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
our recently deceased loved ones (generally, those who
crossed the Veil since the previous Samhain)
newly born (generally, those who became incarnate since the
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
Blessings for Samhain