Are These "Death Underpants" History's Craziest Get-Rich-Quick Scheme?
By Bess Lovejoy
Iceland in the 17th century was a pretty bleak place, where citizens suffered from frequent natural disasters, pirate attacks, and a brutal class system. Like many people throughout history, residents sometimes sought refuge in magic, using spells to attempt both pragmatic outcomes (increasing crop yields, controlling the weather) and more outlandish goals (becoming invisible, creating a monster to steal goat’s milk).
Necropants (or nábrók, as they’re known in Icelandic) belong firmly in the latter category. As Dylan Thuras from Atlas Obscura notes in the new video above, necropants may be one of history’s most extreme get-rich-quick schemes—and/or one of its most extreme fashion statements.
According to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, the basic steps to creating a pair of necropants are as follows: 1) Get permission from a male friend. 2) After said friend dies, dig up his body and skin him from the waist down. 3) Step into his skin. 4) Get a coin from a poor widow, and place it in the scrotum area along with the proper magical sign, or stave. 5) Presto: Never-ending money!
For more on necropants—and a replica of them on display at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft—watch the Atlas Obscura video above. The video also features mortician and author Caitlin Doughty, host of the Ask a Mortician channel on YouTube and an expert in all things corpse-related. And for more on staves, see the Sorcerer’s Screed—a famed book of Icelandic white magic just released in English for the first time.