Skinwalkers

Skinwalkers, the name alone gives me the creeps and smacks of something unclean and infesting. Before we get started here I will give you some Navajo advice. Try not to think about them to hard, and whatever you do never say the name out loud. The first rule of Skinwalkers is; you don’t talk about Skinwalkers. Period. There are many reasons for this as you’ll see, but it is for this reason so very little is known about them to this day. For those of you not familiar with Skinwalkers the best description I can provide you with is this. A Skinwalker is a witch who is no longer fully human, has the ability to shape-shift and is personified evil. For western culture this may seem ludicrous but this creature is taken quite seriously here in northern Arizona, especially on reservations where they command much respect and avoidance. Although this phenomenon seems to be contained to the Navajo, Hopi, and Ute tribes, stories of these creatures radiate out from the geographical area these people call home and many other tribes in Arizona do seem to have a version of this creature as well. Although details vary from tribe to tribe. This being said, Skinwalker phenomenon is most prevalent in the Navajo culture and are known in their native tongue as Yee Naaldooshi.

 

What are they

Depending on who you ask, a Skinwalker can be a number of things. Whereas they are generally thought to be a witch gone bad, it is understood that they are always pure evil. Skinwalkers are shape-shifters and can take on number of shapes; the most common being a coyote, wolf, deer, bear, or bird. They make people sick, kill livestock, commit murder, control people’s minds, rob graves and are necrophiliacs. A number of Navajos have shared with me personally their encounters with with these creatures and have stated that Skinwalkers often take the form of a 4-5 foot, shaggy, foul smelling creature. – Think cousin It, or a short Sasquatch.

Skinwalkers start out as witches, and these witches sometimes starts out as a medicine man. The Navajo people are well known for harboring and practicing witchcraft, this has been documented since first European contact and continues through today. The ability to heal and knowledge of the spiritual world are so intertwined that is impossible to untangle to two. Medicine men and witches harbor the same knowledge, and witchcraft is seen as the dark side or counterpart to the medicine man, a yin and yang if you will. Every medicine man while in training will learn the dark arts, this way they will be equipped to defeat it when the time comes. Whereas the good path is always encouraged, it is up to the medicine man to make his choice as to which direction he goes. It’s almost as if there is a balance at work here, and it seems to me that the Navajo culture actually cultivates them to some extent.

According to what was conveyed to me by a Navajo gentleman one evening over a campfire in Wikieup, AZ, “When a bad witch chooses his way he will begin walking the dark path. Whereas not all his deeds will be bad he will have these leanings and will increasingly choose this path. His practice and bad works will become increasingly become evil as he pushes the boundaries and becomes corrupted by these energies which feed his selfishness. Before he can become a Skinwalker however, it is said that he must perform one last deed; He has to kill a blood relative. From this there is no coming back, this act kills what is left of the part of him that is human and after this you truly belong to the dark. Shortly thereafter powers will creep into you and you will begin to gain the power of the Skinwalker, including shape shifting and invisibility. Often you will be taught by another Skinwalker but sometimes the power just comes and you become one on your own.” He and his friends went on to tell me their first hand accounts of their meetings with these creatures.

 

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Accounts of Skinwalkers as relayed to me first hand by Navajos

It was at a campfire gathering near the town of Wikieup sometime in 1999 or 2000, I can’t recall exactly. A number of people were invited including myself and some guys from a road crew who happened to be working in the area, these men were Navajo. It was an evening just like any other and as it wound down and most of the people left I took the opportunity to ask our new Navajo friends about Skinwalkers. I just came right out and asked and by the looks on their faces you would have thought I had just murdered someone. They all looked at each other then me and then one of the guys said, “Because you don’t know we will tell you, but after tonight don’t talk about this again.” I said that I wouldn’t and they proceeded to share their stories.

