What Are Skinwalkers, The Native American Shapeshifters

There are few creatures in Native American folklore that are feared more than the Skinwalker. That said, what are Skinwalkers?

Skinwalkers are one of the mainstays in Navajo tradition and legend. They are a class of outcast criminals that practice black magic, and are said to have the ability to shape-shift into any animal of their choosing.

Although it’s scary to think of them as humans, they are most frequently seen as coyotes, wolfs, foxes, owls, eagles, or crows.

The History of Skinwalkers

It is believed that Skinwalkers are witches that evolved from living as spiritual guides and respected healers, who instead made the decision to use their powers for evil purposes.

The witch is referred to as the “yee naaldlooshii” by the Navajo, which translates as “with it, he moves on all fours.” The mythical creatures can walk freely among the community during the day, and transform secretly under the cover of night.

Skinwalkers are said to appear slightly larger with over-sized animal footprints, disproportionate, and may have red or yellow glowing eyes.

It is believed that when they are in human form, they can use various potions and spells to sicken and kill those around them.

Skinwalker Initiation

Skinwalkers usually gather in secluded places, or dark caves to initiate new members, devise their plans and perform ceremonial rites. These rituals are similar to tribal affairs such as feasts, dancing and sand-painting, but are tainted with dark connotations. It is also said that they commit cannibalism, incest, necrophilia with female corpses, and grave robberies.

During these events, the Skinwalkers can go about naked wearing beaded jewelry, or shape-shift into animal forms. A Skinwalker can choose what animal he or she wants to turn into based on its abilities like speed, endurance, strength, claws, teeth, and stealth. This they usually do by wearing the skins of the animals they transform into. Hence, Navajo tradition considers it taboo for community members to wear predatory animal pelts. Bur leather, sheepskin, and buckskin are acceptable.

Skinwalker Black Magic

Skinwalkers are said to have powers like reading other people’s minds, controlling thoughts, causing illnesses or even death, and destroying property.

People who have spoken out about their encounters with these beings, claim there are ways to sense a Skinwalker is near. They can make sounds around houses like banging on walls, knocking on windows, and scarping on the roof. In some instances, they have been seen gazing through windows. They can also appear suddenly in front of cars, hoping to cause accidents.

In addition to shape-shifting, it is said that the Skinwalkers can control nocturnal creatures such as owls and wolves. They can make the animals do their bidding. Some can even call up the spirits of the dead and reanimate the corpses to attack enemies. They can also take possession of human bodies if the victims lock eyes with them. Once they have taken control, the Skinwalker can make the victims do or say things that they otherwise would not.

The Contemporary Versions

Today, many stories of the Skinwalkers carry a modern touch, including the different ways they can or cannot be killed with bullets. One reason for this is; it wasn’t until European culture started integrating with Native Americans and introduced things like horses and guns that these stories were translated into English.

The Skinwalker legend says that if the creature is shot but only injured, the wound will remain there even when it transforms back into a human form. In order to kill the Skinwalker in animal form, legend claims it should be shot through the neck. This is usually explained by how an animal skin is worn ceremonially- the animals head on the person’s head and the skin swathed over the persons back. Hence, shooting the Skinwalker through the neck pierces the human head inside, otherwise, any other shot might not be fatal.

Skinwalkers and The Skinwalker Ranch

Skinwalkers are commonly encountered near native reservations, and although they have been seen across the US, Skinwalker Ranch in Utah is the most famous. The 512-acre farm is known for a long history of cattle mutilations, unusual UFO sightings, strange creatures and other colorful Skinwalker tales.

Terry Sherman, before leaving the property in 1996, reported seeing a wolf three times larger than usual. Terry said he was walking his dogs late at night when he encountered the creature. It had glowing red eyes and stood unfazed even when he shot it with a rifle at a very close range.

On another occasion, Terry and his wife Gwen Sherman saw a strange hyena-like creature that attacked their horses. They described it as a low to the ground animal with curly red hair and bushy tail, heavily muscled, weighing about 200 pounds. The Sherman’s say the animal vanished before their eyes but had left numerous claw marks on the horse’s legs. A few months later, a neighbor claimed to have seen a similar creature running across his property.

After Bigelow acquired the property in 1997 under the National Institute for Discovery Science, spooky things have continued to be reported.

A biochemist Colm Kelleher claimed that he saw a towering humanoid figure perched on a tree on the night of March 12, 1997. He said that the mysterious creature lay motionless in the tree, observing the research team. The only indication of the creature’s presence was the penetrating, yellow light from its unblinking eyes that glared fixedly into the dark. The shape looked heavy, and had sharp claws that resembled a predatory bird.

A few months after the Kelleher incident, three eyewitnesses saw an extra-large animal on a tree, and another one at the bottom of the tree. They had night vision equipment, and they tried to shoot the creatures. They thought they had successfully killed one, but after scouring around the tree for the carcass, there was no evidence whatsoever.

The Navajo tend to keep their traditions and culture to themselves, as they consider it dangerous to speak openly about these mythical creatures with outsiders.

That said, Skinwalker encounters and anomalies have been reported for decades, if not centuries, and continue to this day.