The term “sin eater” refers to an individual that absolves the sins of the recently deceased. Consequently, by doing this it frees the soul of the one who passed on. This allows those who have died to eternally rest in peace and prevents the dead from getting trapped in the ghostly realm.
In many aspects, Jesus has often been referred to as a sin eater because he offered his life to cleanse the sins of all mankind. Other examples of sin eaters are Tlazdteotl, the Aztec Goddess of purification during the Meso-American Civilization and then from more modern times, Richard Munslow of Shropshire, England who died in 1906.
The ritual of a sin eater is the chanting of a prayer or spell prior to drinking wine and eating bread over the deceased individual’s body. Therefore, symbolically devouring their sins. By doing this not only does it purify one’s soul, but it supposedly helps give solace to the living by giving them assurance that the dead can move onto the afterlife “guilt free”.
In past times, the individuals that took on the roles of sin eaters did so voluntarily and carried the sins of the deceased for the rest of their lives. In many cases, sin eaters were chosen from society’s destitute. Aside from the bread and wine that the sin eaters were given to consume over the dead, they were also paid in coins for their services. The life of a sin eater was nothing lavish and even though they aided in the cleansing of souls, the sin eaters were still looked upon with little dignity.
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~ Sheila Renee Parker on Twitter @sheilarparker.