Cherokee marriage

  1. BulletCourting and proposal

  2. BulletCherokee Marriage Ceremony

Thanks to the Cherokee Master artist Dorothy Sullivan for allow me to use

her wonderful illustration. "Cherokee wedding son"

You can look at more samples of her art at


Some information has been extracted from the book "The Cherokee People,

The Story of the Cherokee from Earliest Origins to Contemporary Times" by Thomas E. Mails

  1. BulletDivorces, adultery

  2. BulletCherokee Wedding prayer

Courting and proposal

Members of the same clan were considered to be near relatives who were not allowed to intermarry. In ancient times, Cherokees seldom married a second time, since the only second marriages considered honorable were those involving a brother's widow who needed a man to provide for her.

There were several ways of making proposals and consummating marriages. In one way,
when a young man wanted to marry a young woman, he spoke with his parents and her parents, and sometimes with a brother from each of the participating clans, whose consent was essential. When all parties agreed, a time was set for the married, and the priest who would officiate was notified. Early in the morning on the marriage day, the priest obtained two roots of a certain kind and laid them a small distance apart on the palm of his hand. Then, with his face turned toward the east, he prayed, asking whether the bride and groom were meant for one another and whether they would live long and happily together. If the answer was no, the roots would not move. If only for a short period of time before one of them would die, the roots would move together and one root would quickly wilt. In either instance, the priest forbade the marriage, and nothing more was said about it. But if the roots came together, the omen was good. The couple, their families and friends then assembled in the town council house, and in a brief ceremony the priest commended the couple to God.

A pubescent young woman about to go through her first menstrual period was immediately separated from the rest of the family and retired to a distant camp where she remained for seven days. During this time no person might touch her, and she was careful not to handle even her own food. Another woman fed her. At the end of the seven days she washed herself, her clothing, and whatever else she had touched during her uncleanness, then returned to her family. She was now eligible to be married.

A second manner of courting, if a young man fell in love with a girl before her change, he spoke to her parents about her, and if they were willing to give her to him, he kept the girl supplied with venison, and she was not allowed to marry another person. Once she had undergone her first menstruation, the marriage ceremony took place. It was accepted as a contract for life, and if either person forsook the other, the one who did it so was usually publicly whipped by a town official, and the wife had her hair cropped by the women of the town.

In a third manner of proposal and marriage, the young man relayed his desire through a female relative who conferred with the mother of the girl. If the mother said no, she asked her brother or her oldest son to tell the female relative the news. If the mother consented, the young man was permitted to share the bed of the girl he wanted.

A fourth manner, a purchase contract was entered into. The suitor either devoted his services for a specified time to the parents of the maiden he was courting, hunting for them or assisting in the making of the canoes, or offering presents. The maiden could not refuse if the parents approved the match. Then, at the marriage ceremony, she was stripped of any gift clothing by her relatives, who claimed it for themselves, and in that state she was presented to him as his wife.

In another style of marriage ceremony, on the eve of the wedding, the groom feasted with male companions in a dwelling on one side of the town council house, and the bride and her companions on the opposite side. The entire town convened in the town council house for the ceremony, where the oldest married men took the highest seats on the other, same the wedding day.


Cherokee ceremony

Now you will feel no rain for each of you will be shelter for the other 

Now you will feel no cold for each of you will be warmth for the other

 Now there is no loneliness

 Now you are two persons but there is only one life before you

 Go now to your dwelling to enter into the days of your life together and may your days be good and long upon the earth

 ("Wedding Braids" by Stan Davis)


Divorce and adultery

Divorces were infrequent, but they did happen, and al that was required to formalize the parting was a dividing of the blankets, which reversed the act performed at the wedding. The law against marriage within the clan was the most stringent of all Cherokee laws. Anciently, the death penalty applied to the breaking of this law, and the penalty was inflicted by the members of the offended clan themselves. Death penalty was replaced by whipping, and later on penalties for marriage within the clan were abolished.

