Sin Eaters

Sin eating is a custom that dates to the Middle Ages. It was practiced parts of England and Scotland and survived into the late 1800’s or early 1900’s in Wales…and also in Appalachia, USA.

Sin eaters were poor people who were paid to take on the sins of the of the dead. It was believed this freed the deceased from walking the earth after death.  The sin eater would be served a meal on top the corpse at a wake. Often they were hungry. This is why they took the job.

The job came with a high cost. Sin eaters were considered disgusting. They lived in isolation, shunned like lepers.

I don’t believe you can offload your sins or your bad karma of whatever you might call this, on to another person. But I don’t doubt people believed this, because they still do.

I’d know, because I’m a modern day sin eater.  There are legions of people who have off-loaded responsibility for their bad behavior by simply stating that they are innocent and I’m to blame.

If you have a lot of Scorpio or a heavily tenanted 8th house, you probably know what I’m talking about.  My feelings about this are too complex to convey in this short format, but I can say this: It doesn’t work.

You can’t steal for twenty years and then your time is up and you say, “Oh! All that stuff I did is on, Elsa. My friend over there is taking this on. She’s going to pay the price for me.”

Put like that it seems obvious this is a delusional idea. Still, it’s one that many not only hold, but hold dear.

Who knows what I am talking about? Have you ever put the shadow on someone and thought you walked away clean?

70 thoughts on “Sin Eaters”

  1. I didn’t know about the notion of sin eaters, but I guess I’m not surprised it exists.

    I think it’s a crazy idea that someone could be blamed for someone else’s misdeeds. I think the 8th house shadow in 8th house individuals can make others feel uncomfortable, but paradoxically, they are great at helping others in times of need because they have literally seen it all. It’s important to keep a sense of perspective towards 8th house people in order to avoid generating ingratitude.

    In Japan, there is a ceremony (hadaka matsuri) where throngs of people gather to put all of their bad luck into one person (the chosen individual is honored for taking on other people’s bad luck, but the chosen individual gets quite a bruising in the mayhem). I saw it on National Geographic the other day.

  2. That’s really, really fascinating. I’d never heard of sin eating before. I remember learning about, I think they were called “indulgences” in school (did a google search). People would pay a bunch of money to the church in hopes it would help them get into heaven. Just struck me as bizarre and insincere.

    I can think of a certain time when I “put my shadow” on someone in the past, and all it led to was delusion and ugliness until I owned up to it.

  3. And looking at the transits for the first time in hindsight, it appears Saturn was indeed transiting my 8th house.

  4. I’ve never heard of sin eaters before. How funny that they thought/think that they can outsmart God.

    I know I’ve judged people for things I’m guilty of. I’m usually shown pretty quickly that I’m guilty of what I judged them for.

  5. K, this may get things thrown at me, but honest question: Isn’t this the whole concept of Christianity, of Jesus taking the punishment for the people’s sins? How does that work?

    1. Avatar
      Epiphany Tiffany

      Jesus died on the cross because Pontius Pilate was an arrogant douche bag who didn’t like having a mirror reflecting his own behavior back to him. Jesus merely showed people who they were and was punished for it. He didn’t have supernatural powers. He was knowledgeable about the human condition, and attempted to share it, but many people didn’t like having the truth expose their blind spots (Hence, suffering because people couldn’t see their own sins). Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. lol Technically we all suffer when people can’t see (and own up to) their own sins. It’s a learning process we’re all dealing with. I tend to think this is the whole point of being born on this spinning sphere we inhabit. We appear and disappear, like holographic smoke. Or, as a Buddhist monk said: “We’re phantom hands grasping at clouds”…Light temporarily passing through a prism. They are we and we are them.

    1. In other words he can but we can’t take on the sins of others. I’m not being sarcastic I didn’t understand the supreme being part.

  6. I can totally relate, I live in the shadows that others constantly cast on me. Being a 12th houser, it’s taken me a long time to understand this and even longer to get a handle on it.

    I’m ok now, if you want to cast your shadow on me, fine. But you need to understand, when you walk away, that shadow you cast on me, your shadow, it’ll be following you, not me,

  7. Korellyn, I think that’s a great question :). I’m christian, and I think Jesus was here to be an example, to show us and be a light and love. I don’t however think he was here to attone for my sins. I could never, in my own right consciousness/mind ask somone else to carry or attone for my karmic debt load.
    Really great question though, very thought provoking 🙂 🙂 🙂

  8. Korellyn, I thought of Jesus too! He took on all the sins of the world….and His own Father rejected Him for a moment as a result. He died of heartache.

