In the last blog post, we examined in general the practice of making food offerings to spirits and discussed making an ancestor feast, which is the cornerstone ritual of New Orleans Voodoo. In this post, I would like to expand upon this topic and share a few specific offerings that are traditional to various lwa or saints. The following list of saints and spirits are not specific to any one spiritual pantheon but are rather an eclectic mix coming from Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo and Santeria and are the most popular spirits about whom I am asked in my practice as a spiritual worker.
In Voodoo and Santeria the dead come before the saints. Many practitioners of Voodoo also claim that the ancestors work much faster than the saints since they know us personally and they also benefit when they help us by paying back their karmic debt. The hierarchical spiritual order is always God first, then the ancestors and then the saints. You can make an offering to your own ancestors and spirit guides any time of year to request special favors or to thank them for help they have given, but the most traditional time of year to pay homage to the dead is the period between October 31st and November 2nd which his known in Voodoo as Fête Ghede. The feasts prepared for the dead this time of year are quite elaborate. Also, the traditional day of the week of the honor our ancestors and guardian spirits is Monday and we should remember them by lighting a candle or placing a small offering or maybe even just saying a quick prayer for them. As mentioned in the previous post, the food associated with the ancestors are generally white, bland and salt-less foods. Bread, white rice, pancakes, flour dumplings and popcorn are all good options. In terms of drink, you can give them water, rum, beer and black coffee and pretty much anything else. You can make the offerings directly on your altar if you have one or simply create a quiet place where the offerings can be placed undisturbed. Light a white candle when you lay out your offerings and talk to your ancestors as if they were right in the room with you. Allow the candle to burn out on its own and leave the offerings in place overnight. The following morning you can dispose of them ideally outside somewhere in nature.
The first of the lwa that we should mention is Papa Lebga. Legba is seen as the gatekeeper to the spirit world and is petitioned at the beginning and end of every Louisiana Voodoo service as well as Haitian Vodou ceremony to facilitate communication with the other lwa. He is associated with Saint Peter who in Catholic iconography holds the keys to Heaven. In addition to his role in official ceremonies, Legba can also be petitioned to help remove blockages that hold a person back and clear the path to success in life. His favorite offerings include yams, beans, rice and most of all cigars and rum. Offerings may be made in front of a statue or image of Saint Peter or directly on your home altar. The Orisha Ellegua holds a similar role in Santeria. Years ago, a Puerto Rican Santera taught me a simple yet proven effective way of making an offering to Ellegua. You simply take a few pieces of hard candy and a few pennies, I usually use three of each, and discretely drop them on a street corner and make a quick request of Ellegua. I have seen such requests answered dozens of times.
Another important lwa is Ogun who in Voodoo is associated with Saint James the Greater. He, among other patronages, is the spirit of work and employment and I often recommend that people make an offering to him when seeking a new job. His favorite offerings are rum, cigars and mashed black eyed peas drizzled with palm oil. You can make the offering to him in front of an image of Saint James or you can leave it outside next to railroad tracks, which is a place with which he is identified. When making an offering to Ogun for a job, it’s advisable to also make an offering to Erzulie Freda to ensure that the job pays well and has good benefits and is not back-breaking hard work. An appropriate offering to Erzulie would be some pink flowers or a glass of champagne.
An important Orisha in the Yoruba Pantheon is Chango who is associated with Saint Barbara. He can be petitioned in matters of love, passion and protection against enemies. I have written more extensively on Chango, but today I wanted to share two offerings that are known to be his favorite. The first is called amala and is based on a traditional West African dish made with yam flour. The version with which I am most familiar as an offering is made by adding corn meal to boiling water until it thickens and then adding chopped okra. The result is a slimy porridge that may not look appetizing, but most cooked offerings to the orishas tend to be bland and not entirely flavorful. Another offering involving cooking peeled and cored apples until they reach an apple sauce like consistency and mixing in red wine and cinnamon. Red wine itself is a suitable offering to Chango. You can place offerings to Chango in front of a statue or image of Saint Barbara or directly outside in nature, ideally somewhere near a lake or a pond. All offerings presented to any Orisha or spirit should be room temperature.
In the Yoruba tradition, Ochun is in embodiment of beauty, love, sensuality and wealth. She makes her home in the river and lives a life of luxury and pleasure. Her favorite offing by far is honey as she herself is the essence of sweetness according to her devotees. You can drizzle a few drops on honey directly into an outdoor stream as well as toss in five pennies and make a request to Ochun. You can also place a saucer of honey in front of her image. No matter what, when you present and offering of honey to Ochun, it’s important to taste it in her presence as there is a legend regarding tainted honey being presented to her. Yellow flowers, especially roses, are a suitable offering as well. She can help in matters of love and money.
In Santeria, the Orisha Yemaya is the embodiment of the ocean but also represents good health, motherhood and stability. She is also very protective of her devotees. In Voodoo, Madame La Sirene fills a similar role and as her name would indicate, she is often portrayed as a mermaid (La sirère is the French word for “mermaid.”) Many offerings are made to her during New Year’s celebrations to ensure luck, good health and stability in the year to come. Each year, sometime in late December, I make a paper maché float and fill it with offerings to Yamaya and place it directly into the ocean. Her favorite offerings include molasses, flowers and sweet pastries. The ideal way to make an offing to Yamaya or La Sirene is to place it directly into the ocean. If this is not possible, you may present the offerings at home and light a white or blue candle and make your request. As always, leave the offering in place overnight and dispose of it somewhere in nature the following day. Another interesting way of seeking Yemaya’s blessing was taught to me years ago by a Puerto Rican Santera. You can pour a jar of molasses over your body and submerge yourself in the ocean until the ocean water washes you completely clean. While you are bathing in the ocean, ask for Yemaya’s blessing and protection. You can also toss 7 pennies directly into the ocean as an offering to request luck and protection. As with all saints and spirits, remember to be thankful and respectful when dealing with Yemaya.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about these specific offerings to various spirits and I’m sure I will list more in the future. If you decide to make an offering please let me know how it goes. As always I wish you peace, happiness and the sweetest of blessings!