Thursday, January 27, 2011


Hi guys,

Below are instructions for what's due on the blog (to take place of meeting on campus tomorrow), and what's due Monday.  Make sure to read this carefully, and take note of which instructions are for your particular class time...

Blog assignment (due at 9 AM for 8 AM section, and by 11 AM for 10 AM students):

Read the excerpt from Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, that begins on page 21 in the course reader; it's about a couple of crazy food phenomena--that of the sin-eater and that of corpse-eating.  There's a little black square on the left hand side of the first page; that's where you should start reading (it was a Post-It Note that said 'Start', but it didn't copy so well).

Respond to the excerpt in a reply to this post by the times indicated above.  Your response needs to be in your best formal writing style, and should display some sort of critical or analytical thinking.  One to two paragraphs should suffice.  If you are confused by the reading, say so on the blog, and allow your learning community to help you!

Weekend homework (due Monday):

Find two sources (any kind) for your research essay.  Don't use Wikipedia except as a very preliminary starting point; it's not credible, as there's no editorial authority on the site--anyone can publish anything.  Put the two sources in an MLA Works Cited List (use ), print it, and bring it to class on Monday.

Also, please read the following two pieces in your course reader (refer to table of contents for page numbers): "Mauritania's 'wife-fattening' farm" from BBC News, and the excerpt from A Cook's Tour, by Anthony Bourdain.  We'll talk about these in class on Monday (they're both a quick read, and one is quite short).

Last, read the handout titled Research Tips, Guidelines, and Resources on pages 7-8 in the course reader, then read Tips for Evaluating Sources on page 9 in the reader.

E-mail me with questions!


P.S. This seems like a lot of work, but it won't take an inordinately long time...


  1. Jordan Hoy
    English 102, 10AM
    “Funeral Customs”

    In the excerpt, ‘Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development’, the author discusses ancient rituals regarding scarifications and/or cannibalism. Many people may become disgusted at the thought of this, but it must be kept in mind that different cultures value different things and live their lives in different ways. Throughout this piece of writing, I could hear a tone in the authors words that shows his distaste for the “savage” beliefs and “horrid” traditions.
    There is a part in this excerpt that discusses how people would eat a certain part of a particular animal in order to possess the qualities of that said animal. “…the idea that by eating- let’s just say, the heart of a lion- the fierce courage of that beast would be absorbed into the nature of the participant.” (p. 71) Of course, this is not based on science; not many religions are not based on science. Often times, these ancient traditions are linked to devil worship and witchcraft. I think this is because it is so different from all of the common religions we see in today’s society.
    Many religions have methods of repenting for sins. One of these ancient religions has the tradition of a so-called “sin-eater”. “Savage tribes have been known to slaughter an animal on the grave, in the belief that it would take upon itself the sins of the dead.” (p. 69)
    If you dissect the basic concept, it can be related to many different cultures. For instance, in Christianity, there are the practices of communion and confession. Also, I know of an ancient Chinese tradition(That my family doesn’t practice) that entails cutting a piece of your flesh off and having on of your dying parents drink it like soup. It may sound completely vial or nauseating, but the intentions of it are just. In Chinese culture, the offering of ones flesh to their dying mother or father is to show them your honor.

  2. The main argument of this excerpt in “Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development”, focuses on that whether people in different religion should all follow the rules of life. Some of the local cultural understanding and behaviors are not identified by people, which were defined as “savage” and “sacrificial”. This expert described several funeral customs, including the East and Jewish, etc.

    Many cultures own their particular funeral customs according to the people’s status and fame. In this excerpt, the examples were given from different perspectives. “Corpse”, as a maga-bowl of maple, full of beer, was considered to be the “sin of the decreased”, and suggested “the connection between the sin-eater and the Jewish scapegoat of the old Testament”. Another example contained the sorcery, spell, and the sacrifice of human beings. The above examples are all related to “savage” and “sacrificial”, which made me come up with the traditional funeral customs for emperors from antiquity in China. The first emperor of Qin Dynasty in China, Qin Shi Huang, was the greatest, but also figured as the most ferocious emperor in the history of China. He asked his understrappers to build his tomb, even many years before he was died. This tomb took 38 years to be finished, which was extremely enormous and exquisite. Thousands of servants were buried alive to accompany the emperor’s death. Due to the old Constitutional Monarchy, the civilians have no right to prevent from doing that. This was a tragedy throughout the Chinese history.

    Different customs of funerals vary from different cultures. Today, some of the countries have advocated the simple and respective way of funeral. We don’t say that those customs are bad or not. They are just become more mature and fit to this culture.

  3. I will be late with this assignment Caroline, I am at work until 11 or noon, but will post it as soon as I get home

  4. In Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, Bertram Puckle speaks of the intriguing phenomenon of the sin-eater. The sin-eater provided what was seen as a necessary service by the peoples of ancient cultures: taking upon his or herself the sins of the dead. To provide peace in the afterlife for the recently deceased, the sin-eater was summoned to partake of a paltry meal over the corpse (almost literally eating the dead individual's sins with the repast), tossed some spare change and hurriedly sent on his or her way. Though eminently integral to the funeral rites of any citizen, the sin-eater enjoyed the regard of a leper, "Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean, the sin-eater cut himself off from all social intercourse" (Puckle 69).

