Apart from being a New Year’s celebration or Harvest Festival, which predates the arrival of the Celts in Ireland, Samhain is a special time, were the past, present, and future all become intertwined. The dead and the inhabitants of the Other World are free to walk among the living during this time as the veil which separates our two worlds is at its thinnest. Whilst our ancestors had a healthy respect for the dead, not all other world visitors would be welcome. The Bonfires of old were believed to keep the evil spirits away and people would dress in disguise in belief that spirits of ill intent would not recognize them. So now you can see where a lot of present day Halloween traditions have evolved from. One of my favourite traditions at Samhain is what we call the Dumb Supper. I don’t know much about its origins or how long it has been practised, as it would seem to have been taken over mostly by the Wiccan and Neo-Pagan traditions in recent times. Regardless, it has become a tradition in our house
Whilst most will agree that its purpose was to appease ancestral spirits whom may decide to return to the family home, my understanding and the way I practice it involves setting an extra space at the dinner table for any ancestors whom wish to return for the night. With the sad passing of my Gran last year this tradition has become more focused. I see it as a symbolic mark of respect for the deceased family members. Some people will have their meal in silence hence the name Dumb Supper, (with my recent case of Laryngitis, this was looking to be a likely scenario) but I prefer to have discussion and banter at the table. I seriously doubt a returning spirit is going to want come back to a solemn and boring dinner table otherwise? With its origins firmly steeped in Irish Tradition, there are similar practices in other cultures. Though I have noticed that many pagan traditions have absorbed the practice of the Dumb Supper and there are many different variations and ways in which it is carried out. My personal opinion is that there is no right or wrong way to hold a dumb supper, once it is done for the right reason which is to celebrate and remember lost loved ones and family members.