• James E Aarons DVM

Skinwalker, Yee naldlooshii: K’aalógii, Butterfly Boy, Ch24

Updated: Mar 7

To become a skinwalker requires the most evil of deeds, the killing of a close family member. They literally become humans who have acquired immense supernatural power, including the ability to transform into animals and other people.

These evil witches are typically seen in the form of a coyote or wolf – although they do have the ability to turn into any animal they choose.

Skinwalkers walk freely among the tribe and secretly transform under the cover of night. The term yee naaldooshii literally translates to “with it, he goes on all fours."

The yee naaldlooshi can be spotted and singled out from other people, because their eyes glow like an animal's, sometimes even more so, even in human form. In animal form they can be spotted by moving stiffly and unnaturally, or acting strangely.

“Do you hear that?” Katie asked René.

Neither spoke as they tilted their heads to scan the airwaves.

He nodded uncertainly.

“From the west, behind us,” she figured. At first, it sounded like distant thunder, but the consistent rhythm suggested hoof beats.

“It sounds like a jet in the sky,” René decided.

She shook her head.

There were no contrails; nothing moved above them in the starry blackness, only cold twinkling stationary stars. The noise increased. It was like the sound of horses galloping in from the west.

“It sounds like a herd of horses,” he hoped.

“It isn’t! Just keep going, now!”

Suddenly, something hit the truck on Katie’s side.

“Oh my God!” she screamed in panic and slid next to René.

“What happened? Did we hit something?”

She leaned over and rolled up the passenger window as fast as she could and moved even closer to René. “Keep going straight ahead,” she said, her throat muscles constricted in terror when she tried to talk.

“Just keep going René, don’t stop.”

“It may be a dog. We may have hit a dog.”

“No, it’s not a dog.” As she spoke, a black shadow covered the window on the passenger side. Katie trembled. “It’s hanging on the car, René, go faster, keep going, look straight ahead, and focus on driving.”

The thing started thumping the top of the truck letting out a high-pitched scream. When Katie dared look to her right, she saw the black shadow diminishing.

“It’s off the car now. Can you go any faster?”

But it didn’t matter how fast they went. The shadow moved faster too and stayed even with the truck, toying with them

It let out a scream again, louder and shriller and Katie squeezed so close to René he felt she was going to crawl inside his shirt. Then, at last, it fell away. René looked for it in the mirror, but he only saw inky blackness. “Oh my God, Katie! What was that?”

“A skinwalker.” She spoke so softly he didn’t hear her.

“A what?”

“It was a skinwalker, a Navajo boogie man. It’s like a Yeti or the abominable snowman. They live in the hills on the rez.”

Because skinwalkers wear the skins of the animals they transform into, it is considered taboo to wear the pelt of any animal. In fact, the Navajo are only known to wear two hides, sheepskin and buckskin, both of which are only used for ceremonial purposes.

Those who have talked of their encounters with these evil beings describe a number of ways in which a skinwalker will try to inflict harm. Some describe hearing knocks on the window or banging on the walls. Others have spotted an animal-like figure peering in through a window. According to Navajo skinwalker legend, they are seldom caught. Those who do track a skinwalker and learn of their true identity must pronounce the name of the evil one in full. Once this happens, the skinwalker will get sick or die for the wrongs they have inflicted against others.

Or another story from the desert town of Tuba City, Arizona near Monument Valley, where a building contractor is doing repairs on an old ranch home. Thinking himself alone, the man is surprised to hear laughter coming from somewhere off in the sheep pens. Following the noise, the man turns a corner to the edge of the sheep pen where before him the entire flock is huddled shivering into one end of the pen while on the other a lone ram stands separated. He is standing upright, his two front hooves across his chest and his horned head thrown back in gleeful, maniacal laughter that is unmistakably human. Watching this, the man jumps and suddenly the ram spots him. For a fleeting moment the two lock eyes and, just like the laughter, the ram’s eyes are familiar and anything but animal. The ram falls back down to all fours and mills along as if nothing had ever happened.

They are accounts of nighttime drives on the lonely road between Farmington, NM and The Four Corners when, in the distance ahead, a coyote appears on the roadway, its eyes glowing in the headlights. Except that they are not coyote eyes, they are something else, something almost human, and when the car speeds past the waiting coyote the coyote bolts and begins speeding along with it, running at 60 miles per hour, its eyes still aglow in the headlights. The driver looks away and presses pedal to metal, and when he looks back suddenly it is no longer a coyote running at pace next to the vehicle, but a man. A man with the yellow eyes of a coyote fixed on the driver, one hand banging on the hood.