    I wonder if 8th housers can relate to that scenario (to some extent, I would think so).

  9. I guess I did, many times. But as I’ve also stated many times I think this – as many patterns – was somehow forced upon human nature by the de-responsabilization we’ve been socialized to, in order to fit a society in which higher interests play out in our daily lives everyday. None of us can really live off of their homegrown food anymore, we need to buy food and to spend our earned cash for it. We choose to have intermediaries to manage our relationship with the Sacred. We rarely have the possibility to sew and tailor our own garments. We rely on empirical evidence provided by other people to believe stuff works in a certain way. From there to also trying to cast your “shadow” on someone else is not a big stretch.

  10. Ahhh, more 8th house food-for-thought! Perhaps because I do have a lot of 8th house influence, I’ve never really understood these people because it seems like when you don’t take responsibility, you automatically become the victim. Any power you think you’re gaining by piling your baggage onto someone else is really empty.

    Of course I do have flashes of self-righteousness where I want to win! at a situation and so I look for a sin-eater, but those feelings always pass for me. Life just isn’t win/lose or black/white.

    I’ve also recently understood how I’ve taken on this role with some of my family members, and how I subconsciously accepted and owned it. And I’ve had more than a few people going through dark times assume I could somehow “save” them, but in retrospect, most of them have also been very gentle and respectful of my well-being, for which I am grateful because I was too young to outwardly understand the situations at the time.

    The concept of the sin eater reminds me of vultures, too. They’re often considered dirty birds because they’re scavengers, but they also help to prevent the spread of disease and infection by clearing away the old. I think they’re even used for this purpose in sky burials, which seems much healthier than asking another human to shoulder the sins before death.

    This is such a complex topic! You simplified it so well. I fear I could never stop talking about it.

  11. I’m guilty of casting my shadow onto others. Since my earliest memory! I distinctly remember being younger than 5 and having a nightmare about my mother and thinking she was a witch. I thought she was an evil person for helping me when I was weak. I hated feeling weak (even at 4 I instinctively there was something terribly ‘wrong’ about being weak) and she swooped in every time. To this day my mom still has shadowy things about her. She’s got Sun conjunct Pluto in Leo. But I bear the torch in some ways. I am drawn to people who are having moments of weakness and being strong for them.

  12. Thank you. This is a perfect description of what happens in my life consistently. Because I listen/ observe/ know/ have been confided in, the person with the issue/ burden thinks that by getting rid of me from their life, they get to bury the issue. My mother is doing it right now because I have become the embodiment of the truth behind why she developed cancer. And she is SO afraid of facing her emotions. Another ‘friend’ of mine is doing the same thing. My best friend in high school threw me out of his life because he had told me he was gay and he wasn’t ready to come out to our other friends. I wasn’t going to force him to or anything! I get it, though, I don’t harp on their issues, but my mere presence has become a representation of things they don’t want to face. When this happens, I have to face my loneliness, but I savor most emotional processes (except disgust- still baffled by that one).

    1. Well said! In listening, being observant but respectful of others’ secrets, processes, life path is part of my Pluto rising nature w Scorpio at nadir. I also see it as a human kindness to walk on the journey of life together. I see, I even feel (for) others but it is their life’s sacred journey or dilemma. Some I’ve walked beside through traumatic situations. But as a friend says, “no good deed goes unpunished!” The most damaged & most supported have gotten on their feet & cut off any friendship. I used to think I’d done too much, or been “too”…something. Now I see it as the nature of some processes. Neither of us is bad or wrong…some I miss becuz we were good, fun friends until we reached the crossroads. One consequence is I’ve delved deep when the split comes, healed a ton within & have learned to enjoy my own company! And to support w boundaries…even good friends or family. To save “some” for myself…
      Saturn & Pluto spent lockdown on my Sun. What a freakin’ process & gift! I believe in truth & kindness. But not everyone does & discernment is a golden tool.

  13. Avatar

    Elsa! you are a legend for posting this..!!!!! I had no idea this was a real practise back in the 1800s :-0 !
    I feel this is something i struggle with on a daily basis..i watch people do this to each other all the time, personally being bought up a Christian as a child..i could just go on forever about this topic..because i was raised to ‘treat others as i would like to be treated’ (although my parents were very terrible dictators & influence of those kind of christian ideals :-/

    I have been learning in psychology that the child or family member that makes the most noise about any family greviences or issues is generally ‘the target’ or even ‘the scapegoat’. usually ‘the one’ who wears all the family history of disfunction & shame..

