What is Skinwalker?

What is Skinwalker?
Posted on 02-07-2023

What is Skinwalker?

A skinwalker is a creature or entity from Native American folklore, particularly among the Navajo people. In Navajo culture, a skinwalker is a malevolent witch or sorcerer who possesses the ability to transform into different animals. The term "skinwalker" comes from the belief that these individuals have the power to wear the skin of animals and assume their form, allowing them to move undetected and carry out their dark intentions.

The concept of skinwalkers is deeply rooted in Navajo mythology and holds great significance within their spiritual and cultural beliefs. However, it is essential to approach this topic with sensitivity and respect, as it is considered sacred and highly secretive by the Navajo people. The following discussion aims to provide an overview of the legends, beliefs, and cultural context surrounding skinwalkers, while acknowledging the need to approach the subject with caution and respect for Native American cultures.


Origins and Beliefs:

Skinwalker legends have been passed down through generations among various Native American tribes, with the Navajo tribe having the most prominent and well-known stories surrounding these beings. The origins of skinwalkers can be traced back to the Navajo creation story, where it is believed that they emerged as a result of disharmony and the misuse of supernatural powers.

According to Navajo mythology, skinwalkers are individuals who have attained great power and knowledge in the realm of witchcraft and sorcery. They are often believed to be former medicine men or women who have delved into the dark arts and transformed themselves into evil beings. The transformation into a skinwalker involves a ritual that typically includes the use of taboo or forbidden practices, such as killing a close family member. This act is considered to be an ultimate betrayal of trust and an abandonment of traditional Navajo values.


Abilities and Characteristics:

The most distinctive and terrifying aspect of skinwalkers is their ability to shape-shift into various animal forms. It is said that they can assume the appearance of any animal they choose, including but not limited to wolves, coyotes, owls, crows, and foxes. In some versions of the legend, they can even take on the form of humans, mimicking the appearance of others with uncanny accuracy.

In addition to shape-shifting, skinwalkers are believed to possess other supernatural abilities. These include enhanced speed, strength, and agility, as well as the power to control or manipulate the minds of animals, cause illness or death through curses, and create fear and confusion among their victims. It is said that they have an intimate knowledge of plants, herbs, and potions, which they use to inflict harm or heal, depending on their intentions.


Encounters and Signs:

Encountering a skinwalker is considered a terrifying and dangerous experience. Those who claim to have witnessed these beings describe feelings of intense fear, a malevolent presence, and an overwhelming sense of evil. Skinwalkers are known to stalk their victims, both in animal and human form, often at night or in remote locations. They are said to possess glowing, fiery eyes that pierce the darkness, leaving those who see them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

Navajo tradition holds that discussing skinwalkers openly can attract their attention, bringing about misfortune and harm. Nevertheless, there are certain signs and precautions that are believed to be associated with their presence. These include unusual animal behavior, such as animals acting strangely or fearfully, unexplained noises outside homes, strange tracks resembling animal prints, and an overall sense of unease and foreboding in a particular area.


Protection and Prevention:

Given the inherent danger associated with skinwalkers, the Navajo people have developed various methods and protective measures to guard against them. These methods are deeply rooted in their cultural and spiritual practices and are considered essential for maintaining personal and community safety.

One widely known protective measure is the creation and wearing of "medicine bundles" or "sacred objects" containing blessed or spiritually significant items. These bundles may include herbs, stones, animal parts, or other objects of spiritual significance. The belief is that these objects possess the power to repel or deter skinwalkers and provide spiritual protection.

Additionally, there are ceremonial practices, prayers, and rituals performed by Navajo medicine men or women that are believed to offer protection against skinwalkers. These rituals often involve purification ceremonies, the use of sacred herbs and medicines, and the invocation of spiritual guidance and assistance.


Cultural Sensitivity and Respect:

When discussing skinwalkers or any other aspect of Native American culture, it is crucial to approach the topic with respect and cultural sensitivity. Native American folklore, traditions, and beliefs are deeply rooted in their unique histories and are considered sacred by their respective communities. Outsiders should always seek permission and guidance from the relevant Native American tribes before delving into or discussing their cultural practices.

Furthermore, it is important to avoid sensationalism, distortion, or misappropriation of Native American beliefs and legends. Many Native American communities are protective of their sacred knowledge and view its exploitation or misrepresentation as disrespectful and harmful. By honoring their traditions, respecting their wishes, and fostering an understanding of their culture, we can contribute to a more inclusive and harmonious society.



The legends and beliefs surrounding skinwalkers provide a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Navajo people and Native American tribes in general. While their existence is primarily rooted in mythology and folklore, the impact of these legends on Navajo society cannot be understated. The fear and respect associated with skinwalkers continue to shape the worldview and spiritual practices of the Navajo people.

Understanding and appreciating the significance of skinwalkers within Navajo culture requires acknowledging their sacredness and approaching the topic with cultural sensitivity and respect. By doing so, we can foster a deeper understanding of Native American traditions, honor their heritage, and cultivate a more inclusive appreciation for diverse belief systems.

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