Last Chapter: Coyote, Prince of Chaos Next Chapter: Twenty-six Buttons

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More cool Skinwalker lore gleaned from the internet

The Skinwalker (also known as yenaldooshi or mai-coh in the Navajo language) is a type of witch or sorcerer in Navajo traditions. This witch practices black magic, and derives the name 'skinwalker' from his shapeshifting powers. By draping the hide of a certain animal (most often a coyote or a wolf, but also bear or owl) over himself, the witch takes on the form and traits of that animal. In doing so, the witch gains that animal’s strength, speed, and endurance (magnified to greater levels through the power of the transformation). Usually, Navajo Shamans use this ability to travel quickly from place to place. However, the Skinwalker is usually evil, and gains its power by committing an unspeakable act, usually by murdering a close relative.

I grew up in Utah and when I was in scouts I remember one of my leaders talking about them around the campfire. It was kinda a scary story thing. When I grew up and became a chef I started working at resorts. At 2 of the places I worked (Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon) there were alot of Navajos. When I was in Lake Powell, I was told by a older Navajo to watch out for the Skinwalkers if I was out side late at night, I could be attacked. This caused me to remember what my scout leader had told me so, I asked him about them. He told me that 2 brothers had been cursed for some reason. They had to forever walk the earth in a form other than their own until they broke the curse. He also said that they usually take the shape of a wolf but can become any creature they want, except human. For this reason, they dispise man and, they will attack and try to kill any man they see. I also heard similar stories at the Grand Canyon. I really don't know what to make of it though, I took the warning to heart. Like most legends, I feel that there must be some air of truth to it. Maybe the Skinwalkers are the same think as Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Maybe their the same as werewolves. Maybe their something else entirely. I don't know but, I do know that when I'm in the desert at night, I always keep my eyes and ears open for them


This is my father's story written from his perspective. It follows an experience he had with a Skinwalker on the Navajo reservation.

submitted 1 year ago * by NavajoJoe00

It was two of my brothers and I in the house. Everyone else had gone to the Jamez Feast and left us to tend the sheep.

We were getting ready for bed when we heard the dogs going crazy outside. Thinking it was nothing more than coyotes howling in the distance, we told them to be quite. We began to drift off into sleep, and the dogs would not shut up. Somehow, I was able to go to sleep for a few hours. Then I woke up very late in the night. It was very quiet and still in the house, save for my brothers snoring and breathing. I realized I needed to use the outhouse and woke up my brother to take me there. He teased me about being scared, which I certainly was.

We went out with our flashlight to the outhouse. The dogs began with their crazed barking out in the sagebrush, going from one place to the next. My brother went first and I waited outside for him. While waiting, I tried to follow the dogs with my flashlight.

Suddenly there was a very loud whine from one of the dogs. Then everything went quiet again. It was really too quiet for that time of year. Not even the sheep were making noise. Suddenly I heard a few of the dogs going completely mad by the truck. When I looked over, there was this man.

He was unbelievably tall, leaning one arm on the cab roof of the truck. He was looking at the dogs for a little, and then suddenly kicking one of them. They all scattered in different directions. The thing looked up at me and I saw its face. It had a pure white face (like a full moon), two burning red eyes, and a slight smile that was pure black. I could not move or make a sound. It began to walk toward me with long strides, until if finally towered over me. All I began to see was a dark red. Like the colour of the blood when you cut the throat of a sheep.

I kept getting deeper and deeper into its eyes. I could faintly hear my brother coming out of the outhouse. With this, the thing looked up at him. Reality came rushing back to me. I noticed that my brother was too distracted with his buckle to realize what was going on. I also noticed this things long hands hovering just inches from my head. Its skin was black ash, and he smelled like a bloated dead animal in summer. I was still unable to move or speak, the skinwalker began to move toward my brother. Finally noticing this figure, my brother became paralyzed as I was. Closer and closer it drew, reaching an arm out toward my brother’s head. Something finally snapped in me, I became unbearably angry.

I broke from the trance and lunged at the skinwalker. Raising my arms like a wild animal and barring my teeth at it. A growl came out that I never knew I could make. I became more and angrier at the thing that was trying to hurt us. It kept that smile at first, but the angrier I got the more the smile faded. Finally, with everything I had, I began to make this primal roar at it. It fell backwards and ran away into the night. Looking back at me, its eyes were dim and dull, its smile now long since gone. The next morning the family returned home from the feast. After relaying the story to my parents, they quickly hired a medicine man.

First of all, it's a really good idea to not paint all of the Native American belief systems with the same brush. Some tribes may have similar beliefs but many have wildly different ones. The tribes can get pretty touchy on that distinction for future reference.

