[S5E14] The Sin-Eater
A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to spiritually take on the sins of a deceased person. The food was believed to absorb the sins of a recently dead person, thus absolving the soul of the person. Sin-eaters, as a consequence, carried the sins of all people whose sins they had eaten; they were usually feared and shunned.
[S5E14] The Sin-Eater
While there have been analogous instances of sin-eaters throughout history, the questions of how common the practice was, when it was practiced, and what the interactions between sin-eaters, common people, and religious authorities were remain largely unstudied by folklore academics.
A strange popish custom prevailed in Monmouthshire and other Western counties until recently. Many funerals were attended by a professed "sin-eater," hired to take upon him the sins of the deceased. By swallowing bread and beer, with a suitable ceremony before the corpse, he was supposed to free it from every penalty for past offences, appropriating the punishment to himself.Men who undertook so daring an imposture must all have been infidels, willing, apparently, like Esau, to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage.
A local legend in Shropshire, England, concerns the grave of Richard Munslow, who died in 1906, said to be the last sin-eater of the area. Unusually, Munslow was not poor or an outcast, instead being a wealthy farmer from an established family. Munslow may have revived the custom after the deaths of three of his children in a week 1870 due to scarlet fever. In the words of local Reverend Norman Morris of Ratlinghope, "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." At the funeral of anyone who had died without confessing their sins, a sin-eater would take on the sins of the deceased by eating a loaf of bread and drinking ale out of a wooden bowl passed over the coffin, and make a short speech:
Professor Evans of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen, allegedly 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.
The 1978 TV miniseries The Dark Secret of Harvest Home features a funeral scene wherein all the mourners in attendance avert their faces as a repudiated fellow designated the sin-eater dines upon a symbolic meal, which includes a coin pressed into a cheese, thereby taking the deceased's transgressions in life upon himself.
The American TV show Lucifer used the term Sin-Eater as the title of season 2, episode 3, to refer to the content moderation employees of a fictional social media company. The American TV show Arrow did so too in the season 5, episode 14, referring to a flash-back story of Anatoli Knyazev telling Oliver Queen he acts as a sin-eater.
In the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, sin eaters are recurring hostile entities that aim to devour all living beings in The First, mindless monsters driven by insatiable hunger for living aether. The stronger sin-eaters are capable of "forgiving" the creatures they attack, gruesomely and permanently mutating them into newborn sin eaters. Most of these creatures tend to be named as "forgiven" sins (Forgiven Cowardice, Forgiven Cruelty, Forgiven Hypocrisy, etc.). The strongest sin eaters are known as Lightwardens.
In A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the sixth book in the Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, Roger Wakefield presides over the funeral of Hiram Crombie's mother-in-law, Mrs. Wilson, where a sin-eater makes an appearance. 041b061a72