The Silent Supper
Editor's note: This essay originally appeared in The Wiccan-Pagan Times, and was written in response to the September Eleventh tragedies. Some references to this event remain, but the article has been edited to include more general information and directions.
Samhain is the traditional Celtic New Year, and Feast of the Dead. The prevalence of these rituals after the arrival of Christianity in the Celtic lands was so powerful that the Church created a feast day to eclipse the old rites. Of all the purloined Holy Days of the Celtic calendar, Samhain has been the only one that has survived fairly intact through the ages. Death and the honoring of the dead is a sacred and powerful life ritual, and even the Church could not entirely erase the Old Ways of observance.
But ways do change, as enlightenment and understanding have trickled down from the once-cloistered elite to the common people. Never has this been truer than in this century, where high-speed communications, universal education and literacy, and the sharing of once rare and difficult to obtain books and rites have become the norm rather than the exception. We can now read facsimile copies of old tomes online, and download ancient grimoires and books written by the old sages. New scholars busily translate these hoary old writings into language that is understood by 21st Century minds. Old truths, once universally accepted as unshakeable, are smashed to powder in the light of deep research and the nearly instant method of peer review that is the way of things today. Other understandings, once brushed aside as utter nonsense, are being reexamined in the light of parallel discoveries, and set in their rightful places in the light of scientific and spiritual understanding.
In the light of these discoveries and microscopic examinations of our past, changes can be, and are made to gently correct the course of understanding onto a more accurate heading. Ancient rites and rituals that may have made great sense to our agrarian ancestors have little or no meaning to our suburbanized lives. Adjustments need to be made, steps changed to bring the ritual more in line with our way of seeing things.
Purists may protest that this demeans and diminishes the rites. My argument is that they do not- and in fact, a properly applied change makes a ritual more powerful and meaningful to those who celebrate it. Ritual has no meaning if it confuses, offends, or bores the participants. The Catholic Church understood this when it changed the ritual to the local language (vernacular) with Vatican II- the Latin was beautiful, but the priest faced away from the congregation, alienating it from participation, and the dead language of the ancient Romans put a further distance between the congregation and its communion. Catholic purists protested (and still do) that turning the priest around to face the congregation and having him speak English demeaned the rite, but instead, it has deepened the faith of many Catholics.
The many Pagan sects and practices, although rooted in the shards of the ancient rites, are still new and flexible enough to adapt changes that make sense for the participants. There are the beginnings of a proto-Orthodoxy in some circles, but the independent nature of most Pagans makes establishing a central body of accreditation and ritual adherence nearly impossible. As long as the practice maintains its roots in the deep reverence for the planet and all its creatures, the surface content and language of the rituals can be as flexible and changeable as the participants require.
So, where does this lead us to in this essay? In the light of the events of September 11th, as well as the passage of people in our own lives, it would seem that an old, nearly forgotten ritual of the time, the "Dumb Supper", might be brought out, dusted off, and carefully retooled to help us all regain our equilibrium in the light of this tragic event.
The sudden transition of so many souls to the Other Side has been a violent shock to those of us who are sensitive to these things. To see their deaths played out over and over again is to add pain to pain, and sorrow to sorrow. To those of us who can discern these things, the transition of these souls appeared like reverse lightning bolts- from tower to sky- filling the air with flashes of transition even as the towers containing them collapsed. It would have been easier to see this phenomenon with bare eyes- physically at the site itself, but the application of discernment makes it obvious even when viewed as a video image. They are gone. But they are not forgotten, nor are those who have crossed over since then. And this is where the ritual of the Dumb/Silent Supper comes in.
The traditional purpose of the "Dumb Supper" was to communicate with the deceased person and receive messages of comfort and wisdom from them. And in this ritual, we can still obtain these messages and reassurances.
But a major perceptive shift has occurred, and an extra dimension to this lovely rite needs to be added. First of all, it needs a new title to fit in with our language changes. Today, "dumb" generally means stupid or idiotic, instead of silent or speechless. The word "silent" might make a better title, thus "Silent Supper". We need to send comfort and reassurance to those who have suddenly made their transition- those who might be lost, confused, or unable to accept that they are gone. We must let them know that we saw what happened, that we are mourning their loss, but our lives shall continue as we seek to the root of the problem. In giving them this reassurance, we are handing their power back to them, and are permitting them to assume their lives on the other side. We enable them to return to their paths, and if this includes bringing messages to us, this is good. This includes those who have passed under more ordinary circumstances, too- the Silent Supper is a fitting memorial to their lives and their loss to us.
