Sacred Vessels: Holding Spirit - The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life - Denise Linn 2015

Sacred Vessels: Holding Spirit
The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

My husband and daughter and I were visiting an unpopulated, wild stretch of coast on the Yucatán peninsula a few years ago. As I walked along the water’s edge and dodged the waves, something caught my eye. I picked up a shard of very old pottery that seemed to be of Mayan origin. As I continued to comb the isolated beach and the shallow waters, I found many pieces of pottery. Some looked like they’d been fired in the flames, and others had geometric designs that were still evident. Many pieces had barnacles on them from their time in the sea.

As I held a large piece in my hands, my mind traveled back in time to the individual who crafted this pot. I wondered what his or her life was like and what feelings and intention they were putting into the pot as they crafted it. A similar feeling fills me as I look at photos of pottery created hundreds of years ago by my Cherokee forebears (who have one of the longest continual traditions of pottery making in America). Their relationship to their pottery was a kind of connection to creation as a whole.

In the center of our coffee table, which is in the center of our living room, there’s a large pot. It’s handmade and was fired in an open-air flame, and has burn marks up its side. It’s been in that exact spot for the 14 years that we’ve lived in our current home. Every night, as we retreat into the living room, my husband sits on one side of the pot, and I sit on the other. Although we don’t talk about the pot or even usually think about it, it feels as though it’s central to our lives. Its presence brings a kind of alchemy to our conversations every evening. Perhaps the pot subliminally evokes a kind of ancestral memory when pots and baskets were essential to sustaining life and used in sacred ceremonies.

Inside that large pot, I’ve placed many objects from native cultures throughout the world. There are beaded necklaces from my time in Africa, pod necklaces from my travels to Brazil, a Native American gourd rattle, eucalyptus pods from the Aborigines of Australia, several small antlers found in the woods, a number of river stones, small lidded baskets filled with resins from the Middle East, and much more . . . all nestled in a bed of juniper needles. Next to it on the coffee table is another handmade pot that is filled with red sand from various places in the world, such as the Australian Outback, Monument Valley in Utah, the South of France, and Sedona in Arizona. The red sand symbolizes the blood of Mother Earth and carries a strong life force. This pot was handmade by an Australian artisan. She explained that the carved lizard encircling the top was symbolic of the lizard that was keeper of the dreamtime, and the bowl of the pot represented the dreamtime. This is the pot that I use for burning sage, resins, and incense. (It’s especially meaningful to me because of the experience that I had with the Aborigines in which I shape-shifted into a lizard.) These pots hold spirit, and pots in your home can do the same.


Spirit and function are deeply interwoven in native traditions. A functional object, such as a pot or basket, can also serve as a sacred object. In addition to carrying things, these can also be receptacles for “medicine” and revered objects. In native traditions there is the belief that everything has a living spirit and pottery and baskets (especially those that were decorated with special symbols) were thought to carry a hallowed energy.


Pots and baskets are not just functional objects; symbols of the natural world are frequently depicted on them. For example, to the Zulu, a basket with whorls or circles means good news and plentiful rains. Interestingly, some designs are born out of a weaver’s or potter’s dreams. In many cultures, dream-inspired baskets are held in the highest regard. Some baskets are even thought to represent the universe and Great Mystery. In some cultures, baskets were thought to be living things because they were made from “plant people” and thus carried the living spirit of the plants from which they were made. Consider placing a pot or basket in your home with the intent of calling Spirit into your dwelling, and blessings will radiate out in all directions.


Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of officiating at a number of weddings. During these ceremonies, I often gift a pot or basket to the couple. As part of the service, we invite each person in attendance to place their blessings—in either written or symbolic form—into the sacred vessel. As the couple moves forward into their life, they’ll carry all of these blessings with them in their pot.

My present-day practice is an echo of many native practices. The wedding basket is an ancient tradition that’s still used in some cultures today. As so many cultures have wedding baskets as a central part of a marriage ceremony, perhaps the weaving of the basket represents the weaving together of lives.

To the Navajo, the center-most point of the wedding basket represents the beginning of the world. This is believed to be where the spirit of the basket lives. The center is always the place of beginnings—it is where all things are birthed and where the couple’s life together commences. Every color and design on the basket represents a different aspect of their life as they grow together. In these baskets, there’s always a singular pathway from the outer section to the center. This gateway is said to remind the couple that no matter what darkness they may encounter in life, there is always a pathway to the light.


A bride in Zambia, in the Upper Zambezi River region, receives a wedding basket from her mother-in-law, which she, in turn, will pass down to her daughter-in-law. It’s not uncommon for these bas kets to be passed down for generations. These baskets take about two months of continued labor to create—from cutting the roots of the makenge bush, boiling them to soften them, and then coloring the fiber with natural plant dyes. It’s a long journey from its conception to its birth. In that part of the world, baskets are often one of a woman’s most valued possessions.

In Hopi tradition, the bride brings a basket to her mother-in-law’s home, piled high with cornmeal. The last loop of the basket is left unfinished to symbolize a long life for her new husband. When the husband dies, the basket is buried with him. In Indonesia, the family of the groom carries red baskets to the bride’s family, each one filled with a different gift. The Iban, a tribe in Borneo, use elaborately decorated baskets as a part of a woman’s dowry when she marries.


In many traditional Native American weddings, a wedding pot is gifted to the couple. The vessel has two spouts: one spout represents the husband and the other the wife. In turn, symbolically, the husband’s and wife’s lives mingle in the bowl of the vessel. In a traditional ceremony, the couple drinks a special mixture out of the vessel, which symbolizes the blending of their lives.


1. Create (or obtain) a pot or basket. Cleanse it by letting it sit in the sun for at least three hours.

2. Decorate your pot or basket using decorations and symbols that are meaningful to you.

3. Hold the vessel in your hands. Then imagine that you are filling it with your love, blessings, and prayers.

4. Place objects into it that represent blessings for yourself, your family, and your home. For example, you can place tumbled river stones into the pot or basket on which you have written the name of each family member. As you place the stone into the vessel say, “[Name of person], may you be blessed,” or whatever feels right. You can also write words that are meaningful to you on each stone, or simply take each stone and place it in the basket with a verbal prayer or blessing.

Anything that is meaningful to you can go into the vessel. You can also cut small pieces of paper and write on each one the blessings you desire (as if they were already received). For example, you could write Peace and prosperity fill this home. Then roll each blessing up and tie it with a ribbon or cording to look like a small scroll.

5. The center of the vessel is the most important and this is the birthing place, so if there is anything that you desire to give birth to, an object that represents this should be placed in that spot.

6. Place this blessing pot or basket in an area where the blessings can continue to radiate throughout your home and into your life.

Although there is a learning curve, a special way to create a blessing pot or basket is to learn how to weave a basket or throw a pot on a pottery wheel. Anything that is created with a soulful heart will contain sacred energy within its core.