There are several functions that spiritual masses accomplish depending on the skill level of its practitioners: (1) Research (2) Development (3) Crowning.
Research: The ideal research mass should have at least a talented clairaudient, a clairvoyants and at least a physical medium in addition to the person presiding the mass. This Spiritual Mass is meant to investigate the spiritual framework or cuadro espiritual of a person, be it an iyawó-to-be or not.
Development: This Spiritual Mass is a hands-on experience for all participants where evidences are shared and mediums in training have the opportunity to express their budding spiritual gifts under a group of experienced practitioners to supervise the process such as the ones described for the Research Mass. It is imperative to have participants who keep up with their Spiritual Hygiene as not to waste time in cleansings that should be routine work for every developing and expert Spiritist.
Crowning: This Spiritual Mass was created in Cuba to honor the spiritual framework of a person about to go through the process of kariosha. In this mass a ‘spiritual crowning’ is done over the head of the individual, but to me it is more of a symbolic act than anything else. However, those of us who understand the dialectics of religious rituals know that symbols are powerful imprints that take root in the mind of all parties involved.
Why are spiritual masses important? Spiritual masses are important for various reasons. It is an opportunity for a future priest to have research done on his or her spiritual framework. Granted, those who attend a research mass in hopes to find the response to all their answers in one or two masses have foolish expectations. Spiritual development is like making wine; they are both best develop with time and patience.
A spiritual framework is all but square. If you want to have a better picture of it, envision it as an onion, layer after layer of mysteries which will no doubt require a few tears shed along the way as well. I have spoken to a lot of people who came to a research mass and wanted to come out of it with a list of names of spirits, their functions, their history and importance rank in one go. NO system can accomplish this without ample time, not Spiritism, not Sanse, not 21 Divisions. Do not be deceived.
Spiritual masses give the individual an opportunity to look at deep rooted character issues and flaws and to study if those have spiritual origins or if they are simply part of the personality. It is up to the individual to take note of those observations and findings emerged from the spiritual mass and work on them to improve his or her circumstances. Spiritual masses can also be cathartic and sometimes help to alleviate emotional and psychological issues. However, if the Spiritists organizing the mass are not experienced this catharsis can very well go out of control and become a crisis.
Furthermore, spiritual masses can point out possible spiritual reasons behind physical ailments and even provide natural healing remedies and techniques to alleviate and even cure those ailments.
How many spiritual masses do we have to hold before kariosha?
Normally there are three masses done before a kariosha, one of each of the ones described would be ideal. However nothing limits the number of masses. What I consider more crucial is the frequency and the participants. The ideal composition of masses for an iyawó-to-be should be alternating research and development masses for up to a year prior to kariosha and doing the crowing mass at least a month ahead of the actual kariosha. Cramming 3 masses in one or two months prior to a kariosha is a waste of energy.
Advice provided at masses requires time for execution and moreover, growth time for the individual must be taken into account.
There is also another important factor, spirits do not perform on command, they come and go as they please and manifest differently at the various stages of our life. It is common courtesy to allow time for a friendship to be developed and tested. Would you not extend yourself the same courtesy when dealing with your spiritual framework and developing a relationship that ought to last a lifetime?
Are Spiritual Masses a necessity?
Not for me as a must-have before kariosha because I do not consider them part of orisha practices. However, they are a very useful tool complimentary to the process of preparing an individual for kariosha which can ease the path of a future iyawó, clear out character issues that would hinder the development of iwá pelé and help to forge a deeper relationship with spirit guides and between godparents and godchildren as well.
What is a true imperative before Kariosha?
Iyawós-to-be must have a deeper understanding of what Egungun is and its role in their spiritual life. They need to learn how to keep an Egún shrine and how to work with those spiritual forces on a practical level. This is perhaps an area that is greatly neglected in our orisha practices in the New World and which needs further discussion and study as well as training beyond setting plates of offering and singing a few Egún songs.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá
PS. Here is a lovely medley of spiritist songs by a great singer Mercedita Valdés