My wife recently posted one of the particularly interesting artifacts from the golden age of folk magic. The trick? “Modern” society found the item before they found the grimoire. It’s one of the rare instances where someone was practicing the magic before someone else wrote it down and published it. Before anyone gets their hopes up, this isn’t some sort of ancient and accepted thing, it’s only a few hundred years old (at best).

Ye Olde Coinpurse

Necropants are made of human skin and were worn by Icelandic sorcerers in the 17th century. As far as we know, there is just one pair of intact necropants left on earth and they are locked behind glass at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery Witchcraft in Holmavik, Iceland.
The Strandagaldur Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Holmavik tells the story of seventeen people burned at the stake in the 17th century for occult practices. The museum’s claim to fame is an exhibit showcasing the macabre legend of Necropants, or nábrók.

According to legend, necropants could produce an endless flow of coins if done correctly.

To begin with, one would need to get permission from a living man to use his skin upon his death. After burial, the sorcerer would then have to dig up the body and skin it in one piece from the waist down. A coin stolen from a poor widow must then be placed in the scrotum, along with a magic sign called nábrókarstafur scrawled on paper.

Once worn, the scrotum of the necropants would never empty of coins so long as the original coin remained.

But wait, there’s more! That’s the safe for facebook version and doesn’t include a clear picture of the stave. If you read the Icelandic Version, things get a little darker… It’s mostly the same as above but:

As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical sign, nábrókarstafur, written on a piece of paper. Consequently the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed. To ensure salvation the owner has to convince someone else to overtake the pants and step into each leg as soon as he gets out of it. The necropants will thus keep the money-gathering nature for generations.

OK it seems straightforward but why would anyone think this was a good idea?!

I’ll take a moment to plug Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia as the source for this thinking, specifically the chapter on Samhain itself. And of course Varg’s blog, Thulean Perspective.

Wild speculation hat on: Silver itself was known for it’s curative properties, which is where the practice of having a silver chalice came from. It’s used in wound care today, and there’s plenty of myths about silver bullets and such warding against werewolves, who by themselves are lunar creatures and therefor belong to the world of the dead. It’s very likely that when this was passed down orally, the coin was important as a way to preserve the vitality of the person. The legend might not have originally had anything to do at all with the production of the coins, but rather the preservation of the line. What if we had a male figure in the household who didn’t produce an heir? Rather than accusing the folks practicing this of simple greed, it seems much more likely to me that if someone else wore the pants in the family, they would be the progenitor themselves of the line.

But, it couldn’t be anyone, it had to be someone worthy. There’s a few requirements to this – the most important is that they had to get the permission of the dead to use their skin. Since I’m speculating here that the purpose of the pants was to extend the line of the family and the coin was merely incidental payment of doing exactly that, and add the impression of fullness to the reproductive organs, the permission part was fairly important. That also has precedent in other civilizations whereby if the husband died, the wife and the family passed into the care of the brother. No brother? No problem! Make the pants! We’re told that the pants will actually become your skin, or you will actually become the pants…

But rather than picking anyone, this person also had to be pretty skilled with the primary tool of the society – the knife. The pants had to be cut from the corpse perfectly and without error. In short, the pants had to be passable as the actual body of the person from the naval on down. But, that also meant that, especially if passed onto a young person, that the person was at least industrious and good with their hands, and also a good hunter and skinner.

Anyway, the worst part about all this thinking is that – at the end of the day – we’re talking about extending the line of the family, which means the wearer is expected to have sex while wearing them. Try talking your wife into that. But speaking of the woman, where does she come into this? Why the coin being “from a poor woman?” Back in the days when the womenfolk typically stayed home while the men worked (or visa-vera, just because we haven’t found female necropants doesn’t mean they don’t exist), losing the families partner was actually a huge economic blow. The women, being lunar and ruled by the moon in the era and place the spell was written, would be represented by silver. The woman is also putting her effort into the creation of the pants so that if she’s not involved in the propogation of the line, she at least has put a bit of her family essence into the work also. Hermetic readers will note that this is really putting together a hermaphroditic magical item. For men, I would expect they give a gold coin to the person wearing the female necropants.

All this sounds much better to me than simply saying “Our ancestors were really greedy weirdos”.