As promised, here is my contribution to Aaron Leitch's book, Ritual Offerings, available from Nephelim Press by clicking the link. Enjoy!
Ancestors & Offerings
From time immemorial, sorcerers have worked with a wide variety of non-physical entities (hereafter referred to as NPE’s) from cthonic spirits to celestial personages and many in between. However in the distant past, the distinction between the classes of NPE’s were not always as clear cut as they’ve been in the last hundred or so years. For many sorcerers, the first NPE’s to work with have been their very own ancestors.
Unfortunately today when one uses the term ancestors, often there is a bit of misunderstanding going on since there are two levels of ancestors:
1. Family: these are the folks who are directly connected to you by blood or DNA and who comprise your personal family relationships. Often grandparents, great-grandparents and so forth are found in this category.
2. Generational: these are all of the ancient dead who have walked the earth before any of us were thought of. They may not be directly linked to your DNA or bloodline but they’re human like you and they helped shaped modern humanity in their own indomitable manner.
There is a third group that few people get to experience in their life and those are adoptive ancestors. For instance when you are adopted into someone’s tribe or family, their own ancestral lineage takes you on as one of their very own. This is an honor and very few modern adults ever consider how truly wonderful this is.
Today with many children put up for adoption, growing up in adoptive families becomes far more common than most folks realize which presents an opportunity to learn about the adoptive family’s ancestral line. I’ve counseled a number of metaphysical folk who lamented that they were adopted and knew not who their birth lineage was all due to adoption records being sealed shut by court order.
I explain to these folks that they have a wonderful opportunity to have not just one set of family ancestors but two to call upon. They have their very own through their bloodline as well as their adoptive ancestors. (How awesome is that?) Often the first lamentation I hear is, “But I don’t know who my real parents are so how will my real ancestors know me?” and I have to explain to them that their ancestors are spirits who share their blood and DNA. Their ancestors know who you are even if you don’t know who they are.
Ancestors & Shrines
Ancestors are spirits who are to be courted much like many who court the Gods and familiar spirits. By this I mean far too many people mix up the use of altar & shrine. An altar is where you do your spiritual work and a shrine is where you interact with your spirits.
A shrine is a place of reverence and devotion where you interact with the divine and spirits. Typically here is where you talk to them, ask them for help, tell them what’s going on in your life and so on. You also give your offerings here at your shrine rather than your working altar because you may have something immediate that comes up that requires you to fire up your altar and if it is occupied with offerings for spirits, you will be unable to use it.
Shrines vary from culture, class and economics. I’ve seen some very elaborate shrines that cost a small fortune to build out of rare woods & precious metals like gold and silver. I’ve also seen many shrines that were little more than a cardboard box with a cloth draped over it. Utility is the key here because you have to be the one to utilize it. What good is a $1,000+ hand made shrine if you never use it?
My late grandfather had a good rule of thumb: “start out small and build from there”. Always the pragmatist, gramps saw that it was best to try your hand at the easiest aspect first then move to the harder things as you gain experience. If you’re full of piss n’ vinegar ready to tackle a major job, then by all means there are a lot of elaborate types of shrines that one can build. In the African Religious Systems (ARS) there is precedent for using stair stringers and wooden two by sixes to construct what essentially are stair steps but are used as a Three Step Shrine.
Many like the idea of the Three Step Shrine as it is an ideal number representing the three types of spirit: the Dead, the Saints & God. The only downfall to using the Three Steps Shrine is that it takes up quite a bit of floor space. Thus if you are space conscious, this type of shrine may not work well for you. I have this problem so I went for a wall shrine.
Wall shrines typically are shelves hung on the wall. That’s it. Plain and simple. I got the rails, supports, shelves & hardware from a do it yourself store and with an electric drill, a tape measure and a level, hanging the shelves was no difficult thing to do.
The drawback to having wall shrines is that you are limited by how deep the shelves are and how sturdy they are. Thus setting lots of heavy weight on them is a big no-no. You’ll need to watch for the studs in the walls and if you’re in an old house where the studs are not every so many inches on center, you may need one of those anchoring kits to hold the screws in the lath or drywall.
