18. The Mutation

Oil on Canvas
Originally an oil painting commission for the Cancer Research Laboratories in South Mimms.

What happens to the Sin Eater once he’s eaten all your sin?

Well he’s cast out of course. Lives as a hermit on the outskirts of the village. Who wants to know him? He’s eaten all that sin!

But I race ahead of myself here, for we haven’t got to the Sin Eater of our story yet.

Douglas was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the spring. It was in the early stages. The chance of full treatment and recovery was very good, but it terrified Douglas like nothing had ever done before. The word “cancer” rung over and over in his ears. Until that moment of diagnosis Douglas had been immortal, now he was merely human. A damaged human at that. That he, such an important individual, could have the possibility of death hang over him, seemed appalling. Unacceptable.

There must be some meaning to it.

What this meaning could be started to dominate his every thought. Luckily Elsie was there to look after the art business, and counsel him during his darkest moods.

And they were dark, for the ego of a successful man realising he is mortal can have some real hatred in it. How unfair it was. How there were others more deserving of death. He had so much more to give!

There must be a reason.

Elsie tried to cheer him up. Point out that he wasn’t dead yet and the chances of full recovery were great. She was his best friend during this time. She would not sleep with him, the thought repulsed her, but that didn’t stop her caring for him immensely and feeling sorry for him when  he tried to stroke her knee.

So she sat and listened to him. Listened to his rants, his cursing, his bitterness, and when he was finished let him sob into her shoulder. Her grand boss, the charming, influential Douglas, reduced to this.

There was a reason.

So Douglas discovered. The reason was very simple, the reason was that he should realise how wondrous life is and that he should teach people. Teach people that some are worthy of this fantastic life, and some are not.
17. Elsie’s Pragmatism

16. The Sin-Eater

Image - an eater of sin.SIN EATING, described in studies of folk culture as a form of religious magic, has been practiced in many cultures. In rural Wales the ritual was still in practice up until the last century.

A village would often have its own Sin-Eater who would live as a hermit outside the village. Shunned by the villagers for being the associate of evil spirits the Sin-Eater was only sort out when someone in the village was dying. Then he would be brought into the village and taken to the dying person’s bedside. The family would place a loaf of bread on the dying person’s chest. The Sin-Eater would enter and approach the body. Kneeling down at the bed he would give a short speech;

“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”.[2]

Then the Sin-Eater would eat the bread from the dying person’s chest and a bowl of ale would be handed to him from across the body. By drinking the ale and eating the bread he was eating that person’s sins. The bowl and platter would then be burnt by the villagers.