Samhain: Feeding the Dead

This night also called for a “dumb supper” or similar acts of feeding dead ancestors that might cross from the veil—or purgatory—for a visit. During these events, people set out food for their family and for their departed ancestors. Participants consumed these meals either in silence or in muted tones, except at the beginning of the ceremony, when they invited ancestors, and at the end when they bid the ancestors to leave. In Ireland, families left the doors and windows unlocked, and set out cakes saved for the visiting dead. Any mortal who ate it was guilty of sacrilege and was condemned to afterlife as a hungry ghost. After the meal, the dead apparently expected entertainment, so children played games related to the rituals of Samhain while the adults discussed the events of the previous year for the ancestors to hear. This tradition also came to Colonial and post-Colonial United States, where it became an overt superstitious magickal practice. The version reported by one group of Kentucky folklorists stated that the supper was prepared in silence, but that those making it also walked backward the entire time, and when possible prepared the food with their hands positioned behind their backs (Lindsey). No one would eat until a sign, ostensibly supernatural, appeared, such as two men carrying a corpse or a large white dog.