Is a Native American Unity Ceremony Appropriate for Your Wedding?

Updated 03/25/19
The Native American wedding vase features two spouts for the bride and groom to drink from during the unity ceremony. © LibAmanda | Flickr

Wedding vases have been used as an important unity ceremony in Native American marriages for centuries. Originating among the Southwestern U.S. Navajo, Pueblo and Hopi Nations, the tradition has also been embraced by Cherokee tribes in the Southeast U.S. and Mexico. 

Clay has a long history of symbolizing life. Creation stories in both the Bible and Quran speak of humans being shaped from clay. Since clay is a product of Mother Earth, Native Americans believe each piece of pottery possesses an essence or spirit. During each step of the creation process, the artist sings and prays over the forming vessel. 

Use this as a guide to understand Native American unity ceremonies in order to determine if it is right for your wedding. Keep in mind that this is a spiritual ceremony of native tribes in the Americas for centuries; to reduce it to simply the garments and vases and other accessories would be considered appropriation and offensive. 

Preparing the Love Potion

Prior to the ceremony, a medicine man was traditionally responsible for preparing a love potion made of sweet nectar and holy water that links the couple together for eternity. The mixture also blesses them with a love that is deep enough to transcend the afterlife. The groom's parents typically assume this role now, preparing an herbal tea before the ceremony. Some couples simply choose to drink water. 

Drinking from the Vessel

During the ceremony, the bride and groom each take a sip of the sacred water then they simultaneously drink from the double-spouted vase to symbolize the joining of their two separate lives into one. Great blessings are believed to come to those who can manage this task without spilling a drop. By drawing spiritual nourishment from the same source, they are expressing their willingness to bind their paths along the same journey. 

The ritual typically takes place just before the vows are exchanged or right after the marriage pronouncement from the minister. These wedding vase prayers, quotes and ceremonial suggestions can help you and your minister explain to guests the meaning of the unity ceremony. Sometimes the wedding party is invited to sip from the jug to represent their role as supporters of the relationship. 

Design of the Wedding Vase

Native American wedding vases are available in a wide variety of styles and designs that reflect each tribe's unique artistic techniques and cultural folklore. The chemical compositions of the local clays also affect the colors. Despite this diversity, the shape of the wedding vase is universal. 

Featuring an ovoid body and a graceful double neck, two symmetrical spouts sprout out of the top where the handles are typically attached. The spouts are joined together by a rounded looped handle, which represents the bridge that joins two lives. The space created between the necks and handle symbolizes the circle of life. 

The body is intricately hand etched with cultural depictions and artistic geometric designs. Most often, the wedding vase is created using paddle stamping or horsehair pottery techniques. The handle can also feature decorative coils. 

A Beautiful Wedding Memento

Due to their sacred spiritual symbol of the relationship, these treasured wedding vases are never sold, even as works of art. An elder who has lost their spouse may pass their vase on to a family member who is getting married. 

For a modern variation on this Native American wedding unity ritual, place a vase at your guest sign-in table alongside two bowls of different colored beads. Instruct each guest to make one wish for the newlyweds and one for themselves before placing the beads into the vase. During the ceremony, have the officiant bless the vessel. You can either display the vase at home or string and hang the beads. 

Finding a Vase

Authentic vases are difficult to find outside of tribal reservations. However, several respected vendors sell their wares online. The wedding vases sold by Palms Trading Company are made by Hopi, Navajo, Santa Clara and Santo Domingo Pueblo artists. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, company offers personal shopping services to help couples find the perfect vessel. Kachina House, based in Sedona, Arizona, sells vases created by Native American artists from the Acoma, Hopi, Jemez, Navajo, Santa Clara and Zuni Tribes. 

The most important part of your wedding will be the unity of the lives of you and your spouse. Should you include a Unity Vase at your ceremony, be sure you also consider the spiritual aspects that the indigenous peoples respect. 

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