PATCHES OF ICELAND: Necropancy

HÓLMAVÍK, ICELAND – 11 November 2015

When I last left off, Karina and I had just arrived in the West Fjords. There are very many compelling reasons to visit the West Fjords – Karina and I had only one: Necropants!

In the planning phase of this trip, if there ever was such a thing, Karina sent me a link to an article about the aforementioned ‘pants’ and with that, they were immediately added to the must-see list. When it came to marking up the map, this was the first ‘x’ plotted.

Allow me to elaborate. In Icelandic witchcraft, nábrók (literally “death underpants”) are a pair of pants made from the skin of a dead man which, when worn, bestow upon the wearer an endless supply of money. Now, before you head out there to make a pair for yourself, there are several important steps you have to follow:

  1. Get the permission of a living man to skin him after death.
  2. Once he’s dead and buried, dig him up.
  3. Flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. Any holes will render them useless. Besides, there’s nothing worse than a runner in your necropants!
  4. Step into the pants. They should stick to your own skin.
  5. Steal a coin from a poor widow!!!
  6. Place the stolen coin into the scrotum along with a magical sign (the nábrókarstafur) on a piece of paper.
  7. Money will appear in the scrotum and will continue to do so as long as the original coin remains.

If you want to ensure your salvation beyond this, simply convince someone else to take over the pants. To do this effectively, all they need to do is step into each leg of the pants as you step out of them. Voila!

We were reliably informed that the last pair of necropants were on display in the The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík. We’d looked up opening times and were ready and waiting at 9am only to discover that they’d changed the opening to 11am the day before. We decided to fill the time with a look around the quaint fishing town. This took us to about 9.15am.

Eventually the doors opened and we had the entire museum to ourselves. We made a bee-line to the necropants only to discover that they weren’t actually real. Despite our disappointment, we took our time perusing the rest of the exhibits and reading the weird and wonderful folklore of Iceland’s enchanted past. It must be said that many of the spells and incantations had the bizarre complexity of stories told and embellished over years by generations of people, each adding their own unique twist in the retelling. One of my favourites was especially convoluted with instructions about how many drops of blood needed to be extracted from which finger when the moon was in a certain phase with this incantation and so on and so on. Somewhere in the middle of it all lay the simple instruction to grow a nipple on the inside of the left thigh as though that needed no further explanation.

We concluded our visit with a delicious homemade hotpot in the museum’s café. We were delighted to find such a hearty vegetarian option available – it went some way to making the trip worthwhile, not that either of us had a single regret. The museum was fascinating; the town was picturesque; the people were welcoming.

The rest of the day was spent driving. I took the wheel for the first two hours, Karina drove the following two then I bought us into Akureyri – Iceland’s second biggest city – within the next hour, under a light flurry of snow. The roads were a little slippery but nothing too terrifying. We still couldn’t get our radio to work so we let Jake Gyllenhaal read us The Great Gatsby from my phone (sadly I refer to an audiobook, not a direct line to the man himself prepared to read to us upon request).

I’ll let the pictures describe the scenery but please know they were mostly taken from a moving car with a camera I had not yet learned to use. Even so, the most remarkable photos couldn’t communicate how affecting this landscape is, how it comes in through your senses and rearranges you so that it can somehow remain and keep pulling you back time and again. It can’t be explained, only experienced.

We checked into our hotel and went for a wander around town, stopping for a burger and beer for dinner. Being back in Akureyri for the second time in my life made me sentimental for the first. Growing exhaustion from the day made it hard to resist the flow of memories of being here with Matthew and harder still not to undermine those memories with all that has transpired since. It still seems impossible that the two points marked by my presence in this city could exist on the same timeline.

I’m too tired and worn to watch for the Northern Lights. Karina is already asleep and will soon be ‘purring’. I hope I can sleep tonight too.

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