The Scientific Folklore View, 1890-92#

As the years rolled into the final decade of the 19th century, further interest started to develop in a comparative , scientific” approach to studies folklore, as well as framing traditions within a context of history.

In this chapter, we will encounter several works that explored the notion of the sin-eater within such contexts.

J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, 1890#

The golden bough : a study in comparative religion by J. G. Frazer, was a two volume work published in May, 1890 [Frazer, 1890]; for a conteporary take on it, there is a full length review in The Scotsman dated Monday, May 19th, 1890, p2.

In volume 2, page 154-7 of the first edition, we have mention of the sin-eater in a familiar form, restating Aubrey and Bagford as quoted from Brand.

Aubrey and Bagford, quoted, The Golden Bough, 1890

The old Welsh custom known as “sin-eating” is another example of the supposed transference of evil from one person to another. According to Aubrey, “In the County of Hereford was an old Custome at funeralls to hire poor people, who were to take upon them all the sinnes of the party deceased. One of them, I remember, lived in a cottage on Rosse-high way (he was a long, leane, ugly, lamentable poor raskal). The manner was that when the Corps was brought out of the house and layd on the Biere ; a Loafe of bread was brought out, and delivered to the Sinne-eater over the corps, as also a Mazar-bowle of maple (Gossips bowle) full of beer, which he was to drinke up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he took upon him (ipso facto) all the Sinnes of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from walking after they were dead. … I believe this custom was heretofore used over all Wales. … In North Wales the Sinne-eaters are frequently made use of; but there, instead of a Bowie of Beere, they have a bowle of Milke.” [Aubrey, Remains of Gentilisme and Judaisme (Folk-lore Society, 1881), p. 35 sq.] According to a letter dated February 1, 1714-5, “within the memory of our fathers, in Shropshire, in those villages adjoyning to Wales, when a person dyed, there was notice given to an old sire (for so they called him), who presently repaired to the place where the deceased lay, and stood before the door of the house, when some of the family came out and furnished him with a cricket, on which he sat down facing the door. Then they gave him a groat, which he put in his pocket ; a crust of bread, which he eat ; and a full bowle of ale, which he drank off at a draught. After this he got up from the cricket and pronounced, with a composed gesture, the ease and rest of the soul departed for which he would pawn his own soul. This I had from the ingenious John Aubrey, Esq.” [Bagford’s letter in Leland’s Collectanea, i. 76, quoted by Brand, Popular Antiquities., ii. 246 sq. Bohn’s ed.]

That the legitimacy of the tradition is contested is noted:

In recent years some doubt has been thrown on Aubrey’s account of the custom.[In the Academy, 13th Nov. 1875, p. 505, Mr, D. Silvan Evans stated that he knew of no such custom anywhere in Wales ; and Miss Burne knows no example of it in Shropshire. Burne of and Jackson, Shropshire Folk-lore, p. 307 sq.]

But then the author falls back to quoting the support of Moggridge:

The practice, however, is reported to have prevailed in a valley not far from Llandebie to a recent period. An instance was said to have occurred about forty years ago. [The authority for the statement is a Mr. Moggridge, reported in Archaelogia Cambrensis, second series, iii. 330. But Mr. Moggridge did not speak from personal knowledge, and as he appears to have taken it for granted that the practice of placing bread and salt upon the breast of a corpse was a survival of the custom of “sin-eating,” his evidence must be received with caution. He repeated his statement, in somewhat vaguer terms, at a meeting of the Anthropological Institute, 14th December 1875. See Journ. Anthrop, Inst. v 423 sq.]

Where The Golden Bough might be thought capable of adding something to the discussion is through a comparative analysis with traditions elsewhere:

Aubrey’s statement is supported by the analogy of similar customs in India. When the Rajah of Tanjore died in 1801, some of his bones and the bones of the two wives, who were burned with his corpse, were ground to powder and eaten, mixed with boiled rice, by twelve Brahmans. It was believed that the sins of the deceased passed into the bodies of the Brahmans, who were paid for the service.[Dubois, Moeurs des Peuples de l’Inde, ii. 32.] A Brahman, resident in a village near Raipur, stated that he had eaten food (rice and milk) out of the hand of the dead Rajah of Bildspur, and that in consequence he had been placed on the throne for the space of a year. At the end of the year he had been given presents and then turned out of the territory and forbidden apparently to return. He was an outcast among his fellows for having eaten out of a dead man’s hand. [R. Richardson, in Panjab Notes and Queries, i. No. 674.] A similar custom is believed to obtain among the hill states about Kángrá, and to have given rise to a caste of ” outcaste ” Brahmans. At the funeral of a Rání of Chambá rice and ghí were eaten out of the hands of the corpse by a Brahman paid for the purpose. Afterwards a stranger, who had been caught outside the Chambá territory, was given the costly wrappings of the corpse, then told to depart and never show his face in the country again.[Panjab Notes and Queries, i. No. 674; ii. No. 559. Some of these customs have been already referred to in a different connection. See above, vol. i. p. 232.] In Oude when an infant was killed it used to be buried in the room in which it had been born. On the thirteenth day afterwards the priest had to cook and eat his food in that room. By doing so he was supposed to take the whole sin upon himself and to cleanse the family from it. [Op. cit. iii. No. 745.] At Utch Kurgan in Turkistan Mr. Schuyler saw an old man who was said to get his living by taking on himself the sins of the dead and thenceforth devoting his life to prayer for their souls. [E. Schuyler, Turkistan, ii. 28]

Gomme’s Ethnology in Folklore, 1892#

The Ethnic Genealogy of Folklore, 1892, by George Gomme, embraces the emerging field of folklore and sets out to provide a study of a population’s wider traditions and beliefs as a formal branch of study.

In the preface, on p.v-viii, Gommes sets out his motivation for the work:


I HAVE sought in this book to ascertain and set forth the principles upon which folklore may be classified, in order to arrive at some of the results which should follow from its study. That it contains ethnological elements might be expected by all who have paid any attention to recent research, but no attempt has hitherto been made to set these elements down categorically and to examine the conclusions which are to be drawn from them.

It is due to the large and increasing band of folklore devotees that the uses of folklore should be brought forward. The scoffer at these studies is apt to have it all his own way so long as the bulk of the books published on folklore contain nothing but collected examples of tales, customs, and superstitions, arranged for no purpose but that of putting the facts pleasantly before readers. But, more than this, recent research tends to show the increasing importance of bringing into proper order, within reasonable time, all the evidence that is available from different sources upon any given subject of inquiry. Looked at in this light, ethnology has great claims upon the student. The science of culture has almost refused to deal with it, and has been content with noting only a few landmarks which occur here ami there along the lines of development traceable in the elements of human culture. But the science of history has of late been busy with many problems of ethno- logical importance, and has for this purpose turned sometimes to craniology, sometimes to archeology, sometimes to philology, but rarely to folklore. If folk-lore, then, does contain ethnological facts, it is time that they should be disclosed, and that the method of dis- covering them should be placed before scholars.

Of course, my attempt in this direction must not be looked upon in any sense as an exhaustive treatment of the subject, and I am not vain enough to expect that all my conclusions will be accepted. I believe that the time has come when every item of folklore should be docketed and put into its proper place, and I hope I have done something towards this end in the following pages. When complete classification is attempted some of the items of folklore will be found useless enough. But most of them will help us to understand more of the development of thought than any other subject; and many of them will, if my reading of the evidence is correct, take us back, not only to stages in the history of human thought, but to the people who have yielded up the struggle of their minds to the modern student of man and his strivings.

At the risk of crowding the pages with footnotes, I have been careful to give references to all my authorities for items of folklore, because so much depends upon the value of the authority used in these studies. I believe they are all quoted accurately, but shall always be glad to know of any corrections or additions.

Professor Rhys has kindly read through my proofs, and I am very grateful for the considerable service he has thereby rendered me.


March 1892.

The context is further qualified at the start of the opening chapter, p1-2:

Chapter 1

Survival and Development

THERE has grown up of late years a subject of inquiry- first antiquarian merely, and now scientific into the peasant and local elements in modern culture, and this subject has not inaptly been termed ‘ folklore.’ Almost always at the commencement of a new study much is done by eager votaries which has to be undone as soon as settled work is undertaken, and it happens, I think, that because the elements of folklore are so humble and unpretentious, because they have to be sought for in the peasant’s cottage or fields, in the children’s nursery, or from the lips of old gaffers and gammers, that unusual difficulties have beset the student of folklore. Not only has he to undo any futile work that stands in the way “of his special inquiry, but he has to attempt the rebuilding of his edifice in face of contrasts frequently drawn between the elements which make up his subject and those supposed more dignified elements with which the historian, the archaeologist, and the philologist have to deal.

