Appalachia Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

Ever Been To A Dumb Supper?

Dumb Suppers in Appalachia

A few days ago, Mel Hawkins left a comment on the Blind Pig asking if I knew about Dumb Suppers. I told Mel I thought I had heard of them before-but to please enlighten me if he knew about them. Mel sent me the following:

“My little grannie on mama’s side used to entertain us kids with stories of young girls looking to get ’em a husband setting “Dumb Suppers.” They would prepare the meal and table silently, set the table backwards (silverware arranged backerds, etc.), and then await the arrival of their, as of yet unknown, swain…this resulted in many “quare” things like big night bugs flying in and biting off the flame of the lamp (indicating death perhaps), ghosts and haint-like apparitions, and one time two handsome soldiers in Confederate grey eating, kissing the girls goodbye and disappearing–and this was in the late 1800s!”

Well after reading about the stories Mel’s Granny told him I had to do a little research. Mel is from the North Georgia Mountains.

Fellow Western NC writer Gary Carden has written about Dumb Suppers here: First Footers and Dumb Suppers. Carden describes the dumb supper ritual as taking place on New Year’s Eve.

The book American Regional Folklore: A Sourcebook and Research Guide edited by Terry Ann Mood, describes the ritual of dumb suppers as:

“…the custom of “dumb suppers” during which young girls prepare a meal in total silence, then sit down to eat it with an empty chair between each two girls. If a man comes in and sits in one of the chairs it is thought that he will marry the girl he sits next too.”

Mary Briggs from Life In A Cordwood Cabin wrote a post about dumb suppers back in 2009. Mary said:

“The purpose of a dumb supper is for a young, unmarried woman to see the ‘spirit’ of the man that she is going to marry. The meal is prepared in complete silence~no talking (dumb) whatsoever. Most people believed that you had to walk backwards while cooking and serving the dumb supper.

When the dinner is done, an extra place is set at the table and the young girl (or girls if done in a group), open all the windows and doors and take their place at the table and bow their head. Sometimes all the lights are blown out, as well. The ‘phantom’ husbands are supposed to enter in silence. Each girl should be able to recognize the ‘husband’ that sits down beside her. If no one appears, it means that she will never marry. If only a dark blob appears, it means she will die within the year.

There are quite a few versions of this ‘supper’. Some involve making the dinner using thimblefuls for ingredients instead of spoons and cups. In some versions, they see the ‘reflection’ of their husband’s face in their empty plates.”

Vera, a commenter on Mary’s blog had this to say about dumb suppers:

I have heard my mom and aunts talk about dumb suppers. My Aunt Irma told me that her and two or three friends started a dumb supper one time but they got too scared to go through with it. Everything had to be done backwards, you had an empty chair beside everyone for their future husband to sit in. No one could talk while this supper was being prepared. Maybe I have heard about this because I am a lot older than most of you.

I’m glad Mel sent me down the road of dumb suppers-fascinating folklore. Makes me wonder if there are any girls out there using dumb suppers to find their future husbands today?

The dumb supper custom is one Chatter and Chitter could never participate in. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting them you’ll know the reason why: They could NEVER be silent!

Have you heard of dumb suppers?




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  • Reply
    October 19, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Our family lore hands down the story that my grandmother prepared a dumb supper and my grandfather came in, sat down and started eating…she had only seen him from afar until then.

  • Reply
    Mrs. K.
    October 26, 2014 at 7:20 am

    As Ruth mentioned, traditional Dumb Suppers are a way to honor the dead, our Ancestors. The empty chair at the table is for them, and a plate is set at the table as well. The meal is taken outside and left as an offering to them. There are many traditions similar, but they aren’t seances. A light is also left in the window to guide our Ancestors home on Halloween, which is the best time to have a Dumb Supper. It is a special way of remembering those who have passed, nothing scary.
    There are actually many types of divination to be performed on Halloween to discover who one will marry, when one will find love, if a husband will be successful etc.
    Oh, one other thing, witches were the wise women and didn’t have anything much to do with zombies. ; )

