In many spiritual traditions around the world as seemingly disparate as Chinese Folk Religion, Haitian Vodou, Brazilian Candomblé, European Faerie Magic and various forms of Native-American Shamanism and Hinduism you will notice one common trend: The Feeding of Ancestors and Spirits. In all of these traditions and many others, elaborate feasts are prepared for different categories or pantheons of spirits depending of the time of year or celebration being observed or the spiritual assistance one is attempting to seek. The prescribed offerings and the types of spirits invoked through food offerings vary from culture to culture, but making food offerings is a universal theme. The need to feed incorporeal entities may seem strange, yet the question arises: why is it such a fundamental aspect of so many spiritual traditions around the world?
Spirits do not have corporeal bodies as do living beings and therefore do not require food for sustenance, yet so many spiritual traditions require the feeding of the dead as well as the particular spirits associated with the tradition in question, in Louisiana Voodoo, the tradition with which I am most familiar, these spirits are known as lwa. There are two main reasons to support and explain the practice of feeding spirits. First, it is a sign of respect and kindness just as you would prepare a meal for family and friends, you can do the same for friends and family who have crossed over to the other side or for saints to show your gratitude and respect. Making food offerings to spirits is quite common at festivals throughout the world such as the Mexican Days of the Dead, the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival or the Japanese Obon celebration. Secondly, on a metaphysical level, when we request the help of a spirit or saint in carrying out a task or achieving a certain goal, we make food offerings to them so that they can take the energy generated by the offerings and use it to our advantage to manifest our desired goals on the physical plane. There are the main reasons why presenting food offerings to spirits is so common throughout the world in various magical and spiritual traditions.
The types of food that we offer to spirits varies from culture to culture and the type of spirits we intend to invoke. In Asian cultures, the food offered to the spirit world tends to be exactly what people enjoy easting. In Afro-Caribbean spiritual traditions, food offerings tend to be quite simple and bland with the exception of the dishes offered to the Ghede and some Petro lwa in Haitian Vodou which tend to be heavily spiced with black and red pepper. In New Orleans Voodoo, my area of expertise, the most common type of offerings we make are to our own ancestors and personal spirit guides. These offerings are called “white foods” since they are mostly starch or flour based and white in color. White food offerings often include steamed white rice, bread, four dumplings, popcorn, pancakes and corn meal mush. Black coffee, glasses of water and spirituous beverages such as rum, vodka and beer are also offered. When making offerings to the dead, it’s important that the dishes prepared contain no salt, as salt weakens and repels spirits and for this reason it is used in rituals for exorcism and spiritual cleansing. Each of the lwa has his or her own favorite offerings as well. For example Erzulie Freda is partial to champagne, Ogun and Legba enjoy rum and cigars and of course Saint Expedite loves pound cake. Now that we have discussed the type of foods that are traditionally presented to the spirits, I would like to provide instructions for performing and ancestor feast, which is the cornerstone ritual of New Orleans Voodoo.
Start by creating a clear space on a table. If you have preexisting altar, by all means use it to make to perform this offering. If you have a white table cloth, lay it down. Onto the table place a glass of water, and however many white food offerings ad you would like, but at least one. Pop corn, rice, dumplings, bread, pancakes, corn meal mush are all acceptable offerings, but be sure not to include any salt as this weakens spirits. You may also wish to place on the table back coffee and a shot of vodka or another strong white alcohol. Then light a white candle and speak to your ancestors and spirits guides and ask them to confer on you spiritual power and protection and you may ask for whatever other specific favors you would like to obtain.
Allow the candle to burn out on its own and leave the food offerings there overnight. The next day dispose of the offerings outside in nature if possible. You may perform this ritual any time you’d like to request a specific favor and Monday is the most traditional day of the week for invoking the ancestors and spirit guides. November 2nd, All Soul’s Day, is the day of the year sacred to them as well and the feast should definitely be made on that date.
I hope you have found this post to be informative and that you give the ancestor offering a try. When properly cared for, our ancestors and spirits help us tremendously in life. As always, I thank you for taking the time to read my blog and I wish you peace, prosperity and abundant blessings!