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Skinwalkers: Native American Witches

Column: Legends, Lore, Superstitions, and More

Witches were feared by many, including Europeans and famously the people of Salem, Massachusetts. Most cultures have a story or legend about witches like Mangkukulam in the Philippines and the Kalku in Chile. Even native Americans have tales of witches. More specifically, the Navajo people feared a type of witch that they called a skinwalker. In the Navajo language, they were called yee naaldlooshii.

Navajo culture describes witchcraft as both good and bad, unlike European culture. Spiritualism in Navajo culture is actually pretty important. They believed witchcraft could be used to heal but also harm.

Witchcraft and skinwalkers are a part of other Native American cultures too like the Pueblo, Apache, Ute, and Hopi.

Skinwalkers are often described as evil witches who can morph themselves to look like an animal. It’s said that skinwalkers used witchcraft for evil. People who use witchcraft and decide to become a skinwalker must kill a family member to obtain supernatural powers. They get even more powerful by wearing pelts, skulls, and the skin of animals. These powers allow the skinwalker to seemingly shapeshift into looking like animals.

Skinwalkers most often shift into the form of coyotes, wolves, dogs, and bears. However, skinwalkers can shift into more than just animals, they can shift into the form of other humans and even possess people. Skinwalkers have the ability to possess people who make eye contact with them. After a person is possessed, a skinwalker can make them say and do whatever they want. They can control a person’s thoughts and actions as well as read minds and spread diseases that result in death.

Fortunately, there is a way to tell the difference between a skinwalker and a real animal. It’s believed that when skinwalkers morph to look like animals, their eyes stay the same. This means that you can tell if an animal is a skinwalker if their eyes are very human-like.

You can also tell when a skinwalker is around. They are known for knocking on the sides of houses, making strange noises, tapping on windows, and even looking through windows.

Stories of skinwalkers are usually about a human running next to cars at a superhuman speed, coyotes with human hands and feet, or even deer that walk on their hind legs.

The Navajo people believe skinwalkers are against their culture and dislike the way they use their powers.

Today, Native Americans still pass down the stories of these witches. Some have even encountered one themselves. Skinwalker encounters have been reported in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah most often.

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