The Cicada – A Symbol of Rebirth
Peter Lourie, in his book “The Mystery of the Maya: Uncovering the lost city of Palenque” mentions these creatures as well. “Hearing the roar of howlers and the whine of cicadas in the long, hot jungle afternoons in Chiapas, Mexico, is an important part of my research into the ancient Maya civilization,” he says.
A symbol of rebirth
Linnaeus named the Cicada which means “tree cricket” in Latin. The group’s genus Magicicada comes from the Greek word Magi, meaning magic. The lifecycle and metamorphosis of this cricket was observed by ancient Greeks, Chinese and Mayas. They craftily associated the creature’s emergence from the ground and transformation into a winged invertebrate fully capable of flight, to rebirth and the immortality in poetry, literature and art.
Cultural Entomology Digest featured an article by Garland Riegel where he describes the Chinese custom of placing Jade Cicada carvings on the tongues of the dead for […induction of resurrection through sympathetic magic…]. And The Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art describes the cicada as a Chinese and Greek symbol of renewed life and immortality.
In Maya and Aztec Culture, a carved jade cicada was used in funerary rituals. The carving was placed on the tongue of the dead prior to burial and believed to at some point bring new life to the dead just as the cicada emerges from the ground and sheds its dead skin.
What’s that sound?
One rainforest dweller that never hesitates to announce its presence with a loud chirp is the Cicada. There are some 3000 species of Cicada, an abundance of which are found in tropical rainforests. One of their most prominent features is their ability to produce loud sounds. The sound producing organ of the Cicada consists of two thin membranes in the cuticle called “tymbals” which are situated on each side of the first segment of the abdomen. In North America the most common species is the Tibicen emerge during the longest days of the year, attributing them with the colloquial aphorism “Dog-day Cicadas”. The genus Magicicada live up to 17 years and thus are commonly referred to as”17 year Cicadas”.
More than just a cricket
An interesting fact about insect human relations is that the first recorded instance is an inscription of a cave cricket on a bison bone by a Cro-Magnon person over 20,000 years ago. The cricket has since become an important part of human life, in the symbolism and folklore of ancient civilizations and now ever present in the daily lives of those near nature and even in popular culture as in the children’s animated character Jimmy Cricket.
Photography by Naturalist guide: David Juarez