Sin-Eaters

MrRING

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Does this custom still exist in an underground way, or has it been wiped out?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin-eater
Sin-eater can refer to:

A person who, through ritual means and for material gain, would take on the sins of a dying person, thus absolving the dying of their sins while receiving the burden of the same in British tradition. Traditionally, each village maintained its own sin-eater. The sin-eater would be brought to the dying person's bedside, and there either he or a relative would place a bit of bread on the breast of the dying. After praying and/or reciting the ritual, he would then remove the bread from the breast and eat it, the act of which would remove the sin from the dying and take it into himself.

The act of being a sin-eater is/was generally considered a cardinal sin by the Catholic Church because it provided absolution outside the purview of the priesthood, and resulted in immediate excommunication.
And, if you were an atheist, would you be willing to be a sin-eater for money?
 

uair01

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I think that Wikipedia got that idea from a (quite good) horror film called "Sin Eater". I'm quite versed in theology and church history but I've never heard any mention of this.

Alex Bernier (Ledger) is a member of an arcane order of priests known as Carolingians. When the head of the order dies, Alex is sent to Rome to investigate mysterious circumstances surrounding the death and soon finds himself plunged into the heart of a mystery...

The body bears strange marks on the chest which may or may not be the sign of a Sin Eater (Furmann), a renegade who offers absolution, last rites and therefore a path to heaven outside the jurisdiction of the church. Alex enlists the aid of his old comrade Father Thomas (Addy) and of a troubled artist (Sossamon) upon whom he once performed an exorcism. He soon finds himself plunged into a mystery only to find himself at the heart of it.
But I wonder why the standard "absolution" would not work in any case. AFAIK every sinner gets a chance at forgiveness:

Absolution proper is that act of the priest whereby, in the Sacrament of Penance, he frees man from sin. It presupposes on the part of the penitent, contrition, confession, and promise at least of satisfaction; on the part of the minister, valid reception of the Order of Priesthood and jurisdiction, granted by competent authority, over the person receiving the sacrament.
However there is an interesting condition here:

* (b) if the penitent lack the requisite dispositions, he must endeavour to create the proper frame of mind, for he cannot and may not absolve one indisposed;
* (c) when dispositions remain doubtful, he employs the privilege given above in conditional absolution.
Another website says:

Absolution must be denied (1) when there is no evidence of a determination to amend; (2) when restitution or satisfaction is refused; (3) when the remedies directed are refused, or previously proposed remedies have not been employed, especially when evil habits are concerned, and no special contrition is exhibited on account of the new sin; (4) when there is evident unwillingness to forgive others; (5) when perseverance in evil ways is shown by an unwillingness to avoid the proximate occasions of sin, or of giving occasion to others' sin, those occasions being voluntary and not necessary.
 

MrRING

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THIS ARTICLE on Sacred Texts deals with it like it's a real thing:
A less known but even more remarkable functionary, whose professional services were once considered necessary to the dead, is the sin-eater. Savage tribes have been known to slaughter an animal on the grave, in the belief that it would take upon itself the sins of the dead. In the same manner, it was the province of the human scapegoat to take upon himself the moral trespasses of his client--and whatever the consequences might be in the after life--in return for a miserable fee and a scanty meal. That such a creature should be unearthed from a remote period of pagan history would be surprising enough, but to find reliable evidence of his existence in the British Isles a hundred years ago is surely very much more remarkable.

Professor Evans of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen, actually saw a sin-eater about the year 1825, who was then living near Llanwenog, Cardiganshire. Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean, the sin-eater cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures by reason of the life he had chosen; he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.

Howlett mentions sin-eating as an old custom in Hereford, and thus describes the practice: "The corpse being taken out of the house, and laid on a bier, a loaf of bread was given to the sin-eater over the corpse, also a maga-bowl of maple, full of beer. These consumed, a fee of sixpence was given him for the consideration of his taking upon himself the sins of the deceased, who, thus freed, would not walk after death." He suggests the connection between the sin-eater and the Jewish scapegoat of the old Testament.

