very somber film about the struggle of two children to survive during World War II. Seita and his younger sister Setsuko are left to fend for themselves when their mother passes away from severe burns inflicted by the American fire-bombing of their town. Their father is serving in the Japanese navy, but the children have not heard from him in a long time, so Seita and Setsuko try staying with a distant relative. However, Seita doesn't get along well with this relative and decides to leave, taking Setsuko with him, to live on their own.
http://marqueemovies.net/browse#history
Marquee Movies is a fascinating (but technically too fussy and irritating) site suggesting a wide range of films for teaching History & Social Studies or Math & Science. Fireflies is listed under History. Here is what the page says about it:
Children in World War II:
A chance to look at one of the most significant events in human history through the eyes of children.
http://filmsivewatched.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html
This is "Some Films I've Watched" by an unnamed critic. His/her comments on The Grave of the Fireflies are brief but worth citing:
A young boy has to look after his sister after their mother is killed by a US bombing raid towards the end of the second world war. The story is relentlessly tragic, only lightened by closely observed and subtle animation.
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20000319/REVIEWS08/3190301/1023
This is Roger Ebert's brilliant review for those who wish a fuller sense of its scope. He writes:
... "Grave of the Fireflies" is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation. Since the earliest days, most animated films have been "cartoons" for children and families. Recent animated features such as "The Lion King," "Princess Mononoke" and "The Iron Giant" have touched on more serious themes, and the "Toy Story" movies and classics like "Bambi" have had moments that moved some audience members to tears. But these films exist within safe confines; they inspire tears, but not grief. "Grave of the Fireflies" is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated, and I know what the critic Ernest Rister means when he compares it to "Schindler's List" and says, "It is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen." ...
Here is what he writes about the core firefly sequence:
...There are individual moments of great beauty. One involves a night when the children catch fireflies and use them to illuminate their cave. The next day, Seita finds his little sister carefully burying the dead insects--as she imagines her mother was buried....
Ebert concludes, "...it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made."

Shijo Surimono with fireflies and grasses
Japanese woodcut
(See directly below)
http://mappingthemarvellous.wordpress.com/2007/09/
Finally, this is "Mapping the Marvellous," a literate, beautiful, and engaging page on many levels (e.g., I'm no fan of Foucault's yet the few selections from his work are really splendid).  The opening entry is on Basho (1644-1694) and fireflies:
As an act of Buddhist kindness, Basho once ingeniously reversed a cruel haiku made up by his witty disciple.

    Kikaku had said: ‘A red firefly / Tear off its wings / A pepper.’

    Basho substituted: ‘A pepper / Give it wings / A red firefly.’

From André Breton, Ascendant Sign, 1942.

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Menu of Common Themes, East & West:
[Note: there are a great many more pages in this category --
please see my HOME Page for updates]

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This page created with Netscape 4.7. Colors may appear distorted on Macs.
Text and Design: © 2009 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
Page begun the afternoon of 13 May 2009 as part of my new Birds page;
then it was split off to become the Insects page. By 17-18 May 2009, I had found so many Firefly entries that it needed its own page as a sub-category under Insects.
25 May 2009: I launched the completed Insect page and then added this page as a work-in-progress.
4:35pm, 2 June 2009: finally, with one of my favorites, the Secrets of the Self link, I have finished this page. It still needs a final proof-reading, which I'll do tomorrow.
3 June 2009: spent all afternoon proof-reading -- finally launched at 6:15pm EDT.
4 June 2009: added comments on "firefly battle" and Tolstoy quote.
10 June 2009: added Michaela's report on ease of registering for Firefly Watch; also links to BEES page (although it won't be online for another day or so).
21 June 2009: added Steve Irvine's mini-review of a scientific book & mentioned Maya Angelou on "Poetry Soul Closet" site.