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Comics

Wearing Human Skin Throughout History

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.

Scynthian Scalp-Cloaks

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.

Icelandic Necropants

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.

Rumors

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!

  1. BASTET. February 12, 2015 at 10:07 am - Reply

    Well, this just made my SKIN crawl! Awesome!!

  2. Neutral-Grey February 12, 2015 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Neat reading. Thanks, Lizzy.

  3. GovernorPhillip February 12, 2015 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Interesting read! I never knew so many cultures found it okay to wear human skin.

  4. mheasley1011 February 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    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.

  5. mheasley1011 February 12, 2015 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    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

  6. j.cano11 February 12, 2015 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    wearing the entire bottom halves of people. Must of been a crazy sight to behold.

  7. Epic A February 13, 2015 at 4:16 am - Reply

    Just imagine DANTE’s skin on the leader of The Whisperers…

  8. Neganism February 16, 2015 at 10:38 am - Reply

    This was a good read, fascinating how many cultures used this……

  9. carlyyougoonie February 20, 2015 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    Man, Ed Gein has always facinated and terrified the fucking shit out of me.

  10. Father_Desmond February 28, 2015 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Cool to see how they keep adding new undead themes.

  11. meislingalex123 March 1, 2015 at 4:54 am - Reply

    I had heard about Ed Gein. Creepy fella.


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