We shall consider in its proper order the relations between death and the funeral feast, but there is an aspect of the matter which is closely allied to the idea of the transfer of a personality for good or for evil, by means of the consumption of certain food, as in the case of sin-eaters, or by actually partaking of such parts of the human body as are associated with vitality. Traces of this revolting cult are still to be found, but its roots are deeply buried in antiquity. It is not exactly what we mean by cannibalism, in the sense in which we commonly use the word, to imply the eating of the human flesh as food. We shall remember having read in accounts of travel that these savage orgies were accompanied by demoniacal dances, which were supposed to be manifestations of joy or "war dances" in token of victory over a fallen enemy.

These dances are probably a survival of religious rites, performed the world over, in honour of a human sacrifice off ered to the great god Bel. "Cannibalism," says Garnier, "appears to have been initiated by Cronus (i.e., Saturn or Cush), Cronus being the originator of human sacrifices"; he quotes R. G. Hislop, who states that the word cannibal--our term for the eater of human flesh--is probably derived from Cahna Bal, i.e., the Priest of Bel. The eating of human flesh is stillpart of the religious rites of many of the Hamitic races of Africa.
 

GNC

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Isn't Ramsey Campbell's 1993 novel The Long Lost about a Welsh Sin Eater? I got the impression it was a genuine Welsh myth?
 

Jerry_B

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There is one theory (can't remeber where I read it) that wakes after funerals are a form of collective sin eating.
 

chockfullahate

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i remember as a small chil being told about sin eating by my grandmother - sure it was vaguely connected with wales. or ireland.
 

FelixAntonius

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I remember accounts of sin eaters in books of folk law, always they are supposed to happen in remote parts of the UK, Scotland, Wales or Ireland.

I also remember a short "horror" story about sin eating. My thought is that it was early 20th Century in publication.

I just am puzzled as to if the story has any reality, or is just a good creepy story to tell about: "that other lot over there". Although a quick search on Google produces results for Wales & the Welsh boarders & the New World.
 

TheQuixote

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Well, it's something I'd always assumed as having a basis in fact. In Ralph Whitlock's In Search of Lost Gods - a Guide to British Folklore (1979) there is mention of sin-eating on p70 as well as an illustration from The Popular Antiquities of Wales 1815.

Salt used to be placed on the breast of the corpse, this being a powerful protection against demons [...]

An old custom, now perhaps obsolete, was for a person or persons to eat a ritual meal, including some of the salt that had been on the deceased's breast. This was known as Sin-eating, for by it the sins of the dead person had been transferred to the partakers. In some places professional sin-eaters were hired for the purpose [...]
I've also read similar in other books on folklore and customs, In Search of Lost Gods was just the nearest book at hand.
 

decipheringscars

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That article from "Sacred Texts" strikes me as pretty biased, though - and it dates from 1926. Words like "savage" used to describe peoples, and the really loaded "Hamitic races of Africa," plus the attempt to link sin-eaters with the Old Testament scapegoat (Leviticus 16) is a stretch compared with the more obvious comparison to Jesus and the Eucharist (Christ being a sin-bearer, and the Eucharist involving eating bread & wine, which either are or represent Christ's body and blood. Eucharist has often been seen in relation to Baptism, which removes Original Sin, while Eucharist takes care of subsequent sins).

I'm not familiar with the author of the book that article is excerpted from, though. I just don't like all the "othering" going on. I'm not sure I'd trust that author to read other cultures and their practices accurately. Still, it's pretty interesting...

What intrigues me is that where this practice might co-exist with Christian beliefs, how might it affect the way Christ is imagined? Syncretism exists everywhere Christianity does - just because the Christian religion gets imposed on or adopted by people doesn't mean they give up their own traditions; usually they blend them together somehow or observe them side by side. If you have this "sin-eater" who is treated as a social outcast, and at the same time, you worship a God-Man who bears all the sins of the world -- I just wonder if and how people juxtapose those two types. Shouldn't the sin-eater, even if shunned, also be honored as Christ-like?
 

MrRING

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Another Article
Sin Eating: Not Just A Job
By: Cindy Lawrence
Contributing Editor

Think your job is difficult? That your boss, customers or co-workers are miserable ingrates who use and abuse you? Does everyone put blame on you?

Ponder the occupational hazards of the sin-eater, and you may find a new appreciation for your own workplace. Sin-eating entailed the literal acceptance of another’s sins through the taking of food offered in the presence of that person’s corpse. Though its origins are lost, the ceremony, in many forms, was practiced throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.

