In some Native American legends, a Skinwalker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires. To be able to transform, legend sometimes requires that the skin-walker wears a pelt of the animal. In most cases, this pelt is not used in modern times because it is a obvious sign of them being skin-walkers. Similar lore can be found in cultures throughout the world and is often referred to as shapeshifting by anthropologists.
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 ’ánt’įįhnii or practitioner of the Witchery Way, as opposed to a user of curse-objects (’adagąsh) or a practitioner of Frenzy Way (’azhįtee)). Technically, the term refers to an ’ánt’įįhnii 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 are called clizyati, "pure evil", when they commit the act of killing. The ’ánt’įįhnii 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 ’ánt’įįhniiand therefore possibly skinwalkers, but men are far more numerous. It is generally thought that only childless women can become witches. Although it is most frequently seen as a coyote, wolf, owl, fox, or crow, the yee naaldlooshii is said to have the power to assume the form of any animal they choose, depending on what kind of abilities they need. Witches use the form for expedient travel, especially to the Navajo equivalent of the 'Black Mass', a perverted "sing" (Navajo ceremonial) used to curse instead of to heal. They also may transform to es cape from pursuers. Some Navajo also believe that skinwalkers have the ability to steal the face of a person. The Navajo believe that if you ever lock eyes with a skinwalker, they can absorb themselves into your body. Alternately, some Navajos believe that if you made eye contact with a skinwalker, your body will freeze up due to the fear of them and the skinwalker will use that fear to gain power and energy. It is also said that skinwalkers love the light and that their eyes glow like an animal's when in animal form. A skinwalker is usually described as hairy, except for an animal skin. Some Navajos describe them as a perfect version of the animal in question. The skin may just be a mask, like those which are the only garment worn in the witches' song. Because animal skins are used primarily by skinwalkers, the pelt of animals such as bears, coyotes, wolves, and cougars are considered taboo. Sheepskin and buckskin are probably two of the few hides used by Navajos; the others are not used for ceremonial purposes. Often, Navajo people will tell of their encounter with a skinwalker, though many hesitate to reveal the story to non-Navajos, or to talk of such things at night. Sometimes the skinwalker will try to break in to the house and attack the people inside, and will often bang on the walls of the house, knock on the windows, and climb onto the roofs. Sometimes, a strange, animal-like figure is seen standing outside the window, peering in. Other times, a skinwalker may attack a vehicle and cause a car accident. The skinwalkers are described as being fast, agile, and impossible to catch. Though some attempts have been made to shoot or kill one, they are not usually successful. Sometimes a skinwalker will be tracked down, only to lead to the house of someone known to the tracker. As in European werewolf lore, sometimes a wounded skinwalker will escape, only to have someone turn up later with a similar wound which reveals them to be the witch. It is said that if a Navajo was to know the person behind the skinwalker 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. Legend has it skinwalkers can have the power to read human thoughts. They also possess 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. A skinwalker can use anything of personal belongs and use in ceremonial rituals against the person they are doing evil towards. Skinwalkers are always yellow in color. According to Navajo myth, the only way to successfully shoot and kill a skinwalker is with a bullet dipped in white ash The Navajo people have a very strong emotional bond with the Earth and the plant and animal kingdoms that are so much a part of their everyday lives . Certain animals are more sacred to some individuals, families and tribes. These animals could be said to bless, heal or guide the people and become totem animals. Totem animals are honored with their likeness in the dress, dance, music and artwork of the people. The traits and characteristics of the totem animals could be gifted to the people who developed a deep friendship with the spirits of these helpful creatures. Some individuals developed such a deep connection with nature and her magic that they could talk with the plants and animals and bring knowledge of medicine and othe r healing arts to their tribes. These few adepts became medicine men, healers, or wise ones. Medicine men were known to be able to travel to other states of being. It was through the gifts of their totem animals that this travel was made. They were often seen wearing the skin of the animal that granted them this power and would sometimes be seen in animal form. Often ancestors and heroes would appear as animals important or sacred to the family or tribe, or as an animal the individual was known for. People especially reported seeing these strangely human animals when receiving good fortune or divine messages. Some would hear the animals speak to them, act as a human would or witness impossible colors or breeds that do not exist. A medicine man should never be confused with a practitioner of the witchery or frenzy way. Medicine men practice healing arts, blessings and the removal of curses. In the Navajo culture there is no disambiguation between witch and medicine man. Any Navajo practicing the witchery way is evil, the intent of such a practice is purely to harm. Normally others of their own tribe and rarely people outside of it.