This is a beginners’ guide to the favorite foods of the orisha. It is not meant for initiates, who should follow the tradition of their religious houses.
What to offer, when & why:
A list of the major orishas and, in parentheses, the name of the Catholic Saint with whom they are associated and the Feast Day for that saint. Offerings can be made whenever the need arises (like a job interview, a challenging illness or other difficult time) or on the Saint’s Feast Day as general sign of reverence. One should avoid eating the food during the days the food sits as an offering. When taking offerings to natural habitats, place the items in biodegradable bags. No plastic for Mother Earth, please.
•Elegguá (St. Anthony, June 13): The God of the Crossroads rules communication and health. He embodies the spirit of both a child and an old man. He is found of rum, cigars, espresso-style coffee and candy. After three days, these offerings can be poured down the drain or thrown in the trash.
•Obatalá (Our Lady of Mercy, September 24): The God of Purity rules clarity and mental health. He is also the ‘owner’ of all heads, meaning he is the patron saint of all those who have not been initiated. He is fond of cotton and coconuts. After eight days, these items can be thrown in the trash.
•Yemayá (Our Lady of Regla, September 7): She is fond of watermelon, fried pork rinds and molasses. After seven days, throw in the trash, pour down the drain or take to the ocean. Coins that add up to multiples of seven (one nickel and two pennies, seven pennies, or two dimes and a penny) can also be tossed in the sea good luck.
•Orúnmila (St. Francis of Assisi, October 4): The God of Divination is privy to the destiny of every human being. His guidance is invaluable to those making life-changing decisions. He is fond of yams and fruit of any kind. On the seventh day (not 16 as in the chart), the offering can be thrown in a body of fresh water (river, creek) or in the trash.
•Changó (St. Barbara, December 4): The God of War rules power and control of enemies. Those who need strength to fight life’s daily battles, or overcome a challenging situation at work, for example, might do well to make him an offering, asking for strength. He is fond of apples and bananas. After four or six days, the offering can be thrown in the trash.
•Oshún (Our Lady of Charity, September 8): The Goddess of Freshwaters rules fertility, love and wealth. She also rules illnesses of the abdominal area. She loves honey, white wine, eggs, oranges and rum cakes. On the fifth day, her offerings can be thrown in the trash or down the drain. Coins that add up to multiples of five (one nickel, five pennies or a quarter) can also be tossed in a river or stream for good luck.
How to offer:
1. Buy a candle that corresponds to that color(s) of the given orisha.
2. Place your offering in a neutral place in your home on a white plate. You can leave the fruit whole and pour just a small serving of any liquid. Avoid making offerings in your bedroom or bathroom. If asking for physical healing, you may pass the whole fruit over your body or the site of the illness before putting it on the plate.
3. Put the candle on another white plate, or two plates, one on each side of the offering, if you’ve bought candles of two colors. If you can’t find colored candles, white candles will do for all orisha.
4. Light the candle and ask the orisha/saint for the help or guidance that you need. These requests should always be about supporting your well-being and growth or that of loved ones. Never wish harm on anyone or you may find it coming back to you.
5. You may want to buy a prayer card and recite the prayer daily in front of your offering and lit candle.
6. Leave the offering in its place for the number of days that corresponds to that orishas number. (See chart in The Accidental Santera.)
7. Keep it lit only when you are at home and be sure it is set on a non-flammable surface away from curtains or anything else that might catch fire. On the floor on a plate away from foot traffic is best.
8. At the end of the offering period, dispose of the offering in the appropriate location (see above).