What is a dumb supper? It is a meal shared with a Spirit, offering them hospitality as an honored guest, warm food and a seat at your table. 'Dumb' means “mute, unable to speak aloud”, and some prefer to call it a 'Silent Supper'. This simple rite has been used across the centuries in Europe on All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Souls Eve, Samhain and Halloween. Our ancestors used it to communicate with their deceased loved ones, but we can also honor our Gods in this same way. What has survived of Northern European Pagan rites is almost entirely based on the virtue of hospitality: there’s very little ritual, you just share your food and drink with the Gods.
In some Pagan traditions, it has become popular to hold a Dumb Supper in honor of the dead. The origins of this tradition have been fairly well debated - some claim it goes back to ancient cultures, others believe it's a relatively new idea. Regardless, it's one that's observed by many people around the world.
When holding a Dumb Supper, there are a few simple guidelines to follow. First of all, make your dining area sacred, either by casting a circle, hammer rite, smudging or some other method. Turn off phones and televisions, eliminating outside distractions.
Secondly, remember that this is a solemn and silent occasion, not a carnival. It's a time of silence, remembrance and letting go. You may wish to leave younger children out of this ceremony. Ask each adult guest to bring a note to the dinner. The note's contents will be kept private and should contain what they wish to say to their deceased friends or ancestors.
Set a place at the table for each guest and reserve the head of the table for the place of the Spirits. Although it's nice to have a place setting for each individual you wish to honor, sometimes it's just not feasible. Instead, use a tealight candle at the Spirit setting to represent each of the deceased. Shroud the Spirit chair in black or white cloth. In many traditions, it's perfectly acceptable to use a combination of black and white, although black should be the predominant color.
Your menu choices are up to you, but because it's usually Samhain, you may wish to make the traditional Soul Cakes, as well as serving dishes with apples, late fall vegetables and wild game if available. Why hold a Dumb Supper on Samhain? Well, it's traditionally known as the night when the veil between our world and the Spirit world is fragile. It's the night when we know the dead will hear us speak and maybe even speak back. It's a time of death and resurrection, of new beginnings and fond farewells. Serve an item that the Spirit may have enjoyed in life.
Shut off all electricity. The only lighting should be candles. No one may speak from the time they enter the dining room. As each guest enters the room, they should take a moment to stop at the Spirit chair and offer a silent prayer to the dead. Once everyone is seated, join hands and take a moment to silently bless the meal. The host or hostess, who should be seated directly across from the Spirit chair, serves the meal to guests in order of age, from the oldest to youngest. No one should eat until all guests - including Spirit - are served.
When everyone has finished eating, each guest should get out the note to the dead that they brought. Go to the head of the table where Spirit sits and find the candle for your deceased loved one. Focus on the note and then burn it in the candle's flame (you may wish to have a plate or small cauldron on hand to catch burning bits of paper) and then return to their seat. When everyone has had their turn, join hands once again and offer a silent prayer to the dead.
Everyone leaves the room in silence. Stop at the Spirit chair on your way out the door and say goodbye one more time.
Break the circle. Snuff out the candles, put up food, clear the table etc. The leftovers from the Spirit's plate can go into the compost or as an offering outside. The local squirrels quickly finished the leftovers last year, just make sure it is safe for other animals. Electricity may be turned back on as well. Everyone is invited back into the room where talking may continue. Share any experiences you may have felt, thought or messages maybe given by deceased loved ones at this time. Have fun and bring life back into the room. Brag about your good deeds. Make oaths for next year. Tarot readings, Quigi boards, Runes, music, chants, singing, dancing etc. This is a time of celebration.
The rite of the Dumb Supper can be a very profound and healing occasion. In this time of loss and uncertainty, it will provide a way to rebalance, communicate and continue.
To those who have gone before,
To those whose names live in our hearts and dance upon our lips,
To those whose names have been lost in the sea of time,
To those whose bones lie above and below the earth,
To those whose ashes have travelled on the winds,
We, the living, bid you welcome and entrance.
We, the living, wish you safe travels..