The Veil: Skinwalkers by Rob Shepherd

The Native American legend of the shape-shifting Skinwalker takes on many and various forms from tribe to tribe, however most tribes seem to agree on the basic appearance of the Skinwalker. The appearance across tribes as a deformed, almost animalistic form with a scarred facial features and blazing orange to red eyes is common.

The legend of the entity we know today as ‘the Skinwalker’ has largely been relegated to a hoax and that of pop culture and media, including film and TV and being employed in scary pasta stories in the online media. After all, for most people it is hard to imagine that a humanoid figure has been or can be transformed into a four-legged animal entity that terrorizes families, mostly in the American Southwest. However unscientific the legend may be, the Navajo Skinwalker has deep roots in American lore.

So what is a Skinwalker? Translated from Navajo, yee naaldlooshii, it literally means “by means of it”, “it goes on all fours” yee naaldlooshii is described as one of a variety of Skinwalker that exist within Navajo lore. The Pueblo, Apache and Hopi peoples all have their own legends that involve the Skinwalker.

In tradition, some believe that Skinwalker are born through selfish or benevolent actions of a medicine man who abuses their indigenous magic for selfish or even evil intentions. These can vary from tribe to tribe and depending on which tradition is observed. However, one thing that all tribal traditions and lore mention is the ability to transform from a human into an animal or for an animal to metamorphose into something more human in some capacity. Medicine men however are the key figures who turn into Skinwalkers.

The Navajo Legends site quotes that those who have “attained the highest level of priesthood in the tribe, but chose to use his or her power for evil” are candidates for the change. Rituals form an essential part of not only Native American life, but the lives of Skinwalkers as well. Ancient ceremonies are performed in caves, with an elder positioned as leader of the group. They engage in dark practices referred to collectively as the “Witchery Way”. So how do potential Skinwalkers gain their powers? The details of this are fairly grim to behold. Family members are prime targets, thus in order to be initiated, the medicine man or ‘warped woman’ must kill a sibling, or someone in their close family circle.

In some cases, in tradition it is also believed that men, women, and even children can all become Skinwalkers according to their actions, should they commit evil acts, act with evil intentions, ambitions of greed and selfishness, or succumb to deep-rooted desires of various taboo nature to the tribe’s moral codes. After inheriting the malevolence, individuals are then said to display a range of physical abilities through the animals they become or transform into. Navajo Legends mention how they are typically seen in the forms of a coyote, owl, fox, wolf, or crow—although they are also said to have the ability to turn into any animal that they so choose or desire to be. Transformations will occur at night, and according to native lore, other creatures can also be controlled by Skinwalkers. Tribe members also may fear being set upon in the darkness by an army of sharp-clawed servants when Skinwalkers are present.

Skinwalkers are often described as being mostly animalistic physically when in a human form and are claimed to be all but invincible, even immortal, especially in their Animal forms, death only being achieved against them should they be shot with a bullet or if they are stabbed with a special knife or spear dipped in white ash.They are reportedly near-impossible to kill. They can also assume control over other humans, even possessing them through eye contact, especially prolonged eye contact, Eyes being an important part in Skinwalker lore. In a juxtaposition, the Skinwalker is said to possess human eyes when in animal form and animal eyes when in their human form.

According to reports, Skinwalkers have been known to rummage around in gravesites. This is reported in part, to steal whatever’s inside, but allegedly, it is also in an attempt to extract a powder from corpses. This powder is then said to be used in order to poison people. A tribe member who falls sick may then wonder if they had ever crossed paths with a Skinwalker at some point.

“These witches live on the unexpired lives of their victims and they must continually kill or perish themselves.”

Legends of America

“Those who do track a Skinwalker and learn of their true identity must pronounce the name of the evil one in full. Once this happens, the Skinwalker will get sick or die for the wrongs they have inflicted against others.”

