A few years 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!”
Mel is from the North Georgia Mountains-just a hop, skip, and a jump from me. After reading about the stories his Granny told him I had to do a little research.
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.”
“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 catch a glimpse of 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 ever heard of dumb suppers?