Most of you will want to start off with something right away to get you going, which is a great idea because the idea is to begin to work with your ancestors rather than just read about them.
Find a spot other than your bedroom to interact with spirits. This is because spirits, even good ones, may get ornery and begin to haunt your dreams or cause you hassles at night with making noise while you’re trying to rest. Yes I know some of you are going to say, “But I have nowhere else!” Then you will need to create a partition of some kind that separates you from your shrine. Even just hanging a sheet or blanket between your shrine and your bed will help. One of those old dressing room dividers sometimes called a Three Fold.
Preparing the Shrine
Regardless of whether you opt to use a corner of your dressing room table, a chest of drawers, a corner in your kitchen counter or even a wall shelf as a shrine, you first need to prepare it properly. Why? You don’t invite a guest into a dirty home, do you?
Simple soap and water is ideal for this stage of the work. Nothing more needs to be added because all you are doing is cleaning off the filth and dirt which is primarily dust. A dampened sponge with some warm water and a little bit of household soap will work fine. By household I mean something simple like Spic and Span. No harsh detergents needed unless the area is really filthy like say next to a bird cage or something that could get grime all over it quickly. If such IS the case, then perhaps you need to rethink where you plan on placing the shrine.
Once the area is clean, then wipe down whatever it is you will be using as your shrine with the same soap, water and sponge/rag. When the shrine itself is cleaned, wipe off excess moisture with fresh paper towels. Then pour a bottle of Florida Water and a bottle of Kananga Water together into a bowl. Pray over it and ask the spirits to bless it. Pour this into a spray bottle - the sort that has a spritzer head on it which you can get for about a dollar at any discount store. Use this to lightly spritz y our shrine with and then wipe down with a paper towel.
The smell of the Kananga & Florida Waters are pleasing to the spirits and ancestors and you can use this to lightly spritz your tools with and wipe them down as well once in a while. The citrus flavoring in the waters tends to break up psychic vibrations and gives sort of a cleansing effect.
Use the water mixture mentioned in the previous paragraph to wipe the candle holder and outside of the glass you will use to fill with water for your spirits. Once this is done, you will set your shrine and shrine tools in the middle of the floor where you will stand to the west of them while facing east holding a lit tea light candle without wearing any clothes.
Say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I come humbly to you naked as I was born into this world asking you to bless my shrine and all that I will be using on my shrine. Please help me make good decisions. Thank you.” Bend your knees slightly without bending forward and then come straight back up.
Walk clockwise around the shrine until you are on the east side and facing west. Say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I come humbly to you naked as I was born into this world asking you to bless my shrine and all that I will be using on my shrine. Please help me make good decisions. Thank you.” Bend your knees slightly without bending forward and then come straight back up.
Now turn left and walk counter-clockwise until you reach the south and are facing north. Say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I come humbly to you naked as I was born into this world asking you to bless my shrine and all that I will be using on my shrine. Please help me make good decisions. Thank you.” Bend your knees slightly without bending forward and then come straight back up.
Finally, turn right and walk clockwise until you reach the north and face the south. Say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I come humbly to you naked as I was born into this world asking you to bless my shrine and all that I will be using on my shrine. Please help me make good decisions. Thank you.” Bend your knees slightly without bending forward and then come straight back up.
Offerings To Give: Fire
Much has been written all over the Internet about offerings to Spirits. The first rule of thumb is that you need to give Them fire and water. Fire in the form of a candle is ideal. A plain, unscented, small candle white candle is ideal. Typically I use the unscented white tea light candles for this and they work well. They burn about two hours before going out and the Spirits appreciate them.
You can use the Shabbat candles which are the Jewish religious candles that come in white and are much like the white household candles you can get at the store. Those tend to need a special sized candle holder to be safe. I looked online and found two brass candle holders for the Shabbat candles which work quite well for the household sized candles as well.
