The Terrifying Legend of the Navajo Skinwalker

Native American lore seems to be everywhere in our modern culture, just one of many benefits of a multicultural society. But did you know that some legends are less well-known? That is because they are so terrifying that they are hidden deep.

Today, we’ve been looking through the archives to tell you all about the Navajo skinwalker.

navajo skinwalker
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The Navajo Tribe

First, let’s take a look at the Navajo tribe as a whole. The Navajo Native Americans come from the Southwestern United States. This meant that they had to deal with some pretty rugged terrain and weather, so when they find something frightening, you had better believe it is something hazardous. 

Like many Native American tribes, they had a very strong set of beliefs in the supernatural. Some were positive, like shamans and healers, while others like the windigo and the skinwalker are much, much darker. 

What is a Skinwalker?

A skinwalker is a type of hurtful witch who can turn into, possess, or disguise themselves as an animal in order to destroy lives or escape danger. Because of shows like Supernatural, many believe that they can be neutral, but this is unequivocally not the case. 

In the Navajo language, the name literally translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours,” so it can be assumed that skinwalkers are beasts or reptiles rather than birds. They are most often pictured as mammals – particularly wolves, coyotes, and other apex predators. 

Navajo members are reluctant to discuss the subject with outsiders, leading many to consider this a real fear. 

There has been a significant amount of debate as to how much information on skinwalkers should be shared with people outside of the Navajo culture. It is not simply an urban legend like Mothman but considered a genuine and important aspect of Navajo history. So, despite the reluctance to share this history with those outside of their culture, we do know some lore about them – and it isn’t pretty.

What do Skinwalkers do?

As mentioned, the skinwalker is a type of witch. In contemporary society, the term can be good, bad, or neutral. In the Navajo tradition, it is a dark term reserved only for those who go directly against all values of wholesome behavior. 

These witches are often healers who train in dark arts to protect people from hexes, curses, etc. Regrettably, this study of darkness often overcomes the individual and consumes their moral essence. This is when they transition from healer to witch.

The skinwalker is also regarded as a type of trickster, meaning that they take delight in the suffering of others and mischief. Although we say mischief, it is often a long stretch of the word, resulting in maiming, torture, and death. 

The majority of accounts discuss how a confrontation ends in a fight to the death, however, even if a person were to survive, the skinwalker would have left a deep-rooted mark on them. 

Often a skinwalker will use irony in the way it picks people apart and destroys them, creating a sick and sinister game for itself where the onlooker or victim is tormented in the cruelest way to that individual. 

There have also been accounts of skin peeling while alive and eating people. 

How do they turn into animals? 

The majority of stories state that the skinwalker transformed from the human form by using a magic spell or enchantment.

However, there is also an ability in these kinds of witches states to possess animals. It is said to be done in much the same way a witch might possess a human.

Like humans, during possession, the animal’s spirit will be trapped inside and unable to control its own body. Therefore, they will be suppressed entirely by this dark and unholy magic, leaving the skinwalker as the only conscious presence within the body. 

This allows the skinwalker to take full control over the animal in question. Skinwalkers may be male or female, take form or steal one, but in any case, they are sadistic beasts that roam the earth unwelcomed. 

There are differences to the lore as it has traveled through the generations, though none are as fearsome as the Navajo skinwalker iteration. 

In newer literature, the skinwalker is less aggressive and is usually defeated by those who encounter it. However, it is not true to the original lore, which states that most of those who would have an encounter would die a grim death. This reflects a common change in modern-day literature, in which the supposed ‘good guy’ almost always triumphs. That was not often the case in the past. 

A skinwalker is an essential aspect of Navajo tradition, and many of the legends about the beast are kept close at hand, passed along via oral tradition within the tribe. 

They are beings of pure darkness, witches who will take control of mammals’ bodies to bring pain, chaos, and suffering into the world. While they share similarities with the wendigo, they are not the same creature. These trickster creatures delight in tormenting others and are believed by the Navajo to be a genuine threat.

If you enjoyed reading about skinwalkers you should read about Baba Yaga.

Alan Behrens

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