Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Of Sin-Eaters And Hungry Ghosts

In the six stages of life according to the Buddha is one called the realm of the
hungry ghosts. They look something like this:

...bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food make eating incredibly painful. With "mouths the size of a needle's eye and a stomach the size of a mountain", they become a metaphor for people's futile attempts to fulfill illusory desires.

As for sin-eaters...

A local legend in Shropshire, England concerning the grave of one Richard Munslow, who died in 1906 and was said to be the last sin-eater of the area, has this to say:

By eating bread and drinking ale over the body of the deceased and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon himself the sins of the deceased. He would say, "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."

He Posits Certain Mysteries

The body of the boy who took his flight

off the cliff at Kilcloher into the sea
was hauled up by the curragh-men, out at first light
fishing mackerel in the estuary.
"No requiem or rosary" said the priest,
"nor consecrated ground for burial,"
as if the boy had flown outside the pale
of mercy or redemption or God's love.
"Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
quoth the sin-eater to the corpse's people,
who heard in what he said a sort of riddle,
as if he meant their coreligionists
and not their sodden, sadly broken boy.
Either way, they took some comfort in it
and readied better than accustomed fare
of food and spirits; by their own reckoning:
the greater the sin, the greater so the toll.
But the sin-eater refused their shilling coin
and helped them build a box and dig a grave.
"Your boy's no profligate or prodigal,"
he said, "only a wounded pilgrim like us all.
What say his leaping was a leap of faith,
into his father's beckoning embrace?"
They killed no fatted calf. They filled the hole.

- Thomas Lynch
(The Sin-eater: A Breviary will be out this fall)

We humans are an amazing species, eh? We weave a rich tapestry with our beliefs.

1 comment:

  1. That hungry ghost is way scarier than I had imagined. I guess I thought it might look like a blobfish with a little mouth.