On a Weird Pair of Pants

Iceland is a weird place. First of all, many people don’t have last names–seriously. They take the first name of their fathers and add -son or -daughter (-son/-dottir). So, you’ll have a different last name than your dad (if his dad didn’t have his same first name). So, yeah. They eat strange things, get all their energy from the earth (not a bad thing!), and let’s not even begin to talk about the language and grammar. But the Icelandic folklore is perhaps the most odd thing about this interesting and odd nation of fewer than 375,000 people.

The isolation of the place helped to foster a rich if sometimes oddly twisted culture of strange practices and stories. The Christianity that the island nation practiced a few hundred years ago had not quite shed some of its Danish pre-Christian rituals, and even witchcraft was known to be practiced. For example, if prayer couldn’t heal you or your loved one from whatever ailment you or they had, you would turn to the local practitioner of folk medicine or traditional healing rituals for help. This practice also applied to such things as casting spells on ones enemies to seek revenge or asking for a spell or talisman to help you get lucky and/or fall into some money. And if you think that this is weird, remember that they were killing witches over in Salem, Massachusetts many years after this time period.

That’s where the pants come in. Icelandic folklore has a story that if you wore the pants of your enemy (or friend, even) after their death, you would get all the money that they would have gotten had they been alive. You’d put on the pants, and then you would have to place a coin in the crotch of the pants. The coin would have to have been somehow stolen or surreptitiously taken from the man’s widow without her knowledge. Having done this, the pants would then fill with money as long as you didn’t remove the first coin. And when you died, you would have to pass the pants on to your closest male relative so the endless supply of money would continue for the next generation. If you don’t believe me, it’s all chronicled in the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft–for real.

And when I say that you had to wear the pants of the person after they were dead, I mean exactly that. The pants, you see, had to be made from the actual person–the skin of the dead person–that you would flay from the waist down, take the skin, dry it, and then make the skin into pants. By wearing them, the folklore said you were, in effect, becoming that person, and that would therefore allow you to fall heir to all their money.

The Icelandic word for these “death pants” is Nabrok.

Told you it was a weird place.

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