    The term ‘sin eater’ totally sums it up perfectly..a practise that still seems to sadly run in our veins.

  14. I think if you don’t have consciousness you cannot understand when you sin…in this case you don’t even need a sin eater cause you don’t belive you didn something wrong…those people who used to do that and gave poor people to eat dead people sins where doing a sin too…anyways i think it’s about lack of consciousness and responsability.

  15. I have an 8th house stellium and have definitely had my share of being unfairly scapegoated, even when it’s been obvious to me and others that I’m not to blame. I know it’s not only 8th housers who find themselves on the receiving end of such projections, but perhaps because our shadow is so visible, we’re a magnet for it?

    Interesting post, and it makes me curious about the 8th house from a different angle. Elsa, you wrote:

    “Sin eaters were poor people who were paid to take on the sins of the dead. It was believed this freed the deceased from walking the earth after death.”

    I’ve recently been reading about the 8th house and the ancestral legacy, and one post on Moonkissd Astrology blog was about 8th housers carrying issues and baggage that may not even be exclusively their own, but that of the ancestors – their unfinished karma now carried through us. It’s an idea I’ve come across many times when reading about the 8th, and it’s an interesting one (though I would say it shouldn’t absolve us from facing issues and taking responsibility for our lives).

    But it’s a similar idea to that of the 8th house and “sin-eating”… 🙂

  16. You know Elsa it’s a funny thing. I am an 8th house type too, but the killer is I have tried to dump my sins onto others not because I am a dumper but because I thought this is what you are suppose to do. I was at first the dumpee and thought this was the natural process of the dark side, I’ve been dumped on and so now it’s my turn to dump. Kind of like the game *Hot Potato* kids plays.

    The good news is cycles CAN be broken

  17. Daisy – I totally relate to that. After I posted, I remembered my riding instructor growing up. She was always very hard on us and very insistent that the horse was never at fault, it was always the rider. I didn’t realize the out-of-the-saddle significance of her teachings at the time, but now I find that her words are always coming back to haunt me even though I haven’t ridden horses in years.

    Thank goodness for teachers who help us to break unhealthy patterns!

  18. Going through an 8th house Saturn return right now….. and with Saturn (my ruling planet) conjunct Pluto as the leading planets on the rim of the bowl in my natal chart, you could say that this is something I’ve had some experience with. You would then be given the “Understatement of the Century’ award. What I don’t understand is how this ever works for anyone. If I tried it, I know it would blow up right in my face and then I would have an even bigger mess to clean up. People who do this, though, seek me out with some sort of laser guided precision, and their worst reactions are when I (attempt to) point out the how ineffective this tactic will be in the long run. People don’t like it when you call them out for sweeping their own dirt under someone else’s rug.

  19. I wonder if you could explain a bit more how this relates to the 8th house. I also have a stellium there – 5 planets including the sun – but I’m not sure I relate. Really curious about this though. thanks!

  20. This is really an interesting thread, Elsa. Having sun, mercury, north node and neptune in the 8th house in Scorpio and Saturn in Sagitarius in the 8th house, I know exactly what you are talking about. All my life has been about trying to live in the world and not be victimized by these powerful 8th house placements. One does pay a heavy social price for these and very rarely does one ever get sympathy for this specific challenge. But we were meant to have our place on earth, too. Being a hermit and working at a psych hospital are good. So is clairvoyance disguised as fortune telling. I’e included below a book that is really good, writen by another 8th house therapist:

    The Mysteries of the 8th House: House of Death & Transformation by Carmen Turner-Schott

  21. :). That’s a pretty brilliant connection to the shadow and shadow consciousness.

    The thing is though that the problem of projection isn’t just unconscious, it’s hardwired. And delusions can be utterly complete; people who blame others for their problems without addressing their own participation * do not see their participation*. It’s just blank there, and you hear HE DID and SHE SAID. Not only do you never hear I SAID; neither do they. They aren’t even aware of themselves.

    Now one thing about this is…we don’t see ourselves. We don’t see our behavior, we have no idea half the time that we’re even there. What we do see and experience is the behavior of *others*. Concurrently, we *feel* all kinds of stuff that others have no clue about. So there you are, feeling nothing but pain and being aware of no one else but the other — possibly everything about them *except their pain*. You know? We’ve got a collective pain-body going here.

