At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Sin-Eater?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A sin-eater is a traditional type of spiritual healer who uses a ritual to cleanse the dying of their sins. The sin-eater absorbs the sins of the people he or she serves and typically works for a fee. As the sins are usually consumed through food and drink, the sin-eater also gains a meal through the transaction. Sin-eaters are often outcasts, as the work may be considered unsavory and is usually thought to lead to an afterlife in hell due to carrying the unabsolved sins of others. The Roman Catholic Church regularly excommunicated sin-eaters when they were more common, not only because of the excessive sins they carried, but also because they infringed upon the territory of priests, who are supposed to administer Last Rites to the dying according to Church Doctrine.

The sin-eater saves the dying not only from hell, but also from wandering the earth as a ghost - thereby performing a service for the living as well. In some traditions, sin-eaters perform their work for the moribund, while in others, the ritual takes place at the funeral. The sin-eater is usually associated with the British Isles, but there are analogous customs in other cultures as well.

A sin-eater may recite special prayers during a ritual.
A sin-eater may recite special prayers during a ritual.

A sin-eater typically consumes bread as part of the ritual of taking on the dying person's sins. He or she may also eat salt or drink water or ale. Sometimes, special breads are baked for the purpose of the sin-eating ritual, perhaps featuring the initials or image of the deceased. The meal is sometimes passed over the dead or dying body or placed on its breast to symbolize its absorption of the person's sins. The sin-eater may also recite a special prayer.

Sin-eating was popular in Bavaria, in southern Germany.
Sin-eating was popular in Bavaria, in southern Germany.

Some cultures have customs that are similar to sin-eating and may have evolved from more traditional forms of the ritual. Instead of a designated, outcast sin-eater serving a village, for example, the deceased's nearest relatives may perform the service, as was once traditional in Bavaria and the Balkan Peninsula. In the Netherlands and some parts of England, ritual baked goods were given to the attendants or pallbearers at a funeral. This latter tradition lived on for a time in New York. Today, the custom of the sin-eater has largely died out, though it is often referenced in popular culture.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I believe god was a sin eater who's bound to this universe because he believed we could find a way to believe in each other and reach him free of sin one day.


Sin eating is not something someone consciously chooses to become/do!


@anon18278: If you read about Jesus absorbing the sins of people, then you should have also read that he claimed humans have the power to absorb sins as well.


I think I was born this way. I never asked for it. It just happened. It became too much after I turned 35 years old, so I stopped listening. But still people still talk!


@anon220996: How does one stop being a sin eater?


I think most of you misunderstand the concept of "sin-eaters." Don't believe everything you see in a slick Hollywood movie.

The practice (and yes, there are a few in existence) is not about the taking on of actual sin. It is taking the pain and suffering, the guilt and torment brought about by the things one has done and transferring that into another vessel (the sin-eater).

There is a saying, "We're not punished for our sins but by them." It was believed that a soul could not ascend to heaven or leave the Earthly plane if it was weighed down by too much sin. The sin-eater would take on that burden so the soul could be free. But this practice was not (and is not) limited to the dead or dying. It has often been performed with the suicidal and mentally ill.

And while it is possible, it is not something that can be taught and I doubt you will ever find a true "sin-eater" in your lifetime -- at least you won't know it if you have. The burdens put on them are far too heavy to announce their presence. It is probably all they can do to take the pain and anguish of those they love. Doing it for others, with or without monetary compensation wouldn't be worth it.


The weight of the world is not one spirit's duty to bear. The sins of those around us are not ours for the hiding. The sin eater takes into themselves the emotions associated with sins of different levels and spares loved ones from having the knowledge of those sins.

The sin eater is alone in this quest to "protect" others from the damage the sins can cause. It is a fragile and unpredictable thing to expose secrets that could affect so many.

Making this a Christian issue or other pigeon-holed faction is ludicrous! It has nothing to do with religion-- it is emotionally charged and protection geared. If you do not walk in the same shoes, how can you ever expect to understand what it means?

It is a horrible responsibility to walk through life hiding the sins of others, saving them from their own misguided actions and burying it within to spare the rest. It is not religion; it is in the heart. To assume it lies in any other part of the human condition is an uneducated and ignorant finger point.


