Friday, May 30, 2014

Heard Of The Sin Eater...?

Throughout history, there have been some really unusual jobs, but most like this no one wanted.

I saw a movie once called "The Order" and it was based around this whole idea. Strange! Anyway, I thought you might like to know about this job.

The Strange, Sad Burden Of The Sin Eater
By Debra Kelly

From the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, souls of the recently deceased were often helped on their way to the afterlife by a sin eater. Unaffiliated with any church, the sin eater would visit the body of the deceased and eat a piece of bread that had been placed upon the corpse’s chest, symbolically absorbing all of their unconfessed sins and speeding them on their way to Heaven. Once only employed in cases where death was sudden and a last confession wasn’t given, the sin eater was later called to even natural deaths and thought to help prevent the person from needing to wander the land as a ghost.

Just the name “sin eater” sounds like something that couldn’t possibly exist. But they did, and they had a very important role in the religious communities of England, Scotland, and Wales.

Unexpected, sudden deaths were typically not all that unexpected. Those who had time to prepare for their deaths were able to speak with a priest, to make a final confession, and to have their sins absolved by the church to help prepare their way to Heaven. But those who died suddenly had no such chance, and so the family of the newly deceased would often hire a sin eater.

A piece of bread would be placed on the chest of the deceased as he or she lay out in state, drawing a person’s sins from him. (Sometimes the rituals also included wine or beer as well.) It was believed that when the sin eater ate the bread, he was also eating the sins of the dead. He would take the person’s worldly actions upon himself, and free the person to pass into Heaven.

Not surprisingly, this was absolutely not sanctioned by the church. Most sin eaters weren’t just unaffiliated with any religion, church, or parish, they were also pushed off to the lower caste of society. Most sin eaters were poor—each time they freed a person’s soul, they received only what was today’s equivalent of a few American dollars.

Seems pretty low for the price of passage into Heaven, right? There was nothing easy about the life of a sin eater. Most sin eaters were also beggars, making a living any way they could amid the stigma that surrounded them. Since they were absorbing the sins of the dead, it was believed that they slowly, progressively became a more and more depraved person with each soul they saved.

Over time, the tradition that started out being mainly practiced during the deaths of someone who had died suddenly also came to be performed in the cases of someone who died of natural causes. Even if they had the chance to confess their sins, they might have missed a couple, after all. The actions of the sin eater were also thought to speed a person’s transition from the land of the living to the afterlife, and that those helped along wouldn’t be condemned to wander the land as a ghost.

The traditions of the sin eater have their roots in the Middle Ages, and it’s only relatively recently that the custom died out. It’s believed that the last working sin eater in England was a man named Richard Munslow, who died in 1906. In spite of the idea that most sin eaters weren’t affiliated—or in any way endorsed—by the church, he was buried in the graveyard of Ratlinghope Church in Shropshire. According to records, it was thought that he became a sin eater after the deaths of all three of his children, losing them all to whooping cough. Also unlike most traditional sin eaters, he also seems to have escaped much of the stigma attached to the job, acting as a sin eater alongside his other duties as a farmer.

The grave has recently been restored, with the hope that it would be a lasting tribute to the sin eaters.

How in the world would you explain this occupation on a resume? I reckon this job didn't have folks lining up for it!

Coffee out on the patio this morning. Clear out so far!


Mamahen said...

I had never heard of this...Certainly not a job I would want, or could imagine anyone wanting. I maybe could understand the desperation if you had lost your children and truly believed this could assure their souls passage into heaven ....I'll meet everyone on the patio...I've been in a grahm cracker kick...I'll share :))

linda m said...

New one to me also, never heard this one before. I don't think I would ever be able to explain this job to anyone I know. But I would most certainly take this job on if I knew for certain that it would assure my child's soul passage into heaven. See you all on the patio, beautiful morning here. I have a yen for bagels and cream cheese so I'll bring some of those. Have a great weekend.

texasann said...

Bubba -
I saw a movie years ago, with Richard Thomas (John-Boy Walton) as the sin-eater. He and his mother were too poor to eat, so he took on this job. There was more food according to how many supposed sins the dead had, but always more than a piece of toast. I don't remember the end of the tale, but I'm sure it was gruesome, paying homage to the results of his feasting.
See you tomorrow, hopefully with Henry in tow!
Big hugs -

Gorges Smythe said...

I've heard that this was a common practice among the Scots-Irish and related settlements in Appalachia, though none of the old folks in my family ever mentioned it. Of course most of them were of German blood.

JO said...

Those 2 country had some really weird customs.

Nice morning for sitting out see you all soon.

Dizzy-Dick said...

I like to eat sinfully great tasting food, does that count?

HermitJim said...

Hey Mamahen...
I do believe that many death related rituals are mainly for the living, even today.

Some folks need things like this to provide some closure and peace of mind!

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Linda M...
I would imagine that in the community the Sin Eater was well known. Kinda like the village doctor or mid-wife.

Thanks for dropping by today!

Hey Sis...
I didn't see that one. I did see the "Order" like I said and it wasn't bad!

Hope to see you tomorrow, Henry in tow!

Thanks for coming over!

Hey Gorges...
It was probably more common in the mountain communities than we know. Could be something the older folks just didn't talk about much!

Thanks for dropping in today!

Hey Jo...
We are ready to have you here with us, sweetie!

Thanks for stopping by today!

Hey Dizzy...
I don't know if it counts or not, but I have that same problem! I do like the sinfully good stuff!

Thanks for coming over today!