When people pass away, their bodies are burned on a funeral pyre when the moon is visible. The smoke that rises from the fire is believed to be the life essence of the person rising up to the moon to be embraced by the Pale Sister, who will then care for them till they are ready to be reborn by the Lifegiver.
For those who have committed a horrible crime, however, taken a life or sexually assaulted someone, a different fate awaits. Instead of being burned and allowed to be reborn, they are buried, away from the town or city and will cease to exist and never return to the world.
It’s believed that as they rot in the ground, their evil essence will flow out into the earth around them, contaminating it, and nothing will grow there. The area where they are buried is called “blackened soil,” and is avoided by people as much as possible and it’s said that even animals will refuse to go near it because they can sense the wickedness in the earth.
A slightly different but related tradition involves a so-called “sin-eater tree,” a big, old, gnarled tree standing alone or have the area around it cleared. Criminals are buried at its roots and are sometimes hung from it if they had received the death penalty. It is believed that the tree will soak up their evil essence and contain it, keeping it from spreading and is considered a better and more reliable way of containing it than burying them in the blackened soil.
The tree is often decorated with personal objects belonging to those buried beneath it, which would ensure that their essence is contained within. It is not uncommon to find pieces of cloth tied to branches, pocket watches, bracelets and such grown into the bark. Several lanterns are also usually hung from the branches to light the area and the tree most often has a dedicated caretaker known as a “sin watcher”, who’s job it is to see to the tree and make sure no contamination is spreading from it. They’re almost always hermits living close to the tree and some even claim to have an emotional connection to the tree and can speak to it and hear it speak.
This practice is mostly found amongst hamlets located near to or inside forests and usually, have a lot of people who’s work is based around the woods: hunters, woodsmen, herbalists and others.
Because of the Long Madness, the number of people being buried in either of these fashions has increased tremendously, and larger and larger areas have been covered in blackened soil. Some even containing mass graves.