\ Break out the good stuff, it's sin-eating time | unlimitedi.net
Skip to main content

Break out the good stuff, it's sin-eating time

Taokan's picture

Hello, everyone! My name is Taokan. Now, before I start to create my first character, I thought I'd start up a discussion of a key part of that character's life, that of being a Sin-Eater.

The Buffyverse does have this habit of dead bodies stacking up, particularly dead bodies filled with guilt and loss and sin, and Sin-Eaters are old England and Scotland (and parts of America)'s answer to that, in the form of a really cool ritual. In it, a dead person's sins would be consumed upon their death in the form of meat and drink, (somewhat similiar to other Christian rites, only more macabre) typically performed by a beggar or otherwise disenfranchised persons, who would then offer a toast/prayer to the corpse: 'I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.' "Afterwards," says wikipedia, "they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which s/he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption."

So, cool. That's nice.

Now, sin-eaters are a fascinating concept all on their own, even more so when considered in the context of a world wherein the dead may not lie obligingly still while the sin-eater putters around with the salt and the wine and the magical religosity. Cooperation is key. Unfortunately, everything I've been able to read about the ritual is dissapointingly vague about what happens to the sin-eater if the person who's sin they had eaten was, say, a vampire. Or a witch. Even if it was a completely normal (dead) person with normal sins, in the context of the Buffyverse, there may well be bigger reppurcussions, both for the dead person and the sin-eater, and if that dead person is indeed a zombie or somesuch sort of demon who could very well see it as an attack, well. That's even more interesting. In the Chinese proverb sense, mind, but intersting nonetheless.

So, before I create my character, the very concept of sin-eating has to be nailed down.

First, there's that whole "vampire" thing. The lore actually does come out and say that sin-eaters are "held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices," so yeah, I think that it's safe to assume that whoever is doing the perpetuating of this ritual knows about the less savory bumping in the night, and would have made a few key revisions to the ritual because of it. We're talking chains, sure, but that takes up a lot of space that could have been used for salt to garnish the dead guy's ham sandwich with. So, less with the chains, and more with binding spells and magics, all designed to keep that dead guy on his butt where he belongs. In that case, it's likely that Sin-Eaters are, if not witches or warlocks, at least knowledgable enough to bring along a pencil for staking or something.

So let's say that, one way or another, you've got your corpse, and you've your physical manifestations of their sins, I.E. lunch, laid out and ready, and you dig in. What happens then? What about if the dead person in question's a vampire or something, what happens? Does the sin-eater absorb the demon or a portion of it's powers and memory, ala Rogue, or weaken it in some other fashion? Maybe the demon is expelled completely from the corse along with the rest of the dead soul's sins, or the sin-eater really does corrode their own soul, as the people who summoned sin-eaters in the past thought, only more so? Does anything happen? 

I, myself, think it would depend on the strength of the vampire; how old it is, that sort of thing. Particularly strong vampires would probably be able to resist being expelled or absorbed or what have you, while weaker ones would be absorbed right along with the sins. Now, I don't think the sin-eater would then be possessed themselves, being practiced at absorbing sins, but it is possible that a strong vampire could allow themselves to be eaten on purpose, in order to possess the sin-eater. Vampires are tricky like that.

In regards to the state of the sin-eater's soul, it depends both on how long they've been a sin-eater, and how strong of character they are. Still, without magical assistance of some kind, the sin-eater will eventually be overwhelmed by all the evil they have taken within themselves, no matter how strong-willed or good that person may have started out. My character will be partway through this process , having been a sin-eater for less than a year, but that is quite long enough for her to have acquired more than a few, let's call them quirks. 

As a side note, according to the movie The Last Sin-Eater, you shouldn't make eye-contact with a sin-eater, but that's just part and parcel of the whole "you just ate the sins of a foul-mouthed incestuous murderer, you foul-mouthed incestuous murderer, you," and nothing bad will happen to characters that do. Probably.

Wow. I really love this

Heather's picture

Wow. I really love this character concept. I do have some thoughts on the questions you raised, and I think it pretty much follows the pattern you were talking about.

