Ok, I’m sure you all have noticed by now that I am bit obsessed with meanings behind jewellery & its symbolism but you might need to put your preconceived ideas to one side for this one!
What do you immediately think of when you see a fly? Annoying little things that constantly bother you? The bane of picnics & BBQ’s everywhere? Dirty & irritating bugs that lay eggs on rotting rotting flesh, the spreaders of plagues, germs & disease? Well, yes, those negative perceptions are what comes to mind firstly to most people and this association with dirt plays a big part in how we see flies.
Yes, this is a jewellery blog, work with me on this one!
Everywhere we have made our homes throughout history, the fly has been with us & if you look further than the obvious, the annoying little fly has a myriad of positive connotations if you just look a little bit deeper.
The fly is a symbol of perseverance & persistence, they never seem to give up or go away & the fly will always find a way to survive, making the best of any situation it finds itself in. The fly triumphs in the harshest of environments, managing to breed & feed in places that most other creatures couldn’t, such is their determination to survive. These are all positive traits of motivation, dedication, triumph over adversity, perseverance & persistence that we all strive for in one way or another in our daily lives.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure perfectly sums up the symbolism of the fly, if the measure of available food is a symbol of wealth & abundance the fly is the richest of all creatures. The fact that flies actively seek out dead or rotting flesh & meat really doesn’t help with their association with death. But in their mission to survive & lay eggs, it could be interpreted that they are actually creating life where none exists. The emerging larva being the symbolic representation of rebirth & transformation, highlighting the fact that life will always go on.
Flies are not one of the most prominent symbols in the mythologies of various cultures as some other animals are, but they do appear.
In the Bible, flies were sent to torment the Egyptians as a punishment, but in Ancient Egyptian mythology, they carried a very different symbolic meaning. The fly, or Aff as it was known, was worn as a talisman or amulet, and was distinctly v-shaped, emphasizing the head and wings of the insect, fly amulets have been found in Egypt made from gold, silver, bone, lapis lazuli, faience, carnelian, and amethyst. Even then, these were expensive & highly valued materials which only a select few could afford and was probably believed to protect the wearer from insect bites or to ward off illness & disease.
The Ancient Egyptians appreciated the persistence, determination and the unwavering resolve of the fly as well as its bravery, qualities that were highly valued & expected in their soldiers. As such, the humble fly was elevated to a more impressive symbol during the New Kingdom period ( 1550BC - 1077BC).
Large fly pendants were used as royal rewards & given to officials to reward military achievements. As royal awards, these fly pendants were larger than their amuletic counterparts, made exclusively of gold, and given in conjunction with other gold rewards like the ‘Gold of Honour.’
A golden fly might be considered an unusual choice for a military reward, especially beside the more iconic symbol of the lion, but consider the undeniable persistence that flies exhibit, a single fly can feel like an unrepulsable enemy, swift and persistent, and you certainly wouldn’t forget the misfortune of getting caught in a swarm of flies.
Interestingly, the ancient Romans and Greeks called the god Jupiter the “fly driver” as they believed he could drive away flies. Two ancient artifacts bearing Jupiter’s image connect him with mastery over flies. The first is an ancient composite of Jupiter’s face with the body of a fly & the second is a gemstone with the head of Jupiter in the center and two flies below indicating his governance over them.
In Native American traditions, the meaning of the fly varies according to the tribe. Often, they symbolize death, curses and black magic, but to some Native Americans, they are seen as message bearers. Some also believe that flies were responsible for teaching man the secrets of fire. In Hopi tradition, flies were associated with prayers for fertility as well as a talisman for keeping strangers away. For the Navajo, the fly is connected to the spirit ancestors, and Big Fly is the protector of sand painting, watching over artists while they work.
While we are on the the subject of artists, known as Musca Depicta (Latin, Painted Fly) the fly was very often portrayed, life-size, in the most prominent places in the art of Dutch, German and Italian artists & painters of the 15th - 16th centuries. Its image used as protector or talisman against real insects that could seriously damage the art work & to symbolise the worthiness of even Gods smallest creations
We all know the Victorians had a fascination with anything associated with death & memento mori. In the 19th century, the fly had a huge symbolic significance as it was associated with the representation of human mortality and, by extension spiritual humility.
The Victorians also embraced the ancient belief that flies were a talisman against evil , often smothering fly brooches in symbolic gemstones such as diamonds ( strength and courage ), Topaz ( magnification, clarity and manifestation), Pearls ( self-care, nurturing and healing) & sapphire ( honesty, purity and trust)) to create complex meanings & symbolism.
Flies also symbolised secrets or secret-keeping in Victorian times, Im sure you have heard the well-known expression about being a “fly on the wall”. This refers to the ability of the fly to remain silent and listen to what’s going on without disturbing anyone. Hence, this can be interpreted as the keeper of secrets, seeing all but telling no one or simply just being a good listener, an essential character trait in forming strong bonds of friendship & relationships, a skill that is sometimes lacking in thus fast paced modern world.
The fact that flies actively seek out dead or rotting flesh & meat really doesn’t help with their association with death. But in their mission to survive & lay eggs which in fairness is pretty disgusting, it could be interpreted that they are actually creating life where none exists. The emerging larva being the symbolic representation of rebirth & transformation, highlighting the fact that life will always go on.
So think about it, Bravery, determination, perseverance, wealth, the positivity to adapt and survive & ultimately the ability to triumph over adversity, in a person these are all highly regarded attributes. The fly will never be cute & cuddly but with all their positive qualities, the fly does deserve to have its place recognised in symbolic jewellery
If you enjoyed our blog post, why not check out some of our other posts:
Hidden Symbolism - The Bee in Jewellery
Hidden Symbolism- The Crescent Moon In Jewellery