The Mysterious Skinwalker: Unraveling the Secrets of a Shapeshifting Legend

Skinwalker Art

Are you familiar with the legend of the skinwalker? You may have seen them depicted in movies, TV shows, or books as bloodthirsty monsters capable of unspeakable evil. But did you know that the skinwalker is a deeply-rooted and complex legend in Native American culture?

The origins of the skinwalker legend in North America are thought to come back to the Navajo tribe, who refer to them as “yenaaldlooshi,” meaning “by means of trotting like a canine.” Navajo people believe skinwalkers are individuals who possess the ability to shapeshift into animals, usually at night, and inflict harm on others.

Despite being primarily associated with Navajo culture, the skinwalker legend is present in several other Native American tribes, each with their own interpretation of the supernatural creature.

But, be warned — speaking openly about skinwalkers is considered taboo in Native American communities, as it’s believed to attract their attention and bring harm. That has given these supernatural creatures an air of even greater mystery, as information on them is as elusive as the skinwalkers themselves.

What Is a Skinwalker?

There are many theories of what the mysterious skinwalker is, but its origins in Native American legend paint the picture of a malevolent, shapeshifting witch with supernatural power. Navajo stories, for instance, say that a person becomes a skinwalker by committing a heinous act, like taking family member’s life. This terrible crime allows the witch to take the form of an animal at will or by wearing the skin of a specific creature (hence, the name “skinwalker”).

Though the legend has similarities among several Native American tribes in that the skinwalker is characterized as a harmful, evil witch, there are some differences in the specific beliefs about these beings. Some tribes describe skinwalkers as Navajo witches who have decided to use their powers for evil while others may see the act of shapeshifting as a tool. Often, they are associated with canines, typically a coyote but sometimes a wolf.

Native American Skinwalkers

Most of us have probably seen some version of a skinwalker in movies or TV shows, or read about them in books. But their depiction in modern media is vastly different from the shapeshifting “yenaaldlooshi” found in Native American culture.

Among several tribes based in the American Southwest, the phenomenon of skinwalkers goes beyond legend — it’s considered a very real and powerful force. Indeed, some Native American communities view skinwalkers with a great deal of fear and respect. As such, it’s considered taboo to speak openly about these supernatural creatures as it may attract and anger them.

Skinwalker Folklore Among Different Tribes

The beliefs and legends surrounding Native American skinwalkers are rich and diverse, and the specifics can vary from tribe to tribe. Some cultures believe skinwalkers were once medicine men or witches who succumbed to dark magic while others believe they were born with the ability to shapeshift.

The powers attributed to skinwalkers also differ among tribes. For some, these creatures can control the weather while others say they have the ability to read minds. There are also varying beliefs concerning the weaknesses of skinwalkers.

Some tribes, like the Ute, believe bullets or knives rubbed with white ash can get rid of them. Others think a bow and arrow made from a juniper tree is the only solution, and some believe in using other specific weapons.

Skinwalker folklore bears striking parallels with Shamanist beliefs traditionally held among Native American tribes along the Northwest Coast. Interestingly, among these groups, it was believed animals could turn into other creatures, such as orcas becoming wolves.

Shamans, through their connections with the spirit world, had animal guides whose form they could adopt. Similar stories are associated with Inuit shamans, who were said to experience a “magical merging” between spirit animals and humans.

Navajo Skinwalkers

For the Navajo people, skinwalkers are dangerous witches or sorcerers who can change into any animal form by wearing its skin — for the sole purpose of causing harm to others. In Navajo legend, the creatures are believed to have a deep understanding of the natural world and have the power to control and manipulate it to their will.

According to some, a skinwalker was once a Navajo medicine man who became corrupted and learned to possess people, animals, and more. These beings violate taboos and seek to increase their own blessings by harming others.

This supernatural creature is a heavily feared and respected figure, and stories about their witchcraft and malevolent deeds have passed down through generations of Navajo lore.

