LawtonFest 2015: Victorian Funeral Customs and the Sin Eater

Sugar and I are at the LawtonFest Family Reunion. 

The speaker is Tim Drake from Clemson University. 

We’ve been shown the death mask of Benjamin Franklin. Death masks were made as a memorial for the deceased person during the period before photography. 

I show you these slides from the presentation not to claim the work of the speaker, but to show you that you can’t make this stuff up. At least I can’t.  Google it. 

The Lawton progenitor was in this area in the 1700s. These customs would have have been relevant then. 

I’ve heard about covering the mirrors, the wearing of mourning clothing, and the gathering of the family, but I’be never heard of a sin eater. Autocorrect doesn’t recognize it either. 

Sin eater? Autocorrect changes it to son water. Lordy, it makes me nauseous to even think about a person eating someone else’s sin, symbolically or not. 

The food and drink would be placed on the deceased person’s body, and the sin eater, who was a person hired to do the task, would consume the food and thereby take on the sins of the person and household. As you can imagine, the sin eater was just about the lowest on the social hierarchy. I can imagine the sin eater stealing in at dark, huddling over the body, and gobbling up the food. 

I give easement to thee, and for thy sake, I take thy sins upon my soul. Come not back among us, but rest in eternal peace. For this peace I pawn my own soul. 

That’s one way to grab the attention of the audience 


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