Adultery brought disgrace to the offenders; if adultery was proven against a wife, all her possessions were taken away and she was turned out of the house. When separations were mutually agreed upon and the blanket was divided, the couple's possessions were equally divided, and the children went with the mother.

A priest could not marry a widow, a woman who had been divorced by her husband or a woman of bad character. The marriage of a priest was attended by special ceremonies, and his wife must be approved by his seven counselors. She must be a virgin and of unblemished character. Great honor was attached to her person, and when her husband died, she in some respects filled his place until  his  successor was consecrated.

Painting "Cherokee Wedding Song"

            by Cherokee master artist Dorothy Sullivan

            limited edition prints available


            Memory Circle Studio, Inc

           p.o. Box 732, Norman, Ok. 73070

            (405) 360-0751

A priest escorts the groom to one end of the open space in the council house (north or south)

A priest escorts the bride to the opposite end of the space.

The couple meet at the center, near the sacred fire ( the sacred fire is the gift of light, knowledge, heat ... the bedrock of civilization)

The priest stands, facing the east, toward the door of the council house ( groom on one side, bride on the other)

The groom’s mother stands beside the groom. (children belong to the mother, and her family) She holds the gifts of venison and a blanket (food and a warm bed for his wife - symbols of his ability to support her)

 The brides mother stands beside the bride. She holds the gifts of corn and a tanned skin (food and clothing for her warrior/husband to be)

The brides brother stands behind his mother. The brother accepts responsibility for his sister and her children (he will be the godfather if the husband is killed) 

The bride and groom wear blue blankets over their shoulders (traditional symbol of their Old Ways - single life) 

The priest says a prayer blessing the sacred fire and the marriage union. (thanks to God for his blessings) 

The priest asks the Great Spirit for a long and happy life for the couple.

The bride gives the groom a red and black (cloth) belt that she has made.

The groom accepts and puts on the belt.  (accepts the union) (replaces the wedding ring in modern society)

The mothers give their gifts to their children.  The bride and groom exchange these gifts. (marriage is acceptable by the mothers)

The bride and groom join their blankets, symbolizing mutual support ( both under the double blue blankets)

The bride and groom share a corn drink from a double sided vessel. (Share the fruits of their labors - crushed dried corn and water) 

They drink East, West, North, South (declaring their marriage to all the earth)

The priest drinks Up toward the Heavens, Down to Mother Earth, and toward the couple (Only the priest can ‘address’ the spirits of Heaven and Earth to bless the union.  After the spirits of heaven and earth have been asked to bless the union, the priest directs the spirits attention to the bride and groom.  They are the ‘center’ of the union, and must constantly reflect on their inner thoughts to make the marriage work. )

The vessel is thrown down and broken, to seal the wedding vows. 

The broken fragments are buried (returned to mother earth)

The blue blankets are shed and a white blanket is wrapped over the shoulders of the couple, symbolizing the union. (symbol of happiness) 

A wedding feast is held (traditionally by the whole village, but not practical today) 

The couple walk silently and alone to their dwelling place, among the bride’s family

(the groom  goes to live with the wife’s clan and the house belongs to her. The children also will belong to the wife's clan, having her brothers more responsibility and control over them than the father).

Cherokee prayer

God in heaven above

please protect the ones we love.

We honor all you created as we pledge

our hearts and lives together.

We honor mother-earth

 and ask for our marriage to be abundant

and grow stronger through the seasons;

We honor fire

and ask that our union be warm

and glowing with love in our hearts;

We honor wind

and ask we sail though life

safe and calm as in our father's arms;

We honor water

to clean and soothe our relationship

 that it may never thirsts for love;

With all the forces of the universe you created,

we pray for harmony and true happiness as we forever grow young together.


Note: please do not email me about how to get a Cherokee wedding ceremony in your area or asking for names of priests to office the ceremony, I really cannot help you, I do not keep a list of resources. Thanks for your understanding.