The Sin Eater.

Whether its Vampires, Frankenstein’s Monster or the Walking Dead, Modernity has a fascination with those who manage to negotiate the razor’s edge of what should be a pretty clear divide between sending out for pizza and dialing 911.

The confusion is then complicated by the question of which realm we are headed towards once the issue of whether we are sufficiently dead to qualify has been adequately settled.

Trying to exert influence over this might seem like a waste of time given the amount of life’s unheeded prayers, but up until the Industrial Revolution it was not uncommon for those at Death’s door, either side of it was good, to employ a ‘Sin-eater’ in order to swing the odds.

The Sin-eater, a person otherwise shunned by the community and living at its fringes, was tasked with taking on the sins of the departed/ing in order to facilitate their passage to a better place. This they did by ritually eating special bread over the corpse/to-be, and washing down their wickednesses with milk or cider.

Tradition dictated that a fee of sixpence also be levied. Even Sin-eaters have to live..

..for now.

The sin-eater represents something for which we seem to have no contemporary equivalent, the collision of love and hate that wishes the departed/ing safe passage whilst admitting the need to bus in a little extra help.

Dining on damnation had to be the world’s worst freelance gig; but the important thing is that the practice spoke to an implicit consensus that a person’s soul is not as discreet an entity as we might like to think.

We live in a soup of psychic material that can make it difficult to determine who’s ‘stuff’ belongs to who before the veil is even lifted, assuming that whatever we are suffering from must be the product of our own experience.

‘It is unsettling to imagine experiencing feelings and thinking
thoughts that are in an important sense, not one’s own.’ [Ogden

It nevertheless remains that in early life, and for those who remain there too long, the contents of our inner world are readily..

‘engendered in and processed by another. . . thereby relieving the self of the effects of containing them.’[ibid]

A man came to see me complaining of depression. He seemed more henpecked than depressed. It turned out his wife had sent him to see me and left him on the same day. It was too co­incidental. She had offloaded something on this man and then fled the scene to her new life.

I enquired about the ‘depression’. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘my wife told me it was depression and she is usually right about these things’. ‘What about the wife’s depression?’, I asked. He seemed surprised, ‘well, she used to be depressed when I first met her but she is much better now.’ I suggested to him that this might be because he was now carrying it for her.

He was not depressed but he was easily loaded down. We could meet to speak about that if he wished. He perked up. Next week he told me that when he got home there was a message from her on the answer phone, left at the time of our session, to say that she had suddenly felt overwhelmed with depression and desperately needed to talk to him! His house cleaning had immediately returned her chickens to roost.

Psychic material can be traded. Even Jesus dying for your sins is the first line in an arrangement that will involve crippling remorse and loads of being sorry..

‘Christian children all must be mild obedient good as he..’

People making amends for one another’s sins is as old as the hills. We fear its evil twin Contamination just as much, and with good cause, as any afternoon visit to the asylum will happily confirm.

madness is contagious.

and if you work in the place you will quickly be accosted by your own delusions of grandeur.

Karen Horney says that children deal with trauma in one of three ways, by either going Towards, Away or Against the object of their suffering. Those who chose to go ‘towards’ are often highly empathic in adult life. They are the backbone of the caring profession, teaching, public service.

But they are also prone to contagion by parental/collective ideals, undigested by anyone else in the family, that they carry or live out for Others as one of life’s crosses or as fate, but whose? The willingness to please can mean being a host to unbridled parental demons that have a way of sucking the life out of you.

Sometimes it can kill.

I spent three tours of duty subjugating already impoverished people and getting shot at before I realised I was high on something that had nothing to do with me. It had to do with a father who’s son was to be maryred for his country according to some hidden narrative. I was a bit player in an ancient drama. My death was so assured in his scripted mind, his debt to God so complete in its payment, that he even sold my stuff.

The adaptive child does not stop at being good. They are compelled to collude with unspoken parental expectations that the child live out a certain ideal, quite often something the parent has not managed to do for themselves and so needs to acheive by proxy.

What can develop is the riteous stance of having fulfilled a host of obligations fueled by the simmering fury of never having been truly seen or witnessed…

wiv croutons of centralised power and palling up to the gods..

Somehow whatever system seems to be in power it always winds up with autocrats playing god. Turkey has just voted to put all its powers in the hands of one man, having fought for centuries to escape the grip of autocracy. Within a generation of liberty, equality, fraternity, France had an emperor.  How does it happen?

It happens because that’s the way we like it. Rulers who think they are God are our style. It means that we can do it too.

The danger is that if you give a narcissist an army he will be obligated to pick a quarrel with his neighbours, with anyone…and not just for the adrenalin, the sure sense of purpose so necessary to inner chaos, nor even the kudos or the booty, the noble regime change nor base rape and pillage, not even the laurels of victory themselves but for the sake of being the right hand of God.

The possibility that identities can overlap helps us to understand why we put people into power who are bound to abuse it, since what we suffer at their hands is outweighed by permission to take example from them, to identify with them and play God in our own small way.

Watching Kim jong Un’s parade last week I realised that what so scared me about the tyrant was that his face beemed with spontaneous joy at what his heart knew was entirely orchestrated, by him.

Thousands of people moved like chess pieces but made to seem as though they had just spilled onto the pavement from the 9.05 to Pyongyang, all carefully wearing slightly different suits and the occasional shirt sleeve to create the illusion of a spontaneous and prosperous people all exuberant for the great leader, thronging through town, though also all in rows and waving like they had been taught it by a drill instructor.

Kim had created a reality so perfect in its conception that he was taken in by it himself. Isn’t that what God does? The people, all in mystical colour coded union with one another, individual trials and tribulations washed away by identification with the Great Leader who binds them to the Gods whilst propitaiting and gaining protection from them on the People’s behalf.

And yes, of course, the people are oppressed, but you have to wonder, given that whether its Mao in Communist China, Hitler in Fascist Germany or Stalin in Socialist Russia, the similarities seem greater than their differences. Which suggests an X in Humanity’s meaning-of-life equation…

until you recall that playing God is encouraged by the glorious leader and that sins can be traded.

provided you have the coin.







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Psychotherapist/writer/artist/ author of, 'Going Mad to Stay Sane', a psychology of self-destructiveness, about to come into its third edition. Soon to be printed for the first time, 'Abundant Delicious.. the Secret and the Mystery', described by activist Satish Kumar as, ' A Tao of the Soul'. This book documents the archetypal country through which the process of individuation occurs and looks at the trials and tribulations we might expect on the way. In the meantime..... Narcissisim is the issue of our age. This blog looks at how it operates, how it can damage and how we may still fruit despite it.

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