USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Navajo’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Navajo Skinwalkers

This story takes place in the Arizona desert, when the informant SI saw some strange lights in the shape of a human flickering in the distance.

SI: Have you heard of a skinwalker? My friend told me about it when we saw some strange lights in the desert, at night nonetheless. I mean, I’ve heard of it being mentioned in passing, but my friend was telling me about it and the lore sounded familiar.

Skinwalkers look like humans, but they’re actually ancient, bloodthirsty monsters that take the appearance of wolves, bears, and other dangerous animals. They don’t attack humans unless one of their own gets killed, but they can shapeshift to look human. That’s why the Navajo only use sheep and other prey animals for their stuff, because if they used a wolf, bear, coyote, whatever, it could have been a skinwalker.

Anyway, it was in an Arizona desert, in Navajo territory. He told me about it basically how I just told you, but he was really uncharacteristically quiet and never said the name. When the story started sounding familiar, I asked him “are you talking about skinwalkers” and he freaked out and told me to be quiet, because if they heard me they might attack us. Then we heard a rustle in a nearby brush, and we bolted. Had my gun in hand and everything.

He doesn’t really believe in the supernatural, but that gave him a serious case of the spooks. We drove to a road, but walked out into the desert. The road was pretty much abandoned. We kicked so much dirt spinning the tires out and jetting. I was mostly just messing with him, but I was a bit perturbed because what if it was some cartel coyote? His fear was a skin walker, mine was a cartel transport.

SI: Oh, forgot to mention, the lights looked like torches in the way distance that were dancing in a humanoid sized circle. So either someone fire dancing in the middle if the desert, doing some ritual dance thing, or it was a signal for traffickers. The flames kept going out and relighting, and there were anywhere from 1 to three when they were lit. Definitely wish I had my binoculars

Me: Do you know where your friend heard about skin walkers?

(At this point SI texts his friend who he had the experience with)

The textlog from the friend is as follows, SI asked the questions at my prompting:

NJ: from my mother, then some more from my family, and things they saw in the rez

SI: What did you hear from your family?

NJ: crap like seeing something running on the horizon

a spooky tale about on in the middle of the rez.

some things about them wanting to steal your hair or their strange rituals

one about their gathering place

idk. i don’t remember my childhood that well

SI: How was the story told to you?

NJ: just in a “yeah they’re out there, but whatever” kind of way

like you’d warn somebody about grizzly bears

my mom wasn’t worried since she lived in the city, not the rez

 

Me: SI, How’d you hear about them yourself?

SI: I heard it years ago in passing, from a friend of a friend.

The origins of the story are probably related to the types of animals the skinwalkers take the form of. Predators are difficult sources to renew compared to prey, as they are sustained by energy provided from other animals.

The Navajo word for skinwalker is yee naaldlooshi, which refers to the way they walk on all fours in their animal form. George R. R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire has some of the main characters (the stark children, plus the wildlings) act as skinwalkers by being able to possess the bodies of animals, especially wolves. In the novel, they are referred to as skinchangers or wargs. However, in Norse mythology, wargs are actually just wolf beasts, and there is no mention of them being shapeshifters.

[geolocation]