The essential characteristic of folklore is that it consists of beliefs, customs, and traditions which are far behind civilisation in their intrinsic value to man, though they exist under the cover of a civilised nationality. This estimate of the position of folklore with reference to civilisation suggests that its constituent elements are survivals of a condition of human thought more backward, and therefore more ancient, than that in which they are discovered.

Except to the students of anthropology, the fact of the existence of survivals of older culture in our midst is not readily grasped or understood. Historians have been so engrossed with the political and commercial progress of nations that it is not easy to determine what room they would make in the world for the non-progressive portion of the population. And yet the history of every country must begin with the races who have occupied it. …

In chapter V. of the work, entitled “The Ethnic Genealogy of Folklore”, the genealogy of a partcular class of traditions, specifically, “Eating of dead kindred”, is reviewed, as charted on p. 124 of that work. The following excerpt, pp.116-120, relates specifically to a consideration of the sin-eater tradition, but the wider chapter is worth reading in full:

Another group of such practices surviving in folklore represents by symbolisation a still further step in the genealogy. A note by Bishop White Kennet speaks of a ‘custom which lately obtained at Amersden in the county of Oxford, where at the burial of every corps one cake and one flaggon of ale just after the interment were brought to the minister in the church porch.’ [*Aubrey's Remaines of Gentilisme*, p. 24.] This, in the opinion of the writer, seems ‘a remainder’ of the custom of sin-eating, and it is probable he is right. The sin-eating custom is thus given by Aubrey : ‘In the county of Hereford was an old custome at funeralls to have poor people who were to take upon them all the sinnes of the party deceased. The manner was that when the corps was brought out of the house and layd on the biere, a loafe of bread was brought out and delivered to the sinne-eater over the corps, as also a mazar bowle of maple (gossips bowle) full of beer, which he was to drinke up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he tooke upon him (ipso facto) all the sinnes of the defunct, and freed him or her from walking after they were dead.’ [Aubrey's Remaines of Gentilisme, pp. 35, 36.] Aubrey specifically mentions Hereford, Ross, Dynder (’volens nolens the parson of ye Parish’), and ‘in other places in this countie,’ as also in Breconshire, at Llangors, ‘where Mr. Gwin, the minister, about 1640, could no hinder ye performing of this ancient custome,’ and in North Wales, where, instead of a bowle of beere they have a bowle of milke.’

This account is not seen as providing hard evidence of anything, so the author turns instead to Bagford:

This account is circumstantial enough. Bagford, in his well-known letter to Hearne (1715), mentions the same custom as obtaining in Shropshire, ‘in those villages adjoyning to Wales.’ His account is : ‘When a person dyed there was notice given to an old sire (for so they called him), who presently repaired to the place where the deceased lay and stood before the door of the house, when some of the family came out and furnished him with a cricket, on which he sat down facing the door. Then they gave him a groat which he put in his pocket ; a crust of bread which he ate ; and a full bowle of ale which he drank off at a draught. After this he got up from the cricket and pronounced with a composed gesture the ease and rest of the soul departed, for which he would pawn his own soul.’ [Leland's Collectanea, i. lxxvi.] There seems some evidence of this custom being in vogue at Llandebie, near Swansea, until about 1850, [Archaologia Cambrensis, iii. 330 ; Journ. Antlirop. Iit. v. 423 ; Wirt Sikes, British Goblins, pp. 326, 327. The Welsh practice of the relatives of the deceased distributing bread and cheese to the poor over the coffin seems to me to confirm the evidence for the Welsh sin-eater. One of Elfric's canons says, inter alia, 'Do not eat and drink over the body in the heathenish manner.' Wilkins, Concilia, i. 255.] where the ceremony was not unlike that described as having been practised in the west of Scotland. ‘There were persons,’ says Mr. Napier, ‘calling themselves sin-eaters, who when a person died were sent for to come and eat the sins of the deceased. When they came their modus operandi was to place a plate of salt and a plate of bread on the breast of the corpse and repeat a series of incantations, after which they ate the contents of the plates and so relieved the dead person of such sins as would have kept him hovering around his relations, haunting them with his imperfectly purified spirit, to their great annoyance and without satisfaction to himself’. [Napier, [Folklore of the West of Scotland](FLWSN), p. 60. I am not quite satisfied with this example. Mr. Napier evidently is not minutely describing an actual observance, and in his book he frequently refers to customs elsewhere. In this instance he does not appear to be alluding to any other than Scottish customs, and it is to be noted that his details differ from Aubrey's and Bagford's, nor can I trace any authority for his details except his own observation, unless it be from Mr. Moggridge's account in Arch. Cambrensis, which, however, it does not follow exactly. He is so reliable in respect of all his own notes that I should not doubt this if it were not for the certain amount of vagueness about the language.] The Welsh custom, as described by Mr. Moggridge, adds one important detail not noted with reference to the other customs namely, that after the ceremony the sin-eater ‘vanished as quickly as possible from the general gaze.’