Another candle size that works are the votive sized candles. Small and easily obtained from many stores you can get these in a wide vareity of colors as well. Typically though you will want WHITE because you are dealing with the ancestors and that is one of their colors. Further, white encompasses all colors because it has all but black in its spectrum so using white for any project is acceptable.
I have not experimented with the chime sized candles because it is difficult to find a safe candle holder for them. Thin metals and plastics just are not fire safe in my opinion and the cost you save on the candles is offset by the hassle of using more than one. Chime candles do not burn long, roughly about an hour and you really should have a little more than that burning. Thus you either burn one right after the other which is acceptable or you break down and use one of the other candle sizes metnioned.
Can you go bigger? Certainly you can! For years I would obtain cases of white 7 day jar encased candles which typically sell for $4-5 each nowadays and back when I could get them for $1.25 each I bought them by the case but today they are too cost prohibitive both to urchase and to ship. Thus I prefer to use the smaller candles which are less expensive and easier to obtain.
The next thing you will need to give to your ancestors is water. The ideal water is rain water but unless you have a system of collecting it and in some states here in the US that practice is now illegal so what do? Okay you can buy spring water to give to the spirits. This works well and it is easily obtained from most anywhere from convenience to grocery stores. A gallon goes quite a ways because it is not necessary to pour an entire glass of water for the spirits, just a quarter or a third of the glass is all that’s needed.
Why not tap water? Most tap water has chlorine in it and chlorine has been found to kill magic. At least it has in my experience. Thus if you do not wish to make your magic nullified, then do not use tap water. The way around this is smiple: fill a container with tap water and allow the chlorine to evaporate for 24 hours. That’s it. Once the chlorine has evaporated the water is safe to use in magic. I often fill a gallon jug and use a loose fitting lid and let the lid sit loosely. Once it has sat for a full 24 hours, the chlorine smell is gone and it is safe to use.
You should use a glass made from real glass. Why? For some reason, the spirits like real glass as opposed to metal or plastic glasses. Oh to get started if all you have is plastic cups, b use one. Just make certain you get either a glass or a ceramic cup later on. Yes I realize that a large majority of you reading this have metal chalices used on your altar for libations an what not but while that’s acceptable to you that does not mean it is acceptable to use with the spirits. Typically I use a small ceramic cup for my water offerings to my spirits but I have used glass tumblers as well. An acceptable alternative to water is white wine. Female spirits tend to like this more so than water.
Universally, coffee is a drink that many praise, sing and shout to the heavens. It is a bitter drink that some put sugar and milk into while others like it harsh, bitter and strong. As the old Toyota commercial goes, “your mileage may vary” where this drink is concerned. However when it comes to your ancestors, keep it simple and keep it black.
Must it be brewed? No but you can. Can you use instant? Yes you can. The ancestors and all spirits as a matter of fact, love coffee. I’ve offered this drink to ancestors, deceased relatives, grimoire spirits and so on. It’s a universal drink and one that many prefer to have to wake themselves up.
Must it be top shelf coffee? No. Taste & quality do not seem to be an issue for the ancestors where coffee is concerned. Now this does not mean, however that if you have a deceased relative who had a fetish for a premium imported Columbian brand that you just not give them that. Au contraire. However you make them earn it. Offer whoever your ancestors is that loved that imported premium Columbian coffee a steaming cup and remind them how good it was. Tell them that more is to come when they help you resolve ___. Always make your spirits earn special rewards and gifts. Never just give them these things else you will create a sense of entitlement in them and woe unto you if you allow that to happen!
I purchased a set of Expresso cups from Amazon that I use for my temple room. Each cup holds only a small amount of coffee and it makes making, handling and pouring coffee so much easier than trying to mess around with full sized cups. Further the smaller sized Expresso cups take up much less room on each spirit’s shrine thus maximizing space.
Each cup also came with its own color coded saucer to match the cup’s color. This can be handy because spirits are territorial where Their things are concerned. You do not want to give your Head Spirit’s cup to some other spirit by mistake. By using colored coffee cups, you eliminate any such risk.
