In the Navajo culture, a skinwalker is a type of harmful witch who has the ability to turn into, possess, or disguise themselves as an animal.
This witch is called “yee naaldlooshii” by the Navajo, which translates to “with it, he goes on all fours.” It is just one of several types of Navajo witches and is considered the most volatile and dangerous.
For the Navajo people, witchcraft is just another part of their spirituality and one of the “ways” of their lives. As such, witchcraft has long been part of their culture, history, and traditions. Witches exist alongside humans and are not supernaturals.
The Navajo believe there are places where the powers of both good and evil are present and that those powers can be harnessed for either. Medicine men utilize these powers to heal and aid members of their communities, while those who practice Navajo witchcraft, seek to direct the spiritual forces to cause harm or misfortune to others. This type of Navajo witchcraft is known as the “Witchery Way,” which uses human corpses in various ways such as tools from the bones, and concoctions that are used to curse, harm, or kill intended victims
The knowledge of these powers is passed down from the elders through the generations.
The Navajo are part of a larger culture area that also includes the Pueblo people, Apache, Hopi, Ute, and other groups that also have their own versions of the Skinwalker, but each includes a malevolent witch capable of transforming itself into an animal.
Among these tribes, a number of stories and descriptions have been told throughout the years about the Skinwalkers.
Sometimes, these witches evolved from living their lives as respected healers or spiritual guides, who later chose to use their powers for evil. Though they can be either male or female, they are more often male. They walk freely among the tribe during the day and secretly transform under the cover of night.
In order to become a Skinwalker, he or she must be initiated by a secret society that requires the evilest of deeds – the killing of a close family member, most often a sibling. After this task has been completed, the individual then acquires supernatural powers, which gives them the ability to shape-shift into animals. Most often, they are seen in the form of coyotes, wolves, foxes, cougars, dogs, and bears, but can take the shape of any animal. They then wear the skins of the animals they transform into, hence, the name Skinwalker. Sometimes, they also wore animal skulls or antlers atop their heads, which brought them more power. They choose what animal they wanted to turn into, depending on the abilities needed for a particular task, such as speed, strength, endurance, stealth, claws, and teeth, etc. They may transform again if trying to escape from pursuers.