La Mesa Blanca is the name for the Ancestral and Spiritual Guides shrine in Puerto Rico as well as one of the most popular traditions of espiritismo practiced on the island; Mesa Blanca Espiritismo. (White Table Spiritism). While many outside of Puerto Rico call this ancestral shrine a Boveda, which translates to mean vault or tomb, one must understand that there are some minor differences between both of them.
The Mesa Blanca refers to both the table altars used in veladas and misa espiritules and the private personal shrine in homes of espiritistas and brujos. The private shrine consists of a simple table usually facing towards an Eastern wall, where the sun rises or a Western wall where the sun sets, most prefer to place the Mesa Blanca towards the west. The shrine is usually a small table, or an end table, draped with a white table cloth, white being the color of purity and of the dead. In the center of la Mesa Blanca sits a large goblet filled with fresh clean water, or Holy Water, this is called a Fuente Espiritual. (Spiritual Fountain) Traditionally the Mesa Blanca had only one large Fuente called, El Santisimo, but recently some have also included 3, 7 or 9; always with the larger of the Fuentes in the center, each Fuente has a mystery, the largerbeing El Santisimo, while the others represent, ones Centinella, ones Santo, ones Protector, ones Ancestors, and the remainder for the other spirits of the 21 Corts of Spirits. Also on the Mesa Blanca you will often find a book of prayers candles, one or two vases full of fresh carnations, an altar bell, and an incense or oil burner. This set up consists of the basic and traditional Puerto Rican Mesa Blanca. Some include photos of dead relatives, on the altar itself or hang them in frames on the wall above the Mesa Blanca. Important! No photos of any one currently alive is kept on or near the altar. Some also include tarot cards, or la baraja Española, a bottle of holy water, alcoholado 70 Superior, (Bay Rum) and a bottle of Florida water. These are used for cleansing, purifying and blessing oneself and for sprinkling on the shrine.
The main Fuente, the larger and central piece of the altar usually has an aluminum or copper metal cross or crucifix within the fuente, this has a lot of spiritual symbolics and mysteries as well. The metal cross acts as an electrical conductor of spiritual energy and currents, that attracts ones spirits and ancestors to the Mesa Blanca. The cross can have or not have the image of a crucified Christ, this is left to the preference of the individual constructing the altar, but what is important to understand that this cross by no means, signifies Christianity. (although in most cases it does, as all spiritists believe in the powerful mystical powers of Christ). The cross or crucifix within the fuente represents the four cardinal virtues which are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, as well as the four cardinal points, north, east, south and west.
The foot of the cross touching the water represents the mysteries of the substance of life, that which humans can not breath, but is of great importance for sustaining life. The cross represents touching and having contract with the realm of spirit, that come from all directions.
The fuentes must be kept clean and fresh with cool clean water also known as los fluidos espiritual. (spiritual fluids). The Fluidos represent cleanliness, purification, clarity, and substances, and lastly life within the unseen. The best way I can explain this is for you to stand before a vast ocean, you will feel the wind, see the waves crashing, see the sun set or rise in the horizon, and see the seagulls fly over head. Now look at the ocean, in those waters exists life. Not seen to the human eye, unless you are lucky and catch a glimpse of an occasional fish or dolphin. Now take a trip on a large boat and go deep into the coasts and if you are blessed you will see a whale. These vast, majestic and beautiful creatures of God share our world, but are not seen unless one looks for them. On your next trip to the Caribbean or Hawaiian islands go deep sea divining, and see the millions of creatures, and coral life that are unseen to the human eye, again unless we look for them.
Water represents this symbol, that life exists although it may not be clearly seen by the naked eye unless one ventures and finds it. Also never use purified water with no contaminants, Purified water, with no contaminants at all, does not conduct enough spiritual currents to an appreciable degree especially when working with spirits. Cold tap water from the kitchen works best.
The Mesa Blanca is a direct physical and material portal or doorway from this plain of existence and the realm of the Dead; and an espiritista uses this altar for prayer, meditation, keeping in contact and communicating with one's deceased relatives and Ancestors. As well as searching for answers from premonitions and prophetic dreams, or for searching for answers in ones daily life. But it is not just that, mainly it is to give reverence and respect for those who lived before us, because it is on their shoulders that we stand, and for this alone, they deserve the most highest of respect and reverence.
