For years I have included the tradition of the Silent Supper in my teachings about Samhain. The idea is to partake of a feast of old family recipes, without talking, as a way to honor your Beloved Dead. The closest I have ever come to participating in this tradition is to ask my congregation to hold a few moments of silence at the end of the October service, offering prayers in their hearts instead of making them verbally. But that is a far cry from the true silent supper I experienced on Samhain this year.
The day dawned with perfect weather for Samhain; cool, crisp and most of all and especially here in the northwest, dry! My circle had planned to partake of a true Silent Supper as part of our ritual and I spent the day preparing for it, cleaning the house and setting the table with all my Witch Ware and linens. Each of us were to bring some family favorite to contribute to the meal. I made my first ever 'Grandma Fay Salad'.
Grandma Fay's salad has been a staple in my family for as long as I can remember. It appears at just about every family gathering in the big silver bowl, and in all these years I had never made one myself. I think that is because once I grew up and went out on my own, I looked down my nose at iceberg lettuce as something deplorable and Miracle Whip never entered my fridge. Funny how my judgments never stopped me from eating it whenever someone else made it! Well, it's just so damned tasty.
Nothing all that special really. A basic garden salad complete with tomato, cucumber, radish, celery, red bell pepper, onion. But it must be iceberg lettuce. Romain just won't do. Iceberg! Hard boiled eggs. Miracle Whip, (not plain mayonnaise), kosher salt and a little bit of garlic powder. Unusual ingredient for a salad but there it is.
I called my mother for a review and was delighted with her specific pointers about her Mother-in-law's dish. Push the eggs through the grater we use for potatoes when we make latkes, use a little Miracle Whip at a time (you can always add more but too much will ruin it), same with the kosher salt, and "use your hands. Get in there and mix it up!" Use my hands? Oh! Ok.
When I asked her if she knew where the original recipe came from and when, I thought for sure she would tell me that Grandma Fay found it in a cookbook in the 1960's or something. But although my mother wasn't sure where the recipe originated, she said Grandma Fay was already serving it when my father took her home to meet his family in the 40's! I didn't know that Miracle Whip was around that long!
My guests arrived and we did a simple ceremony of creating sacred space, naming our Beloved Dead, explaining the dish we each brought and why, and then a bell was rung to signal the beginning of holding ritual silence. Next, we bundled up and journeyed outside my back door to the magick of my garden, where my big cast iron cauldron had been set up, ready to go. Earlier the week before, I had created the Samhain 'portal' using cast iron torches wrapped with mullein stalks and poppy heads in the northwest of the circle. Now, we each ate a few pomegranate seeds there before walking through to the realm of our Ancestors.
The night was clear and cold, the stars sharp, Diana's bow low and bright in the sky. Once the fire was lit, we threw handful after handful of dried lavendar, rosemary, and sage into the cauldron, watching the smoke take our prayers of love to our Beloved Dead. When all the herbs were burned, we stood close to warm ourselves, holding hands, watching the embers for a while. Keeping the silence, we walked back through the gate and inside the house to fill our plates and take our seats. I made an extra plate with a bit of all the dishes and placed it in the center of the table for our Ancestors. When everyone was served, we began our silent supper.
I have eaten this way before; not talking or distracted by a book or the TV, mindful of each bite, conscious of my gratitude. But this was different. Each morsel was acutely delicious; the carrots sweet and soft, the chicken and pork tender and flavorful, the mashed potatoes creamy and comforting. Eyes met and smiled across plates. The clink of silverware, music. I felt an unexpected bubble of laughter rise and then fall in me and somehow I knew it was the delight of those on the other side.
I took a forkful of the salad. It was Grandma Fay's all right! Needed a bit more salt but that was easily remedied. I thought of her eyes that always looked at me with love. I touched her earrings in my lobes, the necklace she gave me on my thirteenth birthday around my neck. I will always miss her honey voice and unconditional love. But sitting there in silence at the table, she felt so close I just couldn't be sad.
When all the plates were empty and all the forks laid down, I rang the bell once more and as agreed, we took a deep breath together and let out a collective sigh to bring our voices back from the thick deep. We closed the sacred space and then consumed coffee and dessert amid great conversation and lovely laughter.
This beautiful tradition is not one to be missed! How magnificent to sit at a table with those you love and trust, nourishing yourself on family favorites, not having to utter a word to feel a deep and intimate connection, even across the mystery to those who have gone before us.