Live From Appalachia #2

When the Catholic church sent priests to the British Isles, they ran into a lot of strange religions and practices. One practice was called the “sineater.” When someone died, the sineater came to the viewing and was given food, usually over the corpse. He would eat it, and then he would be responsible for that person’s sins.

As Christianity teaches that Christ died for our sins, the priests had a bit of a problem with this practice. It stayed, but the sineater would be someone who had committed some heinous crime. The outcast would only allowed to be around people was at a viewing, where food or money would be handed across the body.

My aunt actually saw this event when she was a child. She described the man in horrific detail. His hair was wild, matted and dirty. His clothes were rags, and everything about him was vile. He smelled horrendous and managed to terrify her completely. An older relative performed the part, handing food across the dead body. The man grabbed it and ran.

It’s hard to say what has stopped this practice…if it has stopped. I suspect part if it is that the area is more developed and there are few if any places an outcast of that nature can hide. Education may also play a part. The Appalachian sineater I described above became an outcast for religious reasons, being able to actually read the Bible may have given people more knowledge about their faith.

Society could also play a part. Until the early 1900s, the area consisted of small, isolated communities. The railroad and the automobile changed that. Whatever the reason, while I hope the practice doesn’t exist, the history of it should not be forgotten.