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Rauðskinna: The Enigmatic Icelandic Grimoire of Darkness
Rauðskinna stands as one of the most chilling black magic texts ever known. Its eerie aura stems from the surprising fact that it was penned by a Christian bishop, and its main aim? To dominantly control Satan himself.
Termed "The Book of Power," Rauðskinna (which translates to 'Red Skin' from Icelandic) boasts a red facade adorned with golden runes. It encompasses the most malevolent spells, surprisingly crafted by a devout follower of Christianity. Gottskalk Nikulausson, its creator, seemingly had ambitions beyond his religious commitment. What compelled this bishop to delve deep into the sinister world of black magic?
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The Bishop's Unholy Script
Iceland witnessed the birth of Gottskalk Nikulausson in 1469, and he served as the Bishop of Holar from 1496 until his demise on December 8, 1520.
Raised in a devout family, Gottskalk succeeded his uncle, Olaf Rognvaldsson, as bishop. However, a glimpse into his life paints a stark contrast to the virtues he should have championed.
Engaging in a love affair, Gottskalk fathered two children, Odd Gottskalksson and Gurdun Gottskalksdottir, with his mistress, Gurdun. He also sired another child, Kristin, with a woman named Jonsdottir.
History remembers him as cunning, power-driven, and ruthless. More engrossed in worldly status than his divine duty, Gottskalk's curiosity lured him towards the forbidden world of witchcraft, subsequently becoming his most profound passion.
The Magic Maestro's Quest
Much like authors dedicated to the Books of Shadow and witchcraft, Gottskalk was a fervent magic enthusiast. Rauðskinna was his magnum opus, aiming to harness enough power to control and enslave Satan, and subsequently, rule the world.
Upon his death, Gottskalk left behind a reputation of being the most formidable black magic expert in Iceland. And with his demise in the winter of 1520, Rauðskinna found its resting place beside him, sealing its ominous lore eternally.
Seeker of the Dark Arts
Gottskalk's narrative intertwines with that of Loftur, another seeker of sinister powers. Two hundred years post-Gottskalk, Loftur, having honed his skills with the Graskinna (‘Grey Skin’), a grimoire filled with black magic, wreaked havoc upon his town. But with time, he too yearned for the dark allure that ensnared Gottskalk. A sinister endeavor saw Loftur attempting to resurrect all the bishops buried in Holar cathedral. When thwarted by a fellow student, he murdered him.
Legend recounts a fateful night when Loftur tried, through potent spells, to procure the Rauðskinna from the deceased Gottskalk. 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.''
Destiny, however, had Loftur meet his doom soon after, allegedly claimed by the devil himself, leaving him short of the might Gottskalk once wielded.
The Unfolding Enigma
Where does the final resting place of this fearsome bishop and his perilous Book of Power lie? While some whisper of its destruction, others assert its continued existence in Iceland, concealing the book's dark arts.
Iceland cherishes the tale of the bishop-turned-black magic adept, a narrative handed down across ages. Yet, the Catholic Church seldom acknowledges this unsettling chapter.
Top image: The book of Magic. Source: ( CC BY 2.0 )
Kevin J. Hayes, Folklore and Book Culture, 1997.
Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D., Icelandic Magic: Practical Secrets of the Northern Grimoires, 2016.
Loftur the Sorcerer – Iceland by Shaun D. L. Brassfield-Thorpe, available at:
Galdra-Loftur, available at: