Also known as a Silent-Supper, a Dumb-Supper is a ritual that is performed by young, unmarried women in hopes of divining the identity of their future husbands, if one is to be had. Although the ritual is commonly performed in groups, individuals have been known to perform the dumb-supper alone as well.
The ritual varies somewhat but most accounts follow one another closely. Some customs say it is done on New Year’s Eve, others on Midsummer’s Eve, and still others say it should be done just before the stroke of midnight on Halloween. On thing that all sources can agree on, however, is that the supper consists of setting a table with knives, forks, plates, glasses etc … as one would normally do at mealtime. However, in this case the setting of the table should be done in complete silence and while moving about the room backwards and looking over one’s left shoulder. In some instances the participants are directed to reverse the usual placement of the dishes at the table; for example, placing the forks on the right and the spoons on the left.
In some cases, food is prepared while in other cases it is not. If food is prepared, it usually consists of a pawn of cornbread that each participant assists in baking. When the cornbread is done, each woman places a piece of the cornbread on her own plate as well as the plate next to hers. All the windows are opened and the lights are lowered or turned off completely. Each woman takes her place at the table just before midnight at which time the spirits of their future husband are said to enter the room and take a seat next to them. Legend has it that the women are supposed to recognize the men who appear next to them, but if no one take the seat next to them they will never marry and if a dark, unrecognizable figure appears next to her the girl will die within the year.
In other instances, a full three-course meal is prepared but served in reverse order, that is the dessert, main course, and then the soup or salad. The meal is consumed in complete silence and when it is done it is said that the women will see the features of their future husband in the plate. Finally, a third account states that the women simply set the table as described above, however, in stead of taking the seats themselves each of them stands behind a chair and at the stroke of midnight the spirits of their future husband will come and take the seat before them.
Some folks believe that the phantom-husbands are visible to everyone in the room, while others think that the phantom is only visible to the woman who will be his bride. No matter which version of the dumb-supper you attempt, it is very important to observe the rule of silence for it is said that the slightest, most inaudible word will break the spell and ruin the entire ritual.
While today this ritual may seem something of a joke---how can a group of young women gathered together remain silent---it was once considered a very serious, solemn, and in some cases an Un-Christian practice. Most folks, however, both respected and feared the rites performed and should you take it upon yourself to prepare a Dumb-Supper for yourself, you should respect and fear the tradition too and with good reason!