    It is a curious thing, then, that such a service was deemed appropriate in the first place. If the common man saw the sin-eater as an unholy creature given to habits of witchcraft and other filth, why were they so tolerated? Would it not make sense that, given the selfless nature of their purpose, they would be ennobled by the masses instead of being vilified so? Barring that, should not wide-spread disdain effect the abolishment of such a loathsome post? This riddle is troubling, and the reader would not be unjustified in appeal to the author for clarification.

    Unsatisfied, we move on to the writer's next grisly subject, the ritual consumption of human flesh. Described by Puckle as "not exactly what we mean by cannibalism" (70), this practice was and is still seen by cultures the world over as a method for absorbing into oneself the nature and abilities of the dead. Whether religious sacrifice, esteemed luminary or casualty of war, the corpses of certain individuals were partaken of to gain their strength. Furthermore, power was attributed to certain parts of the body, such as the fibula which was used by New Guinea "sorcerers" to place hexes on their victims.

    Crude as it may seem, these practices display surprising insight into the workings of the universe. According to the laws of thermodynamics, energy can neither by created or destroyed, it simply changes shape. In this way, the consumption of the deceased shows in these cultures a belief that spiritual energy, like that in physics, must live on in some form. And if it is so, why not make that energy one's own?

    -Nicholas VanSchaick

  5. Micah Newton-Gladstein
    "Funeral Customs"

    This piece, titled Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, is about the ritualistic practice of “sin-eating”. It was believed that by paying a person to ingest the flesh of the deceased, their sins would be freed and be transferred to the eater (70). The sin-eater was an outcast of the community, electing to live a life of exile in exchange for an easy job. So what would make a person decide to live as the scum of village, taking on others’ sins and dooming themselves to an eternal doom of not being able to pass onto the afterlife? Is it that they knew better than to believe in false gods and rituals, and were making an easy living off of the “ignorant” people? It is only possible to speculate, but it is a reasonable theory.

    In a time when there was no scientific knowledge to explain basic concepts of earth, it was common-sense to believe in a higher power for explanation. The author also explains the belief of certain body parts containing various traits when consumed (72). With this in mind, the concept of “sin-eating” is seemingly logical. Historically, religion is used to explain the unexplainable; and even with modern science, there are still many unanswered questions such as what happens to the soul after death. It is common to turn to religion when regarding the afterlife and that is exactly the unknown that the practice of “sin-eating” is trying to accomplish. The author has a negative view on the practice, calling it “savage” (70), but it is no weirder than repentance practiced by the Catholic faith when you analyze it.

  6. While reading Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, i made an important realization. The rites and traditions that were (and often times, still are) practiced after someone dies are not necessarily just a tradition, but rather a crucial act in order to relieve the grief and negative energy in one's tribe, country, etc. Although the author does possess a tone that suggests disapproval with many of the customs, death is a traumatizing event that understandably has traumatizing effects on a community, and sometimes the only way to get rid of something dark is to do something dark.

    As evidenced by the sin-eater, many of these tribes and communities mean well with their funeral customs. It's seen as necessary and honorable to take away the sins of the dead (even if they didn't ask for it while they were living). Different countries always equal different cultures, and whether or not one approves of their customs, they must be respected just as our personal, American traditions are respected (sometimes...) In the United States, eating sins and putting spells on each other with human bones are not very common, but we still find ourselves doing outlandish things when we are grieving. Starving yourself and/or denying necessary substances (food, water, sleep) aren't uncommon when someone is dealing with the loss of a loved one. I think that Americans deal with grief and funerals in a more mental way, rather than the physical and gastronomical ways of other countries. We tend to think, to get depressed, to resort to crimes and even suicide because the loss is too much to handle. Americans aren't encouraged to be animalistic with their grief as it might be in other cultures, which i'm willing to bet is a large part of our depression in the first place. We are so concerned with being politically correct that we forget that we have real emotions- hurt, fear, depression, pain- that need to be addressed openly. Perhaps if everyone in this country had a healthy ritual that worked when they were feeling hopeless or grieving, we wouldn't have quite so many mental problems or mass murders.

    We find sins to be a personal ordeal and shy away from taking on the deceased's problems. However, i believe that the other cultures who are more, say, savage in their rituals, are actually doing themselves a favor. They make the most of their loved ones, whether it be trying to forgive them, or trying to preserve them by smothering themselves in ashes. They seem to fear "wasting" the deceased's life. I've never lost someone who was very close to me, but if i did, i would desire the freedom to express myself in whatever way i felt. Americans are too concerned with image, and this hinders us from seeing the true intent behind many different cultures when it pertains to funerals.

