The History Channel has popularized the Navajo belief of skinwalkers in their “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” series. Here is a definition and history of the Navajo beliefs concerning skinwalkers.
A skinwalker, also known as a “yee naaldlooshii”, is a type of harmful witch who has the ability to turn into, possess, or disguise themselves as an animal. The concept comes from Navajo culture and mythology, and is a part of a wider set of beliefs about witchcraft in Indigenous cultures of the Americas.
The Navajo people are a Native American group in the southwestern United States, with a culture that has a rich history and complex set of spiritual beliefs. In these beliefs, witchcraft is seen as the antithesis of traditional Navajo values. While most Navajo folk tales and cultural stories promote harmony, balance, and respect for all living things, the tales of skinwalkers are used as a sort of cautionary tale against the disruption of these values.
Skinwalkers are typically depicted as being motivated by personal gain, revenge, or a desire to cause harm to others. They’re often associated with death and misfortune. A skinwalker might choose to transform into a variety of animals, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, eagles, owls, or crows, but they can potentially take the form of any animal.
The legend of the skinwalker is not just a horror story, but also a part of a larger spiritual belief system. It’s a teaching tool, reflecting the Navajo nation’s deep respect for the balance of nature and the consequence of disrupting that balance.
It’s worth noting that while the concept of the skinwalker has been popularized in non-Indigenous media, these depictions often oversimplify or misrepresent the complexities of Indigenous spiritual beliefs. The subject of skinwalkers is considered taboo and sensitive by many Navajo people, and discussing it casually or without proper context can be seen as disrespectful.
As a final note, knowledge of the skinwalker myth varies among the Navajo people and there can be different interpretations or beliefs within the community. Some Navajos might not believe in skinwalkers, or might not interpret the legend in the same way as others.