Regardless of its origins being clouded in obscurity, it can be a lovely ritual of conclusion (but not always, keep reading). When consulting with my couples, I always suggest that when it comes to weddings, if you break something, jump something, throw something, or release something...you do it at the end. There is just something about these activities that lend themselves so well to rituals of conclusion. The actions seem to naturally signal the transition from the ritual aspect of the ceremony to the celebratory atmosphere of the reception in a fun and visible way. However, when it comes to the butterfly release there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account.
Butterflies are living creatures that transform through a metamorphosis, are considered beautiful, soar into the air, and procreate. Consequently, they can be used as a metaphor in countless ways for a wedding ceremony. Officiants and couples are free to emphasize whatever concepts they wish when writing the words to be spoken during the ritual. Butterflies are most definitely rich in symbolism. There are also several ways to do the ritual. The couple featured in the images here released the butterflies themselves from a netted cage. I have officiated weddings where the guests were given little cardboard envelopes as they entered the venue. When guests are involved, the ritual is written so as to instruct everyone present to release a butterfly. (See example below)
Whether you are using a basket, cage, or individual envelopes, this is not a ritual to throw together at the last minute. It requires forethought and planning. A quick internet search results in many sites that sell butterflies precisely for wedding releases. Do keep in mind that generally the temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the ritual done outdoors during daylight hours for optimal results. HOWEVER.....
I do encourage couples to consider that the North American Butterfly Association and other respected organizations are opposed to the practice for a variety of reasons. Not surprisingly, the International Butterfly Breeders Association has their own response that is worth reading as well. For the reasons listed by the NABA, I'm personally not a fan of this ritual and advise couples to choose something else if they want my honest opinion.
Personally, I am not convinced the concerns of the NABA are worth the potential photo opportunities. I say potential, because roughly half of my couples who had their hearts set on including a butterfly release were disappointed in the results. In one case, the butterflies escaped from their netted basket too soon and were gone by the end of the ceremony. In another, the butterflies were almost dead and just fluttered helplessly in their envelopes. In yet another, the butterflies immediately took off and none stayed around long enough to be captured by the photographers. Please use due diligence when deciding if this is an appropriate ritual for your wedding and make sure you fully understand the pros and cons. This is one of those rituals that have consequences and you should be aware of them when considering it for your wedding.
Officiant: According to an old legend, for a wish to come true, you must first capture a butterfly and whisper to it your sincere and heartfelt wish. The butterfly symbolizes new beginnings, freedom and happiness. Take a moment to consider the gifts (Names) bring to one another and the shared potential of their life together. Make a wish, say a prayer, think a special thought or simply feel the love we celebrate this day.
I invite you to now release your butterfly. As they escape to the light, may the promise of (Name's) tomorrows always be bright. Let them carry your hopes for what the future may bring and your love uplifted on these butterfly wings. May (Name's) days together last as long as the offspring of these butterflies which shall endure in grace, beauty and liberty.