    So even though this sin eater thing seems ludicrous to us, back then I am sure that whoever created these scenarios *absolutely believed every bit* of the whole mythology. You can’t take lack of awareness out of the equation because that’s what creates the syndrome of projection to begin with.

    They didn’t know any better. They know not what they do.

  22. Fascinating practice. I have been the projector and the projected, and have a tangible sense of the collective shadow. I think it’s lived out in our institutions, so many of us are manifestations of it, without necessariy personally ‘choosing’ it. Certain groups or types represent that collective shadow and are made to pay for what the mainstream doesn’t want to own, or isn’t collectively at a point of consciousness to integrate yet.

  23. What is considered a sin is kinduv confusing to me. Because I don’t do belong to a church I am sometimes considered a sinner. Strangers come to my house to save me, to get me to join up. It’s their mission as salesmen.

    The Jesus to me is not really about dying for sins but resurrecting. [an early Happy Easter]. It reminds me of eternity. The strange thing about the touting of Christianity (supposedly followers of the Christ) is that often there is exhibition and preaching of old testamant (before Christ) values and actions. You know the old booga booga punishing guy with a beard in the sky. And vie-ing for position in that godlike hierarchy to be the big booga booga on earth. The forgiveness belief ensures that whatever is done is forgiven.

    MJ82, the sins of the father is visited on the son is an old saying. It is indeed true. But as long as they have money it’ll all be okay, right? LOL.

    Oh well such is life in these crazy times. Enjoy the creation and follow the golden rule. That way I don’t have to eat any sins. Eat your own damn sins!

  24. Thanks Elsa! I’ve been around a while but somehow the system resets me to a new person every now and then. But then I get the lovely side-effect of being re-welcomed by you. 🙂

  25. 🙂

    “J” is familiar but you never know if you might be a new “J” so I take no chances!

    Hell no! I have Libra and I just won’t risk being rude. 🙂

  26. Oh, yeah! Uranus and Pluto in 8th house. There was a time in my life (much of it, in fact) that I believed I was truly responsible for other peoples’ issue because they were constantly blaming me for their crap. I am not that powerful. I am actually going through something like that now and almost slipped back into that old nonsense until I read this. Once again, thank you so much Elsa, you are a cosmic fairy godmother!

  27. This is deep stuff. I just have Pluto in the 8th house. Having Neptune in Scorpio conjunct the midheaven is good for creativity, but also confusion. Am I projecting onto others or is someone else projecting onto me?
    I get a quick kick in the butt when I project onto others.

  28. Avatar
    jonnala venkataramireddy


  29. Yes, the projection has to be owned at some point, no matter how hard you try to offload it. You can share your stuff with others energetically, and as an empath I sure do pick up others’ feelings, but not the core of it. By the way, the Bible is just the story of the zodiac and planets and their cycles. Jesus as the Son of God….is really just a symbol of the God of Sun.

  30. Was talking with a friend about non-profit work, and I thought of this thread.

    This happens to caregivers, now. The doctor is honored, but the people who sponge-bathe and spoon-feed the patient are unsung and unpaid. “You’re just a butt-wiper.”


  31. Ha ha Earth Dog. ‘I get a quick kick in the butt when I project onto others.’ I was not born licensed to do that either. 😀

  32. Scapegoats are the modern day sin eaters. God is not so relevant to modern times as the dollar has replaced the lord for most peopl . And therefore rituals of funerals and such have pervaded into everyday life as instant gratification is now salvation for most. It can boil down to the dynamics within the family or be as big as societal customs and local governing systems of oppression. Either way. The twisted view that the one holding the most sins of OTHERS will be damned is just not logical and more or less supports this neo christian view of blending earthly values into those that pertain to a desired afterlife. Basically you want the easy way out. There is non . Confession is the last of what is left to be in the light.

  33. No Elsa, but the other way around: someone try to do this with me: to let me put the cart. Horrible. At first I did not recognize it but now I am aware of it.
    Right on time. It is not over yet, but it will!!!

  34. Lazy a$$ Scapegoat seekers….always thinking that they can “off-load” their irresponsible behavior on others….

    Supported by many religious groups to keep people subservient. So so sad…today’s brilliant example of this phenomena MR RYAN LOTCHE…..Rio Olympics Smartass!!

    Hopefully, he will pay for his own “sins’ by paying a hefty compensation to at least 10 Brazilian Favelas!!

