Someone in the EvocationalMagics Yahoo Group asked why spiritual entities would need offerings – specifically food offerings intended to nourish and empower them. I think it’s a good question. The querent received different replies from three people – all of which (I feel) combine to give a fairly solid answer. Here they are:
“Need” is the problem in the above; substitute ‘want’ and you have a better understanding. But then, you could just as easily ask the same thing with the ‘want’ in it.
I cannot speak for other ATR practitioners, only myself & what I’ve learned which is that the Saints walked the earth at one time and they liked what life had to offer: Good food, smoke, drink, sex – the pleasures life had to offer. They miss these things & enjoy it when we indulge them in it.
We eat to sustain our bodies whilst they eat for the pleasure it bring them. I invite a Saint to dinner, I don’t give it a slab of bloody meat on a plate – hell I wouldn’t eat that so I would expect a guest to? Would you? No. I cook the food & offer it cooked which is how they like it.
In the Old Testament, God wanted his offerings cooked too. It said the smell of the burning fat was pleasing to the Lord. I think it’s interesting that the smell was what was important. In Revelations it talks about how the incense in God’s temple was “the prayers of the Saints.” The smoke rises as it is released, heading up towards the heavens. The scent itself is the invisible essence of the offering. I think it’s apparent to us here that the spirits aren’t physically consuming the offering, so they just assumed it was the scent that pleased them, the invisible essence. All the words for “spirit” seem to be based on the word for “breath” or “wind.” You can’t usually see breath or wind, but you can feel it and see it affect the material realm. Makes sense that the unseen movers would eat the unseen essence of a thing.
I feel it is an alchemical mystery. As the food sits on the altar and dries out (or as it is reduced to ash in a fire, as the case may be) it undergoes a chemical “solve” process – where it is broken down into its essential elements. I believe this change-over presents an opportunity for the spirits – who are themselves connected to/representative of these natural processes – to draw their own kind of energy from the material.
Update: When I shared this blog post on Facebook, my friend and teacher Ochani Lele had something to add. I think it fits quite well with the overall “jist” of the explanation, and is worth including:
Actually the answer is much simpler than that. Everything has ashe (prana, life, power, etc) and food is no exception. Everything has different “types” of ashe, and ashe in varying amounts. There’s no difference between lighting a candle, lighting incense, saying a prayer, or offering food. Just as a ceremonial magician might use sandalwood incense on one occasion or a green candle on another, sometimes spirits or orishas or gods want the ashe inherent in food instead of a candle, or incense, or what-have-you.