Let’s do a little role-playing: it’s the 1400s or so, and you’re a prisoner of war of the mighty Aztecs. They’re celebrating one of their many Aztec festivals, which you’ve heard can get a little out of hand (something about sacrifices to a needy god named Xipe Totec).
Word gets around among the P.O.W.s that you'll have to participate in some Aztec rituals to kick off the festival Tlacaxipehualiztli, which looks like two excellent Scrabble hands strung together, but is actually, you discover to your horror, an Aztec flaying ceremony. Uh oh!
How bad can it be, really? What, exactly, would the Aztecs have done to you? Let’s find out!
They Make You Defend Yourself with FeathersPhoto: Juan de Tovar / via Wikimedia
The horror begins with a humiliating charade: you’re naked and tied by your foot to a giant ornate stone, wielding a pathetic wooden sword covered, hopelessly, with feathers. Record scratch, freeze frame: Yup, that’s you. You’re probably wondering how you ended up in this situation.
(You got into this situation because you’re a prisoner of war of the Aztecs, who are looking, as always, to appease Xipe Totec, the Flayed One, the God of Spring, Patron God of Seeds, Son of Ometeotl, Brother of Quetzalcoatal, Source of All Disease. This means, unfortunately, you’re going to die an absurd and humiliating death, surpassed in its horror only by what the Aztecs are going to do to your body after it’s as useless to you as that adorable feather sword.)
Your executioners are the Tlauauanque, which means “cutters or gashers of skins.” The Tlauauanque are fully-outfitted Aztec Eagle and Jaguar warriors wielding swords that look like yours, but are instead made with razor-sharp obsidian. They use them to kill you.
They Stick a Giant Straw Where Your Heart Used to BePhoto: Public Domain / via Wikimedia
Now that you’re dead, the real horror begins: your heart is cut out and raised up as an offering to the sun by a terrifying dude called the Night Drinker (the Day Drinker, presumably, passed out hours ago).
Meanwhile, the rest of your body is treated, bizarrely, like a Capri Sun pouch: a hollow cane is stuck into the gash where your heart used to be, so the sun can “drink” your blood. This “fortifies” the sun, you see, so rest in peace knowing your death wasn’t in vain.
They Toss Your Lifeless Body Down the StairsPhoto: Florentine Codex / via Wikimedia
Now that you’ve been relieved of your heart and the sun’s nice and hydrated, your body gets tossed “gently” down the temple stairs, “breaking to pieces” and bouncing “head over heels,” according to the Spaniards observing the scene, trying not to retch. Your limp and heartless meatsack lands in a lump at the base of the temple, leaving an “enormous outpouring of blood” in its wake.
The worst, unfathomably, is yet to come. They’re just getting started.
They Make Robes Out of Your SkinPhoto: Juan de Tovar / via Wikimedia
There’s no gentle way to say this: for the next 20 days, Aztec priests are going to wear your skin like a robe. After carefully skinning you, they dye your dermis yellow to make swanky teocuitlaquemitl, or “golden robes.” The priests then take turns wearing you and your fellow P.O.W.s around town, starting “mock battles” and accepting gifts. Young warriors try to rip chunks of your flesh off to prove their bravery.
Over the next few weeks, your skin will shrivel and symbolically “fuse” with the priest’s, but it will also begin “stinking like dead dogs.”