It is a gift; it cannot be taught. You either are a possessor of the gift or you are not. Do not look to become something you have not been given the rights to. Find your own power within yourself and leave this unfortunate ability on those who come by it through natural means or you will fail in your attempts.

Why would anyone who does not have this gift want to force it into themselves? You cannot possibly know all it entails. "Faking" the gift is worse than having it. Be careful of the trade in your seeking to become a sin eater. It is not a glamorous position. Those who are true sin eaters did not wish it on themselves, nor should anyone else.


The sin eater is anyone who knows the family secret that no one is willing to face and says it out loud. They are then despised by the people who wanted to keep the family secret unspoken. It could be any "thing" in the dysfunctional family dynamic. Like dad is a drunk. Uncle harry is a child molester. Daddy is a womanizer etc, etc. Killing the messenger is another form.


I thought sin-eaters also ate fruit, especially apples. It certainly would make sense, given the fact in the Christian religion the association of the "apple" with the concept of original sin.


I also became quite interested in a sin eater after watching The Order with Heath Ledger. One interesting part of the movie talks of forgiveness outside of the church, hence the sin eater and also mentions that Christ himself in the Bible (correct me if I am wrong) forgives a thief being crucified next to him -- outside of the church.

As for those who say or believe in no God, that is your choice and decision, but I served eight years with the Special Forces Rangers, and four of those all over the Middle East and two in Afghanistan. Near the end of my eight years, I was approached and made the -- proverbial offer you can't refuse and continue doing Uncle Sam's Dirty Work.

I've been shot over four times, cut/stabbed over 26 times and had vehicles I was in blown up. I've done, seen and still have nightmares of things no human should live with, yet something --call it what you will -- kept me alive, comforted and protected me when I should have been dead more times than I can count.

No, I'm not here to preach or brag but to give another viewpoint and something for the armchair warriors to consider and reflect on. To those who would scoff or berate my posting, before you do, let me know when you've walked in my boots or lived a year of my life then you'll have earned that right. Do I believe? Damn right I do because he's shown me he believes in me. Vaya con dios.


How can one be a sin-eater, what about that one's own sin? In that case, can everyone be a sin-eater? Thanks, CC


Only you can be responsible for your sins or Jesus would not have said that we have to be one with the father, meaning one with the omnipresence wrongly referred to as God.

Jesus would not have been a sin eater because he was an Essene and believed and taught that salvation was within us.

It is the creation of the elite that twisted the crucifixion and Jesus's life into a satanic ritual and reverse psychology crap. “No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God's seed (DNA)remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten of God.” I John 3:9.

Jesus said that we are without sin when we are one with the "Father" or creator.


To anon70671: You said, "I think that all you arrogant christians should stop telling people what to believe. god doesn't do crap for anyone. he wants you to worship him and he sits on his throne."

By telling us that "god doesn't do crap for anyone," aren't you telling us what we should believe, thus going against your first statement?

And to anon40937: you said, "You know i think it is kind of funny how ignorant most of you people sound. You say that the sin eater doesn't exist because *you* don't believe. How about this: you people don't exist because i don't believe in you." So are you saying that sin-eaters exist because *you* believe in them?


anon18937: You are in for a rude awakening if you believe there is no God and how arrogant one must be to deny the existence of a God. How do you think we are all here? Something cannot be made of nothing.

There is no other explanation for the universe other than a creator, created it. You can try to hide from the truth but it will not change anything- there is and always will be a God. This God sent His son (the one and only true sin eater) to die for mankind.

You can choose to deny Him or accept Him, but it's your choice. I pray you will accept Him.


I just watched the movie "the Last Sin Eater". I wonder if it is "truthful"? Years ago I saw a tv program with the same guy who played John boy on the Waltons who did a Sin-Eater thing on maybe Twilight Zone? I wonder if this is/was a really Welsh custom? It was a good movie, and had a Christian ending.


My birthday is Dec. 22. I have always felt like a Sin-eater, even if I don't like the idea.

Just yesterday I looked up my birth date with the Mayan wheel. I am Tlazolteotl. Funny that I am a dirt woman. I love to be barefooted in soil. I love to pick up rocks. I have found treasure.

The part that has always fascinated me is that I see spirits who give me treasure from the ground. Now after reading the description of a sin-eater, maybe those spirits are paying me to take them home. Now I wonder what will be happening on my birthday 2012? Will it still be here to commune with?


i think that all you arrogant christians should stop telling people what to believe. god doesn't do crap for anyone. he wants you to worship him and he sits on his throne. while the churches take your money and turn you into narrow-minded buffoons. sin-eaters are real but whether or not they do anything (due to my belief that sins hold no sway over god) is debated.


Just to let some of you know the truth. My family is irish. i was born there and raised on the old ways, thus including sin eating. Some say that jesus died for our sins. This is true. However, what about the ten sins man can commit and not be forgiven for? Also known as the ten commandments. It is our gift to them to eat their sins so they can go and enjoy the afterlife. I believe a lot of it is how you were raised and the beliefs you grew up with.

Necro 96


i've got a story for you! My grandma was like 70 percent Cherokee. Last year she was dying and i went down to florida to see her. I and my two aunts were in the room with her at her bedside.

my aunt asked her what she was looking at and my grandma told us there was an old man siting next to me. After a few mins of her watching this man, she said something about the apples in the room!

Then she said, "i know who you are now." i asked her, "who is he?" she said, "A sin eater!" and she laid back and said i don't have any sins!"

i don't care what any of you all think. i know my grandma and i know what i saw!


Any thoughts on the Tom Hanks movie " The Green Mile" and how the huge black guy served as a "Sin Eater?"


We're all sin-eaters -- except, possibly, the uncommon sociopath.

Any of you that have listened to the pain and suffering of others, their problems at work and at home. any of you that have listened to problems you both know that you couldn't fix, then watched them leave feeling better, while you wondered what you were supposed to do with the information they conveyed.

Howdy. You're a sin-eater. Confession is an important part of our social network. Receiving confession is an equally important part.


Does this mean that when we eat after a funeral we are eating away their sins?


Jesus came to take the sins of the world. We don't need men to eat our sins. Jesus has done it for us. It really is that simple. The burden of taking our sins lies in God. Let Him forgive your sins. As far as sin eaters go, they don't need to carry such a burden. God sent His son to die for us so sin eaters wouldn't have to pay the price.


You know i think it is kind of funny how ignorant most of you people sound. You say that the sin eater doesn't exist because *you* don't believe. How about this: you people don't exist because i don't believe in you. Try looking up facts and not movies if you want the truth. Look in Wicca for the truth. --

Wiccan Princess


Sin eaters still do exist. And they do not take on the suffering for free, nor are they expected to perform their service for free. Shamans do not perform their works for free. Medicine Men/Women do not perform their services for free. Other spiritual healers do not perform their services for free. Catholic priests and Baptist ministers do not perform their services for free.

Sin eaters have many names, and their rituals are equally as varied as their names and religions. I believe it was the Christians who coined the word sin-eater. Many eastern healing techniques involve "removing" Karma (sin)from the subject in order for the spirit of the person to heal and evolve. There are Native American healing techniques which involve taking the "corrupted spirit" into the medicine man/woman, and then the medicine man/woman later expels the spirit into another realm.

All of these techniques work to heal the spirit.


To: void 2010...

An answer to your post maybe...

Sin Eater - Google Books Result

by Isaac DeLuca - 2005 - Religion - 64 pages

This book is a guide to those who would become such a person, and serves as a manual for a successful ministry as a sin eater.


I have a friend from Clackmannan, Scotland whose uncle is a known Sin-Eater. People seek him out for the purpose of taking their loved ones sins. We were never allowed to watch the ceremony but, *it did happen!*


What a Sin eater is or isn't would depend on your belief system; if you have no belief system then obviously this concept is going to seem ludicrous: so why bother putting a narrow minded view of something you can't understand?

Also, not all sin eaters are of the Christian faith, nor do they go by that name.

