Viewer Discretion Advised: Working around death, it’s easy for me to forget that what I view as an interesting historical fact is considered grotesque by most accounts. This little fact might fit under that “grotesque” category. In fact, my mother said it made her want to barf. So, fair warning. Don’t proceed IF the morbid piques your gag reflex instead of your curiosity.
This is a real thing (as you can see from the picture below). And, yes, it’s rather morbid.
Here’s a little excerpt from Atlason Sigurður’s “Stave for Necropants” for more explanation:
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 death.
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 that 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 take ownership of 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.
Imagine that Bob believes that necropants will bring him wealth. Imagine that Bob asks his buddy Rich, who’s dying from dysentery, for his skin.
Rich: “Hey, Bob. I know you think necropants will make you rich, but let’s stop and think this through. Have you ever seen a scrotum produce money?”
Bob: “I haven’t, but this is going to work. I know it’s going to work.”
Rich: “Okay, I see that you’re convinced of this, so you can have my skin after I waste away. But, if it does work, I want you to give half of the money to my family.”
Bob: “It’s going to work.”
BEAR WITH ME AS I TURN TO MY PHILOSOPHICAL DARK SIDE: What I find interesting is how necropants must have seemed like an entirely logical way to gain wealth to whoever used them. I mean, you’d really have to believe in something to wear the skin of your friend and stick money in his scrotum. It was logical because they believed in an unseen world that controls and dictates the seen world.
To us, this practice is absolutely absurd, and rightfully so. But, we still do absurd things to gain wealth. Like playing the lottery. Or, maybe a better one-to-one example is giving money to a televangelist who promises, “God will increase your gift by 10 fold!”
And before we judge Bob, or the person who gives money to televangelists, it’s important to remember that we all throw money at things that don’t make sense. Bottled water for example. How is bottled water a multi-billion dollar industry? Because our culture values convenience above and beyond most other considerations, including the environment. Or, leather. We wear the skin of dead animals because we think it’s fashionable, protective, etc., when we know that there are better, more cost-effective, more durable materials than leather (that examples a little too close to home).
In some weird way, we all wear necropants. So, yes. Necropants are weird. But we all do weird things with our money. And most of us do weird things to try and get money.
Apparently, this is true. She woke up, was surrounded by sobbing friends and relatives, and started screaming because she didn’t want to be buried alive. Some reports state that she died of shock, which is when your body produces a surge of adrenaline that stuns the heart.
This type of death-by-intense-fear is sometimes called a “Voodoo Death.” There’s a number of psychosomatic causes of death similar to “Voodoo Death”, such as the Broken Heart Syndrome.
Obviously, she wasn’t embalmed. You don’t come back from THAT! Her blood pressure must have been nondetectable, so her skin would have been cold and felt “dead” without the normal blood distribution. That “dead” feeling explains why those who dressed her and put her in the casket wouldn’t have noticed she was slightly warmer than a normal corpse.
The husband said he planned to sue the hospital. I can’t find anything about said lawsuit (maybe it was settled outside of court), but I hope he received some compensation. Not that money makes things better, but winning a settlement usually means the hospital acknowledges a mistake. And that acknowledge can mean something.
These screenshots are captured from a VICE video on a Mexican Forensic Dentist named Dr. Alejandro Hernández Cárdenas. If you want to watch the video, click the link HERE. As a forewarning, some of this photos show photos of an unidentified corpse that’s being revived from near mummification. This post is purely for educational purposes:
In the photo below, you can see the corpse that Dr. Alejandro is attempting to revive. The body is unidentified. The hope is that by dipping this body in Dr. Alejandro’s “special solution”, the body will rehydrate and the forensic experts can identify tattoos, facial features, or anything else that might give clues as to the identity of the corpse.
Doc is explaining in this segment that the body was dehydrated (and partially mummified) because it sat in refrigeration for so long.
You can see here that the body is placed in a vat of fluid. During the Korean War, my great uncle served with the grave’s registration unit (he embalmed the US soldiers who had been killed in battle). Many of the bodies were either in a state of decomposition (if they died behind enemy lines, the US could only retrieve the deceased once those enemy lines were pushed back far enough that the corpse could be safely secured). Or, many of the bodies were so deformed from the wounds of war that arterial embalming was impossible.
