Var's Dumb Supper Ritual

(This is an account of a ritual by Linda Demissy.)

What is a dumb supper? It is a meal shared with a spirit, offering them hospitality as an honored guest, warm food and a seat at your table. “Dumb” means “mute, unable to speak aloud”, and some prefer to call it a “Silent Supper”. This simple rite has been used across the centuries in Europe on All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Souls Eve, Samhain and Halloween. Our ancestors used it to communicate with their deceased loved ones, but we can also honor our gods in this same way. What has survived of Northern European Pagan rites is almost entirely based on the virtue of hospitality: there’s very little ritual, you just share your food and drink with the gods. This is one of the ways that I honor the gods of the Northern Tradition, and I share with you here how I first met with Vár, goddess of oaths and handmaiden of Frigga in Asgard.

Note: In Icelandic, Vár is pronounced like the second syllable of the word “devour” (due to the accent on the ‘a’), but with a short rolling ‘r’. It sounds a lot more like the word “vow” that way.

The kitchen had just been cleaned, the food cooked, and the table set for two, with a bowl of chips to snack on while I served. I lit three candles, turned off the electric lights, and filled a tankard with cold water as the Guest Cup. Next to the kitchen entrance stood a small table with a large bowl of warm water, soap and a towel.

I opened my apartment door, tankard in hand, and softly spoke: “Vár, goddess of Oaths, daughter of Asgard, I welcome you to my home and offer hospitality. To the weary traveler I give, this cup of water to refresh, warm water, soap and towel, to cleanse the dirt of the road. Be welcome, Vár.” I stepped aside, and waited to feel the presence pass by me, holding up the cup for Her. I then closed the door, and squeezed into the kitchen, clear of the washing table, waiting till I felt Her seated. I offered: “Would you like some chips while I serve?” She agreed, and I put a handful of them on Her plate. I got a better look at Her as my Sight cleared, in the chair I reserve exclusively for gods and spirits. It’s the only one in my kitchen with armrests.

Vár appeared to be slender-faced and auburn haired, about 30 years old. From what I could tell, She wore a white unadorned tabard over a dark blue dress, but it could have been brown. I didn’t see Her well below the table level, so it could just as well have been a skirt or trousers. I was a bit apprehensive about meeting Her, expecting a stern punisher of oath breakers, eager to point out my failings. Instead, She was perfectly pleasant, gracious and good natured. I shared the meal I’d made, couscous with sausage, toasted cheese bread and orange juice. I asked if She’d like anything else to drink, and She said “Maybe tea, later”. I served Her, then myself, and started the meal with the entertainment, singing and playing a song on mandolin. We ate and chatted, as I asked if She’d tell me more about what She did and cared about. These are some of the answers She gave as we ate: 

“Reliability, that is what I care about. It is crucial for acting with honor. And will, will is what makes us great. Without will, you don’t have what it takes when things get difficult.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

She looked down at the meal and said: “Take this table, for example. What makes a table worthy?”

“Well,” I replied, “its ability to hold food reliably, the evenness of its surface… that it inspire confidence in its ability to be a good table.”

She nodded and added: “My power is the fortitude to decide, and to accomplish, whatever it is you’ve decided. It is what heroes have. You keep to what you want and make your plans real.”

“So you’d rather help people do what they said they’d do than have to punish them?”

“Indeed. You can call on me for that help, for strength to succeed in your task, for the fortitude I cherish.”

I chewed on that new insight into Her ways, and wondered: “What about punishing oath-breakers?”

She sighed: “I am the agency of a form of karma, as you understand the term. It would happen without me, but I can choose what punishment is most useful.”

Pondering what I’d seen at many sumbels, I added: “So what happens when people make stupid oaths?”

She just looked at me and stated: “People should learn not to make them.”

We ate some more, and I asked: “And divorce, how do you deal with that?”

“You must repay the other for your broken oath. Both must atone when they divorce.”

“But people often get into nasty battles over their divorce,” I added.

She looked annoyed, “There should be no bloody battles. They compound the oath-breaking with dishonor. People should know better than that.”

I nodded. “Right. And then there’s the whole fact that oath-breaking leads to the unhappy place in the afterlife, along with murder”

She smiled. “That ... has been somewhat overstated. It’s not an automatic thing. Those who wrote down the lore were very strongly against oath-breaking, so they made it among the greatest offences to the Gods. It isn’t good, but it’s not that bad either.”

“Thank you for the clarification. We have so little lore about you, what would you like to be known as?”

“I am a goddess of oaths, reliability, and fortitude. Fortitude is not a brief spurt of will or strength. It is strength that endures, that pulls you through a task”

I ran over that word in my mind, fortitude. Bemused, I wondered aloud: “I’m surprised you like the word ‘fortitude’ so much. It’s not a Germanic word.”

“No, but it works, and it is in a language you understand,” She smiled.

“So instead of making oaths in your name, what would be a good way to call on you, when planning a task?”

“You can say: ‘In the name of Vár, I do as I decided.’ That’s simple and to the point. It lets me know you’re determined, and want to succeed. It opens the door for me to help you achieve it, and gives your more mindfulness of the importance of your goal.”

“And what’s so important about this mindfulness in doing tasks?”

“Reliability strengthens your soul. Doing what you say you’ll do shows a strong spirit.”

She then took my right hand, examined it, and traced the line that goes down the middle of my palm, from the middle finger to the wrist with Her finger. “This is my line,” She said.

I didn’t remember what that line was for, and looked it up later. Here’s a description of the Fate Line: “This line is believed to be tied to the person's life path, including school and career choices, successes and obstacles. Sometimes this line is thought to reflect circumstances beyond the individual's control, or alternately the person's choices and their consequences.”

Before the supper was over, I asked one more question: “So what do you think of New Year’s resolutions ?”

She scoffed good naturedly: “Don’t ask! Waste of my time!”

When the meal was done, I thanked Her for coming, bade Her safe journey as She departed, then blew out the candles. The leftovers from Her plate went into the compost.