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
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
Spicy Peppers (I actually dry my
own jalapeños and habañeros and powder them, so I add a big pinch of chile
(1-2) cloves of Garlic, chopped
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
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.
As for the rice, cook it however you prefer
– stove top, rice cooker, whatever – and fold in the remaining ingredients.
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!