Skinwalkers

 

They are accounts of nighttime drives on the lonely road between Farmington, NM and The Four Corners when, in the distance ahead, a coyote appears on the roadway, its eyes glowing in the headlights. Except that they are not coyote eyes, they are something else, something almost human, and when the car speeds past the waiting coyote the coyote bolts and begins speeding along with it, running at 60 miles per hour, its eyes still aglow in the headlights. The driver looks away and presses pedal to metal, and when he looks back suddenly it is no longer a coyote running at pace next to the vehicle, but a man. A man with the yellow eyes of a coyote fixed on the driver, one hand banging on the hood.

Or another story from the desert town of Tuba City, Arizona near Monument Valley, where a building contractor is doing repairs on an old ranch home. Thinking himself alone, the man is surprised to hear laughter coming from somewhere off in the sheep pens. Following the noise, the man turns a corner to the edge of the sheep pen where before him the entire flock is huddled shivering into one end of the pen while on the other a lone ram stands separated. He is standing upright, his two front hooves across his chest and his horned head thrown back in gleeful, maniacal laughter that is unmistakably human. Watching this, the man jumps and suddenly the ram spots him. For a fleeting moment the two lock eyes and, just like the laughter, the ram’s eyes are familiar and anything but animal. The ram falls back down to all fours and mills along as if nothing had ever happened.

They are stories of shape-shifting creatures acrosss Navajo Nation, the 24k-plus reservation land encompassing most of northeastern Arizona and the adjacent corner sections of New Mexico and Utah. A taboo subject amongst natives, Skinwalkers are seldom discussed with members outside the tribe, and rarely even inside it. The Navajo Skinwalker legend is not unlike that of the European werewolf: A once-ordinary human discovers the ability to shift into animal form at night where his doings then become almost exclusively evil. Unlike the werewolf, however, the Skinwalker curse is desired and acquired, that is, Skinwalkers do not have the bad luck to be “bitten” and forced into the curse. Rather, they want it and are willing to perform extraordinary rites of evil in order to achieve it.

There are multiple legends behind the origin of the Navajo Skinwalker. One claims the Navajos mastered shapeshifting in order to escape persecution and relocation — the Kit Carson-led cornering of the tribe deep in Canyon de Chelly and later their forced and disastrous relocation to Bosque de Redondo. Another version relates to the Navajo belief in the Anasazi curse — that the Anasazi were responsible for the prevailing witchcraft in the Navajo tribes — and that Navajo Skinwalkers used the off-limit Anasazi ruins and grave sites to gain certain powers.

The most prominent history of the Skinwalker tells of a particular form of Navajo witch, or an ’ánt’įįhnii, called ayee naaldlooshii, translated to mean “with it, he goes on all fours.” The yee naaldlooshii is usually a medicine man or high-ranking priest who has obtained supernatural powers through breaking a cultural taboo, including murder, seduction, or the corrupting of a family member.

Upon accepting this deep and consuming level of witchcraft, Skinwalkers are banished forever from a tribe (but considering the foreknowledge of this as well the despicable acts required for the transformation, the aspiring Skinwalker surely possessed an early, pre-seated hate for the tribe). Prowling alone in the desert, a Skinwalker (and also unlike the werewolf) has the ability to shape-shift into any animal they wish, although most commonly the animal is a coyote, wolf, cougar, fox, owl, or crow — a reason why pelts of these animals are widely restricted among the Navajo.

In animal form the eyes of a Skinwalker are distinctly human, while in human form this is reversed. Varying versions of the legend attribute Skinwalkers the ability to “body-snatch”, to take possession of another person’s body if that person locks eyes long enough with the Skinwalker. It is also said Skinwalkers, through this same eye-locking method, have the power to read human thoughts or even mimic perfectly the voice of that person, a ploy used to lure relatives. Skinwalkers are also said to use voodoo-like tactics to manipulate their victims, such as collecting a target’s hair, wrapping it around a pottery shard, then burying it in a tarantula hole.

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.

About adamjamesjones

A historian of the American West, Adam James Jones is the author of "The Vendetta of Felipe Espinosa." He lives in New Mexico with his wife, the actress Catharine Pilafas.
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29 Responses to Skinwalkers

  1. quentin says:

    iam a navajo my clan is nakai dine’e i saw a skinwalker not to long ago

  2. Jay says:

    is it possible for you to email me any further infomation on skinwalkers

  3. Amanda says:

    yea their real for sure i heard of stories fr my aunts & uncles. i heard they cnt tell u they r skinwalkers cuz they will die or u can not shoot one cuz their spirit will curse ur family. its real & dangerous.
    they also use alot of dead things like shoot you with bone beads, they crush bones into dust . when skinwalkers shoot you with bone beads it won’t leave open wounds & you cant feel it.

