FOLKLORE & URBAN LEGENDS: SKIN-WALKER
Throughout folklore there are countless stories of strange creatures blurring the line between humanity and the natural world. Most of these include stories of witches who have acquired the powers to transform into certain animals.
La Lechuza, also known as the Owl Witch, is known for her ability to change into a large owl to kidnap small children at night. However the most popular kind of transformation is the werewolf, a curse turning people into a wolf under the light of a full moon.
These stories may reflect our view of different animals throughout history. We created a feeling of understanding the world by applying certain characteristics and spiritual attributes to different species; some are signs of prosperity although others are omens of death. While some species symbolize a specific prophecy, the Navajo culture has legends of shape-shifters who can change into any animal they desire. Not bound by a single animal or spiritual characteristic.
The name “skin-walker” comes from the term “yee naaldlooshii”, which roughly translates to “with it, he goes on all fours.”
The Navajo and Apache cultures have multiple ways they can follow their spiritual path in order to connect to the spirit world. These practices and rituals are believed to combat sickness and bring prosperity to the tribe.However there a path that brings only death and misfortune to others, known as the Witchery Way. The ones who follow this path are obsessed with the desire for power and eternal life.
The Witchery Way is a taboo subject in Navajo culture, not to be discussed with outsiders. As a result the skin-walker legend is still obscured, we know very little about the creature’s origin.
The ritual to become a skin-walker involves a variety of ceremonial dances, ending with the participant killing a member of his or her own family. Afterwards, they are granted the power to cast powerful curses, and the ability to change into any animal they desire. Nevertheless, no matter what form a skin-walker takes, its natural abilities extend beyond the animal realm; it can also mimic the sounds of family members or crying children in order to lure unsuspecting victims away from the tribe.
They also possess ungodly stamina, as rumors say they can run up to two hundred miles without stopping, making them almost impossible to catch. The skin-walker continues to be one of the most elusive legends in American folklore.
We all fear the unknown. It’s easy to pass over the skin-walker legend, because there are almost no reported sightings or shared personal encounters. Nevertheless, to many people this legend is very real.
After learning what kinds of powers people can acquire through following the Witchery Way, we can only wonder about other North American stories of humans changing into animals. Such as sightings of giant birds with human faces, and large wolves seen walking on two feet. These kinds of stories are still unfolding today.
After all, who are we to say what exists and what doesn’t? Native American tribes have been here longer than any of us. They have seen what blessings the land can give, and the dark secrets it hides.
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Looking for more folklore? Check out the legend of the Wendigo !