  7. The piece from Funeral Customs: Their origin and development by Bertram S. Puchie explains the different funeral customs of sin-eaters and corpse-eaters, but also shows us that these two different traditional rituals have the same purpose of absorbing negative or positive entities from the participant. For the sin-eaters, they focus more on staying isolated and dedicating their lives to take upon himself the punishment for the moral errors of the dead by transferring the sins into bread and beer and consuming it. The corpse-eaters made it so that they ate a body part corresponding an admired skill or desire. These two rituals show us that in the past, survival in life and the afterlife was thought of by transferring the clients morality through eating.
    These “eaters” are based around the relation of death and the funeral feast. For example, the piece explains more about the duties of sin-eaters which were to “take upon the sins of the dead” (Puchie 69). My interpretation from the biblical perspective of heaven and hell seems like the sin-eaters wanted to relieve the pain of the others. With sins and no salvation, the dead is doomed to burn eternally; this is what the consequences the sin-eaters want to prevent, by absorbing the sins. On the other hand, a different funeral custom of corpse-eating was used to “absorb the nature of the participant” (Puchie 71). It was said that if you ate part of the animal or human, you would absorb their powers and skills. The corpse-eaters looked at these new-found powers as a better way to survive and thrive. All in all, the funeral feasts of these two different customs surrounded the same idea of absorbing the sins or skills of the eaten.

    -Kim Bernales

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  9. Culture is a way of living, a way of life. That means, the way of living for Chileans in South America may not be considered normal by the millions living in Cameroon South Africa. There are differences, and sometimes these may appear extreme to those who are unfamiliar, but in parts of the world these are normal practices and would probably cause great concern if such customs were to go otherwise. A cult, on the other hand, is a group of people who are lead and or influenced by a charismatic person. Often times the followers and these individuals have very different practices and may divert greatly from mainstream beliefs. Who determines what is accepted and where the line is drawn on the taboo is left to ones own imagination and embrace of differences.

    While the description of the happenings in the excerpt from Bertram Puches’s “Funeral Customs” caused the curtains of my mind to sway in awe and disbelief, it is definitely not uncommon for such practices to exist. Never before have I heard of or witnessed a family actually paying money to a human being to indulge in food on the so that the sins of the deceased may be transferred over to another. Yes, it’s unusual to me, but not to the people who so desperately want the transgressions of their dead to depart so the corpse may inherit purity. As I read, I wondered what could possibly be going on in the minds of the parties involved and I could only come up with three words,’ love, culture and differences.’

  10. Unfortunately, my essay will also be late. I would turn it in now, but after reading the others...

  11. I am not sure if this piece was discussed in class at all yesterday... but this is what I got out of it.

    A question that arises in “Funeral Customs"
    Is the question of whether people who practice different religious ritual should lead the same life as someone who worships in a complete different form.

    The author states many compare and contrast examples of different practices. Cannibalism originated from human scarifies. And those who do follow eating human flesh as a ritual are "sin-eaters" and "savage". He also mentions
    animal scarifies for the health of a human being to be off key.

    Even though some of us might not be at all interested to eat our leaders heart in hope that we can get some of his wisdom in us. Does not make their beliefs any less than anybody else's. The thing that comes along with culture is different opinions of what we chose to believe and cherish.
    These rituals that seem so inhuman to us and more of something that should be watched in a horror movie has been around for many moons in other people's religion and even though it is wrong we can not change history because modern day perspective has become more civil.

  12. Everyone has different customs. There are societal customs, religious customs, and household customs, which, to outsiders, could seem strange or weird. They come in all extremes, from shaking someones hand when you meet them in America to fathers arranging their daughters marriage in India. A more strange or bizarre custom is that of a tribe in the British Isles. These tribes take it upon themselves to literally "eat the sins away" from the dead. Although this seems strange to us and the people who now live on the Isles who seek them out only to do their ritual then reject them from society, it is nonetheless their culture and custom.

    This seems like a weird phenomena to most people in society now-a-days but it obviously had a huge significance in their tribe. They did it in order to purify the body of their sins or to acquire their courage or other qualities they had. I think this has a huge thing to do with respect. Respect by finally freeing the person of their sins, and respect by literally letting the person's spirit live on through someone else. This was a healthy way to mourn and a healthy way to show their respect for the dead.

  13. Trang Tran- 8AM
    In every culture around the world, there are different beliefs and different ways for things. In South Africa, it most certainly applies. In the reading Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, Bertram S. Puchie states how in South Africa they are sin-eaters and savage tribes. Savage tribes are the one who believes in the sacrifice of the animals over the grave. While on the other hand, sin-eaters are exactly what their title is, eating sins.
    In the beginning of the text, the comparisons of the two beliefs were stated. Sin-eaters were the ones who believed that eating corpses takes away the sin of those who are being eaten. The thought of that may sound very disturbing to those of us who are nowhere near the idea of eating others. “Howlett mentions that sin-eating is an old custom in Hereford,” articulate Puchie. Although some may in fact read this piece and feel totally disgusted, knowing that a place out there on Earth is in fact doing this, it is a part of their belief, not ours. Even when I know deep down that I also feel disturbed by this fact, I know I have no right to judge others beliefs. I feel that as long as there is an understandable statement behind a belief, then it wouldn’t be wrong like some Americans would believe it is.

  14. The sensation of “savage eating” has found a place in relationship to death and rituals in tribes. Many superstitions have been built upon the ideas of eating humans or slaughtering animals. The violence that is taken place amongst the living “tearing their hair, rending their garments, and beating their breast till the blood flows in their frenzy…” (Puche 68) is in addition to the bloody undesirable practices of funeral customs.
    In the essay Funeral Customs death is seen as an unclean task. In which some tribes slaughter animals as a scapegoat for the dead and in others sin-eaters (a person called for reasons of death eats food or consumption of the dead corpse) take upon the sins of the dead. There has been an overlapping of the dead and the funeral meal. The belief of eating flesh or animals to gain good or evil are associated with each funeral dinner. The survival, transformation and power of an individual is channeled through the consumption of certain parts of the body. A of gain courage, restoration, or even forgiveness are a few reasons behind such brutal acts. The ideology of cannibalism has taken place in tribes by their traditions. Eating flesh or sacrificing an animal is marked as sign of mourning. As vicious as the practice may be, it has been and remains attached to religion, tribe rituals and funeral customs.

