Considering The Butterfly Release

In the middle of the winter, some couples may be dreaming of a summer wedding. One summer ritual is the butterfly release. The beauty, meaning and intent is wonderful. It is not however without controversy, so let’s take a closer look.

Several couple’s I’ve worked with had a butterfly release for their ceremony, and it went well most of the time. The butterflies seemed fine to me. A butterfly release can also be used for funerals, memorials and other types of events.

The box with the butterflies is ready...

The popular background story of this ritual is supposed to be based on a Native American legend, although like many legends from many cultures, the reality is questionable. But whether authentic or not, it is a cool story – so why not? Here’s the purported tale:

According to legend anyone who desires a wish to come true must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Because a butterfly can not make a sound, the butterfly cannot reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit, who hears and sees all.
 In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish.
 So by making a wish and giving the butterfly its freedom, the wish is taken to the heavens and granted. 
I might also add something about the guests’ wishes for the couple, or the couples’ wishes for their future.

There are many ways to infuse a variety of meanings into this ritual because butterflies also represent hope, new life, peace, and a connection to nature. Knowing that butterflies go through the process of metamorphosis, serves as excellent symbolism, as does the idea of taking flight.

... and out they go!

Some people find the butterfly release objectionable because the butterflies are bred and shipped (overnight) in envelopes, and kept cool until just before their release. Does a butterfly feel any discomfort from this? I have no idea. Are butterflies injured or killed in this process? According to the companies that provide them – less than 1% – but it is certainly in their own self-interest to say that. PETA (People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals) objects to it, and while some find PETA rather extreme, it’s worth at least listening to their concerns. PETA wisely reminds us that butterflies are living things and not merely decorations.

To the credit of these companies selling the butterflies, they do give very clear instructions about the season, climate, and shipping, to insure both safety and success. It is up to you, the consumer, to be very mindful of those instructions. Monarchs are used, and the sellers claim they are hardy. Butterflies are cold-blooded which means they take on the temperature of their surroundings. They move slower in the cold, and faster in the warmth, so keeping them cool in shipping and holding time is how and why this process works. About 20 minutes before their release you unpack them and let them warm up to the outdoor temperature.

I’ve seen and heard about both good and disappointing results, and my recommendation is that for the ritual to be fully visually pleasing and exciting you really need to purchase quite a lot of butterflies. The beautiful photos are from a recent couple I officiated for – their release went beautifully!

..and a beautiful, happy bride!

Dove releases have similar pros and cons as butterflies. I’ve observed that people who work with the doves have a passion for it, and these homing pigeons have been used for centuries, and kept as pets and working birds. But similar questions might come into play. A reputable bird handler would not jeopardize their birds, they love them, and the pigeons will fly back to their home to roost.

There are many cool rituals for the end of a wedding ceremony used to send the couple down the aisle with a visual bang. Consider the traditional rice, birdseed, confetti, or petal tossing, as well as bubbles. You can jump the broom, jump the oak branch, ring bells, break the glass, or have confetti cannons! Sparklers are nice, but only if it’s dark outside.

Butterflies are one of these ‘end of ceremony’ rituals, but only you can decide if its right for you.

photos by  Sabrina Schantzen Photography

Thank you Sabrina!

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