In A Nutshell
If you think carrying a rabbit’s foot for luck is of questionable taste, necropants are right off the charts. Necropants are pants made of the skin of a friend who’s agreed to have their body flayed from the waist down, thankfully post-mortem. A part of Icelandic witchcraft, the wearing of necropants is supposed to bring the witch increased wealth.
The Whole Bushel
Necropants. (Go on, say it a few times. It’s fun. We’ll wait.) And now for the cringe-worthy story behind it.
Witchcraft and sorcery were all the rage in the 17th century, and one thing these witches had in common with almost every person of today’s world is the need for more money. So they came up with a rather ingenious spell for ensuring a constant supply of wealth.
First, a deal had to be made with a male friend. This friend had to agree to supply the skin for the necropants (or nabrok) after dying a natural death. After the friend passes away, he is allowed to be buried. The witch then needs to exhume the body and flay it from the waist down, very carefully. Every part of the skin had to be intact and the pants in one piece for the spell to work. There needed to be no holes or tears in the skin, which undoubtedly made for a painstakingly difficult process. After removing the skin, the witch would steal a coin from the dead man’s widow and place it inside the scrotum of the pants. (Every part removed intact, remember?) Then, they only had to add a magical symbol called the Nabrokarstafur written on a piece of parchment.
Now put on the pants.
The necropants will bond to the witch’s own skin, and the magical piece of paper will ensure that there’s a few more coins inside the necropants’ scrotum every day—as long as the widow’s coin is never removed. For as long as the witch wears the pants, they will look so much like their own skin as to be indistinguishable. Which is a good thing—no one wants to be caught wearing necropants.
The Icelandic witches were nothing if not practical. If someone was found worthy enough, the necropants could be passed on to another down through generations. In order to keep the magic in them, the witch would have to get rid of the pants before they died.
A pair of replica necropants are on display at the Strandagaldur, The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft. The displays of regional magic is quite different from European witchcraft, and includes some of the spell components needed for spells to make one invisible, and to summon a goat-milk-stealing creature. (You need a corpse’s rib bone wrapped in wool and kept between the breasts of a woman who has spit out her Communion offerings for three weeks in a row, in case you were curious.)
These rituals were by no means the norm for Icelandic cultures, any more than the witches of Salem were thought to be anything but unholy. Witches were viewed as heretics just the same as they were in Europe and the New World. More frequently it was men would be executed for practicing witchcraft rather than women, but the taboo behind the practices were the same. Witchcraft was often seen as the last resort of an oppressed, poor people who had little education and little chance to advance through a strict class system without some outside help.
Show Me The Proof
‘Necropants’ Made From Dead Human Skin On Display In Iceland Museum (Photos)
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Strandagaldur—The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft
Photo credit: Anne Trent