‘Tis the season to remember the holy Dead, to honor your ancestral line in somber ritual, and to give a nod to the ephemeral nature of your soft flesh and warm blood. So soon, my love, will we sink back into the source of everything, yet again stepping through the sacred veil and entering the fertile, dark space between death and birth. So soon will we join them, these precious ones for whom we mourn. For now, let us remember these wild creatures for their compassion, their lawlessness, their innocence, and the lessons they gifted us when their hearts were still beating inside the very ribcages that now house wormy soil, have turned to soot and ash, or have otherwise surrendered to the elements.
This is the ancient ritual of the Silent Supper, a time-honored Pagan tradition of reflection and veil-walking.* Set the grandest table you can now, beneath this still-waxing, still-haunting Ancestors’ Moon. May it be an altar in its own right, a shrine-like tablescape covered in photographs, candles, dried flowers, and bones, and let there be sufficient seating for the living and the Dead. Gather your small circle of Witches, my love, and ask them to bring one guest in Spirit, to wear black, and to come with a wealth of stories packed in their bags. Ask them to bring their loved one’s favorite dish, whatever the course, and bid them tell you their loved one’s favorite song.
Clear and protect the space when it’s time, burning cedar and sage and salting the corners just so. Trace your symbols of protection, your sigils and pentagrams, on all four walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Warn your living guests that their dead may well arrive, may well follow them home, but likely will not stay long after the veil begins to thicken once more. If you’re wary of bumps in the night in your own home, if you prefer to keep strong energetic boundaries throughout your space, host the ritual in a natural sanctuary. Remember this is a high ritual, not a light-hearted gathering around the Ouija board, and those who have passed very often do attend.
Silence is required to sense what is beyond our heavy bodies, loud voices, and even louder thoughts. Traditionally, the guests will eat in total silence throughout the duration of the ceremony. A non-traditional journey is to open the Silent Supper with a reading honoring the Dead, burn sweet-grass, take a long moment of silence to sense the palpable vibrations in the room, then, proceed with one of the following two variations, depending on how many living guests are in attendance.
Variation 1 (For 5 Living Guests or Less): Moving clockwise around the table, invite the first living guest to introduce the Spirit in attendance while they begin passing their chosen dish, with every guest taking a bit of food/drink for themselves as well as for their Guest-in-Spirit. The song they selected for their loved one will play while they share a story or two about their loved one. No one except the living guest whose song is playing may speak, and, once the song has ended, there should be a brief moment of silence before moving on to the next living guest. In this variation, the food is being passed but no one may eat until all living guests have introduced their Dead, all songs have played, and all stories have been told. Then the meal is eaten in total silence or with a slow drum beat, recorded or live, playing in the background.
Variation 2 (For 6-13 Living Guests): For larger groups, it can be problematic to have everyone wait to eat until each living guest has spoken and each song has played. Set up the food in a buffet-style, in another room if you need more space, and clearly label each dish with the name of the loved one who is in Spirit. Remember that each living guest is making two plates, one for themselves and one for their guest; there can be smaller plates offered for the guests in Spirit and the living can certainly take more food than the Dead. Once everyone returns to the table with the food for all guests, they may begin eating quietly while the song for the first guest begins playing and they offer stories or memories about their Dead. There should still be a long moment of silence after each song plays, and then a longer space of silence at meal’s end.
In a ceremonial fashion, once all stories have been told and all guests have been honored, carry the Dead’s plates outside to stay overnight, to nourish any passing spirits, and to be cleared in the morning. If you have a place for a fire out of doors, it’s lovely to follow the Silent Supper with a bit of levity, telling tales of ghosts who haunt and ancestral wisdom gifted in dreams. Out of respect, it is best to not rush to clear the energy from the supper space until the next day. Invite your living guests to stay long into the night if you are able, and listen for the ethereal voices at the Witching Hour.
Blessed be our Holy Dead.
*A Personal Note from Danielle: This is one of my highest rituals and one that I host every year. It is the same as the “Dumb Supper,” a term I have used for years without sufficient sensitivity to the offense it may cause. I have decided to use the term “Silent Supper” this year and in the future. Also note that there are a number of traditional and non-traditional variations, such as setting the silverware backward with forks on the right and knives and spoons on the left or serving dessert first and the main course last. Research the possibilities and remember it is always preferable to hand-craft your own rituals than to merely replicate what has been done. Ours is a living spiritual practice. Witchcraft is a shape-shifter, and the Witch is tasked with adapting ritual and ceremony to meet her and her participants where they stand. All blessings.