My abuela was an Espiritista as her mother before her, she was my grandmother. But in life she was also, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an aunt, a lover, a wife, a devout Catholic, a Curandera, a Spiritist, and to some even a Witch, and each person that knew her had a different and unique relationship with her. Like all of us she was one woman, with many various roads, aspects and characters, within one woman, but she was loved and respected differently, and even hated by those who did not understand her liberal ways. My Abuelo her husband loved her as I but had a different relationship with her than I, or even her own children.
My time spent with her was unique, and she gave to me the knowledge she could in the short time she had with me. But my relationship with her was not the same as was her's with her husband, her children, her parents, or childhood friends. As is my relationship today with each of my children, my parents, siblings and friends. When I pass into the realm of Spirit each will remember something different of me.
We all honor our Ancestors differently, and we all have a unique relationship with then. As Espiritistas we have a common foundation on how to respectfully honor ones Ancestors, but many bring to the table various different elements. What may work for me might not necessarily work for you when it comes to honoring ones dead. I don't use a Palo de Muertos, as some may use, I use an Altar Bell. I use the items used in my family tradition. I once saw an Asian altar for ones ancestors, intrigued I went to the local Asian market and purchased the pungent musky smelling incense. I purchased the Asian Incense they used because I enjoyed the aroma. Once I lit it I got a slight headache and felt a sharp pain in my chest, kind of like heart burn or acid reflex. My ancestors didnt like it, was my first initial reaction. What works for them does not mean its going to work for me. I do not eat seafood, not my cup of tea, so why after death is someone who is making offerings to my memory going to have the audacity to give me Shrimp. I also went to a Cuban Santera's house and saw the offering of a pigs tounge, ears and nostril on top of black beans and rice. She explained that it is a staple offerings to the Ancestors and Dead in her island of Cuba, and that the spirits loved it. Well maybe her spirits. I can envision now my abuelita rolling in her grave with displeasure at a pigs tongue, nostril or ears anywhere near the vicinity of her food. She only ate white meat. Also it is typical for Puerto Rican's to offer their dead Arroz con Gandules. I can envision my father's displeasure, he loathed that Puerto Rican stapple dish.
One thing most Latinos share in common in one form or the other is the respect and veneration given to ones dead. This surpasses all religious beliefs, no matter if one is Espiritista, Catholic, Pentecostal, Brujo, Sancista, Voodoist, Christian, or Santero. The most common way Hispanics show their divotion to ones dead, is through the telling of stories that a dead relative did in life. When I was younger in Puerto Rico this always happened at night, just after the telenovelas ' soap operas" when my abuelos, aunts or uncles would sit outside around the porch listening to the Coqui tree frogs sing their nightly anthem to the islands as we would share stories and tales of those who had passed. I always found these stories interesting even at a young age, as we sat around drinking a hot cup Goya Cocoa and eating a medianoche sandwiches. The stories always started up with a ghost story and ended up with the typical. "Remember when Tia Ofelia or Tio Ignacio did this or did that."
It is a tradition through out Latin America to hold a 9 day Novena after the death of the family member and a special misa in honor of his/her memory one year after the death, and usually after the Novena and misa, friends, neighbours and relatives are invited to the closest relatives house to enjoy a hot bowl of Sancocho, or Asopao de Pollo, with fried plantains on the side or Galletas Maria with cheese, guava paist and hot cocoa.
Most of the traditions in honoring ones dead within Hispanic communities are steeped in Catholic religious beliefs, many of them have their roots in Africa and the various indigenous people.
Los Antepasados, "Ancestors" los difuntos "diseased" and los muertos, "the dead" make up 1/2 of what is Espiritismo, Sance and Santerismo. Each morning one greets the Ancestors and ones deceased, and ask them for guidance, and blessings. Usually it is at this time that a simple offering can be made of a hot cup of coffee. If you happen to know your dead when they where alive and knew their likes and dislikes in life then incorporate this in your offering. For example if you know that in life your Tio "Uncle" Joe loved cream and suger in his coffee, then add it. If you know your Tia "Aunt" only drank unsweetened black coffee then this is the way to go. But if your offering is to multiple deceased relatives and ancetors, then place a glass of black coffee and next to it a glass of milk or cream, with a small plate of suger on the side. If you know that your Tio Felipe smoked a certain brand of cigarettes in the morning, then on an ashtray leave an unlit cigarette with wooden matches. Also investigate what your ancestors enjoyed to eat in life, and give these foods as offerings, or simply offer them a bit of the foods you eat each day. I have heard many religious fanatics say, never incorporate salt or sugar into offerings to ones ancestors or dead. One of my late Abuelas most famous sayings was. "Que falte todo en la casa menos el Arroz y la Sal, porque con eso, si se mata la hambre.". "May everything in the house be missing but Rice and Salt, because those two together kill hunger." So I never exclude salt from their offerings, I can just imagine my deads displeasure of bland food. If I make arroz con pollo or Sancocho, I add my, Sofrito, Adobo and other Latino spices which always include a dash or two of salt, and my dead have never complained. What about the Mexicans who offer to their dead, sweet candies and sugar skulls on the tombs of their dead on the Day of the Dead.
