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My Friend, the Sin Eater
Meridith didn’t choose this work. It’s not why she travels.
“I started my career as an aerospace engineer,” she tells me.
“But I kept getting pulled into my co-workers’ lives, helping them navigate their personal tragedies. It was exhausting.”
Meridith pauses, her eyes rolling side to side as if she hears something behind her.
She pushes back from the kitchen table, stands, and spins toward the stove. Tousled whorls of platinum hair bounce along in free-float as she moves.
“I became a software engineer to get away from it all—to work remotely, so I wouldn’t have to report to an office environment,” she says, her back to me.
“That was ten years ago, and so far, it hasn’t helped.”
Meridith pulls two ceramic mugs from an open shelf above the sink as her tea kettle burbles to a whistle. Her long sunflower print skirt swishes over the hardwood as she dances about the kitchen.
“No matter where I go,” she says, pulling the steaming kettle off the burner, “how secluded or remote, it’s only a matter of time before I’m working with someone again.”
She turns to face me, her gaze drifting somewhere off to my left. “It’s like I’m sent to these places for people to find me, you know?”
Meridith chuckles. “That might not sound very logical, but I don’t know how else to explain it.” Meridith’s granite eyes twinkle when she smiles. “It just keeps happening,” she shrugs.
Sin Eaters Throughout History
It was Meridith who first told me about the sin eaters, although she’s quick to correct, “That’s not what I do.”
The concept predates history, but our earliest recorded reference comes from the ‘scapegoat’ ritual found in Leviticus 16.
Lev 16:21 Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live billy goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the billy goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness…
The Levitical texts go on, prescribing elaborate rites. Recipes for cleansing people of their collective misdeeds. The community’s sins are ceremonially attached to animals, which are then either slaughtered or cast out into the wilderness—or both.
These practices are consistent throughout history and across cultures.
At some point, humans are used in the same fashion, usually slaves, criminals, or members of the lower class—sacrificially murdered or cast out as communal atonement.
Before long, sin-consuming service providers spring up. Sin-eating practitioners visit the homes of the dead to consume sin-soaked bread from the chest of the deceased. The practice ensures clear passage into the afterlife.
What a gift.
The Last Sin Eater
Richard Munslow was a strapping young farmer, respected landowner, and family man. A provider of food staples for Ratlinghope, a tiny parish in Shropshire, England.
And Richard is believed to be the last in a long line of sin eaters from the region. His grave site, now a treasured local landmark.
While most sin eaters were children of practicing sin eaters. Compelled into the profession to relieve the burden of their dying parent, consuming their sins to ensure safe passage.
Richard Munslow volunteered.
After losing his four children, three in one week’s time, all from scarlet fever, Richard began consuming sins. We might assume he began with his own children, but of course, there’s no way to tell.
But we do know he continued the practice for over 36 years until his death in 1906 at the age of seventy-three.
‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not;
for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven’
No one showed up to consume Richard’s sins on his deathbed.
No one could carry the burden.
Or maybe no one cared.
Both reviled and revered, depending on the culture, sin-eaters have always been with us in one form or another.
"You know, in a way, I've come to embrace it," she says softly.
"This 'curse' of mine, it's actually a gift." She sets her mug down with a gentle clink.
“Will you come visit me on my deathbed?” I ask.
Meridith’s eyes meet mine. “You know I won’t,” she whispers.
Her eyes twinkle. Her lips soften into a smile. She reaches across the table. Both hands take me by the wrist.
“But I expect you to come visit me… on mine.”
I love you guys. ☺️
Be good to each other—and be gentle with yourselves.