Skinwalkers – Who Or What Are They?

Although it is most frequently seen as a coyote, wolf, owl, fox, or crow, the yee naaldlooshii is said to have the power to assume the form of any animal they choose, depending on what kind of abilities they need. Witches use the form for expedient travel, especially to the Navajo equivalent of the ‘Black Mass’, a perverted song (and the central rite of the Witchery Way) used to curse instead of to heal. They also may transform to escape from pursuers.

Description/Morphology:

A skinwalker is usually described as naked, except for a coyote skin, or wolf skin. Some Navajos describe them as a mutated version of the animal in question. The skin may just be a mask, like those which are the only garment worn in the witches’ sing.
The skinwalkers are described as being fast, agile, and impossible to catch. Though some attempts have been made to shoot or kill one, they are not usually successful.

Behavior:

Skin-walkers sometimes transform themselves into animals simply for the purpose of traversing great distances quickly. They may
also transform in order to wreak havoc on others, as their identity will be hidden and they will be able to escape quickly if necessary.
A skin-walker typically wears the pelt of the animal he or she will transform into, usually with no other clothing. Because of their association with skin-walkers, wild animal hides are taboo in Navajo culture and rarely seen.

Powers/Weaknesses:

Like the werewolf, the skin-walker is a shape-shifter, human at times, and at other times taking on the aspect of an animal,
usually at night. In its animal form, a skin-walker may be virtually anything, including a wolf, coyote, fox, bear, owl, or crow.

Although skin-walkers may have a favorite form that they customarily use, they have the power to become anything they wish. In
animal form, a skin-walker is very fast and impossible to catch.
According to Navajo legend, skinwalkers can have the power to read human thoughts. They also possess the ability to make any human or animal noise they choose. A skinwalker may use the voice of a relative or the cry of an infant to lure victims out of the safety of their homes.

Both humans and animals can easily tell a skin-walker from a real animal, as the skin-walker is unable to move completely
naturally in animal form. For some unexplainable reason even a well seasoned skinwalker cannot obtain the perfect animal gait or leave the proportionally correct sized animal tracks.
A skin-walker can only be defeated if one can discover his or her human identity. This is possible if the skin-walker is tracked back to his or her home, or, in some stories, if a skin-walker is wounded and the same injury is later noted on a human. It is said that if a Navajo was to know the person behind the skinwalker they had to pronounce the full name by saying, “[Name], you are a skin-walker !”. And about three days later that person would either get sick or die for the wrong that they have committed.

While it is virtually impossible to kill a skin-walker in human form, there are magical ways to protect oneself and even to kill a skin-walker. Traditional faith healers can perform ceremonies to protect one from the danger of skin-walkers, or a person going out at night can cover his or her body with corn pollen, cedar ash, or juniper berries. ” If a person discovers the human identity of a skin-walker, he or she can kill the witch

Beliefs:

Similar creatures can be found in numerous cultures’ lores all over the world, closely related to beliefs in werewolves (also
known as lycanthropes) and other “were” creatures (which can be described as therianthropes). While the skin-walker is known
mainly from Navajo folklore, analogies exist in the mythology of other tribes, including the Mohawk, Hopi, and Aztecs. The Yaqui have a similar creature they call Morea-kame. this is a person who practices witchcraft or what we might ball black magic. These creatures also change shape, appearing as animals or even as ghosts. They kill using their thoughts or the evil eye.

Navajo tradition:

A Yeenaaldlooshii is one of several varieties of Navajo witch (specifically an ’ánt’iihnii or practitioner of the Witchery Way, as opposed to a user of curse-objects (’adagash) or a practitioner of Frenzy Way (’azhitee)). Technically, the term refers to an ’ánt’iihnii who is using his (rarely her) powers to travel in animal form. The ’ánt’iihnii are human beings who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo. Specifically, a person is said to gain the power to become a Yeenaaldlooshii upon initiation into the Witchery Way. Both men and women can become ’ánt’iihnii and therefore possibly skinwalkers, but men are far more numerous. It is generally thought that only childless women can become witches. Yenaldlooshi gain power by killing a close relative, sometimes even a sibling. They are known to desecrate sand paintings by urinating, spitting, & defecating on them. They also practice cannibalism and necrophilia. Yenaldlooshi are also said to be able to create a pollen from ground human infant bones that when sprinkled on sleeping Navajo families, causes sickness, social problems, & death.

Although it is most frequently seen as a coyote, wolf, owl, fox, or crow, the Yeenaaldlooshii is said to have the power to assume the form of any animal they choose, depending on what kind of abilities they need. Witches use the form for expedient travel, especially to the Navajo equivalent of the ‘Black Mass’, a perverted sing (and the central rite of the Witchery Way) used to curse instead of to heal. They also may transform to escape from pursuers.
Some Navajo also believe that skinwalkers have the ability to steal the “skin” or body of a person. The Navajo believe that if you lock eyes with a skinwalker they can absorb themselves into your body. It is also said that skinwalkers avoid the light and that their eyes glow like an animal’s when in human form and when in animal form their eyes do not glow as an animal’s would.
Because animal skins are used primarily by skinwalkers, the pelt of animals such as bears, coyotes, wolves, and cougars are strictly tabooed. Sheepskin and buckskin are probably two of the few hides used by Navajos, the latter is used only for ceremonial purposes.

Some tribes believe that skinwalkers can use the spit, hair, or shoes and old clothing of a person to make curses that will attack that specific person. For this reason many Navajo will never spit or leave shoes outside. They also take great care to see that any hair or nail clippings are burned.

Hopi tradition:

In ancient Hopi culture there was a ritual ceremony once performed called the Ya Ya Ceremony. In this ceremony members would change themselves into various animals using the hide from the animal they chose, and the members use certain animal attributes like sight, strength,etc. The ceremony was banned after members developed a disease of the eyes.

Norse beliefs:

In Norse folklore, a skin-walker is a person who can travel in the shape of an animal and learn secrets, or take on certain
characteristics of an animal. The person is then said to be wearing that animal’s hide. The most well-known example of the latter is the warrior who takes on the strength and stamina of a bear, called “bear shirt” or ber sarkur, the origins of the word berserker; similarly, there were wolf-based warriors, called ulfheðnar or “wolf-coats”. They were said, aside from the battle-rage the animal spirit granted, to have the ability to send out their soul in the form of their animal, in a practice called hamfarir or “shape-journey”.
According to Mythology, the Norse hero Sigmund and his son Sinfiolti became Skinwalkers for a short time, discovering two magic
wolf skins that turned them into wolves when they put them on. When they became overcome by their animal instincts and began fighting over meat, Sigmund almost killed his son and so they decided to burn the skins.
The use of an animal shape for other purposes was considered unholy, and people accused of having such abilities were frequently cast out or summarily executed. Females so charged got off more lightly.

About Andrew

Co-founder & lead investigator of Paranormal Encounters. I've experienced the paranormal all my life, having encountered ghosts, angels and demons. I live in a haunted house and when not exploring and researching the unknown, I enjoy single malt Scotch whisky & potato chips (though not necessarily at the same time).