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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in feeding the dead

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While other paths require very little amounts of food (or none) when making offerings, Afro Latin traditions go completely overboard when it comes to feeding Deities, Spirits, and the incredibly wide range of beings that fill our altars. Usually, this is managed by a whole community so each time a Saint/Orisha/Spirit day comes, the altar rooms become loaded with plate after plate of delicacies, along with the foods that each tradition assigns to the specific Spirit.

Cooking for a Spirit is not just cooking. The kitchen and the makers of the food must be completely clean while working, and it is required to bath and purify yourself and wear clean clothes. No other foods are prepared while doing that, and the kitchen must be constantly pristine, so while one (or more) practitioner cooks, the others wash and dry the implements. While everything is done, prayers or songs in honour of the Spirit that is being celebrated that day are repeated to bless the food. The altar and the tables where the food will be set must be prepared with the utmost care, and every plate, glass and tray are washed right before serving the food, no matter that they are already clean. After being served, more prayers are said while the Spirits feast, and usually drumming and chanting is performed in their honour.

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My mind shifts at this time of year from the thick-blooded heat and lethargy of summer into a fervor of magical practice. In my part of the United States, we tend to have lingering heat even into October and November, but it is tempered by the crispness of evening air. When the darker days come, I feel energized, renewed, and eager to work magic and tap into the current of enchantment which emerges when summer has been left behind. And while the greenery of the floral world retreats, a different kind of stirring seems to happen below the soil. The Dead are waking up.

It seems everyone has a festival of the dead in autumn. Of course, Halloween is probably the dominant cultural paradigm for those of us living in the United States and Canada, but Hispanic folks have Dia de (los) Muertos, people of Asian ancestry have holidays like the Ghost Festival or the Chung Yeung Festival, and Catholics have All Souls’ Day. While some cultures do not seat their ancestral reverences in autumn, so many do that working with the dead during the cooling months comes naturally to a lot of folks, myself included.

Developing an ancestral practice is, in my opinion, important to those practicing spiritual systems centered on land, folklore, history, etc. It creates a sense of family and timelessness, while acknowledging the mortality that binds every living thing together. It keeps tradition alive, while allowing for new growth and understanding as descendants adapt their practices to the era in which they live. In many cases, I’ve heard people explain that they do not work with ancestors because their predecessors would not have approved of their lifestyle, or there might be a history of abuse or harm, or perhaps they simply are not close to their family in general. However, I would argue that honoring the Dead does not necessarily mean honoring blood relatives. That may be the simplest method—and often it proves rewarding even when some family relationships have a history of bitterness in them—but it is not the only method. Why not work with deceased teachers from within your tradition? Or even culture heroes, like Black Hawk in the hoodoo traditions (a teacher-ancestor) or Johnny Appleseed if you happen to be in the Ohio Valley area (a regional/land-based ancestor)? I am not here to tell anyone how to live their spiritual life or which ancestor(s) to work with, but I do want people to understand that the Dead go beyond blood-bonds and share other ties with the living, and they are eager to work with us, especially at this time of year.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
And so it begins

I've written before here about how, in our household, Samhain starts early.  For us it begins at the end of September, during the week when we've repeatedly lost beloved pets and on the day when, two years ago, I pledged my service to the Wild Hunt.  This year, that day was marked with an inadvertent bloodletting when the Hunt, not satisfied with the efforts I had made thus far on their behalf, aided me in slicing open the knuckle of my right index finger almost to the bone with a pair of sewing shears.  (Followed, of course, with a expensive trip to the emergency room and several weeks of limited ability to do anything--including typing and crafting--with that hand.  The Hunt does not play.)  

It continued the following week when I made a trip to one of the city's oldest cemeteries (and bear in mind that here on the west coast, "oldest" means the 1800s, and the most ancient looking monuments, crumbling with apparent age, are not truly ancient at all but merely rain-damaged).  I brought with me home-brewed mead and bone meal, to feed the dead, and locally harvested apples for Sleipnir, Odin's giant eight-legged steed.  (Eight legs, by the way; have you ever thought about that?  Why does He--the horse, that is--have eight legs?  Spiders have eight legs.  So does a casket, when borne aloft by four mourners.  Sleipnir is, indisputably, a horse of death, a steed to carry one to the land of the dead--which, throughout the Norse myths, is exactly what He does.)  I discovered an area devoted to the Civil War dead, which startled me because it seemed the wrong coast for that, but the monument statue of a soldier in uniform and the plots of the military dead exuded an aura of welcome for me, a kinship with the "once human" contingent of the Hunt, with Odin's fallen heroes.  Here was succor and support, and so it was here that I marked the stones with my blood, freshly drawn from my finger (not the one with stitches!) using a lancet.  (The dead were especially interested in and enthusiastic about the mead, by the way!)

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jolene
    Jolene says #
    Another excellent post! I'm looking forward to both our celebrations, and I'm thinking that splitting them up as we have this year
  • Soli
    Soli says #
    I found a small pomegranate at the store this weekend and bought it, so I should do something. Just no idea what. Some of it is be

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