The idea of a shapeshifter is a common theme across many folklore stories from cultures across the globe and today has once more become a frequently used idea in books and on TV. One such idea is the Native American Skinwalker who, as opposed to a creature who changes uncontrollably, is a person with natural ability to turn into an animal as they wish, in a controlled way similar to a werewolf.
The idea of the Skinwalker known to the Navajo peoples are perhaps the best known today. To the Navajo, the Skinwalker was the yee naaldlooshi meaning ‘with it, he goes on all fours’ and was one of a number of types of witches. They followed the practises of the Witchery Way as opposed to those who worked with curse objects or those who followed the Frenzy Way. To become a follower of the Witchery Way, a high-level priest called a clizyati (‘pure evil’) would commit the act of killing a close blood relative, of incest or necrophilia. This killed their humanity and allowed them to fully practise the teachings of the Witchery Way.Therefore, these people were essential evil human beings who had gained supernatural powers for themselves by committing a serious cultural taboo and a heinous act. Some did this specifically to become a yee naaldlooshi, which was achieved through the Navajo equivalent of a Black Mass, a perverted version of a sing ceremony that cursed as opposed to healing. Both sexes could make the transformation but it was more common in men, with only childless women believed to be able to make the transformation.
The Skinwalker is traditionally associated with the ability to change into a coyote, a fox, an eagle, an owl, a crow or a wolf while the yee naaldlooshi can change into any animal they please based on the abilities that animal has. For example, a bird may be used for travel or to escape a spot. Navajo even believed the Skinwalker could take the face of another person by locking eyes with them.
Stories about the Skinwalkers were not often told to non-Navajo but those that were said that they would break into people’s houses and attack the occupants as well as banging on house walls, knocking on windows and even climbing on the roof. They are fast and agile, almost impossible to catch and attempts to shoot them were almost never successful. However, the injuries sustained could be used to track the Skinwalker once back into human form as the injury would remain with them. Also, their eyes were shown to have an animal glow when in human form.
The Skinwalkers also made use of a powder called corpse dust or corpse powder to poison people. It was made from the ground bones of an infant, ideal infant twins and particularly the bones from the fingertips and the back of the skulls. It was blown into the face of a victim or dropped down the chimney of their house – when inhaled convulsions would begin and then they would die.
Many classify the Skinwalker as merely folklore, part of the amazing stories of tribes such as the Navajo. Yet even into recent times, there have been stories of people encountering creatures that sound like Skinwalkers and many of them have been non-Native Americans. Stories include a woman in Flagstaff who had a creature run alongside her vehicle, bang on the window then overtake the car and vanish. Another man reported something similar in the Sedona area of Arizona, according to the Weird US website.
So it seems that this story from history could actually be something far more unsettling – a phenomena that still occurs to this day.