Among get-rich-quick schemes, the nábrók, which directly translates as “necropants,” is one of the more extreme.
Necropants, a replica of which can be found in the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, are an example of just how desperate things really were in 17th-century Iceland. Crushed by a terrible class system, natural disasters, and pirate raids, the peasants of Iceland barely survived. But hope came in the form of necropants, for which you needed to find a dead male friend, skin him, wear his skin like pants, and drop a coin taken from his widow into the scrotum of the skin trousers. As the legend went, once this had been achieved, every time you checked the pocket thereafter, there would be more money in your “money sack.”
We can never know how many, if any, pairs of necropants were actually created. Perhaps they were the Icelandic sorcerers’ equivalent of dreaming about what you would do with big lottery winnings: “If I had I pair of necropants I would buy so many goats your heads would spin!” In a time when life was so bleak that wearing a dead man’s skin for pants was an upgrade, you needed to hang on to whatever dreams you could find.
While witches are traditionally thought of as female, those accused of witchcraft in Iceland were traditionally male, but during a superstitious time in the country’s past, they were executed just the same.
At Strandagaldur, the museum of Icelandic sorcery & witchcraft, these times of magic and fear are remembered in often shocking detail. The museum focuses on the elaborate and esoteric spells and rituals that the regional magic called for which would provide such effects as conjuring a creature to steal goat’s milk or making someone invisible. The collection features a number of artfully displayed artifacts and displays such as rune-carved pieces of wood, animal skulls, and a number of Icelandic magical staves. However the most shocking and remarkable piece is easily the so-called “necropants” which is the dried skin of a man from the waist down. These horrifying leggings were used in a spell that would supposedly bring the caster more money.
The museum also features a display of an undead skeleton breaking up through the floor to further explicate the terror sorcery once caused the local people. Strandagaldur stands as a graphic reminder that while witchcraft has been feared the world over, Iceland really turned sorcery into something terrifying.