Spine-chilling Characters in Real Life and Fiction: The Sin-Eater
Sin-eaters really existed from pre-Christian times to the end of the 19th century. They were summoned to the bedside of a dead person, with the objective of absorbing their sins by eating and drinking food placed on the corpse’s body, thereby enabling the deceased to continue his journey to afterlife in a sinless manner.
Many sin-eaters were beggars, and the custom was carried out in different parts of the British Isles, including Yorkshire and Wales, until mid-19th century. The last Sin-eater reportedly died in Shropshire, in 1906.
The Eyre Hall Trilogy is not a horror story, but there some sinister characters and events in the novels, which are set in Victorian England. Last year leading up to Halloween, I wrote a post about a spine-chilling Sin-Eater, Isac das Junot, who appears in All Hallows at Eyre Hall.
If you would like to read an extract of Junot’s visit to Eyre Hall in All Hallows at Eyre Hall, follow this link. If you’d like to read an extract of Junot’s visit to Eyre Hall in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, continue reading this post.
Chapter XIX – Junot Returns
Some things had changed since my last visit to Eyre Hall, but most had remained unaltered. Dawn had not yet broken, and I could see candlelight coming from her window. I presumed the widow was having breakfast in her room to avoid the hordes of fake mourners who would soon be flooding into the drawing room.
I stood before the unlocked door and kicked it open. A gust of wind and snow swirled into the hall. A maid screamed and ran through a door and down to the servant’s quarters. Was my presence so disagreeable that they were so easily frightened? Could they see what I saw? Could they see the sins I had absorbed and feel the evil I carried?
The house was still. The guests had not yet arrived, but I could smell the corpse upstairs. I supposed he was in Mr. Rochester’s room. Another sinful meal awaited me.
I was about to walk up the stairs when I heard a stuttering voice behind me. I recognised the terrified, long–limbed servant I had seen last year.
“I’m afraid Mrs. Mason cannot see you.”
I turned, parted my chapped lips and showed him my sharp grey teeth. “I have come to see Mr. Mason, you idiot.” My hollow voice reverberated in the empty hall. “So announce me to his widow, unless you wish yours to be the next funeral.”
He jumped back and babbled some unintelligible words. I managed to decipher the last three. “Please leave, sir.”
“Will you be responsible for Mr. Mason’s permanence in this house as one of the undead?” My voice rumbled across the hall.
This time, Jane not only allows Junot to carry out his macabre ceremony, but she also has a conversation with him. Why would Christian Jane allow him into her house? Part of her conversation with him can help us understand her reasons.
When Junot asks Jane, “Why do you not fear me?”
“Because I know that good and evil are two sides of the same coin, just as happiness and sadness, and beauty and ugliness are all part of our nature. There is no good without evil. Each of us has both. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. You chose evil, so you make the rest of us your opposite: good. Why should I fear you?”
“You are unwise not to fear me,” I said as we walked into the same room I had entered the last time. The corpse was laid out, dressed, and blackened. The smell was the most nauseating I had ever encountered. Was he already decomposing? Had his soul escaped before my arrival?
The Sin-eater not only claims to save the dying from hell, but also from wandering the earth as ghosts, thereby performing a service for the living as well. Junot also claims to predict the future, and Jane seems to believe that he does indeed have such powers, but does he? Or is he a charlatan?
Surprisingly, Jane believes Junot’s rituals serve a purpose, because she is not willing to take the risk of having ghosts at her beloved Eyre Hall. She also believes in Junot’s powers of divination, which are wound into the plot in each novel.
Jane believes that evil exists as a real force of nature, yet she believes that the power of good is stronger and will therefore finally win the battle, which is why she does not fear him. She also believes in destiny, which is why she believes the future can be seen, because the path has already been laid out.
Junot will reappear again in Book 3 of The Eyre Hall Trilogyy, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, to absorb more sins and make a devil’s pact with one of the main characters.