Rauðskinna, (also known as the ‘Red Skin’ for its binding, or else wise as the Book of Power), is considered to be one of the most powerful black documents to have been produced. The book, which was written by an Icelandic bishop named Gottskalk Nikulausson, contains various dark rule and spells that claim to allow the practitioner to gain control of the devil himself.
The book’s author Gottskalk Nikulausson lived in Iceland during the high medieval period. Contemporary records suggest that he was born into a devout family and eventually rose to become the Bishop of Holar. But while projecting an image of virtuous piety in public, his private persona was very different. Nikulausson was known to have two families, despite never having married, and was described as manipulative, spiteful and highly ambitious.
Nikulausson was driven by a desire for power and social status. It was this that led him to dabble in the dark arts which would eventually come to consume every facet of his life. He worked tirelessly on his dark and dangerous tome, but it is not known whether he ever managed to put his work into practice. When he died in the winter of 1520, he was buried along with his precious red-skinned book.
But the story does not end there. Two centuries later, another Icelandic man named Loftur arrived at the cathedral school in Holar. He had already mastered several black magic spells and was said to have used them against the local people. However, he hungered for more, and when he heard the legend of Nikulausson he decided to exhume his tomb to uncover his secrets. He asked another student for assistance in doing so, and when the other student refused, he was murdered.
According to legend, Loftur eventually fell victim to the magic and power he so desired. He was walking around the church and chanting spells to summon Gottskalk and get his book, the Rauðskinna. According to the folklore story retold by Shaun D. L. Brassfield-Thorpe:
- ”Despite all this, Gottskalk still did not come from his grave – so Loftur started chanting as never before. He turned the words of the Psalms into praises for the Devil and made a sorry confession of all his good deeds. The three crowned dead bishops kept as far away as possible from Loftur and faced him with their hands raised – the other dead bishops looked at them and kept their gaze away from Loftur. At last a heavy sound was heard, and a dead man arose bearing a staff in his left hand and a red book under his right arm. He did not wear a crucifix on his chest, and he looked unkindly at the other dead bishops. He gazed at Loftur, who chanted all the more during this. Gottskalk moved a little closer to Loftur and said scornfully: “You chant well, my son, and better than I would have expected. But you will not get my Rauðskinna.” Loftur then seemed to turn himself inside out and chanted in a way he had never done before. He changed The Blessing and The Lord’s Prayer into praises for the Devil, and the church shook like a straw in the wind. The student, watching in the belfry, thought he saw Gottskalk move again closer to Loftur and he seemed to thrust a corner of the book towards the magician. He had been frightened all this time but now he shook with his terror. He thought he saw the bishop lift the book and Loftur stretch out his hand. So, he pulled the bell rope as hard as he could and everything that had appeared vanished into the floor with a whispering sound.”
Loftur became obsessed with discovering the dark secrets of The Book of Power. He marched around the church, chanting spells in an attempt to summon the dead bishop and get his hands on the book. When this didn’t work, he began to praise Satan and begged forgiveness for all of the good deeds he had done in his life. According to the folklorist Shaun D. L. Brassfield-Thorpe, a dead man then appeared before him bearing a staff in his left hand and carrying a red book under his right arm. He said; “You chant well, my son, and better than I would have expected. But you will not get my Rauðskinna.”
At these words, Loftur continued chanting Satanic verses but became more frantic. The church began to shake ‘like a straw in the wind.’ A student hiding in the belfry, who claimed that he witnessed the scene, said that he saw Nikulausson moved closer to Loftur and seemed to thrust a book towards him. At this point, the student panicked and pulled the rope in the Belfry as hard as he could. At that point, everything that had appeared vanished into the floor with an eerie whispering sound.
Details about what happened to Loftur are unknown, as is the fate of the terrifying red-skinned book.