skinwalkers

>> Supernatural Creatures: Skin-walkers

        Skin-walkers derive from Native American (specifically Navajo) folklore. A skin-walker is a human that has the ability to transform into any animal so long as they have the skin of the animal. They are described to be incredibly fast, and impossible to catch. Their physical appearance is usually large, lanky, gaunt and hairy (without animal skins).

        The skins used by them are usually coyotes, bears, wolves, and cougars, and as such, they are considered taboo. In some Navajo beliefs, the skin-walker can also steal a person’s face. If you lock eyes with a skin-walker, it can absorb itself into your body, and while looking upon the creature, the fear instilled will be used as the skin-walkers energy. It is also believed a skin-walker can read a human’s thoughts, and imitate any animal or human noise to lure victims into their homes.

        They are believed to break into homes and kill those that reside inside, or creep about the outside, tapping and peeking into windows, banging on walls and doors, and climbing the roof. To kill a skin-walker, according to Navajo belief, you must shoot or stab it with a bullet/dagger dipped in white ash. Other beliefs include a silver bullet, or saying the real name of the skin-walker and proceeding to shoot them in the face, or making it transform into something small, such as a mouse or rat, and throwing it into a fire to burn it alive.

Sources: X | X

Corrections to: JK Rowling and Magic in North America

In order to help your case re: Native American representation, I feel very compelled to respectfully correct a few things in your post.  Since in text I do not have the benefit of tone of voice please understand this as in the best of intentions. 

J.K. Rowling has recently expanded her North American magical universe. While most fans are excited she continues to expand her worldbuilding because of how near and dear Harry Potter is to their hearts, she has committed a deeply hurtful act against Native Americans, and the Navajo in particular.She has claimed part the Navajo religion, applied it to all Native Americans, then said there was no such thing as actual Skinwalkers in “her” world; the “stories” were simply meant to demonize wizards.This is incorrect. Skinwalkers are a central part of Navajo belief, one they will now be even more closed off in sharing than they were before. They do not exist for her world. They exist for the Navajo, and only the Navajo.

“They exist for the Navajo, and only the Navajo” is simply not true because they exist for the Navajo, Ute, and Hopi, and in addition to that, originate from Mexico and occur in many, many Mesoamerican cultural belief systems.  

The Navajo do have unique beliefs about them, yes, please be assured I am not saying “they shouldn’t be offended,” but please also do not drop the fact that they actually are not unique to the Navajo, as theyre also part of several other Indigenous belief systems.  

With this in mind (that it ISN’T unique to the Navajo), I want to mention that the beliefs that are indeed unique to the Navajo did not occur until the 1800s (the most stark difference in their beliefs were a product of the Long Walk, it is complicated but I don’t want to talk your ear off).  

J.K. Rowling’s writing is covering the 1300s to the 1600s.  

This is what makes me so confused as to whether the people who are upset are upset or are just kind of echoing other people…? 

Yes, Skinwalkers are googleable. You can find information about them, scary stories, sensationalist articles. You might argue that this means they are fair game. That they have been integrated into local culture, popular culture, and have the same weight as vampires when it comes to ‘creatures that go bump in the night.

This is a false equivalence. Native American religions were banned from being practiced until 1978, and that’s assuming people didn’t ignore the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and continued dissuading practice and/or stonewalling people from their sacred grounds. 

Cultural appropriation was not recognized as an issue by the UN until 2007, which should give you some idea how little changed in 30 years (especially since the countries with the highest Native populations voted against the prevision: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA). 

The Religious Freedom Act doesn’t help Navajo (or Ute, or Hopi, etc.) out with this particular context because Belief in this doesn’t require access to sacred grounds, access to peyote, or access eagle feathers and eagle bones, and these are largely what the The American Indian Religious Freedom Act concerns. These are irrelevant, and I am afraid people may miss your point and start needling you over a straw man. 

