A Feast With the Dead: How to Hold a Pagan Dumb Supper for Samhain

You don't need a seance or formal ritual to speak to the dead

Dinner table
Make your Dumb Supper as fancy or as simple as you like. Image by Westend61/Getty Images

Although traditionally a seance is a good way to communicate with those who have crossed into the spirit world, it's also perfectly fine to talk to them at other times. You may find yourself walking into a room and suddenly reminded of someone you've lost, or catching a whiff of a familiar scent. You don't need a fancy or formal ritual to speak to the dead. They hear you.

Why on Samhain?

Why hold a Dumb Supper on Samhain? It's traditionally known as the night when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its most fragile. It's the night when we know for sure 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. Please keep in mind that there is no one right way to hold a dumb supper.

Menus and Table Settings

Your menu choices are up to you, but because it's Samhain, you may wish to make the traditional Soul Cakes, as well as serving dishes with apples, late fall vegetables, and game if available. Set the table with a black cloth, black plates, and cutlery, black napkins. Use candles as your only source of light—black if you can get them.

Realistically, not everyone has black dishware sitting around. In many traditions, it's perfectly acceptable to use a combination of black and white, although black should be the predominant color.

Host/Hostess Duties

When you're hosting a Dumb Supper, clearly the point is that no one can speak—and that makes a host's job very tricky. It means you have the responsibility of anticipating each guest's needs without them communicating verbally. Depending on the size of your table, you may want to make sure each end has its own salt, pepper, butter, etc. Also, watch your guests to see if anyone needs a drink refill, an extra fork to replace the one they just dropped or more napkins.

The Dumb Supper

In some Pagan traditions, it has become popular to hold a Dumb Supper in honor of the dead. In this case, the word "dumb" refers to being silent. 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, 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, as the name reminds us. 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 relatives.

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.

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.

Other Samhain Rituals

If the idea of a Dumb Supper doesn't quite appeal to you, or if you know darn well that your family can't be quiet for that long, you may want to try some of these other Samhain rituals:

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "A Feast With the Dead: How to Hold a Pagan Dumb Supper for Samhain." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, learnreligions.com/feast-with-the-dead-2562707. Wigington, Patti. (2020, August 26). A Feast With the Dead: How to Hold a Pagan Dumb Supper for Samhain. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/feast-with-the-dead-2562707 Wigington, Patti. "A Feast With the Dead: How to Hold a Pagan Dumb Supper for Samhain." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/feast-with-the-dead-2562707 (accessed May 29, 2023).