Scared out of Your Skin - Legends Come to Life
Explaining the history behind the legendary Skinwalker.
I’ve come across some terrifying things in my life. Ghosts and spirits, beasts and monsters, a failing grade in chemistry. I’ve avoided one topic, however, for most of my life because of the anxiety and fear it stirs in my subconscious. They call it the “yee naaldlooshii” translating to “he goes on all fours”. But in most societies its name is something simpler, more blood curdling - the Skinwalker.
The Navajo tribes of the southwestern United States have told tales of this monster for centuries, calling it a witch potential of both good and evil. And while some Skinwalkers use their abilities for medicinal practices and healing others, others use it to bring harm and destruction to others.
But what exactly is a Skinwalker?
It’s a witch, to put it simply. The Navajo, and other tribes who share legends of similar beasts, believe that the Skinwalker is a witch that has the ability to transform its appearance. The most common form of the Skinwalker is believed to be coyotes, wolves, cougars or bears. While these witches have the ability to use their powers for good, the initiation process to become a Skinwalker leads individuals down a dark path to harm and sadness. The initiation is believed to be performed after an entry to a “secret society” of sorts is granted. The initiation includes killing a close member of your family, often a sibling. Then, once this task has been completed, you are granted your supernatural powers.
Most tribes believe that these beasts walk alongside normal people in their everyday lives, transforming only under the cover of darkness. Once they have the ability to transform, they wear the skin of their animal counterpart, hence the name Skinwalker. Because of this detail, in the Navajo tribes it is considered taboo to wear the pelts of any predatory animal.
One of the more intimidating skills of the Skinwalker is to take possession of human victims. By locking eyes with the monster, it is able to enter a person's body and control their actions, usually using the host to continue the path of mayhem and tragedy. It’s believed that they also have the abilities to read minds, control thoughts and behaviors as well as cause physical and property destruction or harm. In some cases, the Skinwalker has been known to cause death to those unsuspecting.
Skinwalkers are identifiable, though only through small details, the most prevalent of which being their eyes. While in animal form, the creature's eyes tend to have a human appearance, making them easier to spot. Similarly, when the creature is in human form, they are said to have animal-like eyes.
The Skinwalker is extremely agile, believed to be faster than a car and able to jump off of cliffs and steep embankments. Their tracks are easily identifiable, as they are larger than any other animal in the areas they inhabit. During and after their transformations they can be seen wearing tattered clothes, sometimes even naked. They are described as rugged, potentially even partially animal.
Skinwalkers are blamed for tragedies in the tribes. Things like poor crops, illnesses, bad water and weather systems are often blamed on the witches imposing their dark magic onto the tribes. The Skinwalkers are largely blamed for the Navajo tribe being forced off of their land in the Long Walk of the Navajo in 1864. The tribe then faced countless struggles in their new location. After the government allowed the Navajo to return to their land, the poor luck continued to follow them leading to what is called the “Navajo Witch Purge” that occurred in 1878. 40 suspected witches were put to death in an effort to restore peace to the tribe and their homeland.
It’s rare to hear of Skinwalkers causing real harm in modern sightings. They’re believed to carry more trickster qualities, tormenting those who encroach on their territory. They commonly will run alongside cars, proceeding to dart into heavily forested areas. There are reports of homeowners in the southwest hearing laughter, screams and other humanoid noises coming from vast areas with no population.
It’s also commonly believed that Skinwalkers will mimic the sound of people talking in an effort to pull people towards them so they can prey on their naivety. It’s important to note that this is a modern ideology, and the Navajo don’t have any long-standing beliefs that this is a common Skinwalker behavior.
So is it real? Are there really people in this world who walk among us that have the ability to transform into animals and cause exponential harm to their local populations? Honestly, who knows! But after years of people telling the same stories, not to mention the fear and respect the Navajo and other tribes carry towards these creatures, it’s important to at least acknowledge the possibility. After all, new beasts are discovered every day in all corners of the earth. Who’s to say that there isn’t one right in your backyard?