In folklore, butterflies are said to come from the faerie realm. In some Native American traditions, butterflies represent a living piece of a rainbow. In many cultures, butterflies represent the sweetness of life, the beauty of dance, the inevitability of change, and the power of transformation. It’s no wonder they’re associated with rites of passage, particularly weddings and funerals.
Back in 2012, in my first “official” year as a wedding officiant, I created a ritual I called “Butterfly Blessings” for Brittany and Renn. Brittany’s father had died shortly before the wedding. She associated butterflies with his spirit. Using butterflies in the ceremony gave her and her mother a sense of comfort.
In the seven years that followed, I’ve woven that ritual into other wedding ceremonies. Earlier this month, I recreated the ritual for Emily and Padriac. This coming summer, I’ll adapt the ritual for a memorial service. Butterfly Blessings can also be used as a healing ritual. You can use it to celebrate a birthday, too, especially for adults. In fact, the ritual can be used for any celebration that focuses on transformation. More on that later.
For a wedding ritual, here’s what you’ll need.
BUTTERFLIES – Not live butterflies! I use butterflies made of feathers or fabric. Each one is attached to a small alligator clip. You can use butterflies made of glass or wood or paper. For those, you’ll need string or wire to attach them to greenery, vines, or twigs. In the wedding, we used multicolored butterflies in a variety of sizes. Some were made of feathers. Some of fabric. Some were plain. Some had glitter. Because of what I wrote for two of the blessings, one butterfly needed to be yellow and one needed to be white.
GREENERY, VINES AND TWIGS – You need to be able to attach the butterflies to something. When Brittany and Renn got married, her uncle made an arbor for them to use for the ceremony. Later, it would be placed in the front yard of their new home. The arbor was decorated with sunflowers and greenery, plenty of vines and stems for clipping a butterfly.
Emily and Padriac chose something more portable. They filled an Oriental vase with twigs she had purchased at a crafts store. The vase sat on a small table in the ceremony space. If you plan ahead – and especially if you like to hike – you can collect your own twigs.
Instead of a vase, you could fill a basket with twigs. The sinuous curls of hazelnut twigs are particularly pretty. If you’re using this ritual with children, you can use colorful pipe cleaners.
PRESENTERS – You need people to present the butterflies. As a wedding ritual, Butterfly Blessings works best with seven guests. Seven is a lucky number. It echoes the ancient belief that the Sun, Moon, and planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were sky gods. If you lived in ancient times and were preparing to go on a voyage, or a hunt, or enter a competition, or get married, you would make offerings to all seven deities to increase your chances of success. Plus, having seven presenters gives a wedding ritual the fullness it needs.
BLESSINGS – With seven presenters, you need seven blessings. Because I created this ritual around butterflies, I wanted the blessings to affirm qualities of butterflies and how those qualities relate to a marriage. For a birthday or memorial or other event, you would rewrite the blessings accordingly. I’ll share the blessings I wrote for the wedding in a moment.
THE WEDDING RITUAL – Here’s how I incorporated the ritual in Emily and Padriac’s ceremony. Prior to the day of the wedding, Emily gave me the names of the seven butterfly presenters. They were all women so we referred to them as “the butterfly girls.” The week before the ceremony, Emily told the butterfly girls that they would be involved in the ceremony. She assured them they would not have to speak. She instructed them to find me when they arrived for the wedding. The nature of this ritual is simple. There was no need for the butterfly girls to attend the rehearsal.
On the day of the wedding, I arrived early and stood in a conspicuous place so the butterfly girls could find me. I gave each one a butterfly and a slip of paper. The paper showed the gift her butterfly represented and the order in which she would be called. The paper also included the blessing I would read. Even though the butterfly girls would not read the blessings themselves, I wanted them to know what I would say so they could imbue their butterflies with matching energy.
At an appropriate point in the ceremony, I introduced the ritual. Just as I’ve done for the rituals “Garden Gifts” (Episode 5 of the podcast) and “Gifts from the Trees (Episode 6) I said a few words about gift-giving at weddings. I talked about how couples today might receive anything from crystal to camping equipment and how gifts used to represent qualities desired in a marriage. I also mentioned that Emily and Padriac liked butterflies.
Then, one at a time, I called the gifts and the name of the presenter. As each woman came up to the ceremony space, she stood and held the butterfly for all to see while I read the blessing. The she clipped the butterfly to one of the twigs and returned to her seat.
You can, or course, have each presenter read the blessing. Just be aware that unless the person is comfortable speaking into a microphone, you run the risk that guests won’t hear the words. If the presenter is comfortable with a microphone, you run the risk that he or she will ad lib, talk too long, and disrupt the energy of the ceremony.
Here are the blessings I wrote for Emily and Padriac:
#1 I call for BEAUTY, gift of the butterfly.
The colorful, stained glass wings of the butterfly have inspired imaginations the world over. May you always see the beauty in each other’s hearts.
#2 I call for GENTLENESS, gift of the butterfly.
The graceful movement of the butterfly reminds us that much can be accomplished with a gentle touch. May the tender hug, the sweet kiss, the knowing smile remind you of the strength in being gentle.
#3 I call for RESILIENCE, gift of the butterfly.
Some butterflies are known to travel great distances each year. Their resilience reminds us of what can be accomplished with a focused goal. May your marriage be blessed with the focus, determination, and resilience needed for each of you to achieve your goals.
#4 I call for PEACEFULNESS, gift of the butterfly.
Before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it undergoes an ordeal of surrender, struggle, and transformation. The reward is a peaceful awareness of its strength and ability to survive. May you transform any struggles with the peaceful strength of the butterfly.
