Eggun: The Dead
Most simply put the eggun are the spirits of the dead. Often eggun are referred to as the ancestors, but this is not entirely true, though your ancestor's are certainly included among the eggun. Your personal or fundamental eggun will of course include your deceased family members as well as the priests and priestesses who are Ibae (have passed away) in your godfamily. But also included among your personal eggun are your spiritual guides, who may or may not be family members.
One important thing to remember with eggun is that they are the spirits of people. And just as there are the good and the bad, the liars and the reliable, and the refined and the crude on earth, so it is with the world of the eggun or spirits. And it is up to us to determine which sort of eggun we have relationships with, just as it is up to us what kind of living people we associate with. We always have the choice of whether we befriend people who will lift us up or find our friends among the more dangerous elements, such as the mafia, in this world or the other. This is why we don't throw coconut to eggun except to ask if they accept an offering. It is simply a matter of not knowing who would be answering...
Eggun are always taken care of first as the old saying says, "Eggun before Ocha, always". In any rite in the religion, first Olorun (God) is saluted, then eggun, the orishas being reserved for last. We always get the permission and approval of eggun before proceeding with any rite from simple Obí divination to the highest initiations in the religion. Before an orisha ceremony eggun is prepared and any eggun initiations such as being initiated in Palo are done before making Ocha.
Your eggun are also a fundamental part of who you are and where you comefrom. In fact, when saluting your eggun, you are declaring who you are in a direct way by the act of declaring where you came from. By connecting with your eggun you affirm the continuum from the distant past towards the distant future as we can all look forward to becoming eggun one day.
Also, a little talked of fact about eggun is that they work faster than orisha for many things. This is one reason why a person might go to a palero rather than a santero or babalawo when 'in a hurry' on certain matters. Or why a santero or babalawo will prescribe working with eggun rather than orisha on a certain matter. During a consultation it is also common for eggun to 'speak up' about a person, requesting attention in order to help a person achieve balance and thereby reach their destiny in this life. This is because eggun are the closest beings to us as they too were once alive in this world.
There are times when a person may have an unhealthy relationship with an eggun. At times an eggun will become attached to a person and attempt to take them away from this world. There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes an eggun misses a living person and wants them to be with them in the other world. At other times, an eggun will feel sorry for a person here on earth and will try to relieve their sorrows by helping them to go to the world of the dead. And sometimes there are less noble reasons for this sort of attachment. There are 'enviados' or sent spirits, for instance. These are negative beings sent to harm us. Or sometimes a negative spirit will attach itself to us 'just because'. At this point it becomes necessary for the babalawo or santero to perform a paraldo or a rompemiento to forcibly break the connection between the two, allowing the spirit and the living person to go their own and necessarily separate ways.
There are two classes of eggun worship. One is eggun worship proper which is usually practiced in a corner of a bathroom or in a basement, in an area marked off with efun. Offerings to eggun are placed here and an opa ikú or eggun stick (a stick consecrated to eggun using nine colors of ribbons with bells attached) is used in calling them. The other which is the most common interaction interaction with eggun for most people is the practices of Mesa Blanca which has its roots more in Kardecian Spiritism than in Africa. This heavily involves the spiritual mass and the use of the bóveda
The Spiritual Mass
Often a Spiritual Mass is called for to raise up an eggun to a higher spiritual level or because eggun wish to speak to a person. Spiritual Masses are also performed on a regular basis to maintain an intimate contact with eggun.
In the religion, it is only within a few of our rites concerning the dead where one will find real evidence of syncretism. When a person is seen with Ifá or with Elegguá's shells it might come up that the person needs to have a mass said in the Catholic Church or that a Spiritual Mass needs to be performed for an eggun. The Catholic and spiritist elements fill a void that was left when Egungun rites ceased to become a common practice in the New World. There are two reasons for this. One, the Egungun cult didn't travel well to Cuba, resulting in few practitioners of these rites to carry on the tradition and two, the rites were very complex and dangerous, making it difficult to find new people willing to learn the rites. Therefore many people in the religion naturally gravitated towards the Kongo rites (Palo) and Spiritism to fill this void.
The Spiritual Mass is an Africanized version of the Kardecian practices. A special bóveda or eggun altar (see below) is prepared and the participants sit in a circle in front of this altar. After performing special cleansing on themselves, they read prayers from Kardec's Book of Prayers, adding prayers and songs that have been passed down from santeros since the 1800's. They first call their Spiritual Guides to be with them and guide them as they do their good work. Then they call upon the spirits in a more general way to attend the mass.
During a Spiritual Mass everyone is equal. There is no heirarchy. If anyone sees, hears, or feels something they should declare it. Also, no one knows in what form the Mass will take or how long it will last, as it is the eggun who call the shots here.If the presence of a spirit becomes known, then a more experienced practitioner will take it upon themselves to test the spirit to make sure it isn't trying to trick anyone and to discern the true nature of that spirit. If the spirit is excessively disruptive or useless it is forced to depart using special prayers and actions which are designed for this purpose. It is not uncommon for an eggun to mount or possess one of the members, the eggun often cleansing and giving advice to the participants once the eggun's true nature and motives are determined.
The Spiritual Mass also has the affect of helping the spirits of the eggun to attain a higher plane spiritually.
The Bóveda or Spirit Altar
The bóveda or eggun altar is the center of eggun worship in the religion. It is the place we most often go to to salute and to commune with eggun on a daily basis. You don't have to have passed through any of the initiations to begin your relationship with eggun and to set up a bóveda is a fairly simple affair:
Cover a table or shelf with a white cloth. On this table or shelf place nine clear glasses of cool water. Also put a candle and a vase with fresh flowers (preferably white) on the table. You should also hang a cross or rosary beads over the table to represent Olofi and the Four Winds above the table or shelf.
On the floor, in front of the altar you should put a small cup with a little white (clear) rum in it. Not too much as you don't want eggun to get drunk as they won't be able to help you much if they are. On this cup you should place a cigar (unlit). If you drink coffee you should put a cup (preferably chipped as eggun physical forms were also broken) of black coffee to them (even if you take yours with cream and/or sugar).
You should now sprinkle your Boveda with Holy Water and Florida Water, if you can get some. You should also sprinkle the boveda with these things every so often.
If you have pictures of deceased relatives put these up on the Boveda, but do not include any pictures of the living. Also, no pictures of people who are not family.
Change the water, rum, cigar, candle and flowers every week, either every Monday evening or every Friday evening (your choice).
When you approach the boveda you should talk to them and say who you are and what you have come to do, etc. And listen...given time your eggun will start to speak to you and you must listen. After a while you will be able to tell the difference between your thoughts and when eggun is talking. And always speak from your heart. You can recite long prayers in Lucumi and if it doesn't come from the heart it means almost nothing.
This will help you build a relationship with your eggun.