Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Skinwalkers in New Mexico

Funny thing about New Mexico--every once in a while, right in the middle of a normal conversation, someone will say something that makes you sit up and take notice; something that you might not hear in other parts of the country. You glance around at others who might have heard, wondering what their reaction will be and you make the discovery, once again, that this place must be enchanted because people say the most amazing things that are simply taken for granted. This happened to me once when, during a lunch time conversation in a teacher's room in a southern NM elementary school, someone asked about finding a curandera for his wife, who had been bewitched. No one, other than my own startled self, seemed to find this request unusual (see Las Cruces and the Suspension of Disbelief).

It just happened again to me a few days ago, this time during an online discussion about the pros and cons of a family moving from a crime-ridden city in Ohio to the small town of Thoreau, New Mexico. Right there, in the middle of chatting about weather, and shopping, and schools, someone threw out this piece of advice: " might encounter skinwalkers at night. I would go to either Gallup or Grants [instead]."

No one else seemed bothered or excited by this statement. I wrote privately to the person who had made it, who told me: Skinwalkers are Navajo witches. They dress themselves up in coyote skin and paint their faces. There is actually a documentary out there about skinwalkers, with actual skinwalkers narrating. There is also a video message going around of a skinwalker running in front of a car. It looks like a dog or coyote, then it runs to the side of the road and stands up. It's chilling! I don't know if that clip is on youtube, but I have heard that it is. I have that video on my phone. That video was taken outside of Gallup.

I was grateful to this person for explaining this much to me, as I hadn't been sure that people would be willing to talk about their skinwalker experiences. I decided to collect as many tales as I could. In the meantime, I have found that the discussion of the supernatural in traditional societies in the Southwest is becoming more mainstream. Here is a statement I found in a book called Witchcraft in the Southwest, by Marc Simmons (University of Nebraska Press, 1980):

Recently in his weekly newspaper column, Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian novelist N. Scott Momaday noted with candor that his own young daughters are inordinately fond of witch stories and that he himself has “a thing about witches.” Recalling personal experiences, he reflected that “there are witches at Jemez Pueblo, and when I lived there I knew of them, sure enough. One night I saw some curious lights away in the distance, small points of light moving erratically about at ground level, and I was told that they were “witch lights.” I thought: Nonsense, there are some boys running about with flashlights, that is all. And then one of the lights rose slowly and moved like a shooting star across the whole expanse of the sky. I shudder to think of it.”

Next: Some stories of encounters with skinwalkers.


Rain said...

Interesting post and I have read books on this and other examples of mysticism that can't be explained by logic. Tony Hillerman wrote about the skinwalkers also. I have a friend who lives in the Midwest and has seen the lights other places with no explanation for what it is. We are creatures of energy (science-wise) and who knows what that can mean

Sylvia K said...

That is fascinating! and I lived in Texas half my life, visited New Mexico frequently, have friends who life there still and this is the first time I've heard of this happening today. I do love your stories, thanks.