Previously: The Martha Game.
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Like many folk traditions, the Dumb Supper ritual has hazy origins. Version of it can be found in the folklore of many countries and cultures, and individual elements of it may be found in still more wide-reaching places and traditions. We know, for example, that it featured prominently in Southern, Appalachian, and Ozark folklore in the United States in the early parts of the 20th century; however, it’s also possible that the ritual is older, with its roots in the Celtic traditions of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. And, as Janice Van Cleve pointed out at Witch Vox some years ago, elements of the Dia de Muertos celebration of Mexico also bear some similarities with Dumb Suppers, namely the offering of food at the family ofrenda for relatives who have passed. These days, Dumb Suppers are often, although not always, associated with pagan beliefs.
Dumb Suppers might be performed for any number of reasons. According to some schools of thought, they’re a way to see who you’ll eventually marry — if anyone, that is. According to others, they’re a way to honor the dead, or even get messages to loved ones who have passed.
Because of these wide-ranging functions, exactly how you hold a Dumb Supper might vary depending on what your goals are. Here, I’ve tried to assemble a somewhat versatile set of instructions drawn from a variety of different sources that can be adapted depending on what you want to get out of the ritual — but again, there are an almost infinite number of ways to conduct this ritual. This isn’t the be-all, end-all; think long and hard what might work best for you before you undertake it.
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A note about timing: It’s often recommended that Dumb Suppers be held on Samhain, or Halloween, with the logic being that it’s a time of year when the veil between worlds is particularly thin; however, although you might have the best chance of achieving success on Samhain, it’s not a hard-and-fast requirement that you perform the ritual only on this date. Walpurgisnacht might also be a good choice, for example — or, if you’re trying to get in touch with someone who has passed on in particular, you might try their birthday, the date of their death, or the date memorial or funeral rites were observed for them.
Or you could just try any old day of the week. It’s up to you — and how much you want to try to set yourself up for success.
The Dumb Supper Ritual isn’t particularly dangerous, but as is typically the case with these kinds of rituals, there’s still a risk that you might invite in… someone — or something — other than who or what you’d intended to invite. Also, mind your P’s and Q’s; you don’t want to offend anyone, even if your guest of honor is exactly who you intended it to be.
So, as always:
Play at your own risk.
- One host.
- Any number of guests. (Optional.)
- A dining room. (See: Additional Notes.)
- Invitations, if inviting guests.
- A table and chairs. There should be one chair for the host and each guest, plus one additional chair.
- Place settings — plates, utensils, napkins, etc. There should be one place setting for the host and each guest, plus one additional place setting.
- One white candle.
- Additional candles, lanterns, oil lamps, or other sources of illumination that do not rely on electricity or batteries to function.
- Matches or a lighter.
- Paper — enough for each participant. (Optional.)
- Writing implements — enough for each participant. (Optional.)
- A clock or other time-keeping device. This device must be analog.
- The makings of a meal and the means with which to serve it.
Prior To The Dumb Supper:
- Choose the date on which to perform the ritual. (There is no need to choose a time to perform the ritual; the meal must begin promptly at midnight on your chosen date.)
- Choose your dining room.
- Send out invitations, if inviting guests. Make sure to specify the date, time, and location of the event. You may issue these invitations however you see fit — mailed paper invitations, emailed invitations, text messages, phone calls, etc. — but no matter the method, ensure that all potential guests RSVP with sufficient time prior to the date of the ritual.
- Plan your menu and shop for or otherwise acquire any ingredients you might need to prepare the meal. (See: Concerning The Meal.)
- Assemble all other required supplies.
On The Day Of The Dumb Supper:
- Confirm your guest list. It is recommended that you check in individually with all guests who RSVPed “Yes” and make sure they will still be in attendance.
- Prepare the dining room: Clear the surrounding area of any people, pets, etc. who are not participating in the ritual (see: Additional Notes). Set up the table and chairs, if necessary. Turn the chairs around so that they are facing away from the table, backwards.
- Set the table: Position one place setting at each chair. Place the candle at the seat at the head of the table. If your table is round, place the candle at the northernmost seat.
- Turn off, unplug, and remove all electronic devices from the dining room. Set up the lanterns throughout the room.
- Cleanse the dining room however you wish. Options include, but are not limited to: Burning sage; placing a salt circle; opening eastern-facing doors and windows; etc.
- Once all of these preparations have been carried out, refrain from speaking for the duration of the ritual.
During The Dumb Supper:
- Begin before midnight. Keep your clock close by.
- Prepare the meal. Do not speak. (See: Concerning The Meal.)
- Light the lanterns in the dining room. Do not speak.
- Turn off any electric lights in the dining room. Do not speak.
- Light the candle at the head of the table. Do not speak.
- If you have invited guests, welcome them as they arrive. Do not speak. Do not permit them to speak.
- Seat your guests at the table. Do NOT seat any guests at the head of the table, or in the seat opposite the head of the table. Do not speak.
- After your guests have been seated, and before you seat yourself, acknowledge the head of the table. Then seat yourself in the seat opposite the head of the table. The host MUST sit in this precise seat.
