Skinwalkers and Witches

T he dark side of Native American spirituality is witchcraft, also known as “bad medicine.” Though its practice is kept secret from outside observers, it is well-known and feared within Native American circles, especially those of the Navajo:

“Witches train extensively—in their own very isolated and secure settings. By Navajo traditional law, a known witch, one who has thus forfeited its status as human, can be killed, and this certainly applies to a kind of witch much involved in these endeavors: the Skinwalkers. These are obviously profoundly deviant Navajo who travel at night for nefarious purposes and who are believed to have the ability to turn themselves into various animals. They certainly are garbed in the skins of respective animals. These Witches, and the closely related Skinwalkers, are not the sorts of things about which one should talk much at all.” (1)

Many Navajo believe that people can take the form of animals in order to inflict harm. It is the darkest side of Navajo witchcraft, so dark very few will talk about it and most will not even speak the Navajo name for Skinwalker. Eyewitness accounts of threatening encounters with Skinwalkers are common, whispered in the dark and posted anonymously on the Internet. In view of the demonic materialization described by Daniel D. Home and other physical mediums, these accounts cannot be completely dismissed as tall tales or myth. (2)

Paranormal phenomena occur in this world whether our culture acknowledges it or not, but just how far this power can affect the human surrendered to it is unknown. The world of the occult is powerful, and it offers this power to those who seek it. But we as Christians need not fear it. Our victory is secure in the death and resurrection of Jesus—we are co-heirs with Christ and we will judge the angels (Romans 8:17; 1 Cor. 6:3).

One thing is certain: the God of the Bible has made it clear that He has nothing to do with occult rites, divination, and magic, so there can only be one other source of this supernatural power—and it is not interested in human self-empowerment. It is only interested in human self-destruction.

Possibly the best documented Skinwalker beliefs are those relating to the Navajo yee naaldlooshii (literally “with it, he goes on all fours” in the Navajo language). A yee naaldlooshii is one of several varieties of Navajo witch (specifically an ant’ iihnii or practitioner of the Witchery Way, as opposed to a user of curse-objects ( ‘adagash) or a practitioner of Frenzy Way (‘azhitee)). Technically, the term refers to an ‘ant ‘iihnii who is using his (rarely her) powers to travel in animal form. In some versions men or women who have attained the highest level of priesthood then commit the act of killing an immediate member of their family, and then have thus gained the evil powers that are associated with Skinwalkers.

The ‘ant ‘iihnii are human beings who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo. Specifically, a person is said to gain the power to become a yee naaldlooshii upon initiation into the Witchery Way. Both men and women can become ‘ant’ iihnii and therefore possibly Skinwalkers.

Legend has it, Skinwalkers can have the power to read human thoughts. They also posses the ability to make any human or animal noise they choose. A Skinwalker may use the voice of a relative or the cry of an infant to lure victims out of the safety of their homes.

Skinwalkers use charms to instill fear and control in their victims. Such charms include human bone beads launched by blowguns, which embed themselves beneath the surface of the skin without leaving a mark, and human bone dust which can cause paralysis and heart failure. Skinwalkers have been known to find traces of their victim’s hair, wrap it around a pot shard, and place it into a tarantula hole. Even live rattlesnakes are known to be used as charms by the Skinwalker.

(1)University of Utah Economics, Marxism archive, “Witchcraft, Skinwalkers and Witches,” For more information on Navajo Skinwalkers see Clyde Kluckhohn, Navajo Witchcraft (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963).

(2) There is no scientific proof that a Skinwalker can physically transform; what has been demonstrated by Dr. Charles Richer and Sir William Crookes is the power of spiritual beings (demons) to transform themselves into semi-physical beings with specific characteristics for sort periods of time.