The earliest sin-eaters were the old or the poor of the village. Held in contempt by their neighbors, they were still the first to be called when one of the God-fearing breathed his last and faced Eternal Judgment. Since the Church frequently punished those who displeased it through excommunication, there were many, rich and poor, who died without benefit of Last Rites. In other instances, there were no priests available. These outcasts were offered a coin and food, often just a piece of salted bread, placed on the chest of the deceased; in return, they accepted the sins committed by that person into their own souls.

In gratitude for this service, the families would then drive the sin-eater from the home, often with violence. It puts yelling bosses and rude customers in perspective, doesn’t it?

As generations passed, the job changed within each region. In Britain, the sin-eater sat outside the door of the home, and accepted coin and bread; in Europe, the duties were performed by “professionals.” An enduring tradition was the pariah status these unfortunates suffered.

This unique service was carried to America, continued in Appalachia well into the 20th century, and may well be practiced to this day in more remote, tradition-bound communities on both continents. Remnants of the ritual are found in many countries in Europe. In Upper Bavaria, corpse-cakes are placed on the chest of the deceased then eaten by the nearest relative. In the Balkans and rural England, breads shaped in the image of, or carved with the initials of the deceased are given to family members. Old fears fade slowly.

So…it’s a career with very low pay, bad hours, no opportunity for advancement, and a really lousy retirement (carrying all those sins to the Other Side has got to cost you!). And customers who really, really hate you. Is your job looking better?
And another with a vintage drawing of a sin eating scene:
The Sin Eater

Across the whole of Wales and the Borders also the sin-eater had a prominent role in funeral ceremonies but written evidence is quite rare. During the 19th & 20th centuries the majority of historians tended to deny the existence of such a person. As usual, the victors got to write the history, maintaining that the very idea was clear evidence of the ignorance of ordinary folk. How could anyone believe in such an idea , let alone take part in the ceremony in their modern, enlightened age? Especially, under the influence of the Nonconformists, rejecting the old beliefs was not enough. In order to create an ideal image for the Welsh, according to the standards of the age, they would deny the existence of so many of our old customs, or, worst of all, they would refuse to speak about them at all (this was chiefly in answer to the insulting insinuations which were called "The Betrayal of the Blue Books: i.e. Government reports of the 1840’s which gave a very unfavourable view of the state of Wales).

There were different ceremonies in every area:

According to one local account of the 'Coeden Bechod' (The Tree of Sin) in the Parish of Llanllyfni, the family of the deceased would place a potato or cake that had just been taken out of the oven, onto the chest of the corpse and leave it there to cool. People believed that the food would absorb all the sins of the departed. This food would then be placed under the Tree of Sin, where, at a later time, it would all be consumed by the sin-eater as he took upon himself all the sins of the deceased. Also, a small amount of money would be left for the sin-eater who was usually a person shunned by decent folk.

In other parts of Wales and the Borderland, the sin-eater would come to the house of the deceased in person and eat the cake prepared for him beside the coffin in the presence of the mourners and accept the cash. He would then have to leave amid the curses of the mourners.

It was most important to give food made from the best ingredients, to ensure that every last crumb was eaten. Hence the practice here in the parish of Llanllyfni of offering a potato in its skin underlines the importance of the wholeness of the gift and its accursed ingredients.

Some say that the custom still continues...
 

MrRING

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Coincidence is one nutty squirell! :lol:
 

tattooted

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This unique service was carried to America, continued in Appalachia well into the 20th century, and may well be practiced to this day in more remote, tradition-bound communities on both continents.
In one of Manley Wade Wellman's Silver John short stories he has John wittnessing an Appalachian sin-eating. Even though its a fictional portrayal, Wellman was known to have included real Appalachian folklore and practices in his works.
 