The first one told me he was from Cameron, AZ and that to the west of the town up in the mesas lived a woman who everyone knew was a Skinwalker, his mother had told him to stay away from the area and if he or his friends ever saw her they were to run away. He said that one day while walking with some friends, one of them pointed up to a mesa where they saw the woman standing on the cliff edge. He surmised the cliff to be at least a hundred feet tall and it was broad daylight. They watched her just stand there staring out over the cliff into the desert beyond for some time. Then all of a sudden she stepped out and just floated to the bottom where they lost sight of her. Needless to say, they ran. He also said that whenever she would come around, peoples sheep would die, and that was always a sure sign someone was a Yee Naaldooshi. He said that the sheep were weak and couldn’t take the evil energy of the creatures even being around, sort of like a canary in a coal mine. He said that many people were aware of her and that no one was sure exactly where she lived, but they thought it was up in one of the caves up on the mesas. The elders said she was quite old but nobody knew exactly how old and none of them were about to go up there and get rid of her as they were all scared. This Navajo swore to this and by the look on his face I believed him. He went on to say he knew I probably wouldn’t believe him and that I would think him to be just another drunk Indian or something, but he said that when this happened he was to young to drink and he and his friends know what they saw.

The second guy told me he too had an encounter with one. He recalled that he was at the house of his father, where he grew up, when it happened. Their property had a hogan off to the side that at one point was their original home. (A hogan is a traditional Navajo dwelling that is eight sided and usually made out of logs, like an octagon cabin.) He said that he was up on a hill overlooking the property when he saw a short hairy looking thing walk around one side of the hogan. It appeared to be sneaking and moving stealthy. At first he thought it was a wild animal of some kind. Next he saw his sister coming around the other side of the hogan and because of the curve of the structure she could not see the creature. He yelled, trying to warn her and when he did she stopped and looked up and waved – she thought he was playing – but the creature stopped too then took a step back and pressed it’s back up against the wall of the hogan where it became invisible and morphed into the wood. He said that when it happened it looked almost exactly like the camouflage the alien on the movie Predator used. He started running down the hill yelling at his sister to run which she did. The Skinwalker then pulled it’s self off the wall resuming it’s hairy short stature again and ran for the edge of the property where there was a ditch that it jumped into. He stated that he had never seen anything run so fast in his life and that it wasn’t any coyote or deer and that it ran on two legs. He told his family about it and they called a Medicine Man to come perform a cleansing.

The third man began by telling me that he and two others were drinking at home one night when around midnight one of them got the bright idea to go kill a Skinwalker. His friend said that he knew where one had been seen recently and that there was good chance it was still around. They grabbed a 12 gauge shotgun and a knife and the three of them left for the desert. He said that his mother was carrying on and trying to get them to stop, telling them that this wasn’t a game but they left anyway. When they got to the area where the Skinwalker was supposed to be he jumped into the back of the truck with the shotgun. The other friend held a spotlight which he was scouring the desert with and the third drove. After a little while they saw something in the spotlight. He said that it was short and hairy, around 4 feet tall and it was moving fast on two legs occasionally going down on all fours then back up to two again. He told me that he was in disbelief when he first saw it and that he really didn’t expect to see a Skinwalker as he never really believed in them and was just showing off for his friends. He figured that they would just end up shooting coyotes that night. He told me that in a brief second he thought to himself that he would kill it anyway and show everyone and do something good for his people. As his friend raced up behind it in the truck he took aim and shot it square in the back, which slowed it down considerably. He would later learn that they were driving around 60 mph to catch up with it. As the truck caught up with it he jumped out of the truck with his knife and tackled it stabbing it multiple times. He said he after that everything was a blur of fur, blood and pain, as he was rolling and wrestling with the thing. He said that he felt a sharp pain to his abdomen at some point then felt wet, he looked up and was staring the thing straight in the eyes, he said that they were indeed red like the legends and that it was the most evil presence he had ever witnessed. By this time his friend had circled the truck around was coming up on them. The creature jumped off of him and took off running again.

What happened next I will never forget. He lifted up his shirt and showed me a scar that looked like a mountain lion had raked him from just below his left peck to his lower right stomach. He said that it was the dumbest this he had ever done in his life and warned me against my curiosity for the Yee Naaldooshi. He told me to trust that they were real and that they were not to be played with. He said this occurred around the Kayenta Area.

