Have you ever encountered a Skinwalker? According to the Navajo legend, you may have and didn’t know it. While researching some Navajo stories of the American Southwest, I came across the story of the Skinwalker.
The Skinwalker is a shapeshifting witch. He or she can turn themselves into an animal form, or even the form of a different person. But the Navajo elder I spoke with told me you can always spot a Skinwalker because something will be a little bit off. He said his father once saw a deer who seemed to be walking funny. When the deer turned its head, he saw it had three eyes. He knew then that this was a Skinwalker, and he immediately turned away and left.
For the Navajo, there’s never a good reason for the Skinwalker to be around. It’s usually dark magic aimed at someone specific or a family, so it’s best to stay far away.
The Navajo call this creature <i>yee naaldlooshii</i>. The translation is “By means of it goes on all fours.” Though sometimes the Skinwalker has been known to take a human form, or that of a wolf’s body with a human head, walking on only the hind legs.
The Navajo people don’t like to speak with outsiders about the Skinwalker, because they never know who could be one. What fascinates me is this isn’t the only story of shapeshifters in the world.
The werewolf is another example, and probably the best known—a person who can transform from human into a wolf and back again. Add in a full moon, and <i>boom</i>, you have a great horror movie. The earliest mention of the werewolf goes back to 1 A.D. and the writings of the Roman author, Ovid. In his <i>Metamorphoses</i>, he tells the tale of King Lycaon who offended the gods by serving them human flesh for dinner. The God Jupiter punished him by transforming Lycaon into a werewolf so he could continue eating human flesh without being a cannibal. It’s from this story we get the term “Lycanthrope”—the traditional term for the werewolf.
So we have a similar creature showing up in Navajo lore as well, in a culture that we don’t think had any contact with the Romans 2,000 years ago. So what does this mean? The story was obvious and different groups thought of the same thing around the same time? Or something strange happened, and the legend was born.
For the Navajo, the Skinwalker is a very real and ever-present concern. I have interviewed multiple people this week who have talked about Skinwalker experiences they had within the last few years. Call it a label for something else, if you will, but the Skinwalker appears to be alive and well in the American Southwest.
For me, experiencing a different culture is a big part of the travel experience. As I get ready to head to Tanzania tomorrow, and make my way up Mt. Kilimanjaro, I can’t help but wonder how this trip and experience will transform me. I wonder what legends I’ll find along my journey. I wonder if I will come back changed in some way…
I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next month. I’m climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in memory of my brother-in-law who died from cancer in 2015. I’m also raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. If you’d like to help with a tax-deductible donation, you can do so on my page (and read more about what I’m doing) here: http://pages.teamint...mjr16/JBelanger