There are many ways of conducting a Silent Supper, all equally valid. The major components of the ritual are the creation of Sacred Space, an honored placed for the deceased, and reverent silence during the meal itself, to permit the impressions of the departed to be made upon us.
I have outlined a Silent Supper below so that those of you who wish to perform this ritual can do so.
Plan the meal to be served, (potluck is fine) and send out invitations. For the purpose of the post-2001 services especially, gold and/or white tablecloths, napkins, and service would be appropriate. Some more traditional rituals call for black service, but in this case, we are calling Light for the departed. Use your best china, crystal and silver, if you have it. Our astral visitors will appreciate our effort to make a beautiful place for them.
The meal should be conducted by candle or lamplight. Make sure that there are plenty of candles in white or gold on the table. The candles should be properly blessed and dressed with a mixture of frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood oils. These are sacred to a whole slew of pantheons, and myrrh, in particular, was used in funeral rituals of many ancient cultures. Be sure not to use too much oil in their preparation- you do not want the fragrance to overshadow the meal. Make sure that there is a special candle to place in the plate of the empty place. The chair of the deceased may be decorated or shrouded in whatever manner best suits the group.
A bell can be added to signal the beginning and ending of the silent part of the ritual. Other items that can be included with the meal can be: slips of paper and writing instruments for writing prayers, wishes, and messages to the deceased; and a small cauldron or other fireproof container for burning them. Scrying equipment may be included for discerning any messages from the deceased, or paper for those who want to jot down any impressions they receive.
The room should be cleaned from top to bottom, and all dinnerware should be washed (preferably by hand) before the rite. For this observance in particular, the participants should observe a daylong fast, abstaining from all food, and only drinking water that is properly charged and blessed. They should take time to take a purifying bath or shower before the ceremony, and wear their best (or new) ritual garb or mundane clothing.
Photos of the departed may be placed in the seat that will be their place at the table. If this is a rite for those who transitioned on September 11th, a photo of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a picture of an aircraft can serve. For celebrations of individual lives, favorite items, food, or their photo can sit at their place. An offering of a single white rose or lily or favorite flower may be put at their place, or an arrangement of them may be in the ritual space. Since this is a Silent Supper, music during the rite itself may not be played, but before, and especially afterwards, music loved by the deceased, or music fitting to the group, may be played.
Prepare the meal, taking especial care to make sure all the ingredients are fresh, clean, and blessed. Set out the table in such a way that any condiments are within easy reach of the participants. If served buffet style, make sure that the buffet area is included in the sacred space that will be created.
When it is time to serve the meal, make sure that all food, beverages, and service items are in their places, and nothing is forgotten. The HP/S or leader of the group may then call all participants to the room to prepare it in a sacred manner- working from East to North, and utilizing the methods of Circle construction familiar to your group.
Cast the circle, and charge it with the Light of the Creator/s, the One/s who is/are Compassionate, and who guides the deceased to their new lives. The leader or designate may say a prayer to open the ritual and give any instruction needed, then the bell is rung to begin the silent portion of the meal.
Serve the meal and eat in reverent silence, listening within to discern any messages from the deceased. Jot them down on the paper provided. Also jot down any prayers or messages you may have on another page.
When all have eaten and the last fork has been put down, the leader can ring the bell signaling the end of the silent portion of the meal. At this time, a prayer of gratitude may be said, and the messages and impressions may be read and shared with one and all. Before the ritual ends and the circle is broken, the prayers and messages to the deceased may be read and then burned in the cauldron provided.
Break the circle, inviting all who came In Spirit to depart in peace and Light, and finish the evening in the usual manner.
The rite of the Silent Supper can be a very profound and healing occasion. In this time of loss and uncertainty, it will provide a way to rebalance, communicate, and continue.
Mabon 2001, revised Samhain 2002