Author Archives: Naifang Hu

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.

A Grave of Rice

It’s bad luck to stick chopsticks into a bowl of rice, burying the tip. Supposedly this is because the chopsticks resemble the headstone placed on a grave, and reminders death are extremely inauspicious in Chinese society.

The correct way to set a table, and to place chopsticks on a bowl of rice, is to lay them across the rim of the bowl with the tip pointing toward the center of the table. This is because it is also rude to point the tip at anyone sitting at the table, but usually the people across the table are too far away for the sign to take effect.

I was made aware of this taboo when I stuck a pair of chopsticks into a bowl of rice when I was young, and JL, my mother, caught me in the act. I was setting the table for my family at the age of 8, and was allowed to begin eating first. I stuck the chopsticks in the rice to see if it would stay secure, and my mother caught me before anyone else could see, and she said it would have been very rude for my grandparents to see, and that they would have been a lot harder on me than she was.

She had actually found out about the taboo the same way when she was a child. This is a fairly obscure taboo in Chinese dining etiquette, so most people don’t find out about it until they’ve broken it once. When etiquette is broken in a public setting, it is also rude to mention the offense except in private, between two parties who trust each other, usually parents to children.

The Lakota Deer Woman

BE: When i was a kid i was told this legend, and i’ve heard it many times, the Lakota believe this and the other plains tribes do it too as far as I know. There is a creature called Deer woman and she shapeshifts into a woman, a human woman, and she goes to pow wows. And she’ll be at the pow wow all night as a beautiful woman, and the last dance is the rabbit dance and it’s the dance where the lady picks the man. And she’ll pick whichever young man she wants, and he’ll dance with her, and she gets him to take him home, and  then when she’s going home with him she turns back into a deer. And it scares him and you know, bad things can happen. And they say that part of the lore is, when you’re dancing with a girl that you don’t know, or even a girl you do know, always check her feet, because deer woman, when she shapeshifts, her feet still remain a deer’s feet, so under the bottom of her dress, because her dress is long, if you look, you won’t see human feet, you’ll see deer feet.

Me: Cloved hooves.

BE: Yeah, the cloven hooves. And there was a guy that said that he’d gone to a pow wow, and there was a girl he met there, and he was supposed to take her home, and he decided at the last minute he wasn’t going to, and he ditched her, and left. And then when he was driving home from the pow wow – this is a true story – when he was driving home from the pow wow, a deer went in front of his car, and caused him to wreck and total his car.

Me: So just for reference, what’s a pow wow?

BE: A pow wow is a gathering where you have dancing and food and things like that. They usually compete with the dancing, it’s a Native tradition. It’s like a party.

Me: Where were you told this?

BE: Oh I wasn’t told this since I was a little kid. My dad told me this, my grandma’s told me it. It was in South Dakota, but I’ve heard it in California too, from people, but South Dakota’s where you hear it. And she follows the pow wow circuit, she didn’t have to be in the plains, but that’s pretty much where everybody – all the sightings I’ve heard of, she’s been.

Me: So do you think there’s a moral for the story?

BE: I think it’s to teach young men and women to be modest, and not to just go home with somebody. And if you do, they say to check her feet, but what they’re really saying is know who you’re going home with. That’s the moral of the story.

Me: So is this just a story told in passing or?

BE: No this is a warning that you get when you’re a teenager and you go to pow wows, especially the boys, but that’s the warning you get, is you better look out, because that beautiful girl might not be who she seems.

Me: So in what situation would you tell that story to someone?

BE: (laughing) I would tell it to SI (BE’s son), if I were taking him to a pow wow when he was young! And I’d tell people that when – honestly I’d use it for what it is, it’s a moral. But it’s also just something that you pass along, it’s something that people need to know, because if there’s really deer woman out there, you need to know that.

Me: Do you remember – since you said you were a little kid, do you remember how old you were? Like before double digits?

BE: I’m sure I was probably… about 8 or 10? I was old enough to know what they were saying, so probably 10.

Me: So did the deer woman have a name or is the name just deer woman? What was the Native name for it?

BE: I don’t remember but the name translates to Deer Woman.

Me: So is it a Lakota Sioux story?

BE: I don’t know where – but all the plains tribes believe in it, as far as I know. They may call it something else, but the Lakota call her Deer Woman, because that’s what she turns to. She’s not a nice person.

Later, BE gave me some additional details about the boy who wrecked his car after the pow wow:

The guy’s name was [H], and he was driving in his truck back from the Pow Wow. The accident happened around 1979 or 1980 when he was 16. He actually had a GF at the time and thats why he initially decided against bringing the girl home with him. [H] is a really honest type of person, so if he had just totaled his truck after the pow wow because he was drunk or something, he’d tell everyone that, but that was the story he told. I think the Deer Woman could sense he was having adulterous thoughts, and that’s why she went after [H].

Fast work is a shame for its master (Bulgarian Proverb)

Original Script: Бързата работа, срам за майстора.

Phonetic Script: burzata rabota sram za maistora.

Literal Meaning: Rushed work is an embarrassment for a master. (Note: The informant translated the literal meaning as “fast work is a shame for its master,” but English is his second language.)

бързата – /burzata/ – fast
работа – /rabota/ – work, job
срам – /sram/ – shame, embarrassment
майстора – /maistora/ – master, skilled craftsman

Implied Meaning: It’s better to be slow and careful than fast and sloppy; don’t rush to get something done.

BD does not remember the first time he has heard this phrase spoken. He had heard it from his parents, but to him, the significance of the phrase is that it reminds him that good work takes time and effort, and it’s more important to produce good, finished paintings than it is to call a lot of rushed pieces “done.”

This proverb sounds fairly standard but I could not think of any English equivalents off the top of my head. With some research, I found some similar quotes:

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. – Proverbs 21:5 (Other similar quotes can be found throughout the rest of the Bible as well)

Gods live 3 feet off the ground (Chinese Proverb)


li di san chi you shen ling

away ground three feet exist divine/numinous spirit

There are gods and spirits 3 feet off the ground.

Even when you think you’re alone, the spirits are still watching you, so don’t act differently even if you don’t think anyone is watching.

Chinese proverb usually used by parents as a warning to their children. It’s comparable to Christian families warning their children that God is always watching them, but with roaming spirits. This is related to the Chinese folk belief in spirits of the deceased who act as gods. By convincing a child that they are constantly being watched, the child would be from the parents’ point of view more likely to behave even when they think no one is around. This was used often when I was a child and my mother expected to be away for a while and wanted me to finish my homework before using the computer.

However, threat is not the only application of the proverb, as it also implies karma. Even when you do something good and no one sees, it ticks a point in your favor and the gods always know who’s in the right.