It seems to me that if a Sin-Eater were to attempt to eat the sins of a vampire (currently undead as opposed to really dead and dusted), then you'd end up either with one corpse (ex-vampire, but doesn't dust because no longer has a demon) and one Sin-Eater with a serious case of indigestion, or in the case of anything other than a fairly new vampire, you'd end up with the Sin-Eater overloading and going foom while the vampire remains a vampire, though he might feel a little off his game for a day or two. If the vampire were already dusted, I think nothing would happen.

In something easier than an umpteen-word sentence:

If the vampire is new, then Sin-Eater gets big wallop of nastiness and the vampire turns into a regular corpse. Those who wish to be on the safe side may still want to cremate it.

If the vampire is not so new, then if the Sin-Eater is ballsy enough to attempt it she'd end up overwhelmed and probably dead, and the vampire would suffer little to no ill-effect.

How you'd determine where that line gets drawn is a different matter. And it'll be somewhat of a sliding scale, I'm sure. A one-year vampire may be relatively easy to digest, a 20-year vampire might be borderline, and a 50-year vampire ends up with a Sin-Eater who's very dead.

It is a definately

Kaarin's picture

It is a definately interesting concept. Putting aside the issue of vampires for a moment (which raise their own tricky issues), but on a more pratical concern. Binding spells and magic generally still would require some form of preparation - less so, but some things just don't raise an eyebrow really. Sure, you keep a back of rocksalt and chains in your car; you live in New York. It gets cold. "Oh, that's just for the snow."

The other interesting thing is that, within the context of the Buffyverse, soul primarily seems to imply a conscience and the ability to choose to do good for the sake of doing good. What you're alleviating is the consciously chosen evil. Something that could be considered with the process in general. Regarding vampires, they're creatures who: (1) Lack a soul, and (2) Have a demon animating them. Which raises a broader question: can a sin-eater take in the evil of a demon? If so, they'd probably be able to fully absolve a vampire.

If they can't... that gets trickier. On the one hand: the soul appears to be a conscience in the Buffyverse; the demon also appears to animate the person at least as a corruption of the host. What we end up having there is the sin-eater able to take on the evil of the personality before, and bring that into themselves, but not the demon. It may well depend on the individual case, but I can see a case being made for a number of possibilities:

  • You just made a schizophrenic vampire
  • You just released the demon's hold on the body (no more inherent evil to hold on to) and let them finally rest in peace
  • You just made the vampire really, really angry and apocalypticy

It might well still be an effect of age. It's likely also going to be too much for them to take in after a certain point.

One definate thing I can see in a more general sense: at least reliving some of the more heinous sins when that happens. Which is probably a chore in itself. Even failing that, at least the associated guilt. It's probably what leads to it weighing down heavily; like everything else, if you become accustomed to enough evil, eventually the impact of that evil comes back in the form of either a blase attitude towards it and a genuine difficulty having empathy with others, or going down a psychotic route. One could see a sin-eater who didn't have any kind of help start to see everyone as sinners, and become a serial killer of those they judged in need of help. After all, if they're dead, they can't sin anymore and can be absolved - all you're doing is giving up a bit of yourself to help them.

Just some possible food for thought, but do like the concept overall.

Just some possible food for

mrdave2176's picture

Just some possible food for thought, but do like the concept overall.

That is some horrible punning there.


Logan's picture

Very cool. Im not going to get into as much detail as Heather and Kaarin, but I think it's definitely something original and interesting. Can't wait to see more!

My thoughts on it are similar

mrdave2176's picture

My thoughts on it are similar to your, although I have a slightly different take on what their role is in the Buffyverse.

I see a Sin-Eater as a specialist ritual witch.  They have a special talent to subsume and purge sins, enchantments, curses, hexes, and entities.  Using a ritual that is specific to what is being purged they bind the "effect" to the "food" and then consume the food.  Then they "Digest" the food and thereby eliminate the effect.  And presumably the become a sin-pooper later on.

So to grant absolution of sins...stale bread and a bowl of ale is sufficient.

To purge a gypsy curse might take a roast lamb and a glass of single-malt scotch.

To remove a demon from a vampire: Matsutake Mushroom and Fugu soup and a glass of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1982.

And even having performed the ritual is no guarantee that you can "digest" it and it might require a second ritual to cleanse yourself or even another sin-eater to help you clean yourself of the contamination.

