Giving Babalú-Ayé, Matanzas-style: The Presence of the Dead

There are many ways to give Babalú-Ayé, and I never tire of contemplating the ceremonies as a vessel for information about the oricha. One Matanzas lineage I know takes Babalú-Ayé on a journey as they prepare to give him to a new initiate. They take Babalú out to a cemetery and feed him with a guinea, white wine, and cigar smoke. Then they continue to the foot of a ceiba tree, where they do the whole ceremony again. Next they feed Babalú a rooster on the altar for the ancestors at the house where the main ceremony is to take place.

While I have thought about this imagery in terms of travel and the Earth, the ancestors play a strong role here as well. By taking Babalú to the cemetery and feeding him with the many ancestors there, the ceremony stresses his role as an egun. Similarly, the ceiba was historically where people in Cuba went to salute the ancestors and pray when the dead actually lay buried at too far a distance—the Africans used to feed their ancestors at the ceiba, so it worked as a kind of generalized cemetery for all. Finally, in case you did not get it before, they feed him with the ancestors at the house. Here they name their own ancestors and affinities spirits, calling them to participate in the initiation ceremony. The dead feed with Babalú, and he with them. I once participated in this ceremony in Municipio Playa in Havana, and while the master of ceremonies fed Babalú with the dead, the deity descended on an elderly priestess and cleaned everyone present.

The deep ancestral presence in these rituals is hard to ignore, and so I once described this ceremony to Pedro Abreu and asked if he ever fed Asojano with the egun. He said, “No, I have never done that, but I would not criticize it. It makes sense. Asojano is an oricha, a witch, and an egun. ”

I have heard of priests whose Babalús want to spend time with the dead at the spiritist altar, the bóveda. While I have never seen this, it makes sense.