Friday Form A Circle – Dumb Supper

October 23, 2009 at 10:22 am (Ancestors, Death, Friday, Halloween, Magic, pagan, Ritual, Samhain, Witch)

Dumb Supper
Haunted American Tours]

One of the most common places to find the custom of Dumb Suppers in America is deep in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. In a tape recorded interview conducted in 1954, an old settler told of a Dumb Supper that was a rite of divination concerned with the future fate of young women in marriage:

"In a dumb supper, you’re supposed to set it at the hour of midnight, and two girls has to go backwards and pick up everything they get and put it on the table, till they get nine different things on the table to eat, like pepper and salt and butter and taters, and just anything to make the nine things.

The rules for Dumb Suppers vary in some particulars but are generally summarized by Llewellyn’s Witches’ Calendar October 1998:

  • The Dumb Supper must be held in Sacred Space.
  • All table service, plates, napkins, glasses and tablecloth, should be black.
  • No one may speak from the moment they enter the feast room until they leave.
  • Only lamps or candles are used for lighting.
  • Each living guest should bring a prayer written on a small piece of paper and a divination tool.

Before the Supper begins, place a black votive candle on the plate of each empty chair and a white one on the Spirit plate at the head of the table. The head chair is the Spirit chair and is shrouded. Light each candle. Place your hands on the shrouded chair and ask for Spirit to be with you. Walk to each ancestor and touch their chair, explaining that the ritual is being done in their honor.

The host of the feast sits in the chair opposite the shrouded chair. As each guest enters the room they should go to the Spirit chair, touch it, then go to each of the ancestors chairs and place prayer under each plate or say a simple prayer silently. Take your seat, join hands and pray a wordless blessing of the meal and for all present. The host serves the empty chairs, beginning at the head of the table. Then the host serves the living guests from oldest to youngest.
After the feast is done and all have finished eating, all join hands, silently asking for the blessings of Spirit on the living and the dead. Now is the time to gather all the prayers left under the plates and burn them in the candle flame of that person´s candle, catching the ashes in a container. On the sign from the host, the guests leave the area, stopping by empty places or ancestral altar on their way out.

After the host thanks Spirit, the guests return to share any impressions they received during the feast. After the table is cleared, divination can be done. Allow the candles to burn until all have gone home, and then snuff each candle. Throw the candle ends and prayer ashes into a moving body of water or bury them off the property.

Ancestor Night or November Eve Ireland, Scotland.

  • People visit elderly relatives, family, and friends and make food that was special to honored friends and relatives. Old ways of looking at things are abandoned. It is a time of self reflection .
  • Buadh: Divining: (pron. BOO-ah) Ireland, Scotland Divining games are performed on Halloween by some in order to see their fortune for the New Year.
  • A black cat is good luck, a white cat is bad luck.
  • Halloween symbols are poisonous herbs.
  • Three luggies: bowls with handles like Druid lamps are filled, one with clean, one with dirty water, and one left empty. The man is blindfolded and turned three times. If his left hand touches clean water, he marries a maiden; dirty, a widow; empty dish, not at all. He tries until he gets the same result twice. The dishes are changed each time.
  • Valloo: Dumb Supper A meal eaten in silence to which the dead are invited. The dead are present as invisible entities. Doors and windows are left unlocked to let them in the house.
  • Soddag Valloo: dumb cake. The Samhain ritual, preparation of the ceremonial food, etc. must be overseen by nine women On Bealtaine it is nine men. Girls are given a small piece of dough, mixed with any but spring water. They knead the dumb cake with their left thumbs, in silence. Before midnight they prick initials on them with a new pin, and put them by the fire to bake. At midnight each lover enters and lay his hand on the cake marked with his initials.

Having a dumb supper is fairly easy. First, the meal must be prepared with the intent of honoring those family members who have died. Then, set the table with a few (or several) extra place settings. The head of the table should certainly be left open for the spirit of an important ancestor or family member. Here, the tradition varies. In some traditions, it is said to cover the head chair in a black cloth, others say that it should be the only open chair at the table. Even other traditions state that several settings should be placed and left open for the dead who wish to dine. When it is time for the meal, turn off all unnatural lighting and light candles.

In the places of the dead, specific candles can be lit (either black or white). Everyone should be aware that spirits are going to join the meal and make sure to fix those plates first. They are the honorees, after all. After a silent prayer of thanks, everyone should begin eating in silence. When the meal is done, the live guests should all silently thank the ancestors who appeared. While the plates of the living are removed from the table, those of the dead should remain until morning, so that they may eat their fill through out the night. Afterward, divination can be done and the spirits who have come to be with their family may be willing to help.

This is a simple dumb supper. Many different areas have their own traditions. In the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, this tradition is supposed to foretell the personality of the husband of the young, unmarried women in the house. The dead will arrive to much commotion from the animals in the yard, dogs barking furiously, cats yowling, and even the wild clucking of chickens. They will then gift each young woman with an object and it will tell them about their husband.
In rural West Virginia, a slightly different version of the same tradition appears. Passed down from generation to generation, this version dictates that the meal must be eaten backward, with dessert first and appetizers last. Also, each place setting would be opposite of what it is normally with the fork being on the left and knife and spoon on the right.

The tradition of the Dumb’ Supper is predominantly observed by pagans of today, even though some families in rural mountain communities in the United States may also still participate. Essentially, it is a supper by the living, for the dead. It is, then, performed on the night that the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, Halloween. Its tradition dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years and has only changed slightly from generation to generation and location to location.
Keckhefer, Richard. (1997). Forbidden Rites. Sutton Publishing.
____. (1989). Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78576-6
Kors & Peters (2001). Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1751-9
Vulliaud, Paul. (1923). La Kabbale Juive : histoire et doctrine, 2 vols. Paris : Émile Nourry, 62 Rue des Écoles.

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