Thursday, July 31, 2008

Skinwalker Tales

According to Wikipedia, a Navajo skinwalker or skin-walker (yee naaldlooshii) is a witch; a shape-shifter who assumes the shape of an animal in order to travel.

Clyde Kluckhohn, in his classic 1944 work, Navaho Witchcraft (quoted in The Lore of New Mexico, edited by Marta Weigle and Peter White, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988), tells us: The principal reason that so little is known of Navaho witchcraft is the extreme reluctance of the Indians to discuss the matter. As one informant remarked, "People don't tell about these things; they keep them down here in the body." On the one hand, if other Navajos learn that a certain man or woman has discussed the subject, that person is by that very fact open to suspicion of knowing too much, i.e., of being a witch. On the other hand, if the informant relates anecdotes referring to the supposed witchcraft activities of others, he becomes liable to their hatred and revenge. In particular, if these persons "really are witches," and they learn that someone has gossiped about them, they are, it is believed, certain to witch the gossiper and get him out of the way. Over and above these two excellent reasons for caution and silence, there is the additional motive that most Navahos who are "good citizens" feel a genuine discomfort in talking about such topics which are defined for them by their culture as evil and ugly.

I suspect that this is why so many of the skinwalker tales available are rarely told in the first person; the story is one that happened to "a friend," or to "my uncle's hunting companion," or it comes from some other second or third hand account.

Please note: In collecting various skinwalker tales, I have used academic sources, accounts told to me or to a group I belong to, and a number of shakier sources--you know the kind, those wild and sensational websites that purport to have spiritual connections of one type or another. I will always let you know where I found each tale. Now, as I have said elsewhere on this blog, find your "suspension of disbelief" button, and make sure that it is in the "on" position.

The Tales

The following story can be found on many places around the Internet. It always reads the same, word for word, which would indicate that it is being cut and pasted from page to page without any credit being given to the original poster. I found it at Daily Grail:

One story told on the Navajo reservation in Arizona concerns a woman who delivered newspapers in the early morning hours. She claims that, during her rounds, she heard a scratching on the passenger door of her vehicle. Her baby was in the car seat next to her. The door flung open and she saw the horrifying form of a creature she described as half-man, half-beast, with glowing red eyes and a gnarly arm that was reaching for her child. She fought it off, managed to pull the door closed, then pounded the gas pedal and sped off. To her horror, she says, the creature ran along with the car and continued to try to open the door. It stayed with her until she screeched up to an all-night convenience store. She ran inside, screaming and hysterical, but when the store employee dashed outside, the being had vanished. Outsiders may view the story skeptically, and any number of alternative explanations might be suggested, but it is taken seriously on the Navajo reservation.

A slightly different version of this story, and the only one I found from this perspective, comes from

One night a friend was at a convenience store on the rez visiting with the clerk when a hysterical woman came in screaming about her baby. He didn't know what was going on so he ran outside to see if there was anything he could do. He ran to the passenger side and noticed huge scratches along the side of the car. As he inspected it he heard the cry of a child inside the car. He quickly opened the door and found a child hidden under a stack of newspapers. This was the delivery person for the local newspaper. She had been delivering the papers to area businesses when she heard scratching on the passenger door. Her baby was in a car seat next to her. The door flung open and the woman saw a horrifying sight. It was a creature that was half man and half beast with glowing red eyes reaching for her child. she fought it off and managed to get the door closed and sped up. The creature was running along side the car still trying to get in. Panicked the woman managed to get the child out of the car seat and place it on the floor hiding it under the papers and raced for the nearest open business or house. The creature slammed into the passenger door over and over again until she drove into the parking lot. She ran in screaming and hysterical. She quit delivering papers that night.


Sylvia K said...

Always enjoy the tales, they're fascinating. You must be having so much fun! You have a great blog, it's different, it's intriguing and interesting and a wonderful break from the politics of today!
Thanks as always,

Rain said...

I have heard that story also but not sure in what book. I had some research books on mystical 'monsters' for wont of a better word. There are many things that we just don't understand or can't explain. Have you read Mabel Dodge Luhan's book about when she first came to New Mexico? She writes about something she was told regarding the Pueblo mystical experiences. Unfortunately the book is in Tucson; so I don't have the title but it's probably online somewhere. Also Frank Waters books are good if you haven't come across them yet on the Hope and Navajo. He spent a lot of time learning about their spirituality