  4. naturegirl says:

    There’s skinwalkers on the Navajo reservation, but they’re on other reservations also…I’ve heard of skinwalkers out in Mochigan. So…it’s not just limited to the Navajo reservation.

  5. deer hunter says:

    i had an encounter with a skinwalker while deer hunting, it came to my camp late at night. scared me to death. i was surprised to find out later that i actually photographed it earlier in the day.

  6. Deer Hunter says:

    Sure. I just need some help with uploading it. Ok, So I made it back to my horse trailerafter scouting for deer 2 days befor the hunt opened, and ate dinner by a campfire. It was around midnight when I felt uneasy about something around my camp. I went inside the trailer for the night and I could hear people talking outside but I could not understand what they were saying. I looked out the window and saw what apeared to be 3 dark masses or shadows approaching my camp. This is where my experience goes to another level. A bang on the outside of the steel horse trailer, I have my 44 in hand at this point. Open up the door and there is no one there. So, I jump in my sleeping bag thinking that I have lost my mind or something. Then I see Something cross between the campfire and the window, blocking out the firelight. I peer through the window and see something big and black crouching at the side of my pickup. it looks up and ducks out of sight. I cannot control my heartrate at this point. I jump up out of bed because the trailer is being shaken by somtheing so hard and voilently I could barely keep my footing. As I look to the opposite window in trailer I saw something staring at me. I pointed my 44 mag at it and as I am squeezing the trigger to shoot it through the glass, it turns and I can hear it run away. Whatever it was ran bipedal with heavy footfalls. It left no tracks. I heard what I thought to be people talking again only this time up on the ridge above me but I could not make out any words or anything, like mumbling. I here to thuds on the ground that in the morning I found to be rocks. The window of my traler is right at 8 feet, there is no way I could look through standing only 6 foot. I am the only person on over 12400 acres of private property, there were no signs of another human being for miles, I spent the entire next day confirming this. Which is also when I looked at the photographs and noticed two strange photos. One is of something wearing animal fur with its head held low, looking up the mountain at me. the other is of a white feather tied to a reed or branch stripped of it’s bark. The day before all of this I saw 2 white feathers tied to similar poles just atop the ridge from camp only to be gone the next day. I am not american Indian, But I do believe that there was something else up there with me. I don’t know that I will ever go back to that place in north western Utah ever again!

    • naturegirl says:

      i would sleep in the truck next time with the doors locked and with the windows rolled up all the way. It can dangerous. You would not want to leave your windows even rolled sown alittle. They can blow some stuff on you that will leave you very disoriented ans feeling very sick. I am not sure what it is, but it will make you sick. I have had some experience with it and it was no walk in the park.

    • Sara says:

      They aren’t dangerous unless you’re a threat… But just like how there is good… There is also evil. Some are good and only want to protect their families and territory, but some are also evil who just want to cause havoc. You were possible nearby a reservation or something and they wanted to check you out… It would be considered their territory.

      • Nichi says:

        I’ve read in a couple places that you become a skinwalker by breaking horrible taboos? This article also says that they are outcasts and pariahs. “Skinwalkers assume begrudged and hate-driven existences, their spirits in constant search of revenge or else mindless harm.” Maybe I should research more…

      • I disagree with “they aren’t dangerous unless you’re a threat…” Skinwalkers cause harm to anyone especially family members. As it says above “high-ranking priest who has obtained supernatural powers through breaking a cultural taboo, including murder, seduction, or the corrupting of a family member.” They sacrifice the one they truly love to gain this power.
        They do many things out of jealousy and these are not no good people protecting any one. Skinwalkers are bad people!
        The good are the medicine men or road men who can heal these bad things the skinwalkers do. They are not called skinwalkers.

  7. naturegirl says:

    maybe…

  8. Eric says:

    We are looking for eye witnesses who are willing to go on camera and describe their encounters with Skinwalkers in the Navajo Reservation region. If you are not willing to be identified, that is okay as we can conceal your identity. Please contact me if you are interested in being featured or know anyone we can speak to about this. My email is e.sabbag at cmjprod dot ca

  9. austin says:

    i lost my arm because of a skinwalker….

  10. Kohl says:

    I’m Native American from the Cheyenne
    Tribe

    • Kohl says:

      One day my dads friend I don’t know his name but he got some commotion out of his sheep one night,so he looks out his window and sees a red light running around his pasture so he grabs his gun and gets on his horse and rides out there, he lives right on a reservation. So when he rides out to his pasture the red light starts circling him and his horse so he shoots at the red light and it just zooms away fast, so earlier the next morning the police find a dead naked man the next morning that looked like he had been shot so he tells the police about his inncident that morning.