- Do not speak. Do not permit your guests to speak.
- Keep an eye on the clock. Do not speak.
- At precisely midnight, serve the meal. First serve the seat at the head of the table; then serve each guest; then serve yourself, the host. Do not allow any guests to begin eating until all guests have been served. (See: Concerning The Meal; A Note About Etiquette.)
- Do not speak.
- Enjoy the meal. Do not speak.
- During this step, proceed according to your purposes for conducting the ritual:
- If you are conducting the ritual to get a glimpse of your romantic future:
- Wait. Watch. Wait and watch some more.
- If you see or sense a figure enter the room and sit in the empty seat, observe them closely. Make note of their appearance, if you can see them, or their manner, if you can merely feel them. Stay observant in the days, weeks, months, or years following the ritual; you may have seen a premonition of your future partner.
- If you see nothing, however — or if you see something somewhat more… chilling — beware. You may never get the chance to meet your partner.
- If you are conducting the ritual to honor or pass a message to the dead:
- Pass out the paper and writing implements to each of your guests, if you have invited any, as well as yourself. Write your messages on slips of paper. Then, one by one, bring the papers to the candle and burn them to ashes.
- If you are conducting the ritual to get a glimpse of your romantic future:
- Do not speak.
After The Dumb Supper:
- When you feel ready, clear the table. Do not speak.
- If you have invited guests, allow them to sit with their thoughts. When they feel ready, they may rise from their seats, acknowledge the head of the table, and depart. They may not speak until after they have left the premises.
- When all guests have left, and the table has been cleared, extinguish each lantern. Do not speak.
- Once all of the lanterns have been extinguished, acknowledge the head of the table one more time; then extinguish the candle. Do not speak.
- Leave the dining room.
- You may now speak.
Exercise common sense precautions when dealing with fire. Place several fire extinguishers within easy reach; make sure that candles, lanterns, etc. are not placed near anything flammable, draperies or curtains; do not leave burning flames unattended; and so on and so forth. If conducting this ritual to pass messages to loved ones, you may also wish to provide a small, fireproof dish in which to burn the papers once they have been lit by the candle.
The dining room need not be a formal dining room; it need only be the room in which you intend to serve your meal. However, it is recommended that your choice of dining room satisfy the following conditions:
- The dining room should be located in close proximity to a kitchen. This is to ensure easy and convenient meal preparation and serving.
- The dining room should be located in a building you will easily be able to clear of other people, pets, etc. If you are unable to clear the entire building — for example, if your dining room is located in an apartment within a larger apartment building or complex — then ensure that you will be able to clear the immediate area surrounding the dining room (e.g. you should be able to empty the individual apartment of anyone who is not participating in the ritual before you begin).
If you are inviting additional guests, you may find it helpful to explain in your invitations what a Dumb Supper is, lay out what the expectations will be in terms of conduct (e.g. no speaking of any sort, leave mobile phones at home, etc.), and detail the schedule of events for the evening. If you are conducting the ritual to honor or send messages to the dead, you may also wish to explain the purpose of the paper and writing implements which will be waiting for your guests upon their arrival.
Concerning The Meal:
All aspects of the meal, from place setting to serving, MUST be performed backwards.
When setting the table, each place setting should be arranged such that it is reversed to how a typical place setting would be laid out — e.g., if forks are usually placed to the left of the plate, place them to the right; if spoons are usually set above the place, place them below it; if water glasses are usually to the right of the plate, set them to the left; etc.
The meal preparation must also be performed reversed. You need not prepare each individual item in reverse (that is, you need not begin with the last step in the recipe and work backwards to the first); however, you must prepare the meal itself in reverse — that is, if you would typically start by preparing the appetizer, start by preparing the dessert, etc. Additionally, perform as many of the actions required to prepare the meal as possible backwards, from how you walk about the kitchen to how you retrieve ingredients from shelves and storage locations.
The meal may consist of whatever foods you determine to be the best fit for your needs. If performing the ritual to honor the dead, soul cakes may be a good choice. If performing the ritual to reach a specific person, that person’s favorite foods may best serve your purpose. Plan your menu carefully according to what you hope to achieve.
According to some sources, serving a menu of nine different items may yield the best results. However, it is not an absolute requirement that you serve nine items.
Regardless as to what precisely you serve, you must serve it in reverse. Begin with coffee or the dessert course; then move onto the entrée; then serve the appetizer; and so on.
A Note About Etiquette:
Do NOT seat any living guests or hosts at the head of the table. That seat is for your guest of honor; it wouldn’t do to have anyone else occupy it.
Do NOT permit any guests to begin eating before everyone has been served. It’s rude to begin enjoying your meal while others are still waiting for theirs.
Do NOT permit late arrivals to join the meal. It’s incredible disrespectful to show up late.
And whatever you do, DO NOT SPEAK until the conclusion of the ritual.
At best, it will cause the ritual to fail.
And at worst…
…Well, let’s just say that some people don’t take kindly to being interrupted.
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