So when should you give coffee? I typically give my spirits coffee when I feel they deserve it. My Head Spirit gets it more often than the rest but if one of my others gets it, the rest gets it. I prefer things to be simple and easy. Coffee can be reserved for when you need something to come through and you want your ancestors to step up their game and get a move on. Promise them some coffee if they do X and help with ___. Then when X gets done, give them some coffee. When ____ gets finished, offer them some coffee, maybe this time with a shot of liquor in it!
The Four Important Liquids for Ancestors
While water is universal for all spirits, white wine is also good for all the spirits however female spirits tend to like white wine more whereas the male spirits tend to like gin or rum.
Red wine is for hot spirits or making spirits hot. Thus if you have a desire to get your ancestors moving on a request, you promise them a shot glass with some red wine. Again quality is not important. Why? I suppose because spirits realize alcohol is in the cheap stuff just as much as it is in the top shelf liquor. So quality is not as important to them.
Coffee is for the Guinea spirits. The Dead love coffee. They cannot get enough of it. Thus it is a real treat for them.
Milk is for the holy ones. It is for those who think they are pure and exalted thus you reserve giving milk to those who are like this.
Now we come to the fun part. Food. Spirits like to eat. Well okay they partake of the essence of food or as my Vodu teacher likes to say, “They love to be reminded of what good food was like when they lived!” Thus everything from ribs to chicken to pulled pork to steamed vegetables is up for grabs where food is concerned.
Now before you start worrying what sorts of foods are appropriate to serve your ancestors, realize that what you do not want to give them are things with onions & garlic in them. Why? I do not know. They just don’t like it is all. I thought this was downright silly so I set out to prove my teacher wrong by giving my spirits food made with onions and garlic.
When you leave food sit on a shrine for 24 hours, it usually has a certain look to it. The look is as if the food has been preserved somehow as if all of the essence of the food itself has been drawn away. But when I put food on their shrine that contained garlic & onions, it looked like any food you just left set out on your table. Yuck! So lesson learned. Give the spirits what they ask for and all will be well.
Do you cook the food? You can but it is not necessary as you can go to the grocery store or to a restaurant and buy pre-cooked foods for a Spirit(s). Just order it made without any garlic and onions and you should be fine. Once in a great while I will give one of my Thralls (i.e. a minor, created Spirit) a hamburger from a fast food restaurant. I ask for it to be made plain: no condiments, no pickles and no onions. Just a burger patty and bun. That is acceptable to the spirit.
You can offer other meats, fish, grains, nuts, vegetables, and so on for a meal just as you would the person in life. Realize that most spirits like meat served to them. It’s presumed that this gives them the energy they will need to do the tasks the practitioner needs to be done.
The key is to present the meal to the four corners, i.e. east, west, north and south, on a plain white dinner plate. The dinner plate should be ceramic not plastic. Sit a small shot glass of liquor next to the food on the dinner plate, stand and face east and say:
“Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I offer this food for you to eat and enjoy! May you use it to help me grow and prosper in all ways.” Now as before, slightly bend your knees without bending forward then come straight back up. Turn right to face west. Repeat. When finished in the west, remember to turn left (counter-clockwise) to the north and repeat. Then turn right to face the south and repeat.
When you are finished, place the white dinner plate with the food and drink on the ancestor’s shrine. Now using your index finger, take a tiny portion of the food and eat it. Say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I eat with you!” Then take a tiny sip of the liquor and say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I drink with you!” Then you are finished.
The eating and drinking is important and should always be done here so that your ancestors know that the food you provide is wholesome and something you yourself would eat. Believe it or not there are fools out there who think they could get by giving their ancestors food from garbage cans. That will get you into trouble with your ancestors quickly.
Simple Workings With Ancestors
Before I begin to explain how to work with your ancestors, it is first prudent to discover if you even need to do anything. You will need to begin to sleep with a glass of water and a white candle at your bedside table. This is so that you can ask for passage from your ancestors.