The Seres are never feed directly on la Mesa Blanca. It is widely believed in Puerto Rico that this will attract unwanted greedy and gluttonous spirits. The offerings for ones spirits are usually placed on the dining table or on another table. The offering to ones ancestors or dead relatives is never placed on the floor, because the symbolic of keeping the offering elevated from the floor is a symbol of keeping one's dead elevated in the spiritual realm. The offerings usually consist of black coffee, fruits, cakes, sweets candies, liquor and tobacco. If ones dead relatives smoked tobacco in life, a cigar or cigarette is always placed, but if they did not, then obviously the tobacco is not offered. This offering is left out the whole day, and thrown away at the end of the night, with the exception of liquids and tobacco which can be kept much longer. Fruits can be kept much longer, and afterwards can be used to make spiritual baths.
Smaller portions of the offerings are also given to the gluttonous and greedy spirits, that I mentioned earlier, these offerings are placed on the floor in a corner near the altar, and again at the end of the night these offerings are thrown out. These offerings usually consist of coffee and tobacco. A protective circle is made with salt or cascarilla to keep these spirits from venturing anywhere but that area.
Some individuals do place the tobacco and liquid offerings such as liquor or coffee on the altar, these are not removed daily but kept on the altar until the spirits drink of It's energy, you might be amazed to come the next day and see a liquid offering half empty.
The Mesa Blanca must always be kept clean and white at all times, the Fuentes must be cleaned and refilled with fresh water once a week, or if and when they begin to turn cloudy, remember good spirits and ancestors thrive on clarity, cleanliness and order. The flowers like the fruits should be discarded as soon as they show signs of withering, or after seven days, and are used to make a spiritual bath.
There are three steps one must take when approaching the Mesa Blanca, the first is one must always make the sign of the cross with the right hand, when approaching the altar, next with both hands using the knuckles of the middle and index fingers, knock on the altar three times, and then ring the bell and salute your dead. On the altar is kept the book of prayers and you can open the book and recite a prayer, or say the Our Fathers and Hail Marys.
Tarot cards or a baraja Española can also be kept on the altar because, they are a sacred tool in Santerismo and Brujeria for communicating with ones spirits. The deck becomes a vessel in which ones spirits communicate with the living. A Ouija board is often found upon and is never used in Caribbean spiritism, it is believed to attract unwanted intranquil, disturbed and perturbed spirits.
The boveda is a beautiful ancestral altar from the Afro Cuban Espiritismo Cruzado and Santeria tradition. Similar to the Puerto Rican Mesa Blanca in that it is draped in a white table cloth. But the Boveda often has one pictures or statue of Saint and various statues or photos of the principle guide and other Protectores (protecting spirits) from the 21 commissions of spirits, such as indians, gypsies, congos or madamas on the altar. The mesa blanca and the boveda are not altars to the Saints, but the reason why status or photos of these saints and Guias are placed on the boveda is because the Saints and the Guia make up an individuals Familia de Cuadro Espiritual "spiritual Family Frame" Another difference is that although the Boveda is drapped in a white cloth, hanging from the edges of the boveda are 9 various colored paños, (cloths) 9 being the sacred number associated with the dead. (Las Novenas) the various colors of the cloths represents the various cultures and races that can make up a person family lineage, if one looks back as far as they can.
(Example: I am of Puerto Rican dissent, on my mothers side, my grandfather had Russian and German blood, my grandmother was of Spanish Castillian, and Creole blood, on my father's side, my grandfather was Spanish and Taino Indian, while my grandmother was Taino Indian and Spanish Gypsy. My eldest daughters mother is French and Irish, and my granddaughter has southern black blood.)
Another difference in the boveda and la mesa blanca is that offerings to ones dead, such as cakes, cigars, liquor and coffee, can be placed on the boveda, although some individuals do not.
In keeping with family tradition, I keep the Mesa Blanca, although I am fond of Bovedas.
