Navajo Skinwalkers and Shape Shifters
By James Donahue
An article by Clyde Klukhohn involving Navajo
witchcraft brought to mind our personal experiences with the Navajo during the winter in 1996 when my wife and I lived with
a medicine man and his wife near the Four Corners.
Klukhohn notes that the Navajo who practice skinwalking
and shape shifting are practicing a form of black witchcraft that is unique to the Navajo. He said it has no resemblance to
the “European variety” of black magic practiced among the witches.
He wrote that “there are no warning signs
for the presence of a witch at work if they are in human form.” Such signs, he suggests, would include a blue flame
or spoiled milk.
It seems that Klukhohn may be a bit unfamiliar
with his subject. This writer lived with a practicing black witch on the Navajo reservation, and afterward lived with a practicing
black magickian for several years, and can tell you without reservation, the practitioner offers no outward signs until you
either are the subject of the craft, or you are allowed to see.
In the case of the Navajo man and woman who took
us in, it did not take us long to learn that we were living with a witch. This woman belonged to a coven of practicing witches
that could not resist letting us know of their presence and then playing games with us. Our poor dog, an innocent little creature
nearing the end of his days, became the subject of numerous “tricks.” Also we often found objects with painted
images on them hidden in our room or somewhere inside our locked car. The painted images appeared to be sigils of some demonic
force that we assumed was supposed to frighten us, or perhaps even bring us some form of grief. We quickly learned how to
deal with these spells and curses and render them harmless or sometimes send them back to their senders. Since nothing happened
we were never sure.
We also observed what may well have been a shape
shifter. One windy afternoon, as the sands of the high desert were turning the sky yellow and partly obscuring the sunlight,
we were at the house alone. The dogs in the yard began barking and carrying on. My wife looked out and announced that there
was a wolf in the yard.
We both ran outside to look at the creature,
only to find that it and the dogs had disappeared behind an old Hogan that was once used as the family home before the government
built the conventional house we occupied. When we looked, we saw the large paw prints of the wolf, but there was something
strange as well. The paw prints turned into human foot prints . . . small like the feet of a petite woman . . . before they
disappeared at the wall of the Hogan.
It was clear that the wolf my wife had seen turned
into a human after it was out of our sight. Then, miraculously, this person walked through a wall of a locked building. Since
we did not have a key, there was no way to enter the old Hogan to expose this person.
We believe we were visited by one of the witches
in the coven that day.
As we stood there, finding it hard to believe
what we were looking at, my wife suddenly came to her senses. “Quick,” she said, “run into the house and
get the camera. Nobody will ever believe this if we don’t get a picture.”
I returned to the house and had to search for
a while to find our camera and make sure it had film. By the time I returned to the site, the blowing sand had covered the
track. There was nothing left to photograph.
Author Klukhohn wrote that the word for skinwalker
in Navajo is “yee nadlooshii,” which means walk/travel like an animal. Yet the name shape shifter signifies exactly
what is accomplished. He wrote that the witch who performs this art is a “wer-animal” who owns an animal skin
that is used to transform into this animal.
Indeed, the vision my wife had was from a distance
of several hundred feet, through a dirty kitchen window and in the midst of a sandstorm. She clearly identified the animal
as a large dog, or wolf, which was an extinct species in Arizona at the time. Wolves have since been restocked in the White
Mountains by the U.S. Forestry Service, but they were not believed to have been present in the state when this event happened.
From the paw prints I saw, it was a very large
animal compared to the dogs in our yard, thus it was almost unnatural even for the size of a wolf.
Klukhohn observes that “any real animal
can see through the skinwalker’s disguise but even a human can recognize the unnatural creature. For some unexplainable
reason even a well seasoned skinwalker cannot obtain the perfect animal gait or leave the proportionally correct sized animal
My wife and I are living testimony to the uncanny
ability of the Navajo to accomplish this amazing feat. They did it right before our eyes. It was only one of many amazing
wonders observed during that magical time we lived in Arizona.