Just when it looked like The Walking Dead couldn’t get more disturbing, the latest arc of the comics introduced a group of humans dubbed the Whisperers, who live amongst walkers by wearing suits made of rotting skin. This grisly development got us to thinking… what is the historical basis for this idea? Have people flayed the skin off of corpses in the past and worn them? We were morbidly curious, so we did a little research on when humans have worn human skin in the past.
One of the earliest accounts of wearing human skin, in 440 BCE the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about the ancient Scythians and their tendency to scalp their victims. The Scythians would sew together their human scalps to make cloaks. This was the ultimate form of boasting and wasn’t for practicality so much as it was so show off how many people they had killed.
Added bonus: they would also use human skin as saddle-cloaks for their horses.
Flayed Priests of Xipe Totec
A Mayan god of fertility and renewal (also named Our Lord The Flayed One… see where this is going?) was often portrayed wearing flayed human skin. Where it gets creepy is that his priests would emulate this by killing sacrificial victims and then dressing in their skins. The skins were often dyed yellow and referred to as teocuitlaquemitl (“golden clothes”).
Though we may not know exactly what the priests looked like in their flayed costumes, statues of Xipe Totec bear features similar to the Whisperers, like elaborate string ties running along the back of the worn skin. Other eerie aspects of Xipe Totec’s outfit include “double lips” and flayed hands hanging limply from wrists.
You heard me! Originating in Iceland in the 17th century, an Iclandic legend promised endless wealth if you were able to complete this simple task: flay a corpse from the waist down and wear the skin. The main caveat, though, is that these nábrók (“necropants”) need to include everything from the waist down. Everything.
Although officially there are no nábrók remaining in existence, there is a terrifying replica on display at Strandagaldur, The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft.
Ed Gein’s Skin Suit
The inspiration for several fictional murderers, including Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates, Ed Gein was a grave-robber and murderer who recycled parts from his victims. In 1954, when his macabre collection was discovered, one of the items in his collection was a suit made entirely of human skin.
Human Leather Goods
Although not necessarily the same as wearing skin over skin, there are several historical instances of humans wearing human leather. There’s even a website where you can purchase human leather goods today, although they are closed to new clients due to high demand.
And clothing isn’t the only thing that we humans can be made into. Ed Gein had a huge collections of objects made from human skin, including an armchair, a belt, a wastebasket, and several lampshades. In addition, our good friend Herodotus had a story about King Cambyses II, who is said to have upholstered a judicial seat with the skin of a (formerly) corrupt judge to serve as a reminder to his successor not to repeat his sins.
Although never proven, there were a few other historical instances of supposed skin-wearing. During the French Revolution, the aristocrats supposedly flayed the bodies of rebels (guillotines produce a lot of waste) and used their skin for clothing. There are also legends of Afghan warlords who made leather clothing out of fallen enemies. While some of this may be propaganda or myth, it’s still provides an interesting example of how wearing human skin has been perceived throughout history, whether it be used to smear reputations or intimidate foes!
What did you think was the craziest example listed above? Are there any other instances you’ve read about or studied that we may have glossed over or forgotten? Comment below and let us know!
Well, this just made my SKIN crawl! Awesome!!
Neat reading. Thanks, Lizzy.
Interesting read! I never knew so many cultures found it okay to wear human skin.
Hey, Govnah, I’m wearing human skin. MUAHAHAHAA!!
A cat wearing human skin? Oh god! It’s begun!!!
What do you think happened to all the pets of TWD? We got hip to it long before these Whisperers showed up!
You know what they say… “There’s more than one way to skin a human!”
This is total fantasy fiction but I’m a huge A Song Of Ice And Fire/Game Of Thrones fan. House Bolton’s sigil is a flayed man. The Boltons are known for flaying their enemies.
One of my favorite bands Blind Melon made a song called “Skinned”. The lyrics are all about Ed Gein.
I’ll make a shoehorn outta your skin
I’ll make a lampshade of durable skin
And oh, don’t you know that I’m always feelin’ able
When I’m sittin’ home and I’m carving out your navel
When will I realize that this skin I’m in
Hey, it isn’t mine
And when will the kill be too much meat for me to hide on
Hey, I could really use a couple of hands
To complete one hell of a plant stand
Oh, and don’t you know that I’m caught here in the middle
Making rib cages into coffee tables
I’m just makin’ em into coffee tables
And when I realize that this skin I’m in
Hey, it isn’t mine
And when will the thrill be too much meat for me to find anymore
Oh, because you know I can’t hide
But oh how hard I try
But this is just the shape I’m in, oh yeah
And though you know I can’t hide
But oh how hard I try
But this is just the shape I’m in
Excellent recommendation. I just listened to this song. It is very festive. The kazoo’s really bring it home in my opinion.
wearing the entire bottom halves of people. Must of been a crazy sight to behold.
Just imagine DANTE’s skin on the leader of The Whisperers…
This was a good read, fascinating how many cultures used this……
Man, Ed Gein has always facinated and terrified the fucking shit out of me.
Cool to see how they keep adding new undead themes.
I had heard about Ed Gein. Creepy fella.
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