Gomme then tries to abstract out several common features of the tradition across the British Isles:

The chief points in these remarkable customs are :

(1) The action of passing the food over the corpse, as if thereby to signify some connection with the corpse ;

(2) The immediate disappearance of the sin-eater ; and

(3) The object of the ceremony to prevent the spirit of the deceased from annoying the living.

In these customs clearly something is symbolised by the supposed eating up of the sins of the deceased. [I must acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Hartland for the use I make of the custom of sin-eating. He was good enough to draw my attention to a study of the subject he was preparing, and which since the above passage was written he has read before the Folklore Society.] As Mr. Frazer has observed in reference to these practices, ‘the idea of sin is not primitive.’ [Frazer, Golden Bough, ii. 152, note ; Miss Burne also seems to suggest this idea (Shropshire Folklore, p. 202).] I do not think with Mr. Frazer that the older idea was that death was carried away from the survivors. Something much less subtle than this must have originated all these practices, or they could not have been kept up in so materialistic a form. Folklore tends to become less material as it decays ; it goes off into almost shadowy conceptions, not into practices which of themselves are horrid and revolting. These practices, then, must be the indicator which will help us to translate the symbolism of folklore into the usage of primitive life. The various forms of the survival seem to indicate that we have here a group of customs and beliefs relating to some unknown cult of the dead a cult which, when it was relegated to the position of a survival by some foreign force which arrested development and only brought decay and change, showed no tendency towards any high conception of future bliss for the deceased in spirit-land ; a cult which was savage in conception, savage in the methods of carrying out the central idea which promoted it, savage, too, in the results which must have flowed from it and affected the minds and associations of its actors.


E. Sidney Hartland, Welsh Folklore: Its Collection and Study, 1892#

In the opening paragraphs of a paper on “Welsh Folklore: Its Collection and Study”, pp. 44-68 , in 1892, now available in the Eighth session, 1892-3, of the Transactions of the Liverpool Welsh National Society, E. Sidney Hartland, F.S.A., at p. 45, summarised his interpretation of what folklore in general, and Welsh folkore in particular, constitutes:

Folklore is the science of tradition ; and by the folklore of any people we mean the general body of its traditions, its stories, its songs, its sayings, its ceremonies, institutions, customs and superstitions, every practice, every belief, every amusement handed down from one generation to another by word of mouth or by example, but not sanctioned by any written law or civilized religion, nor transmitted as history in any credible record. Matters as trivial as nursery rhymes, riddles, or children’s games are no less traditional than the mystical incantations of witchcraft, the famous legend and procession of Lady Godiva at Coventry, the stories of classical gods and heroes, the awful rites of Osiris and the Eleusinian mysteries. The folklore of Wales, therefore, is the general body of the traditions of Wales. How rich those traditions are we become conscious when we think of the stories of the Mabinogion, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the tales and practices recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis, the fairy tales collected in recent years by Professor Rhys, the curious old funeral custom of the Sin- eater, the legends and the practices connected with wells and pools throughout the country. And these are only some of the traditions now or formerly current in Wales : traditions which for scientific interest, as well as picturesqueness, are not outdone by those of any European nation. Their picturesqueness is patent to everybody, and I need not spend any words over it. Their scientific interest lies not quite so much on the surface, and will perhaps repay a little consideration.

