A Vietnamese friend of mine recently asked me an interesting question. In her culture it is customary to lay some food out as an offering to deceased relatives and ancestors. She wanted to know what effect that really had on the spirits. She remarked that sometimes her family would have dreams that their deceased relatives were starving in the afterlife and they would increase their offerings to make sure their loved ones had enough to eat. Do the spirits really need food offerings?
I know other cultures do similar things. Offerings to the dead come in many forms: food, flowers, candles, photos, and even money. But what do the dead need with these things in the afterlife? Deceased people no longer have physical bodies. So obviously they don’t really eat the food that is offered to them. They have no need of money since, as far as I know, there are no Starbucks in the ether (sorry to anyone who was counting on that…). There is really nothing we can offer in physical form that would be of any use to a spirit in the ether.
However, that doesn’t mean these offerings do not have value. In fact, they have tremendous value. When you place items on an altar you are doing more than just putting down a plate of fruit or a wreath of flowers. You are expressing love. And that does reach a spirit in the ether. You are honoring their memory, and they feel that. You are reconnecting with them for a few moments as you light a candle and think of them. They know that. You are sending a tendril of love out into the ether where it is received by your loved ones. Offerings are a beautiful way to express your love.
There are other ways you could do it if you are not into altars and leaving food lying out all night. Just taking some time to think about a deceased relative or friend sends them love. Sit down on your couch or in a comfortable chair, play some soft music, light a candle, hold an item of theirs or a photo, and think about them. Think loving thoughts, replay favorite memories, and talk to them. Tell them what’s going on in your life, acknowledge them, and mentally send them some flowers. For them it’s like receiving an ethereal email from you. And take a moment to receive the love they are sending back to you. Let it fill your heart and soul. You may feel a tingling sensation down your back, you may suddenly smell their favorite perfume or flower, or you may suddenly have a fond memory pop into your head. Let the communication happen the way it wants to. Spirits come through in different ways.
Remember that offerings go both ways. Send love to those who have crossed over and feel their love in return. And remember that although you may be physically apart you are always as close in their hearts as they are in yours.