Note on above story: Myself being a hunter and knowing a bit about the behavior of animals. When one states that something has been seen somewhere and “may still be around” I have to wonder that when these things “change” do they loose some of their strategic thought process and begin to function on a more primitive and animistic level, bound to an animals level of reasoning? Or are there other energetic laws in play here? Perhaps a Skinwalker has to complete a task lest the energy comes back to him; much like the common belief in western witchcraft. Whatever the case, there does seem to be some parameters which guide this phenomenon in general.

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Personal Account

In 2002 myself and a friend embarked on a road-trip across the Navajo reservation and north into the canyon country of southern Utah. The trip lasted a little over a week and we camped most of the way. My friend was from Norway and had never seen anything like this so it was a big deal for the both of us. Everything went swimmingly for the first 5 days until we got to Capitol Reef National Monument. We had been laying out the sleeping bags in the back of the truck most nights as it was easier than setting up a tent. That evening nothing eventful happened other than an unsettling feeling in the both of us had about the campsite. We had picked a location to camp late in the day and neither of us liked it very much. It wasn’t a particularly bad spot, in fact there was already a pile of firewood pre-cut and laying next to a fire pit, it was the feeling at the location that bothered me. I personally don’t like the area just west of CRNM anyway. The earth is all broken up in strange configurations, everything is ancient and done, one gets the feeling much has happened in that area and that after each incident someone just kicks sand over the whole deal and waits until the next time. The entire area is completely unnerving to me. In any case we eventually got to sleep, however I awoke in the middle of the night to her hitting me in the chest. It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but it was apparent that she couldn’t breath and was understandably panicking a great deal. I instinctively pounded on her chest and she finally caught a breath then she burst out into tears. She said that she awoke to something sucking the air out of her and that she couldn’t make it stop. She was not asthmatic, was in good health, and after the incident never had another episode. I didn’t know what to say to this at the time. I was aware of the legend of Skinwalkers at the time but didn’t dare mention it to her then and there. We stayed up the rest of the night stoking the fire high till daybreak when we broke camp and moved on early.

Am I stating she was attacked by a Skinwalker? No I’m not. Does she believe she was attacked by something she could not see? To this day, yes she does. Does the Skinwalker phenomenon have anything to do with this? There is no way of knowing. Perhaps there is a medical or scientific reason for what happened, but to this day both of us are unaware as to what it could be. Capitol Reef National Monument is defiantly located within geographic ground zero for the Skinwalker phenomenon, and I can’t help thinking; everything has a home and has to live somewhere.

 

How to kill a Skinwalker

It is said that one way to kill a Skinwalker is to discover it’s identity, and it is for this very reason Skinwalkers are reputed to be extremely secretive. It is understood that when a medicine man decides to become a witch, he gives up his claim as a human being. It is understood that he has chosen evil over life at this point and is no longer protected by law and may be killed at will. It is said that to kill a Skinwalker one must learn it’s name, track it back to it’s home and yell the name for all to hear. Once this is done the Skinwalker will soon die of a disease or misfortune.

Now this seems a rather simple task to perform and being of western culture it is hard to imagine how this could actually kill a creature. When it comes to Native cultures, what makes it into the superstitions and oral teachings is rarely the full story, and instead is often a simplified synopsis of an event or process. Certain things are simply understood in their culture and often no thought is given as to detail or methodology during the delivery process of these ancient accounts.

