Shapeshifters are common in storytelling lore. From werewolves and other “were” creatures to tales of vampires transforming into mist or witches shapeshifting into cats or other animals, the idea runs deep in many cultures. What is a skinwalker? Well, it’s just one of many such creatures that has a long history, particularly in skinwalker Navajo mythology. There are a number of comparisons to the Wendigo, but of course, there are many differences. Let’s dive into this particular monster and get deep into where it comes from and how it is appeared in our collective imaginations, cultures, and history.
What is a Skinwalker?
The skinwalker is a supernatural being that is part of Navajo mythology, but has been used occasionally in popular culture and other culture’s storytelling. It is believed to be a shape-shifter, capable of assuming the form of any animal, including humans. In Navajo culture, the skinwalker is a taboo subject, and people generally avoid talking about it for fear of attracting its attention. Despite this, stories of skinwalkers have been passed down through generations, and they continue to intrigue and frighten people to this day.
According to Navajo legend, skinwalkers are evil witches who have chosen to use their powers for malevolent purposes. These witches are said to have gained their shape-shifting abilities by committing unspeakable acts of violence against a family member, such as killing a sibling or their own child. The skinwalker is said to be able to transform into any animal, and it is believed that they use this ability to stalk and hunt their prey.
The skinwalker is said to be able to take on the form of any animal, from wolves and coyotes to bears and eagles. Some people believe that the skinwalker can also take on the form of other humans, which allows them to move around undetected. In Navajo culture, the skinwalker is often associated with death and misfortune. It is believed that they have the power to bring illness, death, and destruction to those who cross their path.
Navajo Skinwalker Legend and Stories
For most people of the Navajo, witchcraft is not encouraged or even talked about. Much of the talk of witchcraft coming from Native Americans is stories that white people propagated, and so reinforces negative stereotypes.
There are still stories of the Navajo people having various practices that deal with skinwalkers, even if many modern Native Americans would not want to talk about it or emphasize the existence or history of such practices. It is reported that they have developed several ways to protect themselves from skinwalkers. One way is to wear a piece of turquoise jewelry, which is believed to ward off evil spirits. Another way is to carry a pouch of white cornmeal, which is believed to be a symbol of purity and can be used to draw a protective circle around oneself. In some cases, people will perform a blessing or ceremony to protect themselves from the skinwalker’s influence.
In one variation of the Navajo Skinwalker legend, it is believed that a skinwalker was originally a shaman during their human life. Through a dark and twisted ritual, they underwent a rite of passage that involved the horrific act of killing their entire family. This gruesome act was performed to drain and absorb their souls, granting the skinwalker supernatural powers. With this newfound power, they gained the ability to transform into any animal of their choosing, and in rare instances, even take on the appearance of another person. It is said that the skinwalker possesses a unique skill to mimic familiar voices, using this deceptive tactic to lure their intended victims.
Encounters with these malevolent entities have been recounted by those who have dared to speak of their experiences. They describe various methods employed by skinwalkers to inflict harm upon others. Some have reported hearing distinct knocks on windows or banging on walls, while others claim to have glimpsed animalistic figures peering through their windows. According to the Navajo skinwalker legend, these dark beings are rarely caught or exposed. However, those who are determined enough to track down a skinwalker and unveil their true identity have a potential weapon at their disposal. By uttering the full name of the evil one, the skinwalker is believed to fall victim to illness or even death, facing the consequences for the atrocities they have committed against others.
There are many theories as to the origin of the skinwalker legend. Some people believe that it may have originated as a way to explain unusual animal behavior or to discourage people from engaging in witchcraft. Others believe that it may be a manifestation of cultural trauma, resulting from the long history of persecution and displacement experienced by the Navajo people.
Note: There is much talked about and many urban legends about Skinwalker Ranch, including many movies and documentaries and Youtube videos. That is a huge topic that should probably be thought of separately than the skinwalker creature, since much of what it has become involves stories of aliens and other completely different urban legends. Though when you do search for skinwalker stories, you will quickly find a lot regarding Skinwalker Ranch in particular.
Skinwalker Movies and TV Shows
There are several movies and TV shows that have explored the concept of skinwalkers, drawing inspiration from Navajo legends and folklore. Here are a few notable examples:
Skinwalkers (2006): This horror-action film revolves around a group of teenage werewolves known as “skinwalkers” who are being hunted down by an ancient society of werewolf hunters. While not directly based on Navajo folklore, the movie incorporates elements of shape-shifting and supernatural abilities associated with the legend of skinwalkers.
“Supernatural” (TV series, 2005-2020): This long-running supernatural drama series features an episode titled “Skin” (Season 1, Episode 6), which delves into the concept of skinwalkers. In this episode, the Winchester brothers encounter a skinwalker who can take on the appearance of others by shedding its skin, leading to a tense and suspenseful confrontation.
- Wolfen (1981): Although not explicitly focused on skinwalkers, this supernatural horror film incorporates Native American mythology and folklore, including references to skinwalkers. The story revolves around a series of brutal murders in New York City, and an ex-cop and a Native American tracker uncover the truth behind the killings, delving into ancient legends involving shape-shifting creatures.
- Skinwalker Ranch (2013): It’s important to note that while it has the term skinwalker in the title, this is not very much about the Navajo skinwalker legend or anything else that reminds you much of the shapeshifting creature. The name does come from beliefs that Native Americans cursed the land long ago. But most of the modern tales of the location is much more about legends of strange occurrences in that real place, which mostly involves tales of possible alien abduction. This found footage horror film is based on the real-life paranormal phenomena reported at the infamous Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, USA. It follows a scientific research team that investigates the strange occurrences, including the presence of skinwalkers, on the ranch. The movie combines elements of horror, mystery, and science fiction to explore the eerie legends surrounding the Skinwalker Ranch.
It’s worth noting that while these films and TV shows incorporate the concept of skinwalkers, they often take creative liberties and may not necessarily depict the traditional Navajo understanding of skinwalkers. The legends and beliefs surrounding skinwalkers hold deep cultural significance for the Navajo people, and interpretations in popular media may vary.
In recent years, the skinwalker legend has gained a significant following among paranormal enthusiasts and researchers. Some people have even claimed to have captured video footage or photographs of skinwalkers, although the authenticity of these claims has been widely disputed.
Despite the Navajo people’s belief that the skinwalker is a taboo subject, there have been numerous reports of encounters with skinwalkers in recent years. These encounters are often accompanied by feelings of extreme fear and dread, and witnesses describe the skinwalker as having a humanoid form with animalistic features. Some people have reported hearing strange noises, such as the sound of animals walking on two legs or the sound of a child crying in the night. Others have reported seeing strange lights in the sky or unusual animal behavior, such as packs of wolves or coyotes acting in an unusually aggressive manner.
Here are a few reportings:
Last Updated on May 15, 2023.