Choose a table in the house, an old dresser or an old nigh stand or an end table, will work fine. Make sure this table has been in your belonging for some time and has absorbed your energy. A brand new purchased table has not had the contact it needs to absorb your energy. If you find an old family table or dresser in your attic this will be perfect. Dust it off and clean it down with a mixture of Florida water, holy water and a bit of household cleaner and disinfectant. Dry off the table with a clean white cloth, and smudge it down with an incense mixture of frankincense and myrrh, tobacco smoke or sage and lavender. Never burn cedar, as the cedar tree is considered a sacred and powerful tree and known as the Tree of Life. Cover the table with a brand new white table cloth.
Now get your goblets organized, purchase simple glass goblets, fish bowls wine glasses or clear drinking glasses in pairs of two, four, six or eights, and one larger one. Make sure the goblets are clear, thin with no designs or markings. I personally like to keep things simple and have one large one and two smaller ones on each side. Wash the glasses with a mild detergent and cold water. Then fill them with ice cold water and arrange them on the altar. To each side of the smaller Fuente place a white 7 day candle and a vase of fresh white flowers. Also arrange your incense burner and silver bell on the altar. In the beginning it is important to keep the Mesa Blanca simple, more does not mean better
Many Mesa Blancas and Bovedas often keep three books on the shrine. La Fe en la Oracion, the Bible, and Allen Kardec's book on selected prayers. These books are tools mainly used for Veladas and Misas and should never be used as crutches when speaking to ones dead and ancestors. Speak to them as you would speak to the living. Every morning greet them and every night bid them a good night, or ask them to come along with you in your dreams. Always talk to them with kind loving words. At first you might feel awkward and not know what to say, but with persistence and time and as your confidence level grows the words will flow through you. Tell them how your day went or ask them to accompany you during the day.
If you are troubled or distressed, breath deeply and calm your nerves, never approach your shrines with a heavy heart, or a mind full of troubles. Take a shower and cleanse and purify yourself before approaching the altar, when calm go to the altar and ask the spirits to aid you in finding peace or to help you find a solution or an answer to what you seek in your dreams. (Ones dead always speak through dreams)
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord. I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those last days of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy." Acts 2: 17/18
Never approach your altars with anger, remorse, pride or petty gossip, keep the vibrations of your altars clean.
Before one makes any offering of any kind, first present it to your forehead, then your chest and lastly to your lips, By doing so you are demonstrating to your dead that your thoughts are with them, your love is with them and you give them a bit of your essence of life.
Every seven days clean your altar, remove the water, buy throwing it around the outside of your house for protection, or use it to simmer the petals of the flowers for a spiritual bath. The candles are discarded and new ones are placed. The altar cloth is washed and a cleaner one is placed, fresh flowers are placed and fresh incense is burned.
the mesa Blanca and boveda are never used for magical purposes, they are used as a focal point for spirit. But one can send the spirits to work for a purpose by creating a code with the fuentes. These four codes are the most popular.
When asking for protection from your spirits, place 8 of the glasses filled with ice water and a bay Laurel leaf in each glass, surrounding the larger fuente, this is especially helpful in court matters and protection in general.
When a novena, or velada is being done, one sends the spirits to work by creating a V structure with the Fuentes. This is called Menguante, the largest fuente is placed in the back while four on either side is arranged to make a V like structure. Menguante is done to remove or banish spirits that cause obstacle in our lives.
Cressiente is the structure to bring forth positive and good spirits. The larger Fuente is placed in the front, while the smaller ones create the V.
The Piramede, or the pyramid is used to send the spirits to work in helping a spirit of a recently deceased individual go into the light and elevating their spirit. Used frequently during the Novenas this is creating by placing three fuentes in a row, two on top, of the three and one on top of the two. The larger fuente is placed in front of the pyramid, and a white candle is placed on either side of the piramede.
Darle Hielo, is used to cool the bad temperament of a spirit. The Fuentes are filled with ice, no water, the ice is left to melt naturally. This cools down the temperament of a stubborn spirit with a bad temper. When the ice is melted into water, the water is thrown out and away from the home.