Mexican experts have found the first temple of the Flayed god, a pre-Hispanic fertility deity depicted as a skinned human corpse.
What is Flayed god?
The great god Xipe Totec, otherwise known as Our Lord the Flayed One/ Flayed God, was one of the oldest Aztec deities. Also known as Red Tezcatlipoca, guardian of the east, Xipe Totec was often depicted as a man wearing the flayed skin of another.
Xipe Totec’s name was derived from the myth by which the god flayed—peeled and cut off—his own skin to feed humans. For the Aztecs, Xipe Totec’s removing his layer of skin symbolized the events that must happen to produce renewed growth that covers the earth each spring. More specifically, flaying is associated with the cycle of American corn (maize) as it sheds its external seed covering when it is ready to germinate.
Discovery of the temple
Mexico‘s National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was made during recent excavations of Popoloca Indian ruins in the central state of Puebla.
The institute said experts found two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec. It had an extra hand dangling off one arm, suggesting the god was wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim. The Popolocas built the temple at a complex known as Ndachjian-Tehuacan between A.D. 1000 and 1260 and were later conquered by the Aztecs.
Sacrifice and the Flaying of Skin
Priests worshipped Xipe Totec by skinning human victims and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration. The victims of this sacrifice would be killed and then flayed—their skins removed in large pieces. Those skins were painted and then worn by others during a ceremony and in this manner, they would be transformed into the living image (“teotl ixiptla”) of Xipe Totec.
Rituals performed during the early spring month of Tlacaxipeualiztli included the “Feast of the Flaying of Men,” for which the month was named. The entire city and rulers or nobles of enemy tribes would witness this ceremony. In this ritual, slaves or captive warriors from surrounding tribes were dressed in as the “living image” of Xipe Totec. Transformed into the god, the victims were led through a series of rituals performing as Xipe Totec, then they were sacrificed and their body parts distributed among the community.
Ancient accounts of the rituals suggested victims were killed in gladiator-style combat or by arrows on one platform, then skinned on another platform. The layout of the temple at Tehuacan seems to match that description.
Other depictions of the Flayed god
Depictions of the god had been found before in other cultures, including the Aztecs, but not a whole temple.
University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, wrote that “finding the torso fragment of a human wearing the flayed skin of a sacrificial victim in situ is perhaps the most compelling evidence of the association of this practice and related deity to a particular temple, more so to me than the two sculpted skeletal crania.”
“If the Aztec sources could be relied upon, a singular temple to this deity (whatever his name in Popoloca) does not necessarily indicate that this was the place of sacrifice,” Gillespie wrote. “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.”
Featured image: Omar Eduardo