  • Reply
    October 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Never heard of a ‘dumb supper.’ Actually, it is a bit scary to think that a stray male would just appear for supper. Also, I wondered, if there were multiple girls, did the man have to sit on the right or left. Between two girls might cause a ‘cat’ fight as to whom was chosen. Interesting to say the least!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    I never heard of a “dumb supper”,
    although some folks might consider
    my choice of food groups as dumb.
    And way to go, Tmc on 33 years to
    the same woman come November…Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 25, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I think Shirl conjured up the old Elvis ghost by mistake…skeery…Be careful when tired and stirring the kettle on a hot stove!…so funny Shirl !
    And I always thought a lazy susan was also called a “dumb waiter”…Could “dumb supper” also have corrupted into and from the use of those “lazy susan” tables back in the old days? Maybe that is why Ethelene didn’t hear more about the results of “dumb supper”!
    I just love the comments Tipper!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 25, 2014 at 10:05 am

    my mom told me about eating a thimble full of salt and a thimble full of meal just before going to bed and the man you were to marry would appear in your dreams and bring you a drink of water. Also, throwing a ball of twine out the window as you held the end — there was a rhyme (sorry can’t remember it all) “wind, wind, wind my twine. Who will help me wind my twine?” Your true love would pick up the other end of the twine and wind it back to you.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I think I unintentionally prepared a dumb supper yesterday. There wasn’t a soul in the house to talk to and I was so tired and hungry I’m sure I did a little walking backwards. While one hand was stirring, the other was reaching for a plate. When I turned my small kitchen TV on while I ate, there was an Elvis movie playing. Does that count?

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I had not thought of “dumb supper” in a long, long time. But your explanation of it helped me remember that my three “old maid Aunts” once tried a “dumb supper.” I didn’t hear of exactly what transpired at the “Lazy Susan” large table that was a part of their “kitchen-great room” called simply the kitchen in those days. It was one of three places in the sprawling farmhouse where people gathered to keep warm in winter by the fireplace and to work and visit between meals in other months. The large round dining table with its Lazy Susan centerpiece that held the most delectable dishes (they were all good cooks!) was a centerpiece of conversation for visitors and a joy to sit around and turn to get the food you wanted on your plate. Whatever came of the “dumb supper” outcome, I don’t really know. My dear Aunt India died with cancer, as did my dear Aunt Avery several years after Aunt India’s death. Neither of them ever married. The only one of the three who married was Aunt Ethel (for whom I was named) who married a widower when she was in her late 60’s. If the three “old maid aunts'” “dumb supper” revealed their state, I don’t know.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

    I thought the traditional “dumb supper” was a ceremony done to honor the dead on “all Hallows Eve” by witches! No words are spoken, only candlelight, etc. Everything done sort of backwards, to I suppose, go back in time. They also think that some apparitions of the recently deceased or not may appear and you can talk to them, especially if one of them is having trouble crossing over to the other side.
    Never heard of getting a husband that way or seeing a future husband. Uhhh, don’t think I would want a zombie for a husband…in the witches sense!
    Interesting twist on what I have heard about “dumb suppers”. The only thing me and my girlfriends did back in the day was play with a Ouija Board, to predict the future. Yes, they were sold in the toy department of the dime store.
    However, the best bet is to decide who you love and pick the petals off a daisy or in the Fall twist the stem of an apple! Well, let me think a minute, or do I have that mixed up with eating the apple and then saying,
    “Apple core, Baltimore”, who’s your friend? You are, til the end!” Then you throw the core at your boyfriend or friend!
    Oh well, I guess some of those tales should be recessed in the back of the mind, less they get corrupted into a different story and time in future generations!
    That is why when these things are happening, it is best to put them on paper. At least, sometimes the facts stay in the correct place or not…there is a lot of fiction out there!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…This sounds like a séance, to me as well!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 25, 2014 at 8:29 am

    New to me too, but what fun for Halloween

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 25, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Never heard od dump suppers. Sounds like something teenage girls might do. Your correct Tipper, your girls would NEVER make it through without talking.
    Congratulations Tmc, 33 years is pretty impressive!

  • Reply
    October 25, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Nope,, that’s a new one on me.. I wonder how that would work in today’s society, with microwaves, convection ovens, and seemingly everyone eating at or on the way to ball games or practice… O and by the way I didn’t meet my wife on a ball field, our Church youth group all got together and went to the movies, with some friends tagging along, she was on a date with another guy, I kept bumping the back of her seat to get her attention, long story short,, later we started dating (Hee Hee) as they say if you snooze you loose…In November we celebrate 33yrs..

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