Modern people have recently become reacquainted with the practice of flaying, at least conceptually. That’s due, in no small part, to A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation “Game of Thrones” being the hottest pop-culture phenomenon this side of Tatooine for almost a decade. What all that blood and boiled leather does to a society’s collective psyche is anyone’s guess, but its probably nothing we can’t handle. People have done horrible things to each other for a very long time, and long before Roose Bolton and his flayed man sigil were but a twinkle in George R.R. Martin’s eye, there was a Mesoamerican god called Xipe Totec—”Our Lord the Flayed.” Mexican archaeologists have recently made the first discovery of a temple to Xipe Totec, and reader beware, it ain’t for the faint of heart.
Xipe Totec was a fertility and agriculture god who symbolized the cycle of death and rebirth. He also invented war. The Flayed Lord was depicted as having flayed his own skin as a sacrifice to feed his people, as well as wearing the skins of human sacrifices. Despite the incredibly grim imagery, Xipe Totec wasn’t a villain as far as gods go. Worship of Xipe Totec predates the Aztec civilization, but, like many other gods and religious practices, he was assimilated after Aztec conquest. The recently discovered temple, which archaeologists believe to be the first temple to Xipe Totec ever found, was built by the Popoloca Indians in the central Mexican state of Puebla between A.D. 1000 and 1260.
Inside the temple archaeologists found art depicting the Flayed Lord as well as a few relics of ceremonial practices. These relics include two enormous clay heads with the most terrifying grinning faces ever dug out of the ground and a statue of Xipe Totec depicting him wearing the skin of a human sacrifice. Religious ceremonies devoted to Xipe Totec were conducted by priests who wore the actual skins of human sacrifices, and the two clay heads were used to plug the pits where the flayed skins were kept. Remember, you were warned.
Whether or not the actual flaying was done at this site is a different matter. Speaking to the Associated Press, University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie(who was not involed with the project) said:
“[A] singular temple to this deity (whatever his name in Popoloca) does not necessarily indicate that this was the place of sacrifice. The Aztec practice was to perform the sacrificial death in one or more places, but to ritually store the skins in another, after they had been worn by living humans for some days. So it could be that this is the temple where they were kept, making it all the more sacred.”
And all the more disturbing. Regardless of the exactly who flayed who and where, archaeologists say this is a major discovery. The team who made the discovery plan to continue excavating the site and expect to find more depictions of the Flayed Lord. Maybe we’ll be desensitized enough by then to read about it with a full stomach.