In Navajo culture, a skinwalker is a type of evil witch who has the ability to transform, possess, or disguise herself as an animal.
The Navajos call this witch yee naaldlooshii, which translates to “he walks with her on all fours.” She is just one of several types of Navajo witches and is considered the most elusive and dangerous.
For the Navajo people, witchcraft is just another part of their spirituality and one of the “ways” of their lives. As such, witchcraft has long been a part of their culture, history and traditions. Witches exist alongside humans and are not supernatural.
The Navajo believe that there are places where the forces of good and evil exist and that these forces can be used for both. Medicine men use these powers to heal and help members of their communities, while those who practice Navajo witchcraft seek to channel spiritual powers to cause harm to others. This type of Navajo sorcery is known as the “Way of Sorcery” which involves the use of human corpses in various ways, e.g. used as bone tools and preparations to curse, injure or kill intended victims.
The knowledge of these powers is passed down through the generations from the elders.
The Navajo are part of a larger culture that also includes the Pueblo people, Apaches, Hopi, Ute, and other groups that also have their own versions of the skinwalker, but each includes a malevolent witch who can transform into an animal.
Various stories and descriptions of the skinwalkers have been told among these tribes over the years.
Sometimes these witches evolved from life as respected healers or spiritual leaders who later chose to use their powers for evil. Although they can be male or female, they are more commonly male. During the day they roam freely under the trunk and hide under cover of night.
To become a skinwalker, he or she must be inducted into a secret society that requires the worst of crimes: the murder of a close family member, usually a sibling. Upon completion of this task, the individual gains supernatural powers granting them the ability to transform into animals. They are usually seen in the form of coyotes, wolves, foxes, mountain lions, dogs, and bears, but can take the form of any animal. They then use the skins of the animals they transform into, hence the name Skinwalker. Sometimes they also wore animal skulls or antlers on their heads, which gave them more strength. They choose what kind of animal they want depending on the skills required for a specific task like speed, strength, stamina, stealth, claws, teeth, etc.
As a result, the Navajo consider it taboo for their members to wear predator skins. However, sheepskin, leather, and suede are acceptable.
Skinwalkers can also possess the bodies of human victims if a person looks them in the eye. After taking control, the witch is able to make her victims say things they wouldn’t otherwise.
After they changed their form, one of the ways that others could tell that they were not real animals was because their eyes were very different from the animals. Instead, his eyes are very human, and when the lights shine on them, they turn bright red. Alternatively, in human form, their eyes are more animalistic.
The evil society of witches gathers in dark caves or secluded places for various purposes: to initiate new members, to plan their activities, to harm people from afar with black magic, and to perform dark ceremonial rites. These ceremonies are similar to other tribal affairs, including dancing, feasting, rituals, and sand painting, but they are “corrupted” with dark connotations. Malefactors are also said to practice necrophilia on female corpses, cannibalism, incest, and grave raiding. During these gatherings, the skinwalkers transform into their animal form or become sticky with only jewelry and ceremonial colors. The leader of the skinwalkers is usually an elder who is a very powerful and durable skinwalker.
Skinwalkers also have other powers, including reading others, controlling their thoughts and behavior, causing disease, destroying property, and even death.
Those who have spoken of their encounters with these evil beings describe several ways to tell if a skinchanger is nearby. They make noises around houses, such as banging on windows, banging on walls, and scratching on the ceiling. They were spied on several times through the windows. More often than not they seem to stop in front of vehicles hoping for a serious accident.
It is said that in addition to shapeshifting, the Skinwalker is also capable of controlling and creating creatures of the night such as wolves and owls. Some can summon the spirits of the dead and revive corpses to attack their enemies. For this reason, the Indians rarely went out alone.
His supernatural powers are incredible as it is said that he can run faster than a car and has the ability to jump over high cliffs. They are extremely fast, agile, uncatchable, and leave bigger footprints than any animal. When seen, they were described as not quite human and not quite animal. They are usually clingy, but some have reported seeing the creature in ripped shirts or jeans.