  35. Avatar

    I was apprenticed in the art of sin-eating pretty much straight from the womb. My mother put the shadow on me all my life for not measuring up to her standards. Which were, you must be thin, perfectly groomed at all times, and know how to act like an adult in every situation even though you are a child. Otherwise you are useless to me and the world and deserve any psychological abuse you get. But you know I love you, right?

    The endless double messages from my past make it difficult at times for me to believe most people don’t have dark motives behind the things they say. That’s where I put the shadow on others. I don’t blame them for my life decisions though.

  36. Avatar

    What complicates that is you may attract more than one person in your life as an adult who behaves in a similar way to what you grew up with. So that fear may be legitimate.

  37. Seems like it would be a bigger sin to take advantage of a hungry soul in an effort to reroute your sins, the epitome of selfishness and false pride. Condemn an innocent man to damnation while claiming absolution of your own sins? bah. I think God knows the real score. This is just silly mankind trying to stack the deck in their own favor.

  38. I was the designated sin eater for my “family” by virtue of the fact that I was born as the result of mom’s extramarital actvities. I guess they had some twisted idea that since I was “born of sin” it was okay to dump their sins on me.

    They are all dead to me now. Haven’t seen any of them for almost ten years. Free at last, free at last! 🙂

  39. This is me. I know that from reading Elsa’s blog for..(mental math) 7 years on the 30th of this month. I ought to do a chart for it. Anyway, I am just now trying to grasp the enormity of this. My astrologer friend said I was going through a rough long Pluto transit. Re: 8th house? Venus,Pluto, Uranus,a node ( the one that is not a challenge from the Taurean psst life) and my shadow grew it’s OWN shadow before I was in school. A lot of Elsa stories hit s familiar nerve. I found and continue to find myself in situations where I am like, what way is this weird? Why? I am also looking hospice work, as I’ve been a Death Doula multiple and guided people through the veil. I am not afraid of my own eventual exit, just wanted to accomplish much more than I have so far. ⏳??…..?

  40. My father was treated like a sin eater without his permission at all! There was a family business he jointly owned back in the 80’s. His partners/family members robbed his share of the profits and on top of that told everyone how horrible a person my father was because they made everyone believe he stole money. My father was treated like garbage and outcasted by his own family. They thought they could get away with it all these years. It’s a shame they didn’t know the little girl my father brought along to the family business on a regular basis was a Scorpio Moon/Saturn/Pluto!!! They can’t escape their karma. I put them on full blast on social media Scorpio Moon/Saturn/Pluto style recently and man oh man, they couldn’t come up with an excuse or anything because they were caught off guard Because they thought everything was laid to rest. Yeah not on my Scorpio watch. They still wouldn’t take responsibility. I made sure the truth pierced the family good and that my fathers name was finally cleaned and the questions were directed at the guilty parties. How can people think they get off clean?? Capricorn Pluto….love it now because of this lol

  41. Its like an odd scapegoat ritual. I think Neptune and 12th house are strong for the sacrificial aspect of this (willing or not), and the taking on of pain and shame reflect Pluto/8th house energy. Pluto is very mediumistic.

    1. I’m glad you pulled this post up with your comment. I was thinking about this week, when I came across the phrase, “soul-eater”.

  42. I think that is accurate. Pluto in scorpio 7h, as well as SN and Saturn. Also, venus in the 12h (morning star) squared by neptune.
    She’s the scapegoat alright… but her light will eventually shine through before the sun is even up. Transcendence is big in my book. Letting go and letting God is the lesson. New cycles usually bring redemption/rewards.

  43. Yes. Been there a lot with being blamed. It’s not a fun place to be, either. After so much of it, I snap back.

  44. Avatar
    Radha McChristy

    I relate to this amazing post in so many ways. When I was 12, I was at Summer Baptist Bible Camp. I was overcome by my love of God and wanted to dedicate my life to His service. But when they told me I now had a guaranteed place in heaven, I was like whoa! That made no sense at all. What if I were to….? It was an important insight and inflection point in my life’s journey. I also relate to this having a heavily populated 8th House. It has been a consciously accepted burden. Sometimes witnessed and not enjoyed.

  45. My guilty pleasure has been the housewives.. I started watching nyc which is not new but bethenny frankel super scorpionic is always the one theyre all dumping their bullshit blame on when they F up.. and dont want to own it so her drawing her cappy moon boundaries & scorpions cuts off then just pisses them off more becsuse the boundary exposes their guilt but to alleviate they blame further… shes so awful she’s such a bitch.. when she hasn’t even talked to them since ha

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