#5 I call for ETERNAL HAPPINESS, gift of the butterfly.
From agricultural times centuries ago, the sight of a golden butterfly symbolized the sun, a bountiful harvest and, therefore, eternal happiness. As you grow your future and your family, may you laugh together, always seeing the best in each other.
#6 I call for GUIDANCE from the ANCESTORS, gift of the butterfly.
In many cultures, a white butterfly symbolizes a connection to the spirit realm, particularly to ancestors believed to guide us through life. May your marriage be blessed with such guidance, and may you guide each other when needed.
#7 I call for LOVE, gift of the butterfly.
One of the butterfly’s most powerful message is that a couple is transformed when they love and are loved in return. May love always inspire you to give the best of yourselves to each other.
Keep in mind that when guests at a wedding know each other, they will recognize why the couple paired certain presenters with certain butterflies. Sometimes, the pairing is humorous. Sometimes, poignant. Here’s an excerpt from a note I received from Emily and Padriac: “…We have had SO many people comment that it was the BEST wedding ceremony they have witnessed. Even the men admitted to dropping a few tears…”
When the ceremony was over, several guests came up to take photos of the butterflies. I can easily see Butterfly Blessings as the “newest thing” in wedding ceremonies. Just imagine bouquets filled with butterflies, or butterfly boutonnieres. Imagine the bride wearing a wreath of flowers and butterflies. There are lots of possibilities.
BIRTHDAY – You can also use Butterfly Blessings in a birthday celebration. You’ll want to tweak the wording of the blessings so they’re personal to the guest of honor. The essence of the ritual is the same. Since birthday parties aren’t usually limited to 30 minutes the way many wedding ceremonies are, you can have each presenter read the blessing and, if appropriate, add a few personal words.
A SELF-AFFIRMING ACTIVITY FOR CHILDREN – You can easily adapt this ritual for children. Talk to them about butterflies, their habits and habitat, the food they eat, the qualities they represent. You might have pictures of butterflies for them to color. Then, instead of having a butterfly associated with a blessing, encourage each child to simply honor what the butterfly represents by attaching one to a twig, or pipe cleaner. If you feel the twigs or pipe cleaners pose a danger, attach the butterflies to a ribbon that can be displayed in the home or classroom.
Depending on the age of the children, you might have each child say something simple, such as:
My butterfly likes to dance and so do I.
My butterfly likes bright colors and so do I.
My butterfly likes to make people happy and so do I.
FUNERAL / MEMORIAL – In some cultures, white butterflies are believed to be the spirits of the dead. For others, to see a white butterfly is to remind us of someone we’ve lost.
In early Christianity, butterflies were symbols of the soul. I just recently watched the movie, Mama Mia, Here We Go Again. In the first scene of this sequel to the original Mama Mia, we learn that the mother, Donna Sheridan, the character played by Meryl Streep, died a year before the movie opens. One of the first things I noticed was the butterfly necklace worn in the movie by both mother and daughter. It’s a statement piece in more ways than one!
As I record this podcast, my own heart is heavy. A dear friend, Anne Walradt, died a few days ago. The week before her death, she and her husband and their daughter asked me to create a memorial service. I’m honored to do so. The service will be held in the summer, at the annual conference of the International Women’s Writers Guild, a conference Anne and I attended for many years. The memorial will honor Anne as well as other members of the Guild. I plan to incorporate butterflies, a single black butterfly for each Guild member lost in the previous year, and a rainbow of colorful butterflies to celebrate their lives.
BUTTERFLIES, FAERIES, and ANGELS – In folklore and fantasy, we often see the association of butterflies with faeries and other nature spirits. In the book Animal Speak by the late Ted Andrews, we learn that some butterflies, the black and gold Zebra Heliconius, are associated with the archangel Auriel in her guise as the guardian of nature spirits. …
AROUND THE WORLD – Here are some butterfly nuggets from around the world and an idea of how you might incorporate the nugget into a Butterfly Blessing.
In ancient Greece, Aristotle named the butterfly psyche, a word that also means soul.
May you reflect on the butterfly and see your inner beauty.
The Romans had a coin with a butterfly to symbolize the soul.
May the butterfly remind you of the power of love.
The Aztecs believed that butterflies were the spirits of the dead who had found happiness. The living would always smell flowers from the side, not the top. The fragrance at the top was reserved for the spirits of the dead.
May the butterfly remind you to reflect on what happiness means.
In Mesoamerica, evidence suggests that colorful butterflies represent the souls of fallen warriors.
May the butterfly honor the sacrifice of those who served our country.
In China, a butterfly shown with a plum suggests a long life. A butterfly shown with a chrysanthemum suggests beauty in old age.
May your life be long and beautiful in every way.
In the Appalachian Mountains, counting the spots on a particular kind of butterfly, the heavily spotted fritillary, predicts the amount of money coming your way.
May the butterfly show you the way to abundance.
Irish folklore likens the fluttering of the butterfly to flickering fire, a key element in seasonal festivals.
May the butterfly light the fire of your creativity.
These are just a few examples of how you can weave facts and fables with blessings you can use in various rituals.
BE THE CHANGE – The late Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Butterflies represent change and the power to transform into something that can inspire all that is beautiful, gentle, joyful, focused, and resilient. Don’t let their delicate appearance fool you!
THE PODCAST – Finally, if you want to create or deepen a spiritual practice for yourself or your family, add rituals. A ritual can be as simple as making a wish and blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. After all, a ritual is simply a visible act performed with invisible intent.
Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Matical Powers of Cratures Great & Small by Ted Andrews