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Samhain Tradition - Silent Supper

 

by Windsong Moonchild

Silence! It's Supper Time!

As Samhain once again approaches, I have been asked by several students to talk a little about the tradition--as I view it--of the Silent Supper.  Known, to some, as the "Dumb Supper," (a term I do not care for, by-the-way!) the celebration of Samhain often includes, among other things, a ritual meal in which we pay homage to the Cycle of Life.

During the Silent supper, we honor either, a.) our long dead ancestors, b.) our recently deceased loved one's (generally, those who crossed the Veil since the previous Samhain), and c.) the newly born (generally, those who became incarnate since the previous Samhain).  In short, we observe and show reverence to the Sacred Cycle of Birth, Death, and Rebirth.  

The first question to ask, perhaps, is: why do we do this?!  Well, as always, the answer to this question is a little less simple than one might at first imagine...

The first thing to consider, I believe, is that the celebrations of Spring--particularly, for instance, Beltane--are all focused on germination, new life, renewal, and birth.  So, why then, do we bother celebrating birth all over again at Samhain?  In fact, what does birth even have to do with our Ancestors, the Final Harvest, or dying?  The answer, of course, is everything!  Why?  Because it comes to this: 

There is no oak tree, unless an acorn falls.  

So, the process of honoring the dead is intimately tied to the celebration of birth because, as the saying goes, in the midst of life, we are in death.  

O.K., so we’ve had a look at a reason for celebrating birth in the “Time of Dying,”  but, why do we celebrate the Time of Dying at all?   Why not just focus on life and living and look at the Sacred Wheel from a “glass half full” perspective?  We all know everyone dies, we all know that aging isn’t always pretty, and we all know that time will stand still for no one... so why do we need to fuss with a Ritual for it at all?  The answer, of course, lies in the question.  We celebrate and honor death, the dead, and dying because we are alive!  We do it, because we are striving for the wisdom of the Crone or Sage--the Wise Ones of Autumn--those who know about dying.  

I said the answer might not be simple, didn’t I?  And, right about now, I imagine you’re thinking that this early Crone has forgotten what the original point was?!  But, actually, I am still with you and, as I often do, I am circling around to the answer, slowly but surely...

The Silent Supper is a ritual performed without words or conversation because death, by its very nature, is a time of silence.  Dying, not so much, but the reverent Pagan makes no sound during this Samhain Ritual out of respect for the dead.  Out of respect for death itself.  Above all, out of respect for Spirit.  We are silent, to make our understanding known.  It is for this reason that we have a Silent Supper in the first place.  To show The One that we are aware of the Divine Plan, understand it, and respect it.

This does not mean that we never grieve out loud or question the process, of course we do (and should), it simply means that, for one night at least, we pay our respects, in silence, to those who went before and those who have just arrived.     

(Respect, by the way, is the reason I am so opposed to the term “Dumb Supper!” )

If you are planning a Samhain Ritual this year, I am sure--if you are a Neophyte, as so many of my students are--that you are wondering what the Silent Supper rules are.  Well, for CSC Pagans there, quite simply, are none (I’m sure this comes as no surprise!!)  But, I’m often told it helps when I share some of my own preferences, so here goes (in no particular order):

  • I try to begin, end, or in some way mark my Ritual by the Witching Hour (Midnight) because it just feels right to me.  (Not always possible if you have to work the next day, have young children, or simply need your sleep, so don’t get overly hung up on this.  I would try to wait until after all the candy seekers have stopped coming to the door though.)
     

  • I generally have one place setting in honor of those who have crossed in the past year - I usually drape the seat at that place setting with white fabric of some sort.  (Some choose to set a place for Spirit also, but I do not do this--Spirit is always with us, the mere fact that we are celebrating with a Ritual at all is testament to our knowledge of this fact.  I light a triple candle at the center of the table to pay my respects to Deity.)
     

  • I am British born, so formality at meal times is usually a big deal for me, but not so with the Silent Supper.  I find that buffet style is by far the best option (this removes any need for a game of mime when it comes to “please pass the salt!”) and, apart from the Ancestor place setting, I have no objection to paper plates.  (I realize this may be shocking to some, but I have found that simple is best when it comes to having a full meal Ritual in the middle of the night.)  
     

  • I keep the menu simple!  Black bean soup with pita chips and a salad, or something easily prepared in a single pan.  This leaves plenty of time for focusing on the actual Ritual, as opposed to stressing over the menu.
     

  • When we are all gathered, before the Ritual begins, I make a point of telling anyone new where the restrooms are, what the menu is and where the drinks (etc.) will be situated.  This way, they will be readily able to help themselves with whatever they need as they need it.  I also explain that the Ritual will be over and talking will be permissible again when the centerpiece candles have been extinguished.  I ask all participants to place their napkin to the right of their plate and fold their hands in their lap when they have finished eating and, when I have observed that everyone has finished eating, I stand and extinguish the candles.
     

  • Smudging and Calling of Quarters takes place before the meal begins; thanking Spirit and the Guardians of the Watchtowers takes place immediately after it ends.
     

  • If, for whatever reason, I find that having a group (or single) Silent Supper will be more stress than I can handle, I simply do not do it.  No guilt, no regrets.  I simply observe the day in some way that works for me and move on with my life.  It isn’t about what we do to celebrate Samhain, it is about the observance of Samhain and nothing more.  (Observance means, among other things, “...the act of watching or noticing something.”  We need not ever feel obliged to do anything more than notice that the celebration of Death is upon us.)
     

  • I have had many Silent Suppers without any ritual accouterments present at all.  I find that it is better to simply “eat dinner” in silence on Samhain to pay respect to the Season than not to observe it at all.  This is all part of incorporating one’s spirituality into one’s everyday life.  
     

  • At some point during the Ritual--either before, during, or after--I/we place notes to our loved ones under the Ancestors’ plate.  These notes are burned in a cauldron as part of the Ritual or after it is over.

Blessings for Samhain everyone!

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Windsong MoonChild--or, Winnie, as she is known to most--is an eclectic NeoPagan/Wiccan living in Georgia with her husband and three Dachshunds. A “Maiden of the Crone years,” Winnie teaches Pagan spirituality to members of the open (and very, very loosely structured) Coven of the Silver Chalice. Since a diagnosis of Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease in her mid-forties, Winnie found the demands of in-person lessons became too much and now teaches many of her students from home via telephone, and through her Blog - with occasional group lessons as her health permits.

A Tarot reader and “Death Walker,” Winnie is an ordained minister of the CSC and teaches her unique take on Pagan spirituality from the platform that there are no wrong spiritual paths, that everything and anything she teaches--in whatever manner she teaches--her students are free to ignore (or adapt, adopt, or adjust) as befits their own spiritual needs, beliefs, and common sense.

A Solitary Wiccan, Winnie does open the Circle for group ritual on some Sabbats and Esbats, officiates Handfasting and Crossing Rituals, and special gatherings for her students and friends.

Visit Winnie's blog, The Circles of Life.

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