(Scroll down to see How to Set Up Your Ancestral Altar)
My mother is a very spiritual woman, but all her life she hid her spirituality because of fear of being called an Obeah woman in a very judgmental Jamaican Hypocritical Christian Society. Obeah woman is a name that I Obara Meji have come to love, go figure, lol.
I had a brother I did not know, his name was Neville, a wonderful name I think. He died when he was eleven months old. According to my mother, Neville was a beautiful child, good looking and plump and just a cheerful fun little boy. The father had another woman on the side. After my mother had the baby and the family was happy, my mom, the father and the child, the evil woman went “Out” (out as in Obeah/Juju yard) and threw wicked Obeah and so Neville the baby developed a huge boil. I cannot remember where on his body she said it was. The boil eventually burst and my mother said the stench from it was awful. She told us, after it burst Neville, my sweet brother, that I never knew died.
Mama said she was devastated and so was the father. They eventually split up, but the whole parish knew that it was a blow (Obeah) sent by the woman that killed the sweet innocent brother Neville.
We heard this story from my otherwise secretive mother because she had a picture of him on her center table, and as we grew we asked questions and so she told us. I would suck my favorite thumb and listen to her as she sadly told the story of losing her baby. I watched her eyes mist as she spoke about him, I knew that she never forgot him, and his picture on the table kept him alive to her somehow.
Iba Neville! I also will never forget you and so I call your name whenever I honor my ancestors of which you are one.
Also on the center table of my mothers living room was a hair brush belonging to my Aunty B. My mother’s younger sister, She died at a very young age. My mother said she stopped having her period in her early twenties, and from there she withered away. My mother described her as a very thin girl with long beautiful hair and a very quiet demeanor. She had the most gentle spirit, and she made no trouble to anyone. Her death was a mystery according to my mother who said they took her to the hospital but the doctors could not figure out the cause of her illness, and so sweet Aunty B died. My grandmother never got over her.
Once when we made a visit to the country where my grandmother lived, my aunt from America was coming to Jamaica. So we all met up at my granny;s house, as we gathered in the room (I forget which one, I was very young then) a dove appeared and perched on the window sill.My grand mother went over to the dove who did not fly away or even flinch as they normally would, and she began to cry as she picked it up.
She said “B, you come? you come to see your sisters as they are all together in one place with their children. My grandmother hugged the dove and cried, saying that i was my Aunt B. It was believable however (I know I may sound foolish to those who do not understand that a spirit can enter the body of the living, be it animal or human, but I pray for all the doubters that you awake one day), because it was remarkable how the dove, a bird who normally fly away at the approach of anybody, laid there and was comforted by my grandmother. It was an awesome sight to behold, and all who were there cried that day along with my grandmother. The dove stayed around for the time we were there, perched on the window sill!
The hair brush on the center tale in our house along with Neville’s picture were items dedicated to the memory of my mother beloved. I honor them as my mother did in her subtle way. Iba Aunty B! I call her name daily when I honor my ancestors, and she is around me, although I had never met her.
My mother, who knew the importance of honoring her people who had made their transition into the world of spirits, did so on the down low because of the stigma of dedicating a personal space (an Altar) for them would have had on her in an Christian minded, bible beating, ah pleas de blood ah Jesus Jamaica.
Yet Jesus is dead and there are Altars and shrines with iconography and all sorts of symbols dedicated to him all over Jamaica and across the world! How hypocritical, How very hypocritical!.
A spiritual Altar is a must for everyone. I lift my hats off to Chinese and to all Asian people who are open about their veneration to their ancestors, they do not hide their worship and they have altars all around them, and they prosper very well. Even in America when they dedicate a day (holiday) in memory of someone, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther King day, Veterans day and so on, they are honoring the dead. Not to mention the Catholic Church with their blatant Altars and statues with candles, flowers, perfumes and thensome!
I have a wonderful altar which was taught to me on how to set it up by my wonderful Padrino, Iba Padrino!
He had instructed me, way back when to get a table with four legs pointing different directions as in East, West, North and South. I did not understand it at the time, but wisdom has since become my friend and has taught me much. He told me of certain plants to get and the most wonderful thing I know upon this earth, a thing I never travel without and that is Florida water. This thing call the most beautiful spirits. They respond quickly when it is sprinkled or even displayed. The Jamaican White rum is also excellent, however it can call down warrior spirits from the realms to assist us, so we have to know how and when to use it, and Kananga water, which we use in Jamaica a lot must not be used after 12 midnight. I will explain this in personal emails to all who want to know the reason.
Things You Need for Your Altar:
Must haves for altars are in bold letters
• A personal space be it table or ground (ground is better) in an email to all who ask I will explain why.