A little further on, at p.56, he gives an example of the scientific approach to folklore in the context of the sin-eater tradition which repeats the now well-worn history with which we are now sofamiliar, starting with Moggridge’s telling of it:

This is an example of the scientific interest attaching to the examination of Welsh Folktales. Let us turn to an old custom which I mentioned just now— that of the Sin-eater. This remarkable custom is, I think, no longer followed, but it has only ceased within the lifetime of living men. Forty years ago, Mr, Matthew Moggridge, at a meeting of the Cambrian Archaeological Association at Ludlow in 1852, referred to it as having survived to within a recent period at Llandebie, some twelve or thirteen miles from Swansea. He said that ” when a person died, the friends sent for the Sin-eater of the district, who, on his arrival, placed a plate of salt on the breast of the defunct, and upon the salt a piece of bread. He then muttered an incantation over the bread, which he finally ate, thereby eating up all the sins of the deceased. This done, he received his fee of 2s. 6d., and vanished as quickly as possible from the general gaze ; for, as it was believed that he really appropriated to his own use and behoof the sins of all those over whom he performed the above ceremony, he was utterly detested in the neighbourhood—regarded as a mere pariah—as one irredeemably lost.”

As we might expect, Aubrey is wheeled out next:

John Aubrey, the antiquary, writing in the latter years of the seventeenth century, gives a more detailed description, slightly differing from Mr. Moggridge’s, of the ceremony, as practised in his time in Herefordshire. And he appropriately describes one of these sin-eaters, whom he himself knew, as ” a long, lean, ugly, lamentable poor raskal.” ” The manner was,” he tells us, ” that when the Corps was brought out of the house and layd on the Biere ; a Loafe of bread was brought out, and delivered to the Sinne-eater over the corps, as also a Mazar-bowle of maple (Gossips bowle) full of beer, which he was to drink up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he tooke upon him (ipso facto) all the Sinnes of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from walking after they were dead.”

There is then a sleight of hand: when “other accounts” are mentioned, we might assume other independent accounts; but there is no evidence of what these other accounts might be, save for a mention of Pennant (Pennant):

Other accounts of the Sin-eater have reached us ; but it is only necessary to quote what, there can be little doubt, is a varying form of the same custom mentioned by Pennant, in whose time “previous to a funeral, it was customary, when the corpse was brought out of the house and laid upon the bier, for the next of kin, be it widow, mother, sister, or daughter (for it must be a female), to give, over the coffin, a quantity of white loaves, in a great dish, and sometimes a cheese, with a piece of money stuck in it, to certain poor persons. After that they present, in the same manner, a cup of drink, and require the person to drink a little of it immediately. When that is done, all present kneel down, and the minister, if present, says the Lord’s Prayer ; after which they proceed with the corpse.”

Perhaps surprisingly, no reference is given to the debate that played out in the pages of the Academy in the course of the first sin-eater controversy in 1875. Hartland may have been taking a scientific approach, but it wasn’t necessarily a scholarly one.

In terms of following “the scientific approach”, Hartland now turns to the possible origins of the tradition, tiresome though that discovery process may be:

It would be tiresome to go through all the steps of the enquiry into the origin and meaning of this remarkable rite. A few of the most important will exhibit to you the process of the reasoning and the result arrived at. Let us first note that the rite has to do with the disposal of the dead, that the consumption of food and drink placed upon the coffin, or rather upon the the body itself, or handed across it by the next of kin, is the substance of the rite, and that the belief connected with it is, that by the act of eating, some properties of the dead are taken over by the eater.

Taking a comparative approach, Hartland looks first to Eastern Europe:

If we turn to the Highlands of Bavaria, we find a custom bearing unmistakeable analogies to the Sin-eater. When the corpse is placed upon the bier, the room is carefully washed. It was formerly the custom for the housewife then to prepare the corpse-cakes. Having kneaded the dough, she placed it to rise on the dead body which lay there enswathed in a linen shroud. When the dough had risen, the cakes were baked for the expected guests. To the cakes so prepared, the belief attached that they contained the virtues and advantages of the departed, and that thus the living strength of the deceased passed over by means of the corpse-cakes into the kinsmen who consumed them and so was retained within the kin. Here we find ourselves at an earlier stage in the disintegration of tradition than in the Welsh custom. The eating is not merely that of food placed upon the breast of the dead man, and so in some way symbolically identified with him. The dough in rising is believed actually to absorb his qualities, which are transmitted to those of his kin who partake of the cakes, and (consistently with the custom requiring the relatives to eat these cakes) that the qualities transferred arc not evil but good ones. The living strength, the virtues, and so on, of the dead, are thus retained within the kin.