The Skinwalker kills out of greed, anger, envy, malice, or revenge. He also robs graves in search of personal wealth and to collect much-needed ingredients to use in black magic. These witches live off the illegal life of their victims and constantly need to kill or be killed.
For a long time, Skinwalkers and other witches have been blamed for all sorts of unexpected struggles and tragedies over the years, including disease, drought, crop failure, and sudden death. Even minor or individual troubles, such as storms at balls, alienation of one’s affections, cattle deaths, and misfortune, were often mistaken for the work of a witch.
This was most evident with the Navajo Witch Purge of 1878, which originally stemmed from a cultural response to so many people being displaced from their land. After a series of wars with the US military, the Navajos were driven from their lands and forced to march to Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner), New Mexico, in what is known as the Long March of the Navajos in 1864.
There, people suffered from poor water conditions, crop failures, disease and death, which drastically reduced their numbers. After four years, the government finally admitted that it had made a mistake, and the Navahos were allowed to return to their homeland in the Four Corners Territory.
During these years, many tribe members are said to have changed their form to escape the harsh conditions. By now the rest of the tribe was convinced that their gods had abandoned them.
Once the people returned to their homes, their conditions improved, but the dreaded skin changers they blamed for their years on the desolate reservation were still among them. Accusations of witchcraft and the hunt for skinwalkers began. When someone found a collection of witchcraft artifacts wrapped in a copy of the 1868 treaty, the tribesmen unleashed deadly consequences. The “Navajo Witch Purge” took place in 1878, during which 40 suspected Navajo witches were killed to restore harmony and balance to the tribe.
Today, most reports of sightings of these witches are not deaths or injuries, but are more of a “trickster”.
Many people have told stories of fast animals running alongside their vehicles and matching their speed. But after a short time they flee to the desert. On the way, these animals sometimes become a man, sometimes beat the chapter.
Another story tells of a man who was doing repairs on an old farm when he started hearing loud laughter coming from nearby sheep houses. Thinking he was alone, he went to check and found all but one of the sheep huddled in a corner of the pen. However, there was a lone ram that was separated from the group and smiled in a very human way. After staring at the ram, the man sees that its eyes are not those of an animal, but very similar to those of a human. The animal then casually walked away on all fours.
Some say they have seen them run through the night, sometimes turning into a ball of fire and leaving streaks of color behind. Others have seen angry looking humanoid figures watching them from cliffs, mountains and mesas.
In the 1980s, one of the most remarkable events occurred when a family drove through the Navajo reservation. As they slowed to make a sharp turn, something jumped out of the ditch. He was described as black, tough and wearing a T-shirt and trousers. A few days after this event, the family awoke to loud drumming and singing at their home in Flagstaff, Arizona. In front of her house, three dark figures of “men” stood in front of her fence. However, these shadowy creatures were apparently unable to scale the fence and quickly disappeared.
These events occurred in the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico.
In the 1990s, a ranch in northeastern Utah, far from the Navajo reservation, became the Skinwalkers’ partial focus. Called the Sherman Ranch, Skinwalker Ranch, and UFO Ranch, this place has a history of UFOs, aliens, cattle mutilations, and crop circles. Located near the Ute Indian Reservation, these people have long believed that the Navajo cursed their tribe in retaliation for many perceived transgressions, and skinwalkers have plagued the Utes ever since.
Witchcraft is the antithesis of Navajo cultural values and is not tolerated. They work to avoid, prevent and cure this in their daily behavior. However, when it existed, their laws always said that if a person became a witch, they lost their humanity and their right to exist, so they had to be killed.
However, skinwalkers are notoriously difficult to kill and attempts are generally unsuccessful. Attempting to kill someone often leads to the witch seeking revenge. Successful battles usually require the help of a powerful shaman who knows spells and rituals that can turn the skinwalker’s evil against himself.
Traditionally, the Navajo will not speak with outsiders about these creatures, for fear of retribution by the skinwalkers. For that matter, it is a taboo subject amongst the natives themselves.
“These are not things that need or should be discussed by outsiders. At all. I’m sorry if that seems ‘unfair,’ but that’s how our cultures survive.” – Dr. Adrienne Keene, Native American academic, writer, and activist