Sin Eaters did exist. It is historical fact. Whether they still do, is a point of contention; does it work, can't be answered by someone who hasn't had the experience or has no faith: the whole idea is a spiritual and faith-based idea.

Why do people who don't believe in God talk about God like there is one and then finish up by saying God doesn't exist? How is that suppose to work?


Please do yourself the favor of watching the movie "The last sin eater". It is based on the novel by Francine Rivers. This book will portray the hopelessness on this earth without God's amazing plan for humankind....that He humbled himself to come in an earthly body to do what not one human being is able to do...to give hope and forgiveness of sins once and FOR ALL - if you are only available to accept the free gift of salvation and live for the One who gave Himself for you. If you don't agree, read the Bible first and then decide.....


People become sin-eaters for a lot of reasons some think themselves god's others because they want to make sure the ones they love go to a better place. Unless you have made the choice they have, you can never understand them.


Why is it that whenever you are discussing anything that doesn't agree with church (a lot of things, mind you, and they'd just burn anyone for not agreeing with them if they still could), Christians always throw "Jesus Christ" and bible into your face?

What is interesting though, is that by this concept, all the sins should stay on earth, while the dead pass on cleansed. If Sin-Eating persisted and suppose it really worked, then in some millenniums, the earth would be full of people carrying over hundreds of sins from hundreds of generations. Is that really productive, as in: last one loses?

Of course, it still wouldn't work, cause anyone can choose, to do it or not... but still.


the last sin eater is a great movie check it out!


void2010: A pretty good book that teaches you some basics is:

Sin Eater: A Ministry of Suffering you can find it on amazon.

anon18937: As have core to understand the world around us you are held responsible. But what you fail to notice is the sin eater does have a choice upon taking what has been done unto him self. The sin eater does not have to show up.

anon18278: Some people do like to find other ways by either being ashamed of what they have done and would rather it go unnoticed as they pass into heaven. And in their own belief john may not be be as true they are only apostles not god himself or jesus.

anon16350: there are truth folklore and lies behind anything it depends what you believe to be true

anon15237:maybe some think they are god but all do not. I have read the bible do you not ask for forgiveness through someone? Where does it say that someone cannot pay for what you have done? Families pay for the sins of their for father all the time. We pay for adam and eve if you believe in them. A sin eater can be just a messenger of god deciding if you are valid to go to heaven or not.

On a side note I aso think that sin eating is a away to escape from what you have done but it is also necessary for some who's goods out weight the bad. It maybe a way for a family to not pay for what a member has done. A sin eater is generally a beggar or a out cast out of choice or out of scrutiny because of how people treat them.


How arrogant are christians to assume they actually know they mind of their god? Only even more arrogant than the leaders of their churches, who refuse to offer absolution to those they promised to guide and protect, while exerting enough power and greed to become the single most wealthy (and corrupt) power in the history of the human race.

Wake up, people - there is no god to save you, no sin-eater to absolve you when the church has found you in disfavor, no messiah to relieve you of your burden - YOU are responsible for yourself, and only YOU can allow yourselves to be free of this tyranny.


Yes, I have watched "The Order". That's also how I heard about sin eaters for the first time. It is true that there have been people that have tried to do this. But there is no real truth in it at all! People think that it works, but honestly....do you really think that one person (besides Jesus Christ) can do this? I think not! But I have done some research on sin eaters and they did, and probably still do exist today. But I wouldn't go searching for one, when the TRUE sin eater is very easy to find!! Read JOHN 3:16


Have you seen the movie, "The Order", with Heath Ledger? I just watched and was hence introduced to the idea of "sin eating". Is there any truth behind this movie or the concept of sin eating?


Sin-Eaters think they are God. They are deceiving others as well as themselves! The only One that can truly take on the burden of our sins and forgive them is Jesus Christ!! Try reading the bible for the answers you are searching for! God Bless!!


Do you know of any living sin eater, or of how one can become a sin eater? Thank you.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • A sin-eater may recite special prayers during a ritual.
      By: memo
      A sin-eater may recite special prayers during a ritual.
    • Sin-eating was popular in Bavaria, in southern Germany.
      By: max_776
      Sin-eating was popular in Bavaria, in southern Germany.