a simple clean white tablecloth on a small table covering the legs that touches the floor. On this table is usually placed a water glass (tap water only) with a metal crucifix inserted, white flowers and white candles along with Allan Kardec's book of selected prayers.
A very simple boveda ancestral altar at home, is like the misa table, which likely also contains pictures and items belonging to loved passed family members. In Sanse they can be a bit more elaborate as we add ours spirit guides, non bloodline dead and more correctly call it a tableau espirituale: a spiritual table.
While one cannot be instructed to hold a misa as a solitary or untrained community, basic steps can be taken at a home practice.
The white table must be kept uncluttered and as absolutely clean as possible, the water refreshed at least once a week, and when they get cloudy or dirty, whenever flowers begin to wilt they are removed. The table cloth should be laundered at least once to twice a month, or when it begins to get dirty with wax and ash. Monday is the usual day to attend your altar, but as long as you remember once a week. It is not for people who cannot maintain this responsibility. It is a "golden door to the abyss" as I have read, and guidance is recommended, but if you can follow these guidelines you should be OK. Please read part 1 if you have not already.
It usually is kept in a front or a back room, avoid the bedroom as you want restful sleep, or place a screen in front of it as no business, loud conversations, or eating is done in front of it, nudity or sex. You can also cover it with a white sheet.
A closet is not ideal as it is unsafe to have clothing close to candles burning. It is good if you can have sunlight upon it and not in a dark forgotten place.
The table should not be used, it should be new or from a family member only. The table is cleansed mundanely, both sides and leg with soapy water, and then spiritually with a cologne or rum and smudge such as I use a cigar and florida water on the surface and under the table. A prayer of cleansing and consecration ie dedication is done over the table before the cloth is placed. You can make this up or use the prayer provided. You can bless the table with a gently water cleansed basil leaf bunch by dragging a cross upon the table. You can also mark the 4 corners in this manner if desired.
I wrote this prayer formula, but you can use one from another source which meets the criteria of cleansing and dedication of the altar to specified spirits:
I dedicate this altar to *(the most high god, el santismo), my good helping ancestors and my spiritual guides responsible for my spiritual elevation and progress to be a meeting place of power and peace. I call your names *( ….. or known and unknown) (ancestors who are a positive influence in my life, who guide yet support my choices, and guides known and unknown) to bless and guard this table and myself. I purify this table with (holy smoke of the messenger tobaku, and floral essence, the power of basil etc). I ask for your blessings. I honor, listen, and give thanks for your assistance, light and wisdom. Speak and guide me, I call you always.
*(can say great spirit, papa Bonnye as in my branch of voudou or Bon Dye, the congo: Nsambi, Papa Bon Dios, Toponderosa, father sky and mother earth, whoever you see as the ultimate divine source God and is your spiritual path)
*(list all known keep a book and ask your family members for history and research, you can call them when you do your ancestral prayer. You can keep a list of names or just surnames on the altar if you wish).
Originally the african ancestral altar as far as is remembered to be taught is a stick of the dead, called a palo de muerto, or baston de muerto in Sanse, egun (of the dead proper) stick or bakulu stick depending on african religion. You can get one prepared by an initiate, as they are usually sacrificed over in Palo or Santeria/Ocha/Lucumi. In Lucumi they also have a terracotta or clay roof tile that can be recieved as part of the egun. Sometimes a pile of rocks or a smooth ovoid river rock was used with or without the stick upon an earthen floor or outside where water or libations could be poured upon the ground and a boundary marked with cascarilla chalk. This would be tapped 9 times on the earth to waken or notify the dead to get their attention. I know in Haiti they sometimes use a stone altar called a Pe along with a water glass. Since people started living in cities they would keep the staff in bathrooms, along with marigolds. The pipes were believed to lead into the earth, and so as well clogged pipes is to be avoided or cleansed as possibly malignant or stagnant energies of the dead. Some will dispose of the altar water outside upon the ground, but down the drain is personally acceptable to me as well.