MrRING

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THIS ARTICLE has some interesting stuff to say:
It would appear that the first to describe the ritual was the English antiquary and biographer, John Aubrey (1626-1697), writing in a manuscript-'Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme'-which is now deposited in the British Library. Though a native of Wiltshire, Aubrey was of Welsh descent, his great-grandfather being William Awbrey (1529-1595), of Cantref, Breconshire, who was in turn, according to Aubrey, related to the Puritan martyr, John Penry (3). Here is Aubrey's description of the ritual in Herefordshire:

"In the County of Hereford was an old Custome at funeralls to hire poor people, who were to take upon them all the sinnes of the party deceased. One of them, I remember, lived in a Cottage on Ross-high way. (He was a long, leane, ugly, lamentable poor raskal.) The manner was that when the Corps was brought out of the house and layd on the Biere ; a Loafe of Breade was brought out, and delivered to the Sinne-eater over the Corps, as also a Mazar-bowle of maple (Gossips bowle) full of beer, which he was to drinke up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he tooke upon him (ipso facto) all the Sinnes of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from walking after they were dead . . . The like was donne at ye City of Hereford in these times, when a woman kept many yeares before her death a Mazar-bowle for the Sinneeater ; and the like in other places in this Countie ; as also in Brecon, e.g. at Llangors, where Mr Gwin the minister about 1640 could no hinder ye performing of this ancient custome. I believe this custome was heretofore used over all Wales . . . "(4)

Aubrey compares the sin-eater to the "scape-goat" as referred to in Judaic legal codes and quoted in Leviticus XVI, 20-22:

"When Aaron has finished making expiation for the sanctuary, for the Tent of the Presence, and for the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. Lie shall lay both his hands on its head and confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their acts of rebellion, that is all their sins ; he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness in charge of a man who is waiting ready. The goat shall carry all their iniquities upon itself into some barren waste and the man shall let it go, there in the wilderness."


Specialists in folklore also began to search for similarities in other countries. Sidney Hartland came across such practices in Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and even amongst an Indian tribe in the Valley of Uapes in South America. (5) J. G. Frazer also mentions similar rituals practised by native tribes in Uganda, Travancore and Tahiti.(6)
 

Jerry_B

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Cooper and Sullivan's 'Maypoles, Martyrs and Mayhem' makes note of a possible sin-eating ritual that used to take place at St. Bartholomew's Church in Smithfield, London. The dole handed out that day (in the form of money and bread) could only be collected by poor widows. They had to step over graves before collecting the dole that had been placed on a flat gravestone.

The dole is still handed out today, but the ritual described above no longer takes place. Instead, hot cross buns are handed out to children, in a seperate event which was started in 1887.
 

rynner2

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Last 'sin-eater' to be celebrated with church service

The restored grave of the last known "sin-eater" in England will be at the centre of a special service in a Shropshire village churchyard later.

Campaigners raised £1,000 to restore the grave of Richard Munslow, who was buried in Ratlinghope in 1906.

Sin-eaters were generally poor people paid to eat bread and drink beer or wine over a corpse, in the belief they would take on the sins of the deceased.

Frowned upon by the church, the custom mainly died out in the 19th Century.

It was prevalent in the Marches, the land around the England-Wales border, and in north Wales, but was rarely carried out anywhere else.

Believers thought the sin-eater taking on the sins of a person who died suddenly without confessing their sins would allow the deceased's soul to go to heaven in peace.

While most of the sin-eaters were poor people or beggars, Mr Munslow was a well-established farmer in the area.

The Reverend Norman Morris, the vicar of Ratlinghope, a village of about 100 residents on the Long Mynd near Church Stretton, will lead the "God's Acre" service at St Margaret's Church.

Mr Morris said: "It was a very odd practice and would not have been approved of by the church but I suspect the vicar often turned a blind eye to the practice."

Locals began the collection to restore the grave, which had fallen into disrepair in recent years, believing it would be good to highlight the custom and Mr Munslow's place in religious history.

It took a few months to raise the £1,000 needed to pay for the work, carried out by local stonemason Charles Shaw.

Mr Morris said: "This grave at Ratlinghope is now in an excellent state of repair but I have no desire to reinstate the ritual that went with it."

The service, which begins at 1600 BST, is open to all.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sh ... e-11360659
 

colpepper1

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Having taken a wife from rural Shropshire they make The Wickerman look like a truth and reconcilliation video.
 

escargot

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:lol: My forbears of a a few generations back were from rural Shropshire. Family lore has it that they flitted more or less overnight to Cheshire after a series of murky events.
 
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