  15. Sally Guan
    Caroline Moir
    Eng 102
    28 January 2011

    In the excerpt from Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, Bertram Puckle discusses the practices of “sin-eating” and other cultural funeral customs. Different cultures view this custom differently. Australians and the Hamitic races of Africa both believe that it is a good thing, the eating of human flesh, which results in the digester receiving the virtues/characteristics of the deceased from whom they are eating from. However, these practices were also going against the bible and deemed as unholy practices.
    Whether it is a good or bad act depends entirely on which culture views it. There are many different kinds of cultures that agree or disagree with the idea of eating human flesh. In some cultures, it is considered a good or normal thing to do, in order to repent their sins.

  16. In the excerpt Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, Bertram Puchie states that villagers avoided sin-eaters other than one occasion: when a death occurs (Page 69). This shows the sin-eaters were not social and his job was what he depended on. The villagers believed being a sin-eater was a dirty thing because they took the sins the corpse did when they were alive.

    Puchle goes on describing the work of the sin-eaters. He states on page 70, “…by means of the consumption of certain food, as in the case of sin-eaters, or by actually partaking of such parts of the human body…” meaning the sin-eater’s job is to eat a certain parts of the corpse to relieve them from sins they did when they lived. This may seem like a disturbing custom but different customs are celebrated or done all around the world. This is only one of the many done in Hereford, by the Hamitic race in Africa.

    There are also other customs, such as witchcraft. The sorcerers place a spell on a person and point a human bone towards them. When they are murdered, they are buried after but later, they are removed from the grave. Certain parts of the corpse is then sliced into pieces and distributed and eaten ceremoniously. From then on, the sorcerers believed whoever the human bone is pointed towards, the person will die.

    Another custom is from China. The Chinese believed, after eating the flesh of a hero, they too, will become courageous, they, too, will become a leader.

    This shows, there are many different beliefs and customs around the world. It may seem disturbing to ones not following the same custom but it’s like a person; we are all different in our own way.

  17. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this, so I just wrote down some thoughts and did some summarizing.

    “Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development” by Bertram S. Puchie, discusses the phenomena of the ritualistic practices of “sin-eating” and “corpse-eating.” In reading this piece, I found the one of the biggest distinctions between the two practices was the negative and positive connotations that were associated with each. Sin-eaters lived in isolation made to feel somewhat ashamed of the life choice they had made, and were only sought out when needed by the tribe. They dedicated their lives to take upon themselves the punishment for the moral shortcomings of the dead by transferring the sins into food and drink then consuming it. Corpse-eaters ate a body part corresponding to an admired skill or character trait. These two rituals show us that in those who practiced these things highly were highly reverent of the dead and didn’t want them to suffer in the afterlife.
    I’m curious as to why the sin-eater was subject to such contempt when his purpose in life was thought to have been to take upon himself a large burden to benefit another. This may have varied from community to community, tribe to tribe.
    These are/were highly questioned practices, but I believe it speaks to the significance of death and the importance of being “pure” when entering the afterlife within the context of the cultures mention by Puchie. Though seen as savage, gruesome or immoral, it was done in order to purify the body of its sins or to acquire their courage or other desired qualities they had. They were acts of either admiration and or of clemency. Both had much to do with respect.

  18. Lynn Pham
    English 102, 8AM
    Reading Respond: Funeral Customs

    The article “Funeral Customs” mentions about the many rituals tribes practiced. Common rituals like cannibalism, totemism, and animism are rarely practiced these days.
    The last sin-eater was last seen in 1825, a person who takes food for the decease. Sin-eaters, through rituals, “are an old custom in Hereford, a loaf of bread was given to the sin-eater over the corpse, ..for the consideration of his taking upon himself the sins of the deceased.” (page, 70). These rituals were considered necessary for the dead, especially when the purpose of the sin-eater is to allow the decease person to rest in peace.
    Other rituals that are a well form of magic are to cast a spell on an enemy. One may be able to do that by pointing a human bone at another person. Another practice of eating human flesh, cannibalism, was common in Australia, accompanied by dances, war dances.

  19. In an excerpt from Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, Bertram S. Puckle presets several examples of cultures eating the flesh of the dead as a way to pass the spirit of the dead on to the living. In most of these examples, such as those involving the North American Indians and Australian Aborigines, the flesh is consumed voluntarily by those who desire to have the power or skills of the dead. This does not apply only to the eating of human flesh–the hearts or other organs of animals are also often consumed ceremoniously with the belief that the strength of an animal such as a eagle or tiger will pass into the human. In the first example given, however, the passing on of a spirt is not something positive for the living.
    The sin-eater is a rare phenomenon, which has been found in ancient history as well as in more recent times - one example discussed is from 1825, near Llanwenog, Cardiganshire. The sin eater receives all of the sins of the dead, so that the dead might live free burdens in the afterlife. One member of the community is designated as the sin-eater, and lives as an outcast of all social interaction in a remote place outside the village. The sin-eater is only called upon when there is a death in the village–he or she is the one who takes the burdens no one else is willing to bear. This concept can be compared to the “receiver of memory” in Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. While the receiver of memory, and the village, do not partake in any kind of funeral ceremony, he is the one who must take and remember all of the pain, suffering, and joy that the villagers do not.
    The concept of a sin-eater by itself may seem disturbing and unusual, but the underlying story behind one is commonly found. It is human nature to establish a scapegoat, and the sin-eater is merely the traditional scapegoat in its most extreme form.