Hopi Skinwalkers

According to Hopi legend, it’s believed that the only way to become a skinwalker is by breaking a cultural taboo or undergoing a ritual to acquire the power to transform. Skinwalkers are feared by the Hopi people because of their ability to shape-shift into animals and humans, and their use of black magic to cause harm.

Similar to other Native American tribes, it’s considered taboo to talk about skinwalkers — and it is believed that even speaking their name out loud could invite their malevolent attention. Hopi people are advised to be cautious and to avoid traveling alone at night to prevent any encounters with these powerful and dangerous beings.

Ute Skinwalkers

The Ute tribe has its own take on the skinwalker legend. They believe that these creatures can shapeshift into animals and possess supernatural powers such as mind-reading, weather control, and the ability to cause illness or death. To the Ute, skinwalkers bring curses to those who have done foul deeds.

According to Ute folklore, skinwalkers are most active at night and can be found near rivers or streams. They are thought to mimic the sounds of animals and are heard before they’re seen. The legend advises that it’s best to avoid skinwalkers altogether, but if someone is unfortunate enough to encounter them, you must confront them with confidence and show no fear.

Skinwalker Sightings and Modern Interpretations

If you have any interest in the supernatural and unexplained, you may have heard of one of the most infamous locations associated with sightings of this fascinating creature — the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah.

The ranch became notorious for skinwalker sightings thanks to accounts made by the former owner, Terry Sherman. Since then, this unusual location has been the site of numerous paranormal investigations, documentaries, and TV shows like “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” on the History Channel.

Another show centered around the legend of the skinwalker is “The Unsolved Mysteries” episode, “Paranormal Rangers.” This episode focuses on Navajo Rangers that patrol and protect the reservation spanning portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. One of the rangers even talks about his real-life experience with a skinwalker when he was younger.

Besides the Skinwalker Ranch TV show and “Paranormal Rangers” episode, these elusive beings have appeared in books, movies, and TV shows, usually as the main villain. Skinwalkers are depicted as Navajo witches who have the power to change into animal form in the book “Skinwalkers” by Tony Hillerman. In contrast, they’re seen as dog-like monsters who hunt and take the life of humans in the Netflix TV show “Supernatural.”

While many of these representations make for an entertaining story, it’s important to understand that these portrayals don’t always accurately represent the enduring cultural beliefs and practices of Native American communities. The legend of the skinwalker is a sacred tradition for some tribes, and these stories deserve respect and sensitivity.

Final Thoughts

If the skinwalker you had in mind before reading this was more like the ones you’ve seen in movies or TV shows, it’s no surprise that you may be a little in shock. Because it’s considered taboo in Navajo and other Native American cultures to speak openly about skinwalkers, or even use this term, it’s difficult to find detailed accounts of the legend and its origins.

Not all Native American tribes believe in skinwalkers or have a similar figure. Some view the skinwalker legend as a symbol of the dangers of practicing dark magic while others see it as a way to explain unexplained occurrences in the natural world. Regardless, one thing is certain — skinwalkers are dangerous, unpredictable beings who possess dark magic and bring harm to those around them, and they should be avoided at all costs.

So, the next time you hear the question, “what is a skinwalker?” consider the rich Native American history and beliefs behind this phenomenon.

This article was produced and syndicated by The Happiness Function.

Artwork Generated by Jasper AI.

Read More Cryptid Legends From The Happiness Function

Posted in

Allie Draganescu

Allie is a writer and programmer who specializes in entertainment and lifestyle. She especially loves writing about books and providing anyone who will listen with recommendations for their next trip to the bookstore! When she’s not writing or coding, Allie is geeking out over her favorite PC games, like Dead by Daylight, or cozying up with her latest novel and a chai tea. She lives with her husband and two cats in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Though she resides in the realm of Wolverines, Allie is a Michigan State University alum with a B.A. in Professional Writing.


  1. Burt Randall on April 14, 2023 at 12:52 pm

    I didn’t know about these “animals.” !!