Symbols of items, and other items which can be placed
The one water glass with cold tap water below the brim: All, spirit, god, the great spirit. Your ancestors will have to share this cup, until your spirit court and guides be investigated in a misa. You could use 3 cups one for maternal one for paternal ancestors and one for God and other spirits. Then you will dedicate the other number of cups to classes, commissions or specific cultural lines of dead that you have, including ancestors of past lives. You need to lift this cup up and dedicate it to "God", and all your good, helping ancestors, willing to support your life choices, and be a positive, healthy influence in your life. The cup must be dedicated, because it is a portal, a vessel like a body for them, and not for random spirits. The number of cups used besides the main one which is the largest usually, will depend on your tradition. We use 9 small and one big, as I was taught to count the glasses around the big one. The number may indicate a particular misterio such as an Orisha you or the group is under if practiced the Cuban way. You will use these other glasses for communication and when you know your spirit court.
The other cups can be placed in different patterns to indicate to the spirits your spiritual needs such as defense or elevation. The one cup or rest position is of peace and a normal defense. Water represents life, juxtaposed with the realm or sea of the dead, and the bubbles within as presence as spiritual gasses or fluids. The water purifies, cools them, and quenches their thirst. You may see the water drastically evaporate even not in the summer months as they drink. I will do a blog post on how to read the water glass and candles in an upcoming post. In this glass a sprig of basil, ceiba, mint, or rosemary or choice of fresh herb can be placed, but the water will likely need cleansing more frequently. The glass should be clear, round, with or without a stem, with no markings or etchings on it.
When the METAL crucifix is within it is the active or ON position when you are working or just need their added presence. You may otherwise place this beside or balanced on the top of the glass. It represents light, life, protection, the intersection of matter and spirit, the world tree and as the poto mitan, axis mundi or palo majeur as the dead come up the roots, the 4 directions or winds, an as an antennae for frequency.
The flowers are fresh and give life. Blessings are conveyed within the petals, if used before wilting in a spiritual bath. Yellow flowers may be acceptable, but preferably white. You can use these for cleansing, or cross them over your body before setting them down. If you cleanse yourself with the flowers or watercup, you should not use it for a spiritual bath later.
White candle: energy like the food which is given. Heat, warmth, elevation in terms of spiritual expansion and progress and light to help them see in darkness and guide their way to the table. It should be placed near the main water glass, and you may place more than one.
The food should also be dedicated to your ancestors welcome to the table or a specific dead. So no hungry random ghosts to eat at your table. Do not give them too much alcohol or food, once a week is enough. In the beginning you may feel candles or food are needed more frequently to help them elevate and progress to a steady place and relationship with you. People usually place this on the floor in front of the altar or on a chair beside. Food can be made the sign of the cross over your body before setting it down, or hold it up to your head or lips, heart then abdomen first.
You can give them tobacco if they smoked, make sure there is a lighter or matches, and you can light cigars, and blow it over food offerings or items to cleanse. Many keep a clean ashtray. You may give them money as a form of energetic currency they can use, which exponentially is worth more on the other side. You can spray the table with perfume, especially healing balms or as a calming influence such as with rose or violet. Florida water is used but you should be aware it can be two handed and manifest both good and bad thoughts ass well as being highly flammable. Pompeya lotion is a more positive and feminine cologne, but I prefer the smell of florida water. Holy water is often kept, but I have a secret procurement. This should not be bought, but can be obtained via donation at a catholic church font.
A bell with help to alert them and raise and break up stagnant energies, this is rung in a cross to open the table or just to notify and balance the energies with a participant under spiritual influence. I will address how to open and work the table next post.
A bowl of blue water is often kept on the floor in a white or clear bowl. This is tap water with laundry bluing such as liquid mrs stewarts brand, bluette, reckitts squares or hoodoo blueballs. Added to this is what suits your psychic fancy at the time, usually a cologne. You can also add white flower petals, cascarilla, holy water, essential oils. Cascarilla represents the white clay layer in Africa representing ancestors, also called efun or pemba. This clean good smelling bowl repels negative dead spirits which rise from the floor. Sometimes a candle is placed therein, as it is protected and designated for good spirits.This bowl of water is often prepared before misa for cleansing participants, or for spiritually cleansing yourself, which you should do in some manner at least once a week on approach.