  20. I forgot to place this header on the preceding post:

    Dylan Scoles 10:00

  21. Eric Nusser
    Instructor: Marie-Caroline Moir
    English 102, Sec. 7; 10:00am
    January 28, 2011

    Sin-Eaters, Cannibals and Jesus Christ

    There is a definite connection between the physical and the spiritual in the excerpted portions of “Funeral Customs” that exhibits a desire to transfer spiritual traits from the deceased to others through the physical act of eating. Although one may only be able to liberally classify what is eaten as food, the purpose of the consumption is not sustenance as in everyday life, but in very small amounts in ritualistic fashion and only when necessary.

    The phenomenon of the sin eater is reminiscent of the last rites of Catholicism – the act of casting off final sins to avoid an unpleasant afterlife. The sins that are transferred to the designated sin eater are ‘removed’ from the dead and taken on as his burden in life. He is then cast out from ordinary social interaction and unless called upon to take on more sins, is unseen. This seems like a crazy and even blasphemous notion in Western culture, unless one considers the Biblical notion of Jesus Christ taking on the sins of the living to provide security in the afterlife for his followers. The sin eater volunteered to be banished from society, either for the good of his society or for the benefit of the “miserable fee and … scanty meal,” while similarly, Biblical scripture describes Jesus volunteering to die for the sins of mankind, either for their benefit or because he was the son of God and was called upon to do so. Even the act of eating follows, although in the form of the ritualistic bread and wine consumption of communion that is administered to all of his followers. This consumption of the body and blood of Jesus Christ nearly parallels the death of the Subu chief and the consumption of small pieces of his flesh by members of the tribe, administered by the witch doctor.

    Both the sin eating and the cannibalistic ritual described in the excerpt exhibit similar, albeit lesser-known customs to those of Western religious culture. It struck me that regardless of geographical location, many of the rituals are the same in principle: the casting off or absorption of sins by another – or the transfer of character traits – through the physical act of eating. This suggests that many different cultures in many different isolated regions have (likely) independently associated consumption of the physical with commutation of the spiritual and that in whatever form it takes, is perhaps not so abnormal a phenomenon as at first blush.

  22. English 102 - 10 A.M.

    The reading is not an "easy" one to read for me. Because I am personally Buddhist, and Buddhism strongly against the practice of "eating the flesh of a corpse to become associated with its virtues" (page 73) or "sin-eater". We value the death of a person as something meaningful in more than one way. Whether they will rest after their death or not is a practice of their soul with the help of Buddha.
    Anyway going back to the reading "Funeral customs", this piece of writing is really a research piece. The tone is imagined as someone extremely curious about the magical and somewhat spiritual practices of tribes all around the world, and that someone never hesitates to ask anyone for an answer (whether he/she has to get close to the practice or not, doesn't matter).
    I think there is no such argument in the writing. It is simply just a research paper focusing on some weird funeral customs. Because there is no stories told what will happen after the "sin-eater" eats the sin of a person, or what will happen after the soldiers eat the heart of the leader of a rebellion, etc. Moreover, there is no statistical information given, the piece is just telling stories and collecting ideas from some experts (in those magical fields). The whole thing is somewhat a folk. I don't know. I have heard about these practices, but I have never found a critical or great book about those practice so far. I watched some documentaries about them; however, people seem to stay away from the results, the scientific aspects of those practices.
    The piece is not a bias writing - I don't think there is another way to approach the topic without going too far and getting troubles. (magic is not an easy "thing" to approach, I think)

    Ugh! I really hate starting my day with reading this piece. I bet I'd have the feeling of being watched, or being cursed for the rest of the day. Because it really reminds me of a Buddha saying: "We are all living with demons".

  23. Dan Thies
    English 102 – 10AM
    Funeral Customs

    This excerpt from Funeral Customs: Their Origins and Development describes two ancient rituals of various pagan cultures regarding the recently deceased. One of these is sin-eating, a ritual by which an unfortunate, and otherwise a socially outcast person would consume a meal directly over the body or grave of the recently deceased. In doing so, it was believed, this sin eater was assuming the earthly sins and trespasses of the dead. The other practice examined is ritualistic corpse eating, which was believed to transmit the virtues of the dead into those consuming their flesh.
    What these two rituals have in common, the excerpt observes, is the belief that often the very act of eating will transmit certain spiritual and abstract essences to the eater. For the sin-eater, his meal is a conduit that passes sin from the dead into his own body. This was seen as an essential function, absolving the dead of their worldly trespasses. And for corpse eaters, it is the very flesh of the dead that delivers the strength, courage, and other virtues craved by those who consume it. These rituals illustrate the ancient belief that eating is often more than a means of mere physical nourishment, but rather done for spiritual sustenance and enrichment. Similar beliefs can be observed even today in more contemporary religions In Roman Catholicism, for example, worshipers consume bread and wine, believing these have transformed into actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ during the communion ritual. Doing so, it is believed, absolves them of any previous sin, thereby nourishing their soul.