For both of these kinds of cases, the Graves Registration unit would do something similar to what Dr. Alejandro is doing. They’d place the body in a large vat of embalming fluid. My uncle would say that they “pickled” the bodies.
Although he doesn’t disclose his formula, my guess is that it’s similar to the ingredients that we use in our arterial fluid. There is likely formalin in the formula, as well as a significant amount of cell conditioners and humectants that would rehydrate the deceased.
At this point, the deceased had been soaking in the solution for nearly 72 hours.
There’s likely some dyes in his solution as well. Arterial fluid that embalmers use also has dye in it that gives the deceased a more “alive” look. The dyes that embalmer’s use generally tend to be orange, red, or even a purplish color. The color of the deceased’s skin before death does factor into the process of determining what color is used.
After days of sitting in the solution, a tattoo appears on the deceased’s leg. Dr. Alejandro Hernández Cárdenas doesn’t know what the tattoo means, but I have a pretty solid guess. It looks like the deceased either had some jokes or lost a bet.
If you like my writing, consider buying my 2017 Nautilus Book Award Gold Winner, Confession of a Funeral Director (click the image to go to the Amazon page):
By Karen Wyatt MD
The email arrived today, just as it always does, 5 days before my mother’s birthday: “It’s time to order flowers for Margaret!” The florist that sends this reminder has been in business in my hometown for over 100 years and has provided flowers for every birthday, wedding and funeral in my family for as long as I can remember.
I search through the available bouquets featured in the email: Sunny Siesta, Fields of Autumn, Country Sunrise, Butterfly Effect. I think Fields of Autumn is perfect, with orange lilies, green hydrangeas and yellow dahlias. Mom will love the colors and the wild, just-picked look of the arrangement.
But this year marks the fifth year that I won’t be sending mail order flowers to Mom; the fifth birthday when I won’t be calling her and hearing about her special celebrations with friends; the fifth year since her death, when I mark her birthday by lighting an orange candle in a private celebration of my own.
Each year when the email reminder arrives I feel a familiar twinge of pain and loneliness as I imagine how Mom’s face would light up when she opened the front door to receive the flowers I’ve chosen for her. I can see her placing the bouquet on her kitchen table, near the window where she always looked out to watch me play in the park across the street.
I wonder why the florist doesn’t know that Mom has died? They provided all of the flowers for her funeral, including the casket spray she had ordered and paid for several years before her death. I’m sure some people would be upset about the automated emails they send every September, but somehow I’ve grown to cherish them.
Choosing a special birthday bouquet for Mom is a long-held ritual for me and it’s one of the last connections I have to our relationship. There’s an indescribable emptiness that occurs with the death of the only person who loves every school photo of you, including the ones with missing teeth, pigtails, and geeky glasses; when the only person who would save your report cards and crayon drawings in the bottom of her lingerie drawer is gone; when you can never again feel the relief that comes from the sound of her voice calling you “honey” over the telephone.
Mom’s belongings, the special treasures that she had gathered over her lifetime, were sorted and scattered within a few months of her death. And her house, where I spent my childhood, has been remodeled by its new owners. The kitchen window no longer exists and the bedroom where she died is now unrecognizable. The cabin in the mountains where we used to camp and fish is now the playground of some other family. There is no longer a physical place that holds my memories.
But in my imagination Mom still opens the front door for the deliveryman and claps her hands with joy over the Fields of Autumn bouquet he holds out to her. She still clears a special spot on the table where the sunlight will show off the orange and yellow blossoms and arranges the attached card so that everyone can see who sent her birthday flowers. She still sits patiently in her reclining chair with the telephone in her lap, waiting for my birthday call. And I still whisper “I love you Mom,” as I celebrate the fact that she was born on September 23rd – born to live a life of love and to one day be my mother and raise me to be a mother as well.
So this year as I study the floral arrangements available to order and choose the perfect flowers for Mom, I have one lingering hope: that the florist keeps sending my reminder email every September. To them I say: thank you for still remembering my Mom’s special day, for helping me maintain my last remaining tribute to her and for the way my face lights up with joy each September 23rd when I see the orange and yellow colors of the Fields of Autumn bouquet.
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the host of End-of-Life University Interview Series and author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/KarenWyattMD and on Twitter @spiritualmd