A recent e-mail conversation with Rose Weaver regarding saint work got me thinking and I would like to post something about the various ways of 'paying' saints for any work they do when you petition them. There is so much information about this on the various social networks and websites and a lot of it can be quite unreliable, frankly.
So firstly before we go into what to pay - it's important that you know you shouldn't 'overfeed' spirits by giving them too much too often (foodstuff and other things). Don't overfeed any spirit. That's one of the first things I was taught as an espiritista. It's counter intuitive because you think that if you ply a spirit with goodies they will favour you more. But for some reason it doesn't work that way. This well-meaning approach seems to make them 'lazy', which is to say, slow to get moving. Why bother if you get loaded with a ton of free stuff anyway, right? It's especially easy to get carried away when you first start with spirit work. I know I did.
You need to find a balance.
Keep it simple but always keep your word. If you promise X, give them X. And it doesn't need to be that extravagant. There will be times that you want to promise something big but that should be for those truly important things. And sure, you might want to make a general show of appreciation by doing or giving them something special once in a while and that's perfectly acceptable - but generally speaking it's better to keep it moderate.
With that side-point about overfeeding out of the way, lets look at the saints specifically:
Some saints certainly do have particular things that they like to receive as offerings (cake, money etc.) It's always good to research the saint you are working with and find out what their traditional associations/likes are and give them those things as payment. It sounds like common sense but a lot of people don't bother. What I see a lot of these days, and find quite irksome, is people simply posting "Thank you St. X!!" as a status update on facebook.
Seriously? You think the saints are on facebook reading status updates?
But I am "spreading their name and fame", I hear you say. Well, actually, only a few of saints are known to find that pleasing. How do we know? It's included in the catholic liturgies and prayers associated with them. I know that St. Expedite likes that, and probably St. Jude because he got a bad reputation due to his association with Judas the betrayer. Unless I am mistaken - there are at best one or two other saints who like publicity as thanks. As for the hundreds or thousands of other saints out there it just doesn't fit.
Also, it's kinda lazy. Traditionally you would publish a notice in a newspaper - but come on - a lousy facebook status update? (That reminds me - you should totally friend me on Facebook. Gordon says the age of blog is almost over and social media is where it's all going. I don't want to miss out). Your petition is fulfilled and all you can bring yourself to do is shuffle over to the computer in your pajamas and post a status update?!
I know I am going to get heat for saying this from all the facebook hoodoos who have popularised this practice but it has to be said: you can do better!
If you are entirely unsure what to offer the saint you are working with, rest assured all saints happily accept flowers. A nice bunch of flowers not only beautifies the altar it also raises the spiritual vibration of an area with its scent and freshness. You really can't go wrong there. Next, considering that these are saints - holy people canonised for their goodness and service - you could consider making a donation to a charity working in the area of their patronage.
This approach is definitely ratified by folk-catholic tradition too. Saint Anthony's Bread is an excellent example. This is a donation collected by churches in the name of St. Anthony and the money is then given to feed the poor. It is said that the practice started in 1263 after a child drowned near the Basilica while it was being built. Desperate, but strong in faith, the child's mother prayed to St. Anthony and promised that she would give to the poor an amount of corn equal to the child's weight if he returned the child to her. After hearing this promise St. Anthony restored the child to life and soon the practice of St. Anthony's Bread began.
Similarly, as thanks for granting your petition you could donate some time or money to a local addiction recovery program in the name of St. Jude, for instance. Or you could donate to a child protection program in the name of St. Michael. There are so many of these worthy charities that I can't think of a more wonderful, and magical, thing than to combine your saint work with kindness and service. Everyone wins!