If you’ve been following this blog, then you know that we have mentioned the skinwalker a time or two. Often we’re talking about the ranch that was affectionately named Skinwalker Ranch but today I wanted to dive into the Native American folklore of the skinwalker.
Many tribes–Utes, Hopi and Navajo–have a story of skinwalker of sorts. “Many Navajos believe firmly in the existence of skinwalkers and refuse to discuss them publicly for fear of retribution. They believe skinwalkers walk freely among the tribe and secretly transform under the cover of night.
The term yee naaldooshii literally translates to ‘with it, he goes on all fours.’ According to Navajo legend, a skinwalker is a medicine man or which who has attained the highest level of priesthood in the tribe, but chose to use his or her power for evil by taking the form of an animal to inflict pain and suffering on others.
To become a skinwalker requires the most evil of deeds, the killing of a close family member. They literally become humans who have acquired immense supernatural power, including the ability to transform into animals and other people” (1).
Skinwalkers can take whatever form they choose, however most commonly noted forms are that of animals you would find in the American forests, such as coyotes, deer, bear, wolves, elk, etc. Adam James Jones, a historian of the American west has noted, “Outcasts and pariahs, skinwalkers assume begrudged and hate-driven existences, their spirits in constant search of revenge or else mindless harm. The more modest accounts of skinwalker encounters portray them as mischievous, almost poltergeist-like. They will climb the roofs of sleeping families, bang on the walls and knock on the windows. More commonly though, skinwalkers stories are far more malicious. In these accounts skinwalkers climb roofs in order to seek ways into the house and attack the family, or else they assault cars driving through reservation land, causing wrecks.
They are described as fast and agile, ugly mutations that are not quite human and not fully animal. Usually they are naked but some sightings report a creature wearing tattered shirts or jeans. In some stories the skinwalker is actually tracked down only to lead to the home of a relative of the tracker. Or, like the werewolf, the skinwalker will be shot and the next day a Navajo will be found with the same exact wound, revealing him as the ánt’įįhnii. Certain Navajo myths insist that the only way to fully kill a skinwalker is with a bullet dipped in white ash” (2).