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What Is a Skin-Walker?

The Europeans had their werewolves; the Native Americans, on the other hand, had their skin-walkers.

Skin-walkers were, to put it simply, shape shifters. They sometimes took human form but would take another aspect at night. This could be a wolf, but it could also be bears or crows or any other animal. In fact it was part of the power of a skin walker to choose which form they would take and vary that from day to day—though they may have particular favorites.

Skin-walkers were part of Navajo folklore, though there were some form of shape-shifters in other tribes, such as the Mohawk, Hopi, and Aztecs. The Navajos called skin-walkers “yee naaldlooshii” and believed that these powers were acquired through witch craft. They were often held in fear and to some extent portrayed as villains, in the sense that they used their magic to harm or manipulate others. They were difficult to handle—dangerous, nearly impossible to kill—and categorized as monsters. This may have been due to the belief that witch craft was some sort a taboo.

Skin walkers were believed to be very fast, and often changed into animal form simply to be able to cross long distances at high speeds. However, skin-walkers could not completely mimic an animal, and so it was said that it was possible to tell a real wolf (for example) to someone who had taken wolf form. However, since skin walkers were so hard to catch, it was hard to find their human identity. Unfortunately, this was the only way to conquer or defeat skin walkers. One clue lay in the clothing. Skin walkers were said to wear no clothes—just the fur or pelt of the animal that they would change into

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