  24. Penelope (Danyang Fu)
    ENGL102 10am

    In Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, it talks about different culture’s tradition of treating the dead related to religion. “Savage tribes have been known to slaughter an animal on the grave, in the belief that it would take upon itself the sins of the dead.”(pp.69-70) The same to human beings, having a people consuming the flesh of a dead can let free the deceased’s sins and transferring to sin-eaters. I was disgusted by the tradition at first but I realized that every different culture have their own traditions, even though they are not scientifically understandable, the traditions stand for their religious beliefs and cannot be disrespected by others.

    As the fact that the sin-eaters free dead people’s sin and take over the sins to themselves, and also as the fact that the sin-eaters are thought unclean and “the sin-eater cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures by reason of the life he had chosen; he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper” (pp.69) let me feel sorry and sympathetic for them. Because in a sense the sin-eaters are contributing and are doing things for others’ good, but treated like crap. However, the sin-eaters have decided what they wanted to do, just as it says in the article, “the sin-eater cut himself off….by the reason of the life he had chosen”.

  25. In “Funeral Customs” the author discusses absorbing an enemies power or taking on an animals characteristics through consumption of their corpse. This notion of transference of power through consumption intrigues me. To say that food is nourishing for a body and brings energy is one thing; it is entirely different to speak of absorbing the virtues of another’s character, wrote from a life of conquest and brave deeds, by partaking in his heart. We speak of the attributes of animals: the bravery of the lion, cunning of a fox, the strength of a bear, as positive forces that we would wish for ourselves. How does one acquire those traits if not through some type of communion on a spiritual level? By physically consuming the animal’s heart you are engaging with them in the most intimately binding and final way possible. If the subject is a fallen enemy of great respect and power, it stands to reason that the victor would revere their attributes as the spoils of war.
    The author also talks about using the fluids of a corpse or its ashes as kind of mourning body paint. This ritualistic preparation and the act of painting yourself with the remains of the fallen serves to anchor your connection to them and join you as one, even as they are gone forever. Mourning practices that I have been involved with in western society are much more subdued and stoic. Emphasis is still placed on the body but the interaction is very impersonal. The closest we ever come with physically communing with the body of a loved one is at a wake or an open casket funeral. All of these things are done for us by a funeral home; only the unseen mortician is involved in any visceral activities. For our society death is taboo, it is not a part of everyday thoughts, and thus when it comes we have a hard time integrating it into our lives and moving on.

  26. Olivia Godsil
    10AM Section
    Customs vary all over the world, but there are still similarities between many. Killing an animal over the gravesite and then having the sin-eater eat it is symbolic of their culture, which is interesting since the sin-eater is very important and yet always avoided. Their belief is that the sin-eater will take away all of the sins from the person that just died and take the burden on himself. It is as if it is a magical thing to help the souls of the freshly dead. There is also a sense of a belief in magic from the corpse-eaters. Vitality is entwined with the eating of human parts. The purpose is to express their gratitude toward the god Bel. Religion and cultural beliefs are key parts to sending the dead into the afterlife. The fact to the followers to the religion or belief is that eating the food literally consumes either the good or the bad qualities of that specific dead person.

  27. Raymond Wong
    Marie-Caroline Moir
    English 102 / 10 A.M.
    28 January 2011

    In this reading “Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development” the author talks about the important roles that the sin-eater would take in ancient times. The sin-eater was a social outcast of the village, but played a very important role when someone would die. The role of the sin-eater was to take on the sin of the recently deceased. The way they would do that is by having the sin-eater feasting on a meal of bread and beer on the corpse and that would take the person’s sin away, yet there was also another way and that was cannibalism. In the past this was an important and religious part of society.
    Cannibalism the thoughts about it today are frighten but in some places it is still practiced. In the past it was common due to the sin-eater. Though, I’m not a religious person but it is hard to understand how feasting on someone can get rid of someone sin, but in the past the world heavily relied on religious views. Thinking about the sin-eaters, I wonder what the equivalent of one would be today, how would one remove sin from the recently deceased in modern times.

  28. In the Funeral customs Orgin and development is about tribes and how they use the dead as apart of their personal spiritual beleifs.An example of this is sin eating when a an outkast someone outside the circle would eat over a dead person or an grave.The sin eater eventually found himself coming across the dead and the sins from the dead were being consumed.As a result what these two rituals have in common is that when you eat diffrent spiritual feelings can take over the body of the one that eats.