Do not approach the altar when in a bad mood or swear in front of it as they are a mirror for us, and will attract like spirits and color their manifestations. You can of course confide in them your difficulties and speak as they were there as in life, ask for help, clarity and guidance.
A divinatory item which is cleansed frequently can be used here. This is not used as a crutch but as an addition to mediumship, felt often in the body or other "psychic" senses.
Jewelry you intend to wear, to have their influence upon it as a charged protection such as a cross necklace, evil eye or hamsa, azabache etc
Sharing the altar is only recommended in a family situation or when a couple is good as or married. There must be kept flowers to divide the two sides , along with other items such as the tools in the middle and both responsible for maintaining their side as well as refreshing the table or it will provoke fights in the house. The feeling on the table should be one of peace.
Things NOT to put on it:
Dark colors: black and brown are associated with the more earthbound malevolent dead. Some people also have taboo against red due to the hot or aggressive nature it implies. Keep mostly everything white. Some gold preferably or silver is also acceptable. Try to dress in loose white clothing with shoes off or at least a white shirt when approaching.
Dead or dried flowers
Do not leave food more than 24 hours, drinks can stay a bit longer
Do not give rotten food or anything you would not personally eat, unless it is a type of food preference a specific family member ate in life that you just do not like.
Salt: personal opinion is that it repels dead, or keeps their vibrations lower "trap" unless used for infestation in a house, do not worry about occurring sodium in products but do not add more to food.
Do not place spellwork here, or anything of negative witchcraft or sorcery as it will impede their and your spiritual progress, being linked. The ancestors are not used for this. You can write petitions or on a novena candle for blessings.
Anyone living lest they join the dead early
Anyone dead known to cause you problems in life, who was/is troubled, including victims of violence and suicides, as well as quasi intentional drug overdoses. These cases should be handled with guidance and investigated by someone who is trained to navigate the situation.
Anyone who has not been dead longer than a year. Usually the guideline is to give them their spiritual sendoff and elevation, then give a period of rest.
Cages: I know this sounds funny but I saw someone untrained do it because they thought the closed birdcage looked pretty. This goes against liberation and progress principles as a symbol.
Anything that does not serve a specific function or need to be there, purer, cleaner, simpler the better
NO gods, no loases/Lwa Orisha, no Ghede, no saints or too many religious items. The religious items used have a metaphoric or dual purpose, and not all your ancestors or dead were christian going back to the beginning of the human race. IF saints are used we only use very specific ones as a principle of light or for very specific reasons such as St Claire or saints coded as a representation of the centinela, the main spirit guide. A rosary, a bible usually placed face down is OK, as they can be dedicated to a specific family member, or such as I have a spirit guided who is a nun who takes these, and are used in ceremony or as a symbol of prayer. Prayer books are OK.
Clutter: simple and clean as possible will promote clarity.
An initiated Sancista will also place around their spirit guides and paraphernalia with the other water glasses, although one who is only an espiritista will generally keep the dolls or statues separate as in the Cuban way. The Cuban way also keeps separate any dead who is not of your immediate bloodline, but in Sanse we allow passed friends, or other personal venerated dead such as passed spiritual teachers to be placed in a specific organizational method.
We will often pin 9 different colored panuelos, bandanas or cloths to the front edge, as the number and spectrum of classes of the dead spirit guides we acknowledge.
You may also see a monstrance, which can be of several designs, representing the sun or light, catholic transmutation of spiritual alchemy or enlightened flesh. Mine has a cup, the bread wafer Eucharist light/earth/body descending into it, and a solar halo around it, and is golden in color. The monstrance is not necessary. Some do not add a cross but critics say there will be a lack of light.
If there are any questions or if I have left anything out please comment or send me a message.
Next blog posts Part 3: How to approach or open and basic guide to work the altar
Part 4 How to read the water glass and novena candle
Part 5 How to do a basic ancestor bath to connect to them and spiritual cleansing