Thursday, October 24, 2013

Supernatural Friday: Having Dead Family Members Over for a Dumb Supper

A séance 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.

But this being Halloween (or Samhain if you prefer), why now have a dumb supper? Wait, you ask, a supper for those who can’t speak, or are stupid people? No, the word "dumb" refers to being silent. It is all about a way of honoring family dead and ancestors. 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.

Pagans do it. Even in Mexico, they have been doing this on Day of the Dead for a long time—bring food to the graves of their dead, or inviting them to their homes. Though they don’t have to be silent about their Day of the Dead.

In many cultures, ancestor worship is an ancient practice. It is usually found more in African and Asian societies, yet more and more Pagans of European heritage are beginning to embrace the idea. They would build an altar to honor their ancestors, with photos, heirlooms, and even a family tree sheet. It can be left up all year long, or only out at Samhain.

Why hold a Dumb Supper on Halloween night? It may be even a unique idea for a Halloween party with a few friends (the living, not your dead guests). This is the night when the veil between our world and the spirit world would be the thinnest. 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.

First of all, make your dining area sacred, either by casting a circle, smudging, other method. Turn off phones and televisions, eliminating outside distractions. This is a solemn and silent occasion, not a carnival—a time of silence. 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.

Menu choices are up to you, but because it's Samhain, you may wish to make the traditional Soul Cakes. Other food to serve: apples, late fall vegetables, and game. Set the table with a black cloth, black plates and cutlery, black napkins. Candles should be your only source of light. Black ones if you can get them. Realistically, not everyone has black dishware sitting around. So it's perfectly acceptable to use a combination of black and white, although black should be the predominant color.

Duties of hosting a Dumb Supper, is to make sure that no one speaks. That makes a host's job very tricky. It means you have the responsibility of anticipating each guest's needs without them asking you in verbal terms. Depending on the size of your table, make sure each end has its own salt, pepper, butter, etc. Keep an eye on your guests to see if anyone needs a drink refill, an extra fork to replace the one they just dropped, or more napkins. 

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, but before they walk out the door, they should stop at the Spirit chair, and say goodbye one more time. This includes you too.

Like ghost stories or watch TV shows with paranormal investigations? Check out my latest ghost book, Haunted Richmond II. It’s available at Schiffer, Amazon, BarnesandNoble, Books A Million and your local indie bookstore (if not in, they can order it, or order through their online website).

Return once more to haunted Richmond, where no building is safe from supernatural happenings. Visit Stories Comics, which holds more than just comics within its walls. Step back in time at Henricus Historical Park where you'll be welcomed by dead colonists, Civil War soldiers, and other haunts. Discover that not only is the Richmond Vampire out for your blood, but the Werewolf of Henrico waits for you beneath the full moon. It seems that the War Between the States is still being fought between ghostly Confederate and Union soldiers at Cold Harbor, Sailor's Creek, Parker's Battery, and Petersburg Battlefield. All this… plus a sea serpent, a lost city, ghostly cats, Bigfoot, a UFO, and haunted churches, parks, and colleges. So be sure to plan your visit now to a very paranormal Richmond. The dead don't stay dead in this town!

For fiction stories, my collection of short dark fantasy tales, Spectre Nightmares and Visitations is at Amazon or in print or eBook.

Many things scare us. But the most fearful things are those that infect our nightmares and visitations. Monsters from the closet or from another planet. Ghosts that haunt more than houses. Werewolves are not the only shapeshifters to beware of. Children can be taken from more than the human kind of monsters. Even normal things can be the start of a heart-pounding terror. Prepare to step beyond the pages into Spectre Nightmares and Visitations. Just tell yourself that they're only stories.


Mary Frances Roya said...

Really great article. Thanks for sharing about the Dumb Supper. Very interesting.

Pamela K. Kinney said...

You're welcome, Mary. Glad you enjoyed it.