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  30. An Ngo
    English 102

    As an excerpt from Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, the story Bertram S. Puckle writes serves as a window into other cultures where food is not merely used for satiating hunger, but rather as an instrument for leading rituals for the deceased. The two examples that Puckle gives us are of sin-eating and corpse-consumption, two concepts which revile modern day society. However, while the customs of these foreign tribes and cults invoke disgust in the society that we live in, it is not to say that their traditions should earn such a reputation.
    Sin-eating and corpse-consumption both revolve around the idea that foods of certain types are spiritual catalysts. While sin-eating centers itself with the vindication of the dead through a sacrifice and corpse-consumption merely means to consume the dead in efforts to retrieve the vitality of the deceased, both share common ground in the fact that they deal with the deceased. As an American society, we honor our dead in a different way. We respect the dead through the means of a proper burial, a ceremonial funeral, and occasionally an offering; however, who are we to say what should define the universal rites of death. Every culture in the world should hold the power to detail their own traditions involved with their respective deceased. In the end, the ubiquity and enigma of death should signal to everyone that a plethora of methods to deal with it exist and should naturally follow.

  31. Taylor Fuller
    Marie-Caroline Moir
    English 102 10:00
    28, January 2011

    In the excerpt In Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, Bertram S. Puchie demonstrates different cultural traditions and beliefs. These cultures are believed to be savages and sacrificial because of the motives that they have behind eating. One culture that Puchie refers to is “sin-eaters,” which were people who didn’t fit in at their village therefore they were given the title of the “sin-eater.” These people were given the responsibility to relief the dead from their sins. When an individual died in the villages, “sin-eaters” ate so that the dead wouldn’t encounter bad things and will be free of sin in their lives to come. Puchie refers to many different religious differences and cultural varieties.
    This is similar to today’s society because depending on the culture and place in which individuals live, their traditions and beliefs vary.

  32. Transformation is a theme in "Funeral Customs". Living to dead, love to loss and sin to pardoned are the many facets of mortality and the culture that surrounds it. How people respond to death in a ritualistic and historical perspectives are discussed in this piece. Specifically the author embellishes on a key player in one such custom that was documented in "the British Isles over a hundred years ago" (69). This person is called a "sin-eater" in the article. Among the underprivileged and outside the social center of the community. This person would be hired for the purpose of relieving the dead of whatever sin the family believed him/her to have and accepting the consequences and stigmas thereafter. In contrast the article continues into another custom of cannibalism. This in varied practices is believed by many to bestow, upon the person ingesting, the attributes of the fallen. Also see with preservation like in the Australian witch doctor practices of magical potions.

    The language of the author suggests there to be a slight bias, almost dehumanizing of these tribes and practices. What is interesting is the connections that could have been made between different religious rituals involving death and sin. There are many directions and supporting details that would have made this piece more relevant to even the 60's when it was written. There is quite a bit of research available about the physical health effects of ingesting your own species. There are still tribes in New Guinea as well who ritualistically practice cannibalism. Although I do not have the dates to these types of research, it is the direction I would have gone. Interview and primary sources would have made this a more personal and established piece to me. Though I am intrigued by the stories it does not hold as much weight as a research article to me. It is clear these practices have been well documented but I think I'd understand the author's argument better.

  33. In the article, "Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development", Bertram S. Puckle tells about sin-eaters and the topic of cannibalism. He describes how the sin-eaters weren't socially accepted in most cases until their services were needed. People would seem t avoid this person like someone with a rancid disease. Sin-eaters were associated with evil, witchcraft and the liking, but still an old custom.

    This was interesting to read. I never knew there were people in these types of positions. Eating human flesh for reasons of sin is something that doesn't make much sense to me but then again, most religious topics dont. I guess being spiritual or having some kind of faith is one thing but the traditions that religions have I cant always get onboard with.

    Spencer Ramsey

  34. Sorry if this is a repost, didn't seem to post the first time...

    Karen B – 10AM
    In reading the excerpt from Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development by Bertram S. Puckle, I found the plight of the sin-eater to be very distressing. Why should a person who volunteers themselves for a career deemed so necessary to their community be forced into pariahdom? The sin-eater, who Puckle says “takes upon himself the moral trespasses of his client – and whatever the consequences might be in the after life,” ends up living their life separate from the rest of society, considered to be the embodiment of all filth and immorality (69). I can think of no similar lifestyle in current American society – one in which a person chooses a profession that provides an integral service, but ends up being condemned by literally everyone. There are indeed public servants that I can name (police, elected officials, etc.) that are under constant scrutiny, even necessary professions that are sometimes dehumanized by onlookers (garbage collectors, janitorial workers, and the like), but no job that leaves one shunned by society to anywhere near the same degree as the sin-eater.
    As concerning as the depiction of the sin-eater was, I was more worried by the manner in which Puckle described the cultures who take part in the consumption of the flesh of deceased humans. As opposed to approaching the topic in a way that showed he was seeking to understand the reasoning behind the practice, he painted a grotesque picture of the people as being savage sorcerers (a term that made me think he had religious bias, as this term is used frequently in Christian scripture to denounce non-Christian rituals and practices). Understandably, we all have our own personal biases against practices we find repulsive – I do not condemn anyone who thinks that eating dead people for any reason is disgusting – but as a professional who is making an attempt to inform the public about “funeral customs” around the world, this is less than exemplary.

  35. I sent you an E-mail, sorry my essay is late as well.

    10 AM

    In " Funeral Customs: Their Origin and development" Bertram S. Puckle informs me about the sin-eater in history and many rituals and beliefs that coincide with witchcraft and demonic qualities with spirits vs good and evil. I am a bit disturbed and intrigued by this information. Something that I really payed attention to was the ritual and belief that taking upon the sins of the dead would let the them be at peace in the afterlife.