Offerings to ones dead should be that in which is a part of the culture you was raised in, or cultural food from their birth lands.
A Can of Coke a Cola
Or the foods you commonly eat.
It is always important to purchase a brand new white plate, utensils, new coffee cup and a clear glass used as vessels for offerings only for ones dead, and should be only used for this purpouse.
The spirits of the dead and ancestors that one can give offerings to are, those ancestors that lived a good, moral peaceful life. If a diseased relative was a murderer, rapists or committed suicide than offerings are not to be given to them, and their names should be excluded from your plagerias. Their energy is often of a negative sort and can bring much turmoil, confusion, and distress into ones life. Prayers should be given to God asking for forgiveness on their behalf, and that if they are to return to life, may they find forgiveness for their past deeds. A glass of water to quench their thirst and a candle just for them can also be given so that they may see the light and recognize the wrong they did in life.
If a morning offering can not be made, then a simple greeting and acknowledgment should be made, a wrapping on the altar three times or a ringing of an altar bell, asking them to walk with you during the day and bestows their benedictions, a simple glass of water or coffee is also greatly appreciated. In the evening when you are at home and settled for dinner, set aside a plate of food and liquids to them. They will not physical consume the food offering, what they partake of is its energy. Ones ancestors and dead understand your financial statues, and even a slice of bread, raw fruit and a glass of water is greatly appreciated by them and they will show their gratitude with blessings.
Never present yourself before your Ancestors after sexual relations. Cleanse the body, wash yourself first.
Women refrain from working with your dead during the time of your menstruation period. Greet them casually as usual.
Do not go before your Ancestors or dead with a heavy heart, with anger or frustration. Always present yourself calm and cool.
Listen to them. They speak to you through the voice of your subconscious mind
They will often come to you in your dreams.
If you have an altar to them, treat it with great respect, clean and clutter free.
Keep your ancestral shrine apart from those of your saints.
I was once asked; how long does the Spirit of an Ancestor stay to help us? Like all Spirits they stay around until the memory of them is completely forgotten. Some reincarnate or are reborn within the family lineage others elevate into a higher spiritual consciousness. The Ancestors stay around until our memory of them is forgotten, they come because of our prayers and energy. Some Spirits also become highly elevated Spirits even while the memory of their deeds is fresh within our minds. A Spirit can only be close to the material plane as long as humans give it energy. Other spirits are earth bound, attached to the material plane, and this is a subject I will cover shortly. Another question asked. Are Spirits in the Cemetery? No this is not true, the only thing left in a cemetery is a hollow shell or dust of what was once that Spirits material body. So why do we go to cemeteries to honor our dead? Well a cemetery plot is a sacred shrine to our dead and although our Ancetors and Dead are not imprisoned in that location, their spirits come to us where ever we call them. Be it a cemetery, a shrine, an ancestral altar or in nature.
Once I was enjoing a fried plantain, meat and cheese "Jibarito" sandwich with my children when one asked me to tell them stories of my childhood. This is what I told them.
When I was a little boy in Puerto Rico I fell ill one night. My Abuelita laid me in bed and began to "asobarme" pass Alcojolado mixed with camphor over my body, and she had me drink a tea of Tilo sweetened with honey and lime, to break the cold. Then she went to her nightstand which had a white cloth and a beautiful statue of Nuestra Señora de la Divina Providencia and lit a white candle and took her Rosary beads from the statue. Then she sat on the bed and began to recite the rosaries. I followed along with her as best I could. When she finished she took a sweet smeling oil and drew the cross on my forehead. Then she began to say. "Que La Virgencita se acueste con tigo y te acompañe, ". Lay with you and accompany you.". May el Niño Jesus lay with you. May Saint Michael lay with you. May Saint Pedro lay with you. May Saint Martin lay with you.". This she said for like a dozen or so more saints, and when she was finished, she went towards me to kiss me on the forehead where she had made the the sign of the cross with the oil. Just at that very moment the old bed frame broke and we where both on the floor. My abuelo, my grandfather who was in the living room watching television. The show of Iris Chacon was on, as she shook her enormous rear end on tv for the whole island to see as she sang a Salsa or merengue song, was startled and he ran into the room to see what had happened. At seeing us on the floor, he shock his head in disbelief and disagreement and said. "You foolish old woman, that is what you get for inviting so many people to lay on that old bed of ours.". At that he returned to the livingroom to forget about his worries with a dose of Rum a cigar and Iris Chacon..