Vampires are Christian. They were written about by Christians, for Christians, and used to teach Christian lessons. Most of those meanings have indeed been lost and changed, but vampires still remain in predominantly Christian hands today. Christianity is the dominant religion in the Western world (yes, I know they are persecuted in other parts of the world, why I specified Western), and most people who write vampires are writing their own religion. Even if they’re atheist, Christianity is usually what they became atheist from because it is the culturally dominant culture. This means they have whatever agency they want to change it.

Natives have been denied this agency time and time again. We are still being continually denied the ability to tell our own stories. J.K. Rowling is just the latest in a long, painful history where Native voices are rewritten to accommodate white writers’ plots. WWC has said, multiple times, cultures are not your playthings. This is what treating culture as a plaything looks like.

You now can find Skinwalkers: The Navajo Mysteries on Netflix (Which I am excited about because we’re talking a show with an all Native cast!) and things like Teen Wolf using Skinwalkers in collaboration with a Navajo consultant.  

These two examples do not wave a magic wand and undo everything of course but it is food for thought as to what the situation is with Navajo agency.  It appears that now Native voices may indeed be finding agency in the discussion of what Skin walkers are and are not these days and that is good news to me personally, I hope it is good news to you too. 

Please, in your own work, be respectful of appropriation and colonization. Understand that even if something is used everywhere, it might not be yours for the taking. That it might’ve been stolen so much nobody even thinks to ask if it’s somebody’s instead of the world’s. Talk to the groups in question and ask if you can use it.

You might get a no.

If you do, change your plot.

Let us have our own voices.

~Mod Lesya

Thank you. Sorry for mistaking what tribes had Skinwalkers in their religions, I will make note of those tribes. 

It is nice to know that Skinwalkers have been respectfully used, and this is a very important note for those who want to use Native religions!

~Mod Lesya

The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure. –History of Magic in North America by J.K. Rowling.

I was right–but I wish I hadn’t been. 

Damn it, Rowling, you had one job! You did not have to decide that skinwalker equals Animagus, especially since you evidently did the research and found out what you have to do to become a Navajo witch (the most famous kind of skinwalker). This should have told you that European and European-American witchcraft are not the same fucking thing as Native American witchcraft! 

This is not an ancient superstition. This is part of a religion that is still being practiced. There are different paths to spiritual power in Navajo (or Diné) teaching; the path dubbed “witch” in English is one that deliberately causes suffering, pain and death to others to gain power. By saying that skinwalkers “assumed animal forms to hunt for the tribe”–well, you might as well proclaim Lord Voldemort to be St. Francis of Assisi!

“One evening I was at my house alone. I was hungry so I got up and went to the kitchen to make something to eat. I didn’t have any clean bowl so I decided to just clean all the dishes. There is a large window above my sink that looks out to my car and behind it the forest. As I was washing the dishes I looked up and saw a coyote beside my car. It locked eyes with it and stood there staring at if for what seemed like eternity. Then it stood up and walked away on two legs exactly like a human would walk. My friends say it was probably a small bear but it looked exactly like a coyote. I spent the rest of that night away from windows.” 

-CommentsOnFridays (What are the creepiest, scariest stories (real or not) you’ve ever heard?)

“I had a Geology professor in college who had studied with a group of students in Utah out in some remote areas. He had heard the stories about skinwalkers but hadn’t taken them seriously. That was until he experienced some freaky stuff for himself.

He said one night they were sitting around the fire about a football field away from a large rock structure. Suddenly they all heard voices from up on the rocks. Like dozens of people chatting, singing, dancing…etc. They thought it strange that campers would suddenly appear and be so loud. Then they heard the noises coming down from the rocks and closer and closer to them. Audibly they were voices. As they got closer the voices turned into coyotes yapping, they saw the glow of their eyes then they ran off into the plains.”

By: VeniVidiFishie (What paranormal experiences have you actually had that you cannot explain?)