Being skinned alive has got to be one of the most horrifying forms of torture imaginable. It's a bloody, painful, and slow process, and you'll be conscious the entire time. Still, maybe you're morbidly curious about exactly what being skinned alive feels like. Since we don't recommend you try it first hand, let us take you through the experience, step by grueling step, right up to the bitter end.
Being skinned alive (also known as "flaying") is first documented as happening around 800 BC, and it has been used as a form of torture in just about every century since, somewhere on earth. It was practiced by the ancient Aztecs, as well as ancient people in Greece, China, and on the continent of Africa. Of course, it was also performed all over medieval Europe, especially as a punishment for traitors and other heinous criminals.
While flaying is (thank god) rarely seen nowadays, that doesn't make the concept any less horrifyingly fascinating. So let's look into what it's like to be skinned alive, in all the gory details. Be warned, this list contains very graphic content, so continue at your own risk.
As you might expect, peeling the skin off of an entire human being is kind of a difficult task. Given this knowledge you may find that, when someone flays you, you're in for a bit of prep work first, to make the skinning easier.
Some cultures liked to warm up the skin, to loosen it from the muscles and make it more easy to peel off, and there were two common ways of doing that. The first way involves leaving you out in the hot sun all day until your skin gets red and burns. This tenderizes your skin, and it also prolongs your torture. The second method is even worse. You are dipped alive into boiling water to loosen your skin, but removed before you are boiled alive. This can add blindness, nerve damage, and scorched lungs to your injuries. And this is before anyone even makes a cut.
So, how does one even go about starting to skin a person? The torture begins with some very specific and calculated cuts. In general, the first skin to be peeled off is that of the face; after that, your body has to be scored in various places to allow the skin to remove easily in one piece (or at least, in as few pieces as possible). This involves relief cutting around the arms and wrists, the chest and neck, and sometimes the feet.
These cuts will not be incredibly deep, but they will extend through all the individual layers of skin, so as to reach the area between your skin and the muscle itself. This means you can expect horrifying amounts of pain. It is said that the sharper the knife used, the less painful it will be, so you'd better hope your torturers do regular maintenance on their blades.
What's the point in having a bunch of human skin if you only have it in a bunch of little pieces? In general, flaying is all about pulling off your skin in large, unbroken sheets, so it can be better displayed. If you're wondering how we know this, the answer is pretty grim.
Not only do we have historical writing about flaying, but we also have physical evidence. In particular, the ancient Church of Hadstock in Essex held a legend of a Dane who had committed sacrilege being flayed in punishment. It was said that his skin was spread out and nailed to the door of the church as a sign to others to never mess up as badly as that Dane had. When the door needed repair, it was found to everyone's shock and dismay that there were still pieces of human skin under the door nails, indicating the size of the sheet of skin once held there. Meanwhile, at Worchester Cathedral there is a "large 'slab' of human skin" belonging to another Dane, a Viking who tried to steal the church's bell.
The main question everyone is probably wondering is, how much is this all going to hurt? The short answer is that it's going to be the worst pain you've ever experienced. Your nerve endings extend into the deep layers of your skin, enabling your sense of touch. It's why our fingertips are so sensitive, and it also means that our skin getting damaged causes a strong pain response. This response is caused by nociceptors, sensory nerve cells that respond to pain.
When you are flayed, your skin is literally ripped off, not cut little by little. This ripping motion means that your nerve endings are not severed cleanly; instead, they are torn to shreds, one by one, in a long train of agony. You're going to feel your skin be pulled off your muscles, and you're going to feel your nerve endings dying. In other words, you're going to feel all of it.