Originally published April 2017
Since Destiny 1, we’ve read about sporadic links between moths and the design of the game. You may remember, from back in the day, a fairly excellent post on the hidden lore of the Hive, in which we learned that, in the concept stage of D1, the Hive were initially modeled on moths.
You may also have read the follow up, which details the extent to which the design of the Hive is influenced by the appearance and biology of moths. If you haven’t, both offer good background on the visuals in Destiny, as well as what the Hive could have been.
There have been many, many other posts discussing the tangential design-based links between moths and the Hive. However, while /u/electriccartilage’s post offers a fantastically well thought out and ultimately prescient examination of the links between the Hive, worms, and moths, the symbol of the moth is tied to Destiny through more than just one alien race. It is woven into the imagery that accompanies the story, and even into the metaphorical framework that supports the entirety of the known Destiny universe.
Moths (and butterflies) are a recurring symbol in many cultures worldwide, ranging from that of Ancient Egypt and Greece to Ireland, China, and Native America. In most cases, the meaning is shared: butterflies and moths represent the souls of the departed. In Greek myth, butterflies are able to pass over to Hades’ domain, and cross the river Styx. In Irish myth, they’re souls stuck in purgatory, waiting for their turn to cross to the other side. In Chinese legend, moths are the souls of deceased loved ones.
If you’re like me, this sounds immediately similar to Destiny’s Guardians. Many of us have made the connection to Valhalla’s warriors, endlessly resurrected by Valkyries (Ghosts), but in this reading Guardians are instead the re-born souls of the departed, waiting in a post-lapsarian purgatory for the day they finally achieve their purpose - whatever it may be.
The meaning of the Destiny logo has been an ongoing source of argument and speculation since well before the original Destiny (D1) released. It resembles a person, arms upraise din praise. It resembles jaws, devouring something. Perhaps the three points of the triangular object represent the three classes of Guardian, with the Traveler at the center. Most simply, it is an inverted triangle or a Y-shape.
What seems certain is that the object in the center is of some importance: our eyes are drawn to it, it hovers above the triad, it is somehow contained by the triad. In my mind, there is no doubt that the ovoid orb is the Traveler, but with a little bit of image manipulation we can plumb the depths of meaning even further.
Next, let’s turn it upside-down.
One immediate association that comes to mind is that of a spaceship or space shuttle. We see plenty of these delta-winged shuttles in the Cosmodrome, still attached to colony ships, and when the logo is examined in this way it evokes science fiction and exploration through a shape familiar to anyone who’s ever dreamed of heading into space. In fact, the logo, when rotated, looks very similar to the colony ships themselves image: TombstoneTV on Imgur
It’s worth noting that the Arcadia, the first jump-ship unlocked in the original story, is of a similar delta-winged shape, as is the ship first shown in the advertisement for the Destiny Beta.
Now move the orb in Destiny logo so that it hovers above the point of the triad. Not only does the entire Colony Ship shown above mirror the shape of the inverted Destiny logo, but as you can see, it now looks almost exactly like an individual space shuttle heading towards the orb. If the orb is the Traveler, manipulating the logo in this way suggests a journey and a reaching out both to other planets, and to the Traveler itself.
However, I propose that, in addition to representing space travel, the Destiny logo references the shape of a moth, with the Traveler placed above it.
This image of the moth clasping at the Traveler is repeated elsewhere in the game. The first, and most obvious example, is the logo for the Taken King update, released in September of 2015. The most immediately evident reference made in this image is to Oryx’s head, which has been pointed out in many outlets to resemble almost exactly the body of a moth when inverted. In addition, we know from Bungie’s art stream on Twitch that Oryx is based on a moth, or at least that his wings are.
Here are the two images next to each other.
The Taken King graphic logo also mirrors the Destiny logo - a triad, encompassing an orb. In addition, the lines placed atop the upsilon reference both a crown and a cathedral, the symbol of kingship and the inspiration for the design of Oryx’s Dreadnaught, respectively. In its entirety, it once more resembles the shape of a moth, albeit less literally. In the Taken King logo, the up-swept arms are equally evocative of a moth’s antennae, which are, incidentally, what appears when you apply an ornament to the newly-updated Hunter cloak, the Shroud of Flies, received from Crota’s End.
Again, the two images next to each other.
The first image shoes a macro view of a moth’s antennae; the second shows the effect of the ornament when applied to the Shroud of Flies.
It makes a certain amount of sense to link the Hive directly to moths, being that moths are symbolically close to death and the afterlife, just as the Hive are. And, as has already been stated, Guardians themselves are metaphorically similar to moths in myth and legend - lost souls, of a kind, risen from the ground and searching for meaning or purpose.
However, t’s not just the Taken King logo in which we find further traces of the moth-shape. In the second expansion, House of Wolves, the logo again mirrors the Destiny logo. Of course, given the title of the expansion, we assume the logo is meant to represent the stylized skull of a wolf. However, when we look at the negative space, in addition to seeing the Destiny logo, we see the antennae, abdomen, and wings of yet another moth.
