Just two short weeks ago, I asked my readers to bring me the weirdest bits of medievalia that Wikipedia’s capricious editors have thus far allowed, and my but you all did bring the weirdness. Other readers, if you’ve not already glanced at the comments thread where the entrants are housed, go take a gander. It’s worth the look.
As I promised, in order to decide the winning entry I assembled a blue ribbon panel of medieval history experts, which in this case means more or less a panel composed of the medieval bloggers who I have in my gmail address book. And your fine judges were:
- The pseudonymous uncapitalized bloggers behind the pen, the brush, and the needle
- Karl Steel of In the Medieval Middle
- Brantley Bryant of Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog*
- Jennifer Lynn Jordan of the late Per Omnia Saecula
- The pseudonymous bloggers behind Vaulting and Vellum
In the early voting there were no favorites at all. Eilmer of Malmesbury, St. Columbanus, and the papal scrotal-inspection seat were all in the running in the early rounds, but by the end of the day a clear favorite emerged: Necropants. Here’s the winning entry:
Sadly, I’m not sure if my favorite bit of historical amusement from wikipedia falls into the correct time period. The wiki says “medieval” but the actual written source is much later. Never the less, for your amusement:
“In medieval Iceland there were several magical staves, or rune-like symbols credited with magical effects.”
“Nábrókarstafur – Necropants, a pair of pants made from the skin of a dead man that are capable of producing an endless supply of money.”
Necropants, my friends. Necro. Pants. And this is why Iceland is fucking METAL.
Congratulations, Neev, for finding the weirdest medieval fact on all of Wikipedia. Yes, technically the existence of Necropants is only attested after the 17th century, which is beyond the scope of the contest, but surely we can all agree that there must have been a rich oral tradition of medieval necropantic lore that we only have the faintest echoes of in the later manuscript tradition.
In all seriousness, the original source of the claim that medieval Icelandic magicians used magic money-generating pants seems to be a webpage put together by The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. In their expanded account, we learn:
If you want to make your own necropants (literally; nábrók) you have to get permission from a living man to use his skin after his dead.
After he has been buried you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. 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.
I think this beats ambulatory genitalia, my previous go-to bit of medieval weirdness, by a healthy margin. As to whether it’s true or not, you’ve got me. I think I might have to assemble a blue ribbon panel of medieval Icelandic experts to suss out the real story.
Remember, for his trouble, Neev will be taking home a $75 gift certificate to Costumes, Inc., the sponsors of the contest. And also remember that Got Medieval readers can still get a 15% discount at said site by using the coupon code “gotmedieval15“. I’m afraid there are no Necropants currently on offer at Costumes, Inc., however. Maybe next Halloween, after word spreads of our find.
Now there’s one last prize up for grabs, and that’s the randomly-awarded $25 gift certificate just for entering. In order to randomly award said certificate, I assigned each entry a number between 1 and 26 and sent friend of the blog Wil Wheaton a tweet asking for a random number in that range. After he ignored me,** I just went with the first number I saw in his twitter feed, 10, which had been assigned to Eyebrows McGee. Congratulations on your good fortune, Mlle McGee,*** you may now no doubt afford a pair of costumed eyebrows to go over your normal ones.
Thanks to all those who entered for making the contest a success! Perhaps if other corporate sponsors should come calling, we can make these contests a habit.
*LeVostreGC being unavailable, I’m told, on account of some recent intestinal discomfort. I didn’t ask for specifics.
**Feel free to tweet him your disappointment. And try to mention the Necropants when you do. If we can confuse him enough, maybe he’ll drop by and explain himself.
***Eyebrows, you and Neev should each contact me, via the contact form at the top of the page, so that I may dispense your winnings posthaste.