The Skin Walker

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The Skin Walker

Post  O'Flynn on Mon Feb 06, 2012 10:46 am

Skin-walker

In some Native American legends, a skin-walker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal
he or she desires, though they first must be wearing a pelt of the animal, to be able to transform. Similar lore can
be found in cultures throughout the world and is often referred to as shapeshifting by anthropologists.
Possibly the best documented skinwalker beliefs are those relating to the Navajo yee naaldlooshii (literally "with
it, he goes on all fours" in the Navajo language). A yee naaldlooshii is one of several varieties of Navajo witch
(specifically an ’ánt’įįhnii or practitioner of the Witchery Way, as opposed to a user of curse-objects (’adagąsh) or
a practitioner of Frenzy Way (’azhįtee)). Technically, the term refers to an ’ánt’įįhnii who is using his (rarely her)
powers to travel in animal form. In some versions men or women who have attained the highest level of
priesthood are called "clizyati" pure evil, then they commit the act of killing a member of their family, and then
have thus gained the evil powers that are associated with skinwalkers.
The ’ánt’įįhnii are human beings who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo. Specifically,
a person is said to gain the power to become a yee naaldlooshii upon initiation into the Witchery Way. Both men
and women can become ’ánt’įįhnii and therefore possibly skinwalkers, but men are far more numerous. It is
generally thought that only childless women can become witches.
Although it is most frequently seen as a coyote, wolf, owl, fox, or crow, the yee naaldlooshii is said to have the
power to assume the form of any animal they choose, depending on what kind of abilities they need. Witches
use the form for expedient travel, especially to the Navajo equivalent of the 'Black Mass', a perverted song (and
the central rite of the Witchery Way) used to curse instead of to heal. They also may transform to escape from
pursuers.
Some Navajo also believe that skinwalkers have the ability to steal the "skin" or body of a person. The Navajo
believe that if you lock eyes with a skinwalker they can absorb themselves into your body. It is also said that
skinwalkers avoid the light and that their eyes glow like an animal's when in human form and when in animal
form their eyes do not glow as an animal's would.
A skinwalker is usually described as naked, except for an animal skin. Some Navajos describe them as a
mutated version of the animal in question. The skin may just be a mask, like those which are the only garment
worn in the witches' song.
Because animal skins are used primarily by skinwalkers, the pelt of animals such as bears, coyotes, wolves, and
cougars are strictly tabooed. Sheepskin and buckskin are probably two of the few hides used by Navajos; the
latter is used only for ceremonial purposes.
Often, Navajos will tell of their encounter with a skinwalker, though there is a lot of hesitancy to reveal the story
to non-Navajos, or to talk of such frightening things at night. Sometimes the skinwalker will try to break into the
house and attack the people inside, and will often bang on the walls of the house, knock on the windows, and
climb onto the roofs. Sometimes, a strange, animal-like figure is seen standing outside the window, peering in.
Other times, a skinwalker may attack a vehicle and cause a car accident. The skinwalkers are described as
being fast, agile, and impossible to catch. Though some attempts have been made to shoot or kill one, they are
not usually successful. Sometimes a skinwalker will be tracked down, only to lead to the house of someone
known to the tracker. As in European werewolf lore, sometimes a wounded skinwalker will escape, only to have
someone turn up later with a similar wound which reveals them to be the witch. It is said that if a Navajo was to
know the person behind the skinwalker they had to pronounce the full name, and about three days later that
person would either get sick or die for the wrong that they have committed. [1]
Legend has it, skinwalkers can have the power to read human thoughts. They also possess the ability to make
any human or animal noise they choose. A skinwalker may use the voice of a relative or the cry of an infant to
lure victims out of the safety of their homes.
Skinwalkers use charms to instill fear and control in their victims. Such charms include human bone beads
launched by blowguns, which embed themselves beneath the surface of the skin without leaving a mark, and
human bone dust which can cause paralysis and heart failure. Skinwalkers have been known to find traces of
their victim's hair, wrap it around a pot shard, and place it into a tarantula hole. Even live rattlesnakes are known
to be used as charms by the skinwalker.
According to Navajo myth, the only way to successfully shoot a skinwalker is to dip bullets into white ash. Often
people attempting to shoot a skinwalker find their weapon jamming or frozen. Other times the rounds fire but
have no effect.
If spotted the Skinwalker will run away, and if chased, his foot print will not be present even if only a few feet
away. Also if it is fired at even at point blank range it will have no effect, and it may attack, or run off. The only
way to kill a Skinwalker if no White Ash is present is to shoot the Skinwalker in Human form.
History of the skinwalker
There are a few legends to the roots of the skinwalker. One such comes from the long walk. During this time,
Skinwalkers would shapeshift to flee the horrors of living under the torture of the white man. It made them faster
and the soldiers were unable to detect them running.
Another was that the skinwalker was started by the poor community in the old days. At night a skinwalker would
dress up in ceremonial dress and go from door to door. The more well-off people would leave something outside
their hogan for the skinwalker. Eventually with times changing people forgot about the skinwalker and stopped
leaving things for them. This led to resentment among the poor and they turned on those who forgot them. And
now they exist as a hateful people out for revenge.
Finally there are those who tell of the skinwalker as a medicine man. It was started by the Lakota, when they
would dress up like wolves to hunt the bison. The tradition made its way to the Navajo people and it was adopted
by the medicine men. However, in this legend it does not explain how the Skinwalker became full of hate for his
fellow tribe.
Many Navajos believe the Anasazi had a lot to do with the witchcraft that runs in their community. Thus, Anasazi
ruins and graves are strictly taboo. It's said that a skinwalker will use the bones of the Anasazi for their charms.
According to Raymond Friday Locke in the Book of the Navajo,[2] the practice of animal emulation began with a
hunter who thought of using the head of a deer so that he could approach them more closely to kill them. He was
unsuccessful until the Gods came and showed him not only how to make the mask but how to emulate the
animal. The practice of wearing the skins of the deer and emulating them began for the purpose of hunting.
Locke also links the practice of witchcraft involving animal emulation and shape shifting to the Navajo folk tale of
Coyote's wife. Believing that Coyote had been murdered, his wife takes the form of a bear and begins to curse
and slay her husband's killers with witchcraft. The association of skin-walkers with Coyote is a prevalent belief in
both their common usage of coyote skins and reputations of being tricksters.

References
1. ^ Kluckhohn, Clyde. Navaho Witchcraft. Boston, 1944. Library of Congrezzss cat. No. 62-13533zz, p.27
2. ^ Locke, Raymond Friday. Book of the Navajo. Holloway House Publishing Group, Los Angeles, 1976.
Other references
• Wall, Leon and William Morgan, Navajo-English Dictionary. (Hippocrene Books, New York City, 1998
ISBN 0-7818-0247-4)
• Brady, M.K., Some Kind of Power: Navaho Children's Skinwalker Narratives. (University of Utah Press,
Salt Lake City, 1984 ISBN 0-87480-238-5)
• Marika, K.. Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Skinwalkers. (Sherbourne Press, Los Angeles, 1972)
• Teller, J. The Navajo Skinwalker, Witchcraft, & Related Spiritual Phenomena: Spiritual Clues: Orientation
to the Evolution of the Circle. (Infinity Horn Publishing, Chinle AZ, 1997 ISBN 0-9656014-0-4)
• The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes
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