HoW logo and Destiny logo, side by side.
When looking at the four images above, we see that based on both visual similarity and metaphorical pertinence, one very logical interpretation of the Destiny logo itself is either that of a moth embracing the Traveler with wings upswept, or that of a macro-level image of moth antennae embracing the Traveler.
Finally, although I am wary of shoehorning every image in the game into that of a moth-shaped box, let us briefly discuss the logo for both The Dark Below and Rise of Iron. At that although at first glance, although the Rise of Iron logo appears to be absent of any moth imagery, the twining branches on the axe head (also representing what appears to be an Yggdrasil-like tree) suggest the same general upswept silhouette, suggesting wings, antennae, and abdomen similar in shape to those that I have illustrated above.
Close-up of the RoI "tree."
This could, of course, be construed simply as well-applied design principles adopted by a well-designed brand. However, given the constant appearance of moths elsewhere in the game and Bungie’s propensity for inserting meaning into hidden places, it seems to me that these similarities are intentional.
In the case of the logos for the House of Wolves and The Taken King, the symbolism of the moth is apt: in both of these expansions, a new threat (Skolas, followed by Oryx) has risen to attack us in order to claim the our light/Traveler - metaphorically, a moth seeking the light. By contrast, The Dark Below is the opposite, and is concerned with guardians bringing the Light to Crota to destroy him, hence the absence of moth-imagery.
Specific to House of Wolves is the link between Skolas, would-be Kell of Kells, and Sköll, a wolf from Norse mythology who chases the sun across the sky. I touched on this link in much more depth here. However, this is the pertinent excerpt from Grímnismál:
Skoll is the wolf | that to Ironwood Follows the glittering god, And the son of Hrothvitnir, | Hati, awaits The burning bride of heaven.
Here, we see the doubled connection between the wolf that chases a luminescent object and a moth that chases and orb of light, just as the logo for the House of Wolves is both a wolf’s head and the silhouette of a moth.
Rise of Iron lies somewhere in between. As a story arc that is more concerned with righting the wrongs of the past, with nostalgia and, to an extent, with redemption for Lord Saladin, it is relatively free from the constraints of moth-symbolism - except in that the image of the axe in its entirety, shown below, suggests a moth rising (a key aspect) from the “roots” of a tree. That is, a moth rises from the dead and makes its way towards the light, an image which will take on added importance in the next section. In this case, the upswept ‘wings’ suggest hope and redemption, both of which are features of the Rise of Iron campaign. Furthermore, the image of the moth or tree is once again superimposed upon a background that appears to be casting some sort of illumination.
See what I mean?
Finally, the upsilon itself - the Y - is also the symbol for the mass-to-light ratio in astrophysics. Although my knowledge of higher mathematics is non-existent, Wikipedia tells me that the mass-to-light ratio is “The quotient between the total mass of a spatial volume (typically on the scales of a galaxy or a cluster) and its luminosity."
Again, this means that the shape of the logo itself references luminescence. The speaker wears Destiny’s tricorn logo on his hood, and if nothing else its prominence as Destiny’s logo indicates it should be considered as more than a simple visual asset, and that instead it is tied to Light - to the power that literally and figuratively underpins all of our achievements in Destiny 1.
Extending this moth-metaphor across all of the graphics we see above provides further contextual support for the importance of the moth-as-symbol to the world of Destiny: both the Fallen and the Hive have come to earth to claim the Traveler. We know from the Books of Sorrow that the Hive are driven to devour light; similarly, the Fallen chase after the Traveler to reclaim its power for themselves. In both cases, these enemy races fit the metaphor of a moth chasing after a source of illumination (the Traveler), which is then represented in the visual representation of the campaign. All moths, after all, chase after light.
This brings to mind a major implication, as Guardians themselves are not exempt from this draw. Consider the many theories of the Traveler’s purpose and identity, proposed in-game and out. Consider also another meaning of the upsilon: known as Pythagoras’ letter, Y represents the trajectory of life splitting into paths of virtue and vice. In the case of the Destiny logo, the path splits around the Traveler itself - we don’t know which side is virtue, and which is vice.
Many Destiny players have already suggested that the Traveler is not an entirely beneficent presence, and the metaphor of a moth chasing a light lends credence to this: the source of light is not a kind god or necessarily a being at all, but an unfeeling presence against which all of the insects in the system (the Hive, the Fallen, the Vex, the Guardians) are vainly beating their tiny wings. And, as is true of all sources of heat, if any of those insects get too close, they are likely to be immolated.
If you’ve made it this far, you may have made the connection that moths have a larval stage, just as Hive Worms are shown to. Moth larvae come in many shapes and sizes, from the small and smooth to the large and hairy. Perhaps one of the best-known types of moth larvae is the wax moth larvae, which looks very similar to another type of larvae that appears on Oryx’s Dreadnaught.
Moreover, if you initiate a Ghost scan of these worms while on the Dreadnaught, your Ghost tells you the following: “According to the World's Grave, the Hive ingest those worms. Not for sustenance but survival. Spores, moths and worms. All things Earth's ancestors believed grew from the dead. Just a thought.”