For the Navajo, who I lived with for years, there was definitely a concept of evil or corruption when it came to witchcraft. "Good" people did not do witchcraft. The crimes that the yenalglooshi (skinwalkers) are accused of are some of the most atrocious to the Navajo belief system. They defile graves, tamper with the bodies of and steal from the dead. They use their gifts for profit and not for the good of the tribe. They are accused of incest and murder. All of these things would be reasonably defined as "evil".

The Navajo do believe in evil or "bad". In fact, the Navajo have very strict taboos in regards to the dead for fear of what is called "chindi". At death, it is believed that the "good" portion leaves--some say to be scattered into the Great Spirit--and all that was bad about the person who has died is left behind. This badness is so bad for the Navajo that should a person die in their home, the home is no longer considered livable. If it's a hogan, they break open the north wall and block the eastern doorway. It becomes a "death hogan", never to be entered again. If they are willing to take out a perfectly good home for fear of a "bad" spirit, then you can be assured that they believe in good and evil.

There is some concept of "selfishness". For instance, those who do witchcraft or are skinwalkers are using their abilities and gifts selfishly. One of the first bits of advice I learned out there is that if you saw a very traditional old Navajo man smiling at you and wearing sunglasses while driving a brand new truck, steer clear of him because he was probably a witch. Gifts weren't given to the Dine for personal profit. They were gifts to the tribe and they can be abused.

If you're an anthropology student and are interested in the witchery ways of the Navajo, see if your library has a copy of Clyde Kluckhohn's Navaho Witchcraft. Kluckhohn was an anthropologist and professor of anthropology at Harvard University. He spent a very long time with the Navajo learning about this very subject.

  • The ’ánt’įįhnii(practitioners of witchery) are people who have received supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo. Upon initiation of ’ánt’įįhnii, a person is said to gain the power to become a yee naaldlooshii(which means "with it, he goes on all fours" in the Navajo language). This is done via a dance/song ceremony used to curse instead of to heal. Although both men and women can become ’ánt’įįhnii, men are more commonly initiated. It is generally thought that only childless women can become witches. Not every witch is a skin walker, but every skin walker is a witch.

In some stories, people who have attained the highest rank are called

clizyati, which means pure evil. This can be achieved by killing a close blood relative, incest, necrophilia, or other culturally taboo and evil acts. Upon completing one or more of these acts is said to destroy their humanity and allow them to become fully initiated in the way of witchery.

Although a skin-walker is most frequently seen as a coyote, wolf, fox, eagle, owl, or crow, the Yee Naaldlooshii is said to have the power to assume the form of any animal they choose, a decision based on what specific abilities are needed. For example, a skin-walker may use a bird form for expedient travel in pursuit, escape, or otherwise. Some Navajo also believe that skin-walkers have the ability to steal the face of a person. The Navajo believe that if you ever lock eyes with a skin-walker, they can absorb themselves into your body. Alternately, some Navajos believe that if you make eye contact with a skin-walker, your body will freeze up with fear, and the skin-walker will use that fear to gain power and energy.

Skin-walkers are usually very hairy in their human form, and often wear animal pelts. Some Navajos describe them as a perfect version of the animal in question. The skin may just be a mask, which are the only garments worn in the initiation ritual. Since skin-walkers are shunned and despised, numerous attempts have been made to hunt and kill a skin-walker. They are not usually successful however. Sometimes a skin-walker will be tracked down, only to lead to the house of the tracker, or someone known by him. As in European werewolf lore, a human form will keep any injuries sustained during animal form, which is sometimes a good way to find a skin-walker hiding in your village. It is said that if a Navajo was to know the person behind the skin-walker they had to pronounce the full name, and about three days later that person would either get sick or die for the wrong that they have committed. It was also believed to kill a skin walker in animal form, was to shot it in the neck with bullets dipped in white ash.

Some say skin-walkers can have the power to read human's thoughts. They also possess the ability to make any human or animal noise they choose, regardless of their current form. A skin-walker may use the voice of a relative or the cry of an infant to lure victims out of the safety of their homes, since a skin-walker cannot enter an inhabited home without invitation, similar to vampires.

The yee naaldlooshi can be spotted and singled out from other people, because their eyes glow like an animal's, sometimes even more so, even in human form. In animal form they can be spotted by moving stiffly and unnaturally, or acting strangely.

Skin-walkers use spells and charms to instill fear and control in their victims. Some of the tools at their disposal include fragments of human bone launched by blowguns, which can poison and kill the unfortunate victim, and human bone dust which can cause paralysis and heart failure. Skin-walkers 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 skin-walker. A skin-walker can use anything of personal belongs and use in ceremonial rituals against the person they are doing evil against.