When I hear the stories about how to kill a Skinwalker I think to myself, we are obviously dealing with a creature that is most likely not bested using physical force. It’s also apparent that the more people know of these creatures the worse it is for them. Could there be a collective psychic battle occurring here, something akin to mass prayer perhaps? Could the collective focused energies of an entire tribe or clan be enough to kill a creature who has delved into a world of “sorcery” or “energy manipulation” and is its own self at the whim of these energies? Could calling aloud the name of a Skinwalker for all to hear be a simplified remedy, explaining that once the identity of this creature is known all the psychic energies become turned its way and it becomes ill and dies? I believe this could be a credible answer to this ancient belief. After all, we know that stress kills people every day. One need not be physically attacked at all in order to suffer physical negative effects in this world. A few hurtful words or the loss of a loved one is often all it takes in order for a person to become depressed, stop eating, causing the suppression of the immune system and illness follows. Or maybe it’s as simple as mob justice.

 

Cryptozoology and geography

I can’t help but notice that the primary tribes which harbor belief in Skinwalkers all happen to be located in the same geographic area. That area being Utah and south to the Grand Canyon then east into New Mexico. Or better yet, the area known as the Colorado Plateau. This huge plateau includes such National Parks as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Goblin Valley, Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, Arches, Natural Bridges, Canyon Lands, Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and dozens more. Each of them isolated in some of the roughest country the U.S. has to offer. Could it be possible that this phenomenon occurs only in this area due to it’s geologic makeup? Or is it simply cultural, primitive stories extending to cousin tribes, recited over campfires to scare the children into staying close to camp, and perpetuating down through oral tradition. But I can not help but wonder if the unique geology of this area may have something to do with it? The Grand Canyon is one of theSunrise-at-Monument-Valley-Navajo-Nation only places on earth geologists can access the deepest available rock formations of the earths crust without having to dig down. Whats more, there is a crosscut of over 750 million years of sandstone and limestone stratification opening up caves and allowing springs to emerge along the canyon walls as well. What else may be emerging from these ancient underground systems? Is it inconceivable to think that maybe something not yet discovered lives within those canyon walls? After all, the tributary canyons to the north of the G.C. are some of the least explored areas left within the United States. Before you say no, know that the oldest and most elaborate pictographs ever discovered in the U.S. were found in a tributary canyon just north of the G.C. in the mid 1980’s. It is known as Gordon’s Panel and had just been sitting there in the open waiting for someone to walk up and find it. Imagine something that is trying to stay hidden. If the phenomenon is cryptozoological in nature there are endless natural features which to stay hidden including, canyons, mesas, domes, caves and cavern systems, fins, hoodoos and goblins, spires, alcoves, reefs, river narrows, natural bridges, and slot canyons just to name a few. The Colorado Plateau is made up of high desert with scattered forests and the terrain is barren in most areas, extremely dry except for annual floods, and excessively harsh to the human condition. Could something hide and stay hidden within this corner of the southwest? Some believe so.

Navajo medicine men believe the earth is sacred and can both heal and kill. I once had the privilege of spending an afternoon alone with a Hualapai medicine man on his reservation just north of Peach Springs. I made the most of this opportunity and asked him everything I could think of. Among other things he told me that Medicine Men use the natural energies in the earth and direct it’s energy where needed. He said “These energies flow like the blood in our own veins and when it stops the earth will die too.” He said that some of these energies are beneficial to us humans while others are disruptive – not good or evil mind you – there is no judgment one way or the other in these matters. This philosophy seems to dovetail with their attitude towards the duality of Skinwalkers and Medicine Men. He said that these energies extend to Earth’s surface and are what the white man refers to as ley lines and that he himself had been trained to locate and use them. I told him a theory of mine and he became quite interested saying that I was on to something. My theory being that aside from these natural ley lines there seemed to be natural energies radiating from specific areas perhaps due to underground rivers and/or water pockets, coal, iron oxides, uranium and other elements in the ground already, and that mining these elements could acutely alter an areas natural energy patterns creating discourse or significant change, hence generating sickness, or haunted areas where where beings or energies that resonate with those energies gravitate to and live. Simply put its what scientists refer to as (resonance) in physics.

The unique stratification of the Colorado Plateau coupled with these natural elements could create a type of natural “engine” if you will. Add a significant increase in altitude and one has a unique habitat indeed, perhaps even energetically. Could it be that the Skinwalker phenomenon occurs here because of this unique energetic habitat? Could these energies somehow facilitate or permit the altering of the human condition over a long period of time and allow for this? After all this is many peoples theory when it comes to the good energies emanating out of the Sedona area.