Then further east:

Going a little further eastward, we are met in the Balkan Peninsula by a custom perhaps more striking still. At a funeral among the Greeks and other subject-races of Turkey, a cake made of boiled wheat is carried in the procession. After the coffin has been put into the grave, the cake is broken up and eaten by the mourners then and there above the tomb, each of them pronouncing the words : “God rest him!” This cake bears upon it the image of the dead. It is thus not merely some qualities of the dead which are believed to be absorbed in the eating : his very likeness is devoured.

Other examples of the tradition identified, Hartland then seeks to identify what they might have in common at a deeper, representational level:

Now, it is beyond question that, where in any traditional custom, we come across images or effigies of man or animal which are burnt, or eaten, or buried, or offered in anywise in sacrifice to God or devil, or to ancestral spirits, there those images, those effigies, of whatever material they are made, are substitutes only for the real thing. The man, or the animal, was originally the subject of the rite, and nothing but the degeneracy of civilization has modified the practice. So here, the cake which bears the image of the dead, eaten at the grave at the moment of entombment, can only be a relic of a savage feast, where the meat consumed was the body itself of the deceased kinsman. In the same way the partaking of food and drink which have been placed upon the body, or the coffin, of the deceased, or are delivered across the coffin to be consumed— an act, remember, which is believed to convey to the eaters some, at all events, of the properties of the dead—can bear no other construction, can point to no other origin. The eating of the dead, however repulsive to us, is known by the testimony of ancient writers to have been the practice of many barbarous tribes ; and travellers have likewise found it among modern savages. In particular, Strabo records it, not exactly of the ancient Britons, but of their cousins the ancient Irish, telling us that they considered it praiseworthy to devour their dead fathers. The inhabitants of Britain were at that time, as he expressly says, more civilized than the Irish. They had perhaps already passed beyond the stage at which this rite, in all its horrid litteralness, is possible. Among modern savages I will only refer to one case, and you must pardon me for its horror. The tribes who inhabit the valley of the Uaupes, a tributary of the Amazons, bury their dead beneath the floor of the house. About a month after the funeral, Dr. Wallace tells us, the survivors “disinter the corpse, which is then much decomposed, and put it in a great pan, or oven, over the fire, till all the volatile parts are driven off with a most horrible odour, leaving only a black carbonaceous mass, which is pounded into a fine powder, and mixed in several large” vats of fermented drink. “This is drunk by the assembled company till all is finished ; they believe that thus the virtues of the deceased will be transmitted to the drinkers.”

From the examples, Hartland attempts to draw general conclusions as well as seeking practical explanations for how the traditional behaviours may have developed:

The reason here expressly assigned for the custom is neither more nor less than that given by the Highlanders of Bavaria for making and eating the corpse-cakes. It is a general belief in the lower culture that food communicates its qualities to the eater. Thus, the flesh of tigers transmits courage and strength ; that of stags, speed ; that of hares, timidity. The same order of thought leads the savage tribes of the Uaupes to try to retain within the kindred, the good qualities of a departed member, by consuming his body powdered in drink. The Bavarian peasant could not tolerate the coarse directness of this expedient. He tried to achieve the same result by the symbolical act of eating cakes baked of dough which had been put upon the breast of the dead man, to rise, and had in rising absorbed his virtues. In the Sin-eater, the same act is put to another, but strictly analogous, use in the absorption of the sins of the deceased. Why it was supposed that in the one case good, and in the other evil, properties were communicated I cannot tell you. Some variation in the view taken of the matter by the clergy may have led to the rite’s being considered disgraceful in Wales, and so may have rendered those who persisted in it the objects of persecution. Payment to undertake the odium, the consequent degradation, as well of the rite as of the person who performed it, and the influence of the Biblical account of the Hebrew scape-goat may have done the rest. [The foregoing attempt to explain the Sin-eater is condensed from my paper on the subject read to the Folklore Society, and published in iii Folklore, 145, to which the reader is referred for further details.]

As we shall see, E. Sidney Hartland will come to play an important role in the second sin-eater controversy, but his influence in framing the debate leading up to that should not be underestimated. So if you would like to read a little more about him, and perhaps attempt to get a measure of the man, now’s your chance.

But if you’d rather proceed with story, move straight on to the next chapter, to see what Hartland’s paper said first-hand, how it came to appear, and how it was received.