The Offering and Its Essential Elements

By Jesús Aguado

To invoke a visit from those living in the afterworld, tradition determines that people must place offerings in their honor. The offering should have all the following essential elements.  If one element is missing, the traveling soul can become upset, and if that is not enough, the offering could lose its charm.

Glass with water to mitigate the soul’s thirst after the long path and to strengthen its way back.

Salt to purify the soul and corpse of the deceased and frighten away the bad spirits.

Candles to guide the soul’s way to its old home.

Incense for cleaning the house of bad spirits and to protect the souls.

Flowers as a sign of festivity and to make the loved ones happy.

Petate (palm straw) as the base of the offering and to be used by the soul as a cloth where it can rest.

Dog mainly for the offering for children. A dog will make them happy when they arrive the party, and they will take the dog with them to help them cross the perilous waters of the Chiconauhuapan River on their way to Mictlán, a place inhabited by the dead.

Bread was an element added by Catholicism and represents Jesus Christ’s body.

Sugar cane and bread to make a representation of the tzompantlis. The bread represents the heads of the enemies and must be stuck on the sugar canes.

Optional elements

Picture of the person to whom altar is dedicated. This must be hidden and can only be visible with a mirror. That means that the person can be seen but does not exist anymore in this world.

The most common, traditional dish is mole with chicken. Tamales, atole, cut paper, hot chocolate, and liquor are also used to decorate for adults. Alfeñiques (candies) can also be added, mainly skulls with the name of the invoked soul.

According to the CDI (National Council for the Development of Indigenous Towns), in the Mesoamerican culture, corpses were burned, and the soul would find its path according to the kind of death the person had. Those who drowned would go to Tlalocan (paradise of the Rain God). The women who passed away during childbirth and warriors who died on the battlefield would go to the temple of Sun God Huitzilopoxtli. All others would go to Mictlán. In the journey to Mictlán, the corpses had to cross mountains, winds full of knives, and cross perilous rivers as well as other obstacles. For that reason, the soul needed to be guided by a dog. After several years the soul was dissolved.

 

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