Stand and face east. Hold small white candle safely in candle holder with one hand and a small glass or ceramic cup of water in the other hand. Say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I come to you and ask passage for help with (explain what it is you need help with here). Feel free to speak clearly to me in my dreams.” Now slightly bend your knees without bending forward and come straight back up. Turn right and face west. Repeat. Then turn left and face north. Repeat. Then turn and face south. Repeat. Sit candle on your nightstand. You can snuff the candle out if you wish. Go to sleep.
Pay attention to your dreams. Realize that your ancestors may show up as deceased relatives or even folks who are living today. You can tell when you ask them to tell you their name. I’ve had some masquerading as a living relative. It’s nothing to be frightened of no any sort of bad omen at all. Instead it is just a way of the ancestor to use imagery so as not to confuse nor scare us.
Let it be said that the ancestors are both the first and last line of defense for the practitioner thus it behooves one to create a solid relationship with them. Unlike other spiritual avenues, this is not a get-rich quick sort of route. By that I mean unlike some of the grimoire spirits who promise great wealth, it is not wise to form a bond with the ancestors on Saturday and then immediately on Sunday begin to bugger one’s ancestors for fast cash.
This is not to say that your ancestors do not care about you nor will intervene however they look upon your life as any authority-parent-relative would who is alive. Often the ones alive will listen to your problems and more often will chide you for making dumb decisions that got you there in the first place. Ancestral spirits however rarely speak back so boldly if you need to be told.
For me, they often visit me in my dreams as the dream world is far easier for a spirit to enter and communicate from than it is to materialize here. Thus I have had to learn to pay attention more to my dreams and in particular who is in my dreams. There have been times my late grandparents have shown up, a few times my father and once in a while other relatives I haven’t spoken too in a long while.
One of the things I like to do is confess things I’ve done or said wrong to my ancestors. I use a formula that seems to work well and it goes something like this:
Using your forefinger, draw an equal armed cross in the air over your shrine and say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, I ask the Guardian of the Gates to open the way for me so that I may enter and speak with the spirits.”
Now say, “Spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, by the right and the power of the governing spirits who watch over this place, I ask that you take heed and listen to me. I call out to (insert names of known deceased relatives here)to bear witness to what I will say. (Speak what weighs heavy in your heart)”
When finished simple thank the ancestors for listening and ask them to continue to watch carefully over you as you pass back into the realms of man. Draw the cross in the air again over their shrine while you say, “Guardian of the Gates, I salute and thank you for allowing me to enter and speak with my ancestors about these grave matters. Much honor to you.” Done.
As I previously stated, the ancestors are not ones you merely conjure up for quick fix situations however their role in your life akin to walking in front of you and trying to smooth out the rough spots or point out the pitfalls so that you steer clear of them.
Do not get the idea that you are never to have any troubles because what sort of life would that be? Boring! Troubles & problems create opportunities for us to utilize our skills, gifts and talents as well as give us goals to work towards. That in itself are mighty and worthy goals, are they not?
Here is my very own invocation, albeit choppy to allow you plenty of room to add names of ancestors as well as things you want or need in your life. This invocation should be said every morning when you get up so that your ancestors know what you need.
It’s been my experience in working with spirits from a wide variety of sources since 1989 that often I have to repeat my requests to the spirit(s). Why? I do not know. My theory is that they are working on things wherever they are that interest them and my requests while highly important to me are petty to them. Thus repeated requests seem to work well for getting what it is I want.
“By the spirits of my ancestors, father’s side, mother’s side, and by the power of the Guardian of the Gates, by the power of the Master of the Crossroads and by the power of Lord of the Cemetery, I call upon my personal ancestors (here insert deceased ancestors names)to come and partake of this water and fire and listen to my requests. First I would like to thank you for (here you list several things you are thankful for) and thank you for having (insert name of someone you love in your life here) in my life who makes living a true joy. Please watch over and protect them as well as I and keep us safe from all harm. I have need of (insert those things you know you need here) and I would also like a few things such as (here you insert two or three things you would like to have). I am thankful for another wonderful day and multiple opportunities that I may partake of this life. I know soon enough I will join the ranks of the ancestors. Thank you.”