It might also be possible to MOVE an enchantment via food to another host.  Got a spell on the wrong person?  Perform the ritual and have your new host consume the meal.  Just an idea.

Remember Accuracy isn't the goal here...drama is.  The more dramatic the better.


Love this

Firefly's picture

I really find this idea fascinating and like the potential it brings to the game.  My mind is spinning with ideas.  I wonder how and why someone would become a sin-eater.  Is it like a calling? Is it passed from person to person? How do you learn to do it? So many ideas...

Oh! I love the idea of

Taokan's picture

Oh! I love the idea of different food and drink combinations being used to achieve different effects! Wonderful extension of the concept, mrdave! I hadn't even thought of that, but it makes perfect sense, as well as opening up further options for play, making them much more useful in combat situations in particular.

I also liked the possibility of having to perform another cleansing ritual, or bringing in another sin-eater. This plays in perfectly with what everyone else brought up earlier, as well. Any one of those options is just as likely to happen as any other, depending on the situation and the vampire/sin-eater in question, and just as enjoyable to play through, to my mind. It would be just as entertaining playing through the fallout from a bungled curse-removal as it would to play off a very angry vampire facing off a sin-eater with a bellyache. It would depend on the writers, I would think, and how they feel like playing it off.

The sort of psychological and magical aftereffects of sin-eating are an interesting subject, as well, and one I completely agree with. Even a well-meaning sin-eater can become unhinged in time, bowed under the weight of lifetimes' worth of sins that they are now forced to carry, by their own choice. Oh, yes, it is very easy to see one becoming the villain. There's probably quite a history of sin-eaters going rogue and committing a few sins of their own, which probably does very little for their reputation. Assuming that it carried over to the modern era, the very contradiction of their existence, of being feared and hated and needed all the more for that hate could easily cause feelings of bitterness and alienation towards those they help. Add a truly terrifying curse, and a demon or two and you've got the recipe for disaster. One assumes new sin-eaters know the risk going in, adding a whole new flavor to the decision.

And far as the food goes, you could argue that, to a certain extent, intent plays a huge role in the ritual -- the food being, of course, a representation of a purely abstract concept, it would seem logical that  sin-eaters could use whatever food and drink they had on hand, but this is definitely not recommended. Except in emergency, most sin-eaters would not attempt it. The reason being, a sin-eater's whole existence is based around ritual. In many cases, practitioners would probably have been attracted to it in the first place for just this reason, or out of a sense of duty, or what have you. From my understanding, magic in the Buffyverse depends quite a lot on the state of mind of the caster; making such a drastic change to a custom they have performed for years, their entire life, could have a worse effect on the ritual than the unpredictability you would expect from such a change. There are always exceptions, of course, and if one has the correct mindset (read: life and death situation) to make it past this mental roadblock, well, the result is still up in the air. Again, it would depend entirely on the author, if this is the case.

On another note, I was also terribly amused by a website I visited in researching sin-eaters, which mentions that in addition to the generally accepted notion that sin-eaters go to hell, most of them were excommunicated on top of it. Seems kind of like overkill to me, neh? Apparently its partly because they were seen as usurping the place of priests and their performing of last rites, and it being the days when they were handing out excommunications like Halloween candy, nobody seemed terribly inclined otherwise. Could have some interesting ramifications on gameplay, too, but then, I'm not sure if excommunication has ever been discussed here or on the show, yet.

Since knowing food and its

mrdave2176's picture

Since knowing food and its properties might be a factor a Food Critic or Chef might make an excellent "real world" job for a sin-eater. Restaurateur?

The Roman Catholic Church as an institution is sort of a non-player in the Buffyverse.  It is portrayed as largely impotent and useless.  There are religious cults but they are fringe groups unaffiliated with any of the major religious institutions.  Presumably the Church of England has some sort of arrangement with the Watcher's Council of England but it is never spoken of.

I am trying to make Pablo's strongly Catholic training/upbringing a factor so he will have some interest in people's standing within church.  But short of having been actively ex-communicated (which isn't really as bad as it sounds...it just means kicked out). or having been labeled an enemy of the church (much worse!) then being a non-Catholic isn't a big deal to him.


I think you have enough to

mrdave2176's picture

I think you have enough to start a concept.  I look forward to hearing what you have!

Facebook Share