• Water. One glass is fine, but I would prefer 3, 5, or 7. Do not do 9. (there is reason for this which I will not explain, here or through email. You will learn it at the school)
• Coffee or tea (with no milk)
• White cloth to set all items upon, no other color than white (again there is reason for this)
• Rum or any clear colored liquid
• Flowers or long lasting plants like creepers
• First Plate of Food (This does not have to be everyday, it would be nice of you can give them the first plate of food that you cook, but it is not necessary) the first food from the pot, no one must eat or taste until the ancestors are served first! Food does not have to be a full plate but can be small helpings of each side cooked. Remember these are spirits. They do not “eat” the food or drink you give them, they absorb the energy of the offering.
• Candies in a dish or strew around
• Cakes (perishable items ought not to stay for more than three days
• Pictures of dead loved ones, or article of clothing for them (even a pet) you can include your pet who have passed away on you altar. Pictures or statues or images of any religious figure you like, NEVER PUT A PICTURE OF ANY LIVING PERSON THERE.
• Stones or sticks that appeal to you.
• Do not give them any food that you would not eat yourself.
• Place a knife, cutlass, or a Slingshot (Bingy) on your altar, give them tools to fight for you if and when necessary! (lawd God ah Obeah mi ah teach oonuh nung ei nuh!
• Crystals in a dish
• Perfume (there is very good reason for this)
• Unopened bottle of beer
• Religious book or your journal
• Incense and burner which you do once or twice per week
• Daily candles (be careful with these) White preferably, tea candle can be used, put them out if you leave the house
• You should greet your Altar upon rising in the mornings, and have devotion there, and also when you are out and come in safely, remove your shoes and go there and thank them for seeing you safely back home, never stand at your altar with shoes on. It is disrespectful!
• Keep it CLEAN! Good spirits dwell in only in clean spaces!
• Be sure to refresh or remove all dried foods, water or drink
If you have problems and are stressed, go there and pray, talk to them, they will never spill your secrets to anyone, remember to screen it off from prying eyes if space allows you to do so!
How to Set Up Your Ancestral Altar (Instructions)
- Find a space in your home, preferably not in your bedroom. If you only have one room then do it in a corner and try to screen it off, as a matter of fact all altars should be screened off because you are creating a space for your loved ones, or honorary loved ones to visit or be entertained. Altars can be on a table or on the ground, it is best placed on the ground, but if the table is best for you go ahead.
Spread white cloth on the ground or table (use white, never another color, you do not want to pull what you can not manage).
- Using your bottle of white rum or gin, Florida water or a clear colored liquid, sprinkle some of the rum/gin/or florida water onto the table or ground, wherever your altar will be. Allow it to dry.
- Now spread the table or ground with the white cloth. Sprinkle some of your clear liquid there also. Allow to dry.
- Place your glasses of water there (remember only: 1, 3, 5, or 7 glasses of water, not 9). The glasses must be clear, no designs on them.
- If you have any items of your passed loved ones such as pictures or jewelry or anything small, or a piece of cloth cut from their clothes, place it on the altar. Warning: NEVER PLACE A PICTURE OF A LIVING PERSON THERE!
- You can add your coffee, black never with milk, and even if they did not like coffee when they were alive still put it there. Or you can add tea, often times when they come they are with other sets of spirits with whom these items may entertain. Remember they can not eat or drink like us but the essence of these items are what pulls them to the altar, coupled with the fact that you still remember them enough to dedicate a space in your life for them.
- Flowers may be added, a bible may be added if you’re Christian or the Quran or any thing that YOU feel you want to put there.
- Have a white candle lit there. Be careful of fire. Make sure to put the candle out when you have finished your prayers.
- Add fruits, candy, a glass of sweet honey. You do not have to have them all at the same time, but if you can, it will be good.
- Add a the first plate of food when you cook can be placed there. Make sure to place the food there before YOU OR ANYONE else eats. When the food becomes dried up, you can remove it (the energy has been taken from it).
- What ever comes to your mind you can place there. However, please know that this is a space for your ancestors. Be mindful of adding any other type of deity or spirit that does not belong there or else this can create a confused space.
You will be surprised how connected you feel to that space after a while and how much you will grow spiritually… Keep connected with your ancestors and they will be steadfast in your life as well. Pray there as much as you can and be sure to keep the energy of your altar clean. Ask any questions if you have any!
Obara Meji is a spiritualist, Ifa-Orisa practitioner, and teacher of metaphysics. Since 2011 she has used her online platform to share her personal experiences to those seeking answers about spirituality. Her teachings will expand into short stories, novels, and public speaking to continue her mission of bringing enlightenment to the world.