Now in the invocation you will notice there are some aspects that you typically do not find in most ritual formula. First off we are calling on the powers of the gates, crossroads and cemetery. Unless you are baptized into a particular spiritual tradition, it is ideal to simply refer to these beings as I have outlined them here without using any names. This will keep you out of trouble.
The first break is where you recite a litany of names of your deceased ancestors, if known. Many folks claim they do not know who their ancestors are. With the paper trails in today’s society, it is rather difficult within the last 30 years for anyone to conceal a birth or death from a governmental database. And with some online sites utilizing these databased, we can find out who our parents and grandparents are for a small fee. Thus you name the ancestors you are related to here, preferably ones who actually knew you but if you grew up without knowing them, it is not the end of the world if they never met you.
You are also going to offer a small white unscented tea light, household or votive candle and a glass of water to the ancestors. It’s protocol and respectful. You should have the candle holder and glass on their shrine anyway so this should not be any surprise. Just fill, light and begin.
You then list several things you are thankful for. Often I have thanked the ancestors for good health, a roof over my head, food in my pantry, money to pay my bills, the companionship of my cat, and so on. This is where you are genuinely thankful for the things you truly need. For instance, I need a special leg brace to walk properly so I often mention this to the ancestors because it is a very expensive item and insurance only covers so much as you well know.
By thanking the ancestors for what you already have, you show courtesy and respect for what they have given you. This is opposite of what most want to do which is complain about what they don’t have. Before you ask, be mindful and thankful of what has been given to you already. Even if you had to pay for it out of pocket, that does not matter. The ancestors gave it to you. If you’re a hard head who feels otherwise, then pretend for the sake of argument they gave it to you. Trust me on this one.
Now mention someone in your life you are thankful for having there. This could be a lover, a dear friend, a companion, a spouse, an animal, someone that makes your heart feel at ease and full of joy when you’re around them. It should be someone you have strong feelings for rather than just the guy at the corner pub.
Now list those things you know you need. These are the things you truly want such as a fulfilling relationship or career, an education, or something that you know deep down inside is not a mere want but a need that has been unfulfilled in your life. Why ask? Ask and ye shall receive as the prophet stated. The ancestors listen and will process this for you.
Finally we come to the fun stuff. Here is where everyone wants to jump to immediately - the “gimme stuff” part. Here you name several things you’d like to have but can live without. Seriously. If you want an PS4 or Xbox One, ask for it. If you want a new Harley Davidson motorcycle, this is where you ask for it.
The idea is that the ancestors won’t simply drop the item into your lap, usually, rather they will drop the opportunity/ies to make the money necessary so that you can afford these items. The difference between your needs is that there they will move heaven and earth to help you get into that career that will help you live a better lifestyle or raise you up from where you were.
Wants need to be differentiated from needs so that you’re not crossing your wires with the ancestors. Try mixing them up and nothing will happen. Your ancestors are not stupid nor are they thick-headed. They can see things down the road ahead of you that you cannot see. This is why you will begin to notice more hunches, intuitions, gut reactions and other instincts coming to your notice as you progress forward.
Now here is where we make the ancestors sit up and take note which is giving them what is referred to in my Vdou House as a demand but elsewhere most folks refer to it as a request. The demand is written down on a piece of clean, unused piece of paper in your own hand.
For a simple working, you would lay a good demand face up on a saucer or plate with a cup of coffee, glass of red wine or shot glass of liquor on top of it. You could also just sit a glass of water on top of it as well.
Now if say you have a demand where you need someone to leave you a lone, say some jerk at work, then after you write that out, lay it face down, because it is not a good demand and sit the cup or glass of liquid on top of it.
Earlier when I mentioned the hamburger? Same thing here. Write your demand out on paper and then place it either face up if the demand is positive or face down if the demand is negative on a white ceramic dinner plate and place the hamburger on top of the demand.
Once you have positioned the food or liquor on top of your demand, then you offer the food or liquor on the white plate to the four corners as explained previously.