  11. Samantha says:

    I’m have a little Navajo in me and I keep on have a dream about a black wolf a deer and a owl does this mean anything

  12. Samantha says:

    Maybe they are not all bad having the gift to shape shift could be used for good to and bye killing a love one they could be killing a pet or a close animal and taking on its spirit

    • Denise Monique says:

      I’m sorry but I’m 3/4 Navajo raised by Navajos, and my grandpa was a 100% Navajo, a medicine man. A pet is not used as a sacrifice. These things are not good at all. Shape shifting is not a gift. I wish people would understand this and stop saying they might be good. They are not! I have seen what they could do myself….

  13. Rmann says:

    Due to the public nature of the people I am about to discuss I am changing the names in this story:
    I used to work in the public sector in Albuquerque, NM. Some of my coworkers (both white males, no Native American ancestery) were adamant hunters. During downtime at work they used to regail me with stories of their hunts and about the adventures they had exploring NM. Before one particular Labor Day Weekend, on of the men, Joe, said he had obtained a permit to trap varmints on a piece of private land near Gallup, NM (Joe would skin the animals and had amassed quite a neat collection of various pelts). His friend, Bob, was going to tag along and record their escapade (they spent countless hours watching footage of them hunting various animals). All seemed to be shaping up as a normal Labor Day weekend for my close friends, that is, unitl the following week.
    When I saw Joe the next week I asked him about his trip, and he turned pale. Thinking he was ill I asked if he was ok, and he just stared at me…totally blank. After a little bit of coaxing he said “come take a look at my truck” without any reference to the events that had occured. So, I followed him outside and, to my surprise, saw incredible scracthes down the driver side of his truck. There were three of them, and they were so deep they penetrated the exterior steel, creating rigid grooves down the entire length of his vehicle and even tore off the cap to his bumper. Thinking he hit a fence, I asked if he had filed an insurance claim, and he responded with “insurance won’t cover what happened.” Confused, I pressed him for further information. He let the tailgate down on his truck, took a deep breath and recounted this story (paraphrased from my memory, but indeed accurate); “we had finished trapping for the day when we started hearing strange noises around the truck thirty yards away. So, Bob and I went to check it out and we saw a man staring at us from behind some brush, very close, like ten feet away. He had unusually dark eyes and looked upset. He was giving us the creeps, so much so that I shouldered my rifle in case he attacked. We tried speaking to him and he just stared back. Then, there was a loud screeching noise behind us. We turned around and saw nothing, and then looked back to the man, who had disappeared. We we very frightened, so we jumped in the truck and took off. It was getting dark, so I was driving slowly on the dirt road, when Bob noticed what looked like a huge coyote pacing the truck on my side. So, Bob got out the camera and began recording while I sped up. The coyote kept up with us at 50 mph, but I didnt want to go faster unitl we got to a paved road. Suddenly, the coyote began running upright and out ran the truck, beyond the headlights. As I slowed down to look around we heard a loud, shocking ripping noise and my truck swerved as if we had been hit by another car. Fearing for our lives, I began driving over bushes and cactus flooring my truck towards the paved road. When we finally reached it we drove straight to a casino outside of town, going over 100mph the whole time. When we got to the casion parking lot we felt safe enough to inspect the damage. Thats when we saw this.”
    My first thought was that Joe was pulling my leg. This was too crazy. So, I confronted him saying that he obviously hit a rancher’s fence and him and Bob just wanted to mess with me. However, Joe had some of the vidoe footage on his phone that Bob had captured, so he motioned for me to come watch. The footage showed Joe driving and Bob attempting to angle the camera over Joe (to see out of his driver side window) and out the back window of the pickup. However, the cabin light was on and the picture is quite shakey, so I could not distinguish anything out of the window, but Joe and Bob can clearly see it, and seem quite scared (with tons of cussing, moslty ‘holy fu**ing sh*t dude WHAT IS THAT!’). At the point in the story where the creature runs in a bi-pedal aspect in front of the vehicle Bob points the camera towards the floor of the truck and screams; a very frightful scream, especially for the manly hunter he was. But, on the recording, I heard a very violent thud and watched as Joe tried to regain control of the wheel, with both men screaming bloody murder, which correlates with Joe’s story.
    Since this event occured (less than 1 year ago), strange things have happend in the lives of both men. Joe IMMEDIATLEY gave up hunting, sold his truck and all of his rifles (I almost bought one). Since the event, Joe and his wife had a very late term miscarriage, he was usurped for a promotion at work and underwent treatment for severe insomnia. Joe never again discussed the story, and has since even changed his phone number and has become a ghost and completeley incommunicado. Bob also had some life changes. He, as well, gave up hunting overnight. When I inquired if I could buy his 30-30, he told me he dumped ALL of his weapons into a NM lake. About six months ago, he began having very strange issues with his lungs, and has since moved to a city with a hospital that specialized in treating patients with his disorder.