    " ..It was the province of the human scapegoat to take upon himself the moral trespasses of his client- and whatever the consequences might be in the after life- in return for a miserable fee and a scanty meal." (69)

    This almost worries me in a way, why would this person feel it is his duty to decide the fate of a dead man who has already been passed on into the after life with his judgment? And what exactly will the honorable purpose be to deal with the possible religious damnation of another man's work, and not be held accountable for his own? I do not question or judge one's religion or belief's but more so I am interested on why, in a deeper sense, is this act important and right in a sin-eater's eyes.

  36. I have a problem with cannibalism. Every time I read an article or see a T.V. show, or listen to someone joke about the subject I become afraid. Thoughts fill my head with human feasting on human and I wonder "is that me?" Am I the one who ate those people, am I the lurking creature bent over and tearing flesh from body? At least when I read Funeral Customs, I get comfort from knowing that some eat human as a form of death acceptance.

    It's a hard subject to talk about

  37. Michael Champagne
    English 102
    "Funeral Customs"
    It would appear that Sin-eaters were a necessary evil in certain cultures. Although the sin-eater was an outcast of society and mostly feared, he/she was frequently sought out when a person has died. It is hard to grasp the thought around why this process was done, but then again a lot of myths and superstitions of the past can seem unfathomable in the present.
    The origin of cannibalism being fathomed to Cronus is quaintly ironic. Being a lover of Greek mythology this was a very cool perspective to think about.

  38. Apologies if this appears multiple times. I've tried repeatedly to post this:

    Maria Alamillo
    Marie-Caroline Moir
    English 102 (8:00 a.m. class)
    January 28, 2011

    The excerpt from “Funeral Customs, Their Origin and Development,” by Bertram S. Puckle describes details of funeral rites and practices from various cultures around the world that many from more “civilized” cultures would think of as taboo and sacrilegious.

    One of the practices observed is sin-eating, which was believed to cleanse the deceased of the sins committed during their lifetime and allow entrance into the afterlife with a clean slate. The sin-eater was considered necessary to the dead and was actively sought out, but otherwise was ostracized from society and daily life. The sin-eater could also be in the form of an animal which was slaughtered at the grave.

    Purging of sins at ones death seems to occur frequently in history and in cultures throughout the world. The ancient Aztecs even had their own deity for this purpose: the goddess Tlazolteotl, or Filth Eater. The goddess was connected with both wanton sexuality and forgiveness for those who committed such sinful acts. She was always portrayed with a black mouth and chin.

    Cannibalism, another practice, was usually for the purpose of honoring the deceased. It was common belief that consuming the flesh or organs of the dead would pass on their desirable traits. Puckle describes an incident in China where a high-ranking official is executed and consumed for this purpose. The ancient Aztecs often held their human sacrifices in high regard as well. After feeding the heart of the victim to the deity statue, the remaining body parts and organs would be distributed among the population, with the nobles receiving the more prized portions. This was a way of acknowledging the person who gave their life to the gods.

    Sin-eating, and--whether it’s right or wrong--cannibalism both occur frequently throughout human history.

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  40. C. Moir
    Eng 102 "Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development" By Bertram S. Puckle

    There is something to be said about having our "sins" washed away as well the ancient belief and practice that foster receiving "power" from dead people or animals. The writer gives us a bit of historical and biblical background about several funeral burial customs. It describes details as to what certain rituals and processes were like and what explains the paradigms behind the actions (i.e. eating of a dead lion's heart to receive it's strength and the use of human liquids for witchcraft and sorcery.) The one that stands out to me is the "sin eater". The sin eater was seen by a Professor Evans of the Presbyterian College in Carmarthen back in 1825 living near Llanwenog, Cardiganshire. This person was a social outcast and deemed "unclean" for the rest of the community to associate with regularly. Only at funerals in that time would the sin eater be summoned with some money and a meal. The meal was placed over the dead corpse and as the sin eater would eat the food, it would also take on the sins of the person who died - a scapegoat for the dead.

    For indigenous, native tribes, the practice of taking on the spirits or characteristics of an animal was largely common, which led to the names and associations of their tribes. Much of these ceremonial practices were against Jewish law because it went against their biblical standards. Puckle also provides the origination of where "cannibalism" is rooted from. The original definition is a much different meaning than how we know it today. In this specific text,ancient beliefs that the afterlife or spiritual realm of the dead and it's connection to this life seemed to be prevalent throughout Puckle's historical lens on funeral customs.

  41. In the excerpt ‘Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development the author speaks of the consumption of human flesh though out history, It appears this caused the author extreme discomfort. This was quite obvious as the writer used teams like “sin-eater” or “Savage orgies.”
    I personally find nothing wrong with cannibalism; as cannibalism is a part of the natural world. We are carnivorous mammals. In nature it is extremely common for animals to eat their own kind. While most humans would prefer to not eat their own kind; when it comes to a matter of food for survival we as humans can, and have resorted to cannibalism to survive. I also feel that we all have a right to our religious beliefs. If one is raised in a culture that believes in eating the dead, then one should respect that person’s beliefs. We must learn to keep open minds and not push our own personal beliefs on others.


    p.s. i love tony bourdain