big chile

Offerings to the Dead

I’ll tell you: I have always had a fascination with the Dead – even before I had developed my own Spiritual conviction. I never feared them – nor did I buy into the Christian demonization of Spirit or Hollywood’s extravagant interpretation of them. At the time, I did not require a cosmic understanding of them – in that, it wasn’t why they existed that interested me… only that they did. And it was actually this innate fascination that drew me to the Craft to begin with. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Witchcraft was always something near to me, from as early as I can remember, but after years of “growing up,” my knowledge thereof was forced to the deepest recesses of my mind.

It’s funny looking back, because it was my interest in the Dead that brought me back to the Craft, but it was the Craft that maintained my interest in the Dead – as strange as that sounds. From even my humble beginnings as a novice, the Dead were my tether to the Unseen. And at the time, they were just that. My abilities as a medium were not inherited – in the audible and visual sense that are for the most part considered synonymous with mediumship and necromancy. Instead, it was my Gift for the Craft that kept me aware – as perceptive and curious to those instinctual “vibrations/frequencies/planes/etc.” I spent a lot of time honing my abilities, attempting so hard to break the elusive “Veil” everyone seems to speak of, always to little avail. As much as I’d love to say that it was this astute and unwavering desire that opened my eyes, but that would be a lie. It was a fluke of a circumstance that truly paved the way.

Regardless, over the years my interest in the Dead waxed and waned, but I could never truly detach myself from them. I also spent a lot of time dancing around deities and the like, because I was intent on making my Craft my own, honing my own abilities without having to rely on Greater Powers to fulfill my desires. It was my misunderstanding then, and I’ve learned that working with Higher Powers is not about giving up… Well, actually, it is. But I just wasn’t ready to relinquish my control and autonomy.

Hilariously, again, it was the Dead who led the way for me – because it was the Spirits that reigned the Dead who would inevitably find me. And I do mean it was they who found me, because, as I mentioned, I avoided going too far up the ladder. I knew I was being watched, but I did not care to know by whom until much later.

 It was the Dead who led me, who showed me and who endlessly fascinate me as a whole and as individuals – as such, while my gratitude was lax in the past, I share my reverence openly now. They demand a great respect, one I was not always capable of giving. In hopes that those of you who walk a path akin to mine – who are Marked by the Dead, who work with Spirit – will be more grateful than I, and equally for the Spirits, who have been disrespected or misused – not out of conscious anger, but neglect or ignorance – to show them that we are grateful for their knowledge, charmed by their company, and loved, still yet: that is why I am writing this.

Now, with all that being said, let’s get down to business!

There are countless (and I mean countless) customary offerings that are left for the Dead depending on culture, beliefs, locale, etc. I could speak for days on them, but considering my long-winded preface, I’m quite certain you’d prefer I cut straight to the bone – by noting what it is that I do.

I’ve left many a different offering in my time, but find a food offering to be most endearing. As I’m sure you well know, the Dead do not eat the food you leave for them (in the traditional sense) and some of those (Living) I’ve met are confused as to why I would choose to leave a food offering. Know that, at its heart, food offerings are very much symbolic. If there is one thing all cultures share – its food. Let’s face it, we don’t eat, we die (no pun intended). As such, there is an extraordinary cultural and physical bond food can impart, even symbolically. To give food to another (whether out of generosity or cultural context) is to take from your own plate – this is one of the most endearing signs of respect. It is to show to the other party that they matter, that their existence is important to you. So much so that you would take from yourself (an animalistic taboo) to ensure the survival of the other party. Regardless of whether or not the food is conventionally eaten is of no matter (though there is a whole mythos surrounding the nourishing capabilities of food offerings to the dead), it is the symbolic pact and bond garnered by such an offering that is important.

As such, my personal favorite foods that no offering would be complete without are: Rice and Beans.

Two staples in cuisines the world over, rice and beans have always been my go-tos. Perhaps it’s my roots in Afro-Caribbean faiths, I don’t know, but there is something so hearty and substantial about them separately that is just amplified when combined. Of course, I cannot deny the aforementioned leanings when it comes to seasoning. The hotter, the better.

Here’s a very simple recipe I use:

For the Beans:

  • 1 can of Black Beans, drained (I prefer black, but pinto also work well – of course, it’s better to cook your own, but far too time-consuming for my usual schedule)
  • 2 tbsp. of lard – or olive oil, if you’re into that
  • Spicy Peppers (I actually dry my own jalapeños and habañeros and powder them, so I add a big pinch of chile powder)
  • (1-2) cloves of Garlic, chopped
  • Onion, about ¼ chopped – or to taste
  • ¼ cup of strong, brewed coffee
  • Black Pepper, a big pinch
  • Black Salt, a small pinch
  • Cinnamon powder, a very small pinch

For the Rice:

  • 1-2 cups of rice, cooked (I usually use brown, but that’s just what I keep handy)
  • A splash of lemon or lime juice
  • A pinch or two of chopped, fresh, cilantro – if you have it

As you’ll note, there’s no meat or animal products (except lard, but that doesn’t count as far as I’m concerned) – this is a conscious choice I make, as I do not necessarily like to honor the Dead with the dead. It’s just a personal choice. There’s nothing to say you can’t add meat of any sort, just something that I instinctually never added, as it never felt “right.”

  1. To prepare, simply toss the dry spices into a pan or skillet on medium heat – in this case, the black pepper, cinnamon and chile powder, and toast briefly until you can smell them. Add to this the garlic, onion and lard/oil and cook until the onion is tender and translucent. Toss in the beans and splash with the coffee, allow to cook until most of the coffee has evaporated, stirring frequently.
  2. As for the rice, cook it however you prefer – stove top, rice cooker, whatever – and fold in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Now, since I always take my offerings to the graveyard, I like to pack mine into “biodegradable containers” – and by “biodegradable containers,” I really mean tortillas. Depending on how you want to “serve” them, corn or flour may be used. Corn would be more fitting but are usually smaller and harder to manage. You can “stuff” them in a burrito fashion, or, if you have particularly supple tortillas, can actually manage to fold the edges up into a purse with a little string. String can prove very useful here, as they can be synched and prevented from spilling – obviously – but can also be untied at the graveyard/cemetery, leaving a flat, tortilla “plate.”

Generally, I make two of these. One to leave at the Gate – along with payment, not in lieu of – and the other I leave near the center of the cemetery. You may also leave small gifts, light candles and give thanks in whatever way you’re most comfortable with. I also like to chat and check up on those whom I know and I see, but to each their own.

There are plenty of other alternatives, all of which are heavily reliant on the entities/paths/cultures you follow. For me, this has proven both convenient and well received. I would love to hear what others offer and see if anyone has anything I’m unfamiliar with!

Happy Offerings,