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Sin Eaters performed a ceremony wherein they took on the sins that the deceased performed — sins that went unforgiven or without confession prior to death. People typically hired a Sin Eater in situations where the deceased died unexpectedly.
By consuming bread and a drink usually wine or beer placed on, or ritually waved over, the dead body, onlookers believed the dead person's sins were digested by the eater after he or she consumed this beggar's feast. The act appears to be confined to 18th and 19th Century Europe, with no accounts of necro-cannibalism noted. In time, the practice expanded in popularity, so that Sin Eaters also attended to people who had just died of natural causes — because people believed the ritual could help prevent the dead from wandering the countryside after death.
This wasn't an especially well-paid job — the Sin Eater would receive a half-shilling or more, in addition to the scant meal.
Sin Eaters, the outcasts of Druid Folklore
A half-shilling amounts to no more than a couple of US dollars when inflation is accounted for. Each village typically had its "own" Sin Eater, and the villagers believed this individual would become more and more horrible, with each and every ceremony. Sin eaters often came under church scrutiny, since the sin eater did not have an affiliation with a local church.
The eaters willfully carried the sins of the deceased for the rest of their mortal lives , going against the teachings of many sects of Christianity that were active in 18th and 19th Century Europe.
The practice of sin eating could be seen as a very macabre and misguided take on a Jewish tradition. Jewish priests would use a goat as a physical manifestation of the sins of the Jewish people, releasing the goat into the wilderness during Yom Kippur. The use of Sin Eaters appears to have ceased in the early 20th Century.
Sin-eater - Wikipedia
Having eaten the food in the presence of the dead, he was driven out of the house with execrations and abuse, sticks, cinders and every available missile being hurled at him. The superstition of sin-eating, which has been widely practised in various countries, prevailed in the Highlands of Scotland, Wales and England, especially in Shropshire and Hereford, down till the close of the last century.
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