I attended an ofrenda (an offering), a ceremony to honor the ones who have died in our lives.
An unexpected invitation came from a woman named Pluma who owns a shop I stopped in yesterday off Rose in Venice, Cali.
There was, as it is named, grandfather fire nestled in the center of the circle, tobacco as offering placed in wooden bowls on all four corners for anyone to come up and make a blessing. Drums, shakers, flutes, and voices was what filled the air during the night.
We all sat in a circle on cushions planted on an off-white cloth, some parts stamped dirt, some parts untouched by stains of Earth. The ground below was sand. A beautiful woman named Luna shared a song and guided us into holding space for one another. There was also a lovely brother who played guitar, sang in indigenous languages, and shared stories of the old ways. We were given the opportunity to speak out loud if we wanted to honor anyone who had died and held a place in our heart.
My grandma died last month. She was magical and introduced me to what I’d love to learn now: dreams and tarot. Calling in our ancestors, we prayed and sang and shared. We blessed the tobacco with a touch to our hearts, and our intention was blown into the hand holding the medicine messenger. It was then thrown into the fire as an offering of our prayers and intentions. The timing was synchronistic. I stopped in this shop the day before and it was a rare passing. I wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise. I also didn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral in Lebanon last month. So, this was a huge gift for me to share my voice and to honor my loved ones, Teta Hayat and Dina. Being with a big group really supported that celebration of their life. It had been a while since I did any form of ritual in that way and it was exactly what I needed.
The impact people made in our lives and the deep love and resilience that fruited in the family line is felt by many people. They are our teachers. Prayer, using the four elements, and calling the spirits of our ancestors into our space can create a line of communication. And communication is healing. Singing or drumming to a hum can create an expansive portal of connection to those souls that have colored and added to our experience.
I needed to grieve. Being gathered, wrapped in a space where others also felt the pings of loss, and sharing our hearts to those we honor was giving our bodies and psyche a place to reprieve—to be seen, to be heard, to connect to our humanity.
Tears pouring down my face remembering the soothing smell of my grandma, that unnamed, natural, plain cream that she slathered on every day and the feel of her drooping skin of her arm that would dangle in the air as I’d gently cup, lightly tap, and gently hold in my hands. Or the big smile my aunty would make as her eyes would gently close when she was especially delighted.
These little moments of beauty and awe fill my mind. When special moments make up our days and we would spend time in my aunty’s kitchen drinking ah-weh (aka Turkish coffee) and have Teta (grandma) read our cups. And she would shape-shift in front of our eyes, becoming an oracle for 20 minutes or so, giving us insight on our future or what things to be cautious about. She would see that someone would be engaged for marriage soon or that someone would be traveling. Sometimes the dark of the reading would show up with a black dot indicating someone giving you the “evil eye”—someone jealous or envious of you.
She reminded us to take it like a grain of salt, but I couldn’t help but be enthralled of her ability to intuitively see. Her other curiosity was dream interpretation. We would tell her a dream and she would point out a meaning behind the creature or object we would see—bad luck or good—giving us a perspective we may never have noticed without her keen observations. There is something quite mystical about these practices. And the dream realm is a kind of veil to the other side of our life that we tend to mostly forget. We can see an ofrenda, an offering, as a bridge to honoring the veils of the other side to life. One of the most mysterious aspects of our existence is always accessible.
Offerings for loved ones, to the earth, to the sky, to the ones who are no longer here with us, to our creative expressions…you name it, can be made anytime and anywhere. On this oncoming Samhain, Halloween, October 31st and Dios de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1st, you are invited to create an altar filled with pieces that have meaning for you to your loved ones, photos, candles, and flowers. It can be as minimal or as expressed as you like. Consider using the four elements, like incense to represent air, water in a small cup, candle for fire, and a crystal or stone for Earth as a way to set the ofrenda space.
I offered a beautiful and colorful rosary to the altar that was my aunt Dina’s and a candle was lit for both of them. I also chose to wrap myself in a red shawl that was gifted to me by her. Unexpectedly and sweetly, her daughter, Sarah, gave it to me a year later when she found it in her mom’s closet with my name written on a piece of paper on top of it.
I cherish ceremony. I appreciate ritual because it creates a space to celebrate and connect with whatever it is we want to give thanks or acknowledgment. It can be a place of deep creativity and expression. A mystical approach to honoring the ineffable aspects of life and death. And rituals have many forms. If you look at how you go about your morning, perhaps your ritual is reading and drinking a cup of your favorite coffee in bed. These everyday rituals invoke presence and a joy to celebrating where we are right now. Simple moments like these can also be seen in more expressed ways, like a gathering of people sharing stories of others who have crossed to the other side.
May we honor the times where the veils are thin, where the invisible and visible get to meet each other with love, grace, and gratitude. May we honor the emotions that arise.
Speak their name aloud.
The ones that you miss the most.
Light a candle.
Close your eyes.
Whisper their name.