    So, did my two buddies encounter an evil skinwalker? I think so. Now, I am actually a bit of a skeptic, and an academic by trade and nature. But, I know what I saw, and I witnessed how the encounter affected my friends. Growing up in NM I had heard of skinwalkers, but regarded the stories as a tale used by Navajo parents used to make their kids behave. Now I think different. In fact, anytime I have to work on the reservation (which happens about once a year), I ask to visit with a tribal medicine man for protection (which they are happy to accomodate me with since I am working on their behalf). I am scared of the Norther NM reservation wilds, because I saw what it did to some of the toughtest guys I know. I don’t tell people about my now forlorn friends or about my own superstition because they will think I’m crazy. However, I have a new respect for Navajo tradition and I don’t set foot onto their land without proper blessing, even then I don’t stay past dark.

    • Denise Monique says:

      Their story gives me chills…. Im sorry your friends encountered one of these evil beings…. they are no joke as everyone thinks its just a tale we tell. I have also had several encounters I don’t speak of. I would suggest u have your friends be blessed by a medicine man. Whoever they encountered is probably holding something of theirs to keep hurting them and as time goes by they will get worse.

      • Rmann says:

        I have thought about talking to ‘Joe’ about seeing a medicine man I have begun to build a friendship with, but I’m afraid to bring up the story. He absolutely will not talk about it. And, he’s quite hard to get a hold of these days. And I have lost touch with Bob.

        Their story has caused me to research Skinwalker phenomenon. I know that it is taboo among Navajo tribes, but after watching the outcome the encounter had on my friends there has to be something to this (scientifically, there is a cause and effect relationship occurring with Skinwalker sightings and misfortune). I used to teach a class at our University, and I asked one of the anthropology professors about the subject, and even he was reluctant to speak about Skinwalkers (his expertise was studying tribal customs and rituals). With so much secrecy there has to be a stone left unturned; a variable that would shed more light on the Skinwalker. As research thus far has indicated, tribal elders feel this is a subject ‘better left alone,’ however with so many instances and occurrences from eye-witness accounts, should we not document the phenomenon, if only not to warn others?

        In the meantime I am inquisitive about the Skinwalker. Though I have yet to come across a Dine willing to talk openly, I think more information on the issue is necessary.

  14. christie lionelle says:

    ’ánt’įįhnii, I have read also could be understood as ant people. This is the best article on this subject, actually only article on this subject I commend the effort to bring understanding of this world to the public. Thank You.

  15. christie lionelle says:

    ca ’ánt’įįhnii,nt believe you found this article Tammy, absolutely true fact, also ant’jihnii also has been said to mean ant people, referring to other worldly beings. My secret experience with this subject now validifys the idea that one must progress naturally to holy state with God and not unaturally due to unwanted side effects of backward journey. I respect the Navajo tradition and history that has lead to my present developement at this time concerning the rites and passages of the people of this land

  16. Cara says:

    My Father’s side of the family grew up in Blanding Utah, next to the Navajo reservation. We have always been told about skinwalkers, but none of them really believe in them. It’s just a way of entertainment. Except for my aunt and I. She won’t even talk about her encounter. However…

    I’ll never forget the time I saw one. My friends and I were being stupid teenagers (as most teenagers are) and decided that on a full moon, we were going to go to the Indian Graveyard, and tell some stories about skinwalkers. Not the smartest thing to do, but no one was really that afraid something would go wrong. Anyway, when the story was finished we decided to sit in silence and just kind of wait for something to happen (with the doors locked of course, we weren’t THAT stupid.) We were all freaked out by that point, but after about an hour went by we decided to drive away. My two friends were in the front two seats, and I was in the back. When my friend put the keys into the ignition to start the car, the headlights came up on a large wolf. Just staring directly at the vehicle. But the eyes weren’t reflecting the light, and they seemed strangely human.
    As soon as my friend shifted the car into gear the wolf cocked its head at us and watched us back out, and start driving off. Just at that moment it bolted after us. My two friends (who happened to be dating at the time) were busy laughing and joking about how scared they were when they saw the wolf in front of the car, and how it was just a big misunderstanding. I couldn’t laugh with them however, because I was too busy watching the wolf, running a long side the car. It was like I was in a trance, and I reached out and touched the window. Right at that moment the wolf’s head was all of the sudden pointing right in my direction. He was still running, and dodging things, but his eyes were transfixed on me. Then, he bared his teeth. And I couldn’t help but notice it was like he was smiling. Until I saw the blood-lust in its eyes. That’s the moment we reached the exit to the grave yard, and the wolf veered off like it couldn’t leave the grave site.

    Skinwalkers don’t always have to kill the people they mess with. But I wouldn’t put it past them if my life depended on it. Because it does.

  17. Mat Morris says:

    This shit is freaky

  18. Pingback: The Native American Skinwalker : Immortal Monday | Debra Kristi

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