Skinwalker Ranch is located on top of the Colorado Plateau in northern Utah and has a long history of strange and terrifying occurrences. There is a documentary about this ranch with first hand accounts of the mysterious happenings which took place there. George Knapp, a well established reporter out of Las Vegas has covered this story at great length. He has written a book covering the subject as well as contributed to the documentary. Defiantly worth checking out if this subject interests you.

I vividly recall one morning while driving a power-line road just outside of Wikieup that I came around a bend to quite a surreal scene. There in the middle of the wash were three Native Americans doing a ceremony, they appeared to be older men. There were also two younger men standing to the side and they noticed me and made a motion for me to come no further. I backed up to the top of the ridge and watched them for a few minutes before leaving as I felt like I was intruding on something. Back at town I mentioned to a friend what I had seen and he told me that they must be the Native Americans staying at the motel. I found them later that evening at the trading post eating dinner and introduced myself, they turned out to be Hopi. One of the young men told me that they were there collecting energy to be used as medicine later during healing ceremonies. I asked him how the Hopi knew to come all the way down to the Wikieup to do this and he said that the Big Sandy Valley has always been sacred place to the Hopi and that they had been coming here for generations to collect energy. An older friend of mine who was born in the Big Sandy Valley later told me all this made sense as he had seeing them off and on for years there, but was never aware as to what they were doing.

The Big Sandy valley is known for numerous strange sightings and occurrences, and I myself have been privy to a few of them first hand. But for every strange thing I’ve seen in that valley I have heard ten other stories even stranger. It is evident that these energies and strange occurrences go hand in hand.

 

Skinwalkers and modern day medicine

There is no possible way that modern doctors take the Skinwalker stories seriously right? Well, they take them quite seriously indeed. “Weather or not these creatures actually exist is irrelevant to the harm they do to the psyches of the people who believe in them” says a clinical psychiatrist from the western region of the Navajo reservation who wishes to remain anonymous. She primary treats Navajo clients at a local tribal clinic. She relayed to me that within three to four visits 50% of her patients will usually admit that their problems may indeed be related to a Skinwalker. 50%. That is huge. She says that the belief is so pervasive and widespread across the reservation that it is a real problem and weather or not these creatures actually exist is irrelevant. “The damage they are doing is real” she says. Couple the belief in Skinwalkers with the pervasiveness of Witchcraft on the Reservation and much harm can be done to peoples mental health and communities.

Jack Ehrhardt of Kingman Arizona is a sustainable contractor and an environmental activist. He held a position as Planning and Development Director for the Hualapai Tribe for over 10 years and is currently working with the Ute Tribe in the development of a youth community center. He states that “There is a darkness that exists among the Navajo that doesn’t exist in other tribes, and the Skinwalker phenomenon is not only isolated to the Navajo, the Hualapai also have stories of these creatures visiting much pain and suffering on their people and to this day don’t let their children walk around at night. The Skinwalker situation is directly tied in with the practice of witchcraft within the tribes and is the source of them.” He continued saying “The Navajo police dept regularly receives calls regarding Skinwalkers and their officers investigate these situations weekly. Navajo police officers harbor deep beliefs about this creatures as well and often perform a smudging ritual before duty each day.”

 

Thoughts

So as you can see, what begins as local Native American legend quickly turns into a substantial phenomenon. One has only to scratch the surface to uncover a nearly endless list of personal accounts, and testimony pointing to a phenomenon that is not yet fully understood. I’m certain that as science advances and our knowledge of the world in which we live becomes increasingly understood, we will come full circle and be able to explain not only the Skinwalker phenomenon, but the many other ancient and primitive curiosities that exist to this day. What was once knowable only in spiritual context may become fully understood as the awareness and understanding of our world increases.

Cory Daniel is a professional certified interpretive guide and writer/researcher who currently lives in the Valley of the Sun.

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