Here is a waxworm larvae next to a Hive worm in the Ghost scan.
As a further piece of interesting symbolism, the wax moth larvae, also known as a waxworm (commonly found in pet stores as lizard food), is a pest very familiar to beekeepers. These worms feed on the bee’s honey, which can result in the destruction of the comb. Here is a fascinating piece of information, taken directly from Wikipedia:
“Populations of these moths take over the honeycombs of bee colonies, usually when the bees are in a weakened state. Lesser Wax Moths can often be seen in bee colonies trying to lay their eggs, but in most cases the worker bees will eliminate them and keep the moths from over-running the colony. When the colony is going through a period of stress, such as after the loss of its queen bee or under starvation conditions, the moths may completely take over the honeycombs.”
In other words, waxworms feed on the Hive from the inside out - just as is threatened in the Books of Sorrow IX (“If you do, your worm will consume you”), and just as ultimately happens to Oryx.
Early in D1, we learn that the moon is honeycombed with tunnels that have been bored - rather than dug - into the ground, as though something has chewed its way through the center of Luna. You’ll also note that, when traversing the labyrinth on the Dreadnaught that we enter after defeating Golgoroth, we encounter moths fluttering along the way, often over the pits into which careless Guardians can fall to their death.
As a metaphor for the Hive, the symbol of the moth is an ideal fit. It is a creature born from the dead who knows the secrets of the dead, and who - in Destiny - can then whisper those secrets to Oryx and his royal siblings. If all that we have seen of Hive Worms so far are the larvae, you may wonder what that a fully-grown creature would look like, just as /u/electriccartilege once wondered and just as I wonder now.
If you’ve really stretched, you may have come to the conclusion, as I have, that a Hive worm, and perhaps even the Ahamkara - the mysterious wish-dragons referenced in the Grimoire - may not be an entirely reptilian creature, but one similar in appearance to a moth. Consider the following passage from the Books of Sorrow chapter IX:
“I am Yul, the Honest Worm. Behold my passage. Behold my vast displacement, my ponderous strength, my great and coiling length, my folded jaws and curled wings.”
Initially, that does not sound like the description of a moth - it sounds much more like a dragon, as many have pointed out. However, ‘folded jaws’ is a rather apt descriptor of caterpillar mandibles, which look like this:
If you’ve ever had a tomato garden, you may have seen firsthand the massive destruction these tiny chompers can wreak. If something such as this were as large as the larval worms we meet on the Dreadnaught, or even as large as, say, the skeleton found inside Crota’s Crystal Room.
There’s also this description, from the Grimoire card “Ghost Fragment: Ocean of Storms 2”:
“The living creatures themselves, we found a hundred meters down. They might have been worms, if worms had scales and teeth and moved more quickly than a man could run.”
Again, that sounds an awful lot like a cross between caterpillars and serpents. Particularly since Lepidoptera, the order to which moths and butterflies belong, means “scaled wings.” Perhaps most horrifying, whatever the journal keeper from the above note found, it appears to not be the complete form of a Hive worm. For one thing, if the Dreadnaught is created from a single bone of Akka, these worms - even scaled and toothed as they are - are far too small. For another, they lack wings. This is further suggested in the Books of Sorrow VII: The Dive, which says this:
“Behind them, Xi Ro thought of the birthing-room, where ancient explorers had labored over surgeries and administrations, peeling back the chrysalis and the caul of that which they had made from the deep, whose birth none of them would survive…”
Now, although moths generally spin cocoons as opposed to butterflies, which form chrysalises, the idea is similar. And although this is not the occasion to discuss the Needle Ship piloted by the Osmium Sisters, the presence of a chrysalis further suggests a link between moths or Lepidoptera and the Hive. Ultimately, all of these links tell us one thing: a fully grown Hive Worm must be a terrifying sight indeed.
I have an idea, although it is pure speculation: googling ‘dragon moth’ takes you to the Spotted Apatelodes, which looks like this.
Not only does this little creature resemble the Destiny logo, with its delta-shaped body, but it also really does look like a dragon. If we ever meet a Hive worm, I imagine that it will appear similar to Oryx taken to his logical conclusion - a combination between the insectoid aspect of the Hive’s moth predecessors, and the serpent-dragon aspect referenced in the Grimoire.
It’s important to remember that not everything in Destiny can or should be shoehorned into a moth-shape box. This is, after all, a video game - and Bungie has full license to blend myths as they see fit. The narrative and Grimoire is a tangle of threads, but that does not mean that it is not worth pulling at the occasional individual strand, if only to see which other parts of the weave move in response.
Beyond being simply a visual inspiration for what we now know as the Hive, moths and moth-symbolism permeate the entirety of Destiny’s narrative and metaphorical structures. From the overarching metaphor of lost souls seeking the light, to the possible design of the Hive worms, the moth is a powerful symbol of death, change, and even rebirth. While we must, as always, wait to see how Destiny’s story develops in the future, it seems likely that moths will continue to feature in both the visual and narrative elements of the game.