Mysteries of the woods: Skinwalkers


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Elsa Munster, Copyeditor

Throughout human history,  different cultures have developed many different legends. The Navajo culture has one of the most well-known examples, which many people believe in firmly — the Skinwalker legend.

The Navajo are a part of a larger cultural area in North America that also includes the Pueblo, Apache, Hopi and Ute people, according to These cultures are spread out in the states of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and other southwestern states.  

In the Navajo language, skinwalkers are called “yee naaldlooshii,” which means “he walks on all fours.” They are thought to be witches who  walk among the tribe, and states that they use their powers for evil by taking form of an animal to inflict pain and suffering on their victims. They may do this out of greed, anger, envy, spite or revenge.

To become a skinwalker, a witch has to kill a close family member, which is often a sibling. The skinwalkers then can attain their powers, which include shape-shifting into any animal — usually a coyote, bear, wolf, fox or owl. They can also mesmerize, instill supernatural fear, read minds, control victims’ thoughts or behaviors, create confusion, and — if they look the skinwalker in the eyes — they can possess the bodies of others for a short amount of time, according to

The creatures make the decision in which animal they want to transform and become, based on which abilities they need for a specific task. For example, if the witch needed to be fast, they would choose a wolf, or if they needed claws they could choose a bear.

Skinwalkers are seen as almost impossible to kill; the only ways to do so are with a bullet or with a knife covered in a special white ash. Some cultures say that if a person can identify the skinwalker, then that person can say the skinwalker’s full real name aloud and the creature will either get sick or die, as said in

Navajo people usually refuse to speak out about skinwalkers in fear of being attacked, but there are some common things that happen that are thought to be encounters with the creatures. Some of them are described as hearing knocks on windows, banging on walls, or seeing animal-like figures looking into a window. Also, stated in, they also often appear in front of vehicles hoping to cause serious harm to the victim.