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Icelandic necropants – what purpose was Nábrók supposed to serve?

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Posted October 28, 2019

If you want to be rich, you have to work really hard. Or you can resort to using ancient rituals and magic. Icelandic people had a really bizarre one, involving pants made from a dead man’s skin. How much money would they have to offer you to wear them?

These pants, called Nábrók, could have been real, but there actually are no evidence that they were ever used. The simple fact is, they could be just an old folklore tale that was never real. Or people just don’t like talking about it and cases when someone was wearing Nábrók were simply never immortalized in written sources.

Nábrók, better known as Icelandic necropants, were meant to bring wealth. Image credit: Bernard McManus via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Nábrók –  literally means “corpse britches”, but people usually call them necropants. It is a term found in ancient Icelandic witchcraft rituals and rather disturbing ones as well. Although no one is hurt in them, read at your own risk.

So everything starts when someone agrees to sacrifice his skin to make Nábrók. The person has to agree with that, but this is to be kept secret. Once he dies (he cannot be killed) and is buried, the person who was promised Nábrók, comes and digs the man out. Then he skins his bottom half. It is important that the skins comes off in one piece.

Then that person puts on that moist dead man’s skin as pants. It is said that Nábrók will stick to your skin immediately. Then a coin, stolen from the widow, has to be put in the scrotum together with a magical sign. If the ritual is done correctly, there will always be money in that scrotum. You just cannot remove the original coin or take your Nábrók off.

In fact, if you do want to get rid of your Nábrók, you have to give it to someone else and you will have to change those pants very quickly. If not – you are cursed. Although in some examples it is said that you only have to wear those human skin pants for one night. Regardless, we don’t even know if anyone ever committed this ritual.

Nábrók at The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft. Image credit: Bernard McManus via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

In The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in the coastal town Hólmavík there is a pair of Nábrók. Several sites online describe them as “The only surviving pair of Nábrók”. However, Wikipedia describes them as “a replica of a pair of nábrók”. It is very realistic-looking (with a disturbing amount of detail), but it is not real.

And for the better. Nábrók should remain just a legend, along fairytales and witchcraft rituals. And we should continue focusing on becoming wealthy in more conventional ways. But at least Nábrók ritual didn’t involve murder, sacrifice and blood, if we are looking for brighter sides of this disturbing image.

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