Here in Arizona, mentioning the word "skinwalker" will net you several interesting tales about motorists who travel late at night through the Navajo
reservation and encounter strange beasts with glowing red eyes and bloodthirsty dispositions. One such tale can be found
; it displays classic "skinwalker story" symptoms. However, this story
more-or-less ends happily; others that I've personally heard are not so nice. One particular tale tells of a man and his family, whose car breaks
down on a desolate road. When the man leaves to find help, he returns to see a large coyote-like beast with red eyes leap from the car. His family
is mutilated and one of his children stuffed under the seat, slashed to pieces.
So, then, what exactly is a skinwalker? According to Wikipedia
, skinwalkers are known by many
names and by many cultures. However, each tale displays the same basic thing: taking on the shape, instincts, and/or abilities of an animal by
wearing its skin.
A classic example would be the berserkers of Norse lore. Berserkers were ferocious fighters with seemingly supernatural strength and murderous
dispositions on the battlefield. Though it is disputed as to the actual meaning of their name ("bare-shirt", referring to their lack of armor; or
"bear-shirt" referring to the bear skins they wore), some believe they wore bear skins, perhaps to channel the abilities of their grizzly brethren.
Some have been reported to even take on the shape of a bear, such as Bjarki of Hrolf's Saga fame. More on berserkers can be found
Still, the term "skinwalker" is mainly used to refer to those of Navajo legend--witches who, for whatever purposes, took on the form of certain
animals to perform various and heinous acts. Not much is known about these creatures, mainly because the Navajo do not enjoy talking about them.
Hunter Gray speaks of them
Witches practice their evil for purely mercenary purposes. Few Navajo would ever have anything to do with them, even remotely -- but there are
always a few who do.
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 endeavours: 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
These -- Witches and the closely related Skinwalkers -- are not the sorts of
things about which one should talk much at all.
But just how true are these legends? Can people--given enough training, discipline, and power--really use the skin of an animal to take on that
creature's traits? Or is it all fake--overactive imaginations jumping to conclusions?
One could argue that, in the case of berserkers, battle-weary soldiers would see the bear skin worn by the berserker, witness the berserker's
powerful rage and rabid ferocity, and conclude that he had actually transformed into a bear (or wolf, in some cases). In fact, anyone wearing the
skin of an animal and roaming about on all fours could be easily mistaken for a terrible monster, especially in the dark of night, when visibility is
A compelling argument that I've heard against the idea of a person actually taking on the animal's persona/shape is the nature of the animals
themselves. By nature, a bear or wolf or coyote or what-have-you is not violent. They must be provoked in order to induce a truly fierce effect.
Why, then, would merely putting on their skin drive a person into a legendary frenzy? Perhaps it is not the animal causing the rage, but rather the
mentality of the human beneath the pelt. I do not call up lightly the disease of
, a delusion in which the afflicted believes they have the ability to
transform into an animal. A certain case report
from 1977 describes a 49-year-old woman
suffering from lycanthropy.
Another good resource
offers a reason for a lycanthropic person to believe that they
have indeed transformed:
A brain scanning study of two people with lycanthropy showed that these areas display unusual activation, suggesting that when people report
their bodies are changing shape, they may be genuinely perceiving those feelings. Body shape distortions are not unknown in mental and neurological
illness, so this may help explain at least part of the process. One further puzzle is why an affected person doesn't simply report that their body
"feels like it's changing in odd ways", rather than presenting with a delusional belief that they are changing into a specific animal. There is
much evidence that psychosis is more than just odd perceptual experiences so perhaps lycanthropy is the result of these unusual bodily experiences
being understood by an already mixed-up mind.
So, then, perhaps taking on the animal's skin simply feeds the already psychotic mind of the skinwalker, thereby causing them to not only believe
they are the animal, but also causing them to act out on violent urges, feeling uninhibited by their humane side.
What are your thoughts? I'm personally fascinated by tales of skinwalkers, so any stories you might have are appreciated. My main concern, however,
are your opinions on the matter, and any alternate theories you might have on the skinwalker phenomenon.
[edit on 29-8-2005 by Wolvaurynphamir]