Navajo Legends

Little else is known about the Skinwalker. This is much to do with the private nature of Native peoples and the reluctance of the Navajo and other tribes to discuss them, even amongst themselves and other tribes. Common traditional belief is that even mentioning them, or merely of the malevolent nature of the entity, should bring about the appearance of them even more probable and could even summon them. Even if the entity does not show, it is believed that the talk would cause only but bad luck for all peoples concerned if not the tribe or entire tribes themselves.

When JK Rowling used Skinwalker entities in her series, it is believed that this mere action in written fiction affected indigenous peoples, who strongly believe in the existence of the Skinwalker and operate their lives according to the belief in how their actions and that of others has repercussions, especially in vanity, greed and selfishness, thus the use of the entity that is the Skinwalker or yee naaldlooshii in written text, whether that be factual or not is included in that and has made their appearance or existence, now a certainty, likely to adversely affect their lives and wellbeing. Especially when used in fiction, as this is seen as using the name or entity with disregard and disrespect, even as much as complacent and arrogance of the entity’s powers.

What happens when Rowling pulls this in, is we as native peoples are opened up to a barrage of questions about these beliefs. But these are not things that we need to nor should be discussed.

Adrienne Keene – Native American Author & Historian

In 1996, a couple were rudely introduced to the legend of the Skinwalker after incredible, inexplicable and downright terrifying incidents began occurring on their newly purchased ranch. Terry and Gwen Sherman began observing strange lights and later on, UFOs which varied in size, shape and general appearance over their property. Seven of their prized cows would go on to die or inexplicably disappear, only to be found at a later date with a hole cut neatly into the centre of their left eye and have their rectum cut out or removed entirely. Tracks from the cows would be found and traced in the snow, only to stop suddenly, leaving no trace of where they may have stopped or left or even how.

“If it’s snow, it’s hard for a 1,200 or 1,400 lb animal to just walk off without leaving tracks or to stop and walk backwards completely and never miss their tracks. It was just gone.”

Terry Sherman

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of what was later nicknamed “Skinwalker Ranch” were the voices that Terry Sherman has spoken of hearing while out with his dogs late one night, stating that they seemed to “come with the wind”. Sherman reported that these voices spoke in a language that he could not recognize. His estimations were that they may have come from mere feet away, yet he was unable to see anything when he looked for their originators. The dogs Terry said, “went berserk”, backing away and ran quickly back to the house.

“I take my truck up the road, and as I start to get closer, I start to get really scared. Just this feeling that takes over. Then I hear this voice, as clear as you and me talking right now, that says, ‘Stop, turn around.’ I lean out the window with my spotlight out and start searching around… Nothing.”

Terry Sherman

The Sherman’s were too later to go on and sell the ranch and the property, only for the incidents to continue at the ranch afterwards.

This would not be the first or last time Skinwalkers and UFOs would be linked in circumstances. Many Native traditions speak of sky people or star children and have narratives that tell of tribes or even entire histories of Native peoples having coming from people from the skies or from the stars.

UFO enthusiast and realtor from Las Vegas, Robert Bigelow, bought the $200,000 ranch in 1996. He would establish the National Institute for Discovery Science on the grounds of the ranch and placed substantial levels of surveillance in, on, and around the ranch with the goal of finding out and recording exactly what had been occurring there.

Biochemist Dr. Colm Kelleher was later to be employed by Bigelow and reported witnessing a large humanoid figure, perching in a tree. Detailing the account later in his book Hunt for the Skinwalker, he described the creature as being 20 feet off the ground and approximately 50 feet away from him. And spoke of the yellow unblinking eyes as they stared fixedly back at the light of his torch. Kelleher went to explain how he had shot at the creature with a rifle, but it had fled, leaving claw marks along with imprints on the ground behind it. He went on to describe the evidence that was left as signs similar to that of a “bird of prey, maybe a raptor print, but huge and, from the depth of the print, from a very heavy creature”

However, this was to have come mere days after another disturbing encounter. The ranch manager and his wife had only just finished tagging a calf before their dog began growling and act very strangely. Having checked on the dog and finding nothing untoward they later checked back on the calf some 45 minutes later and in the field, they found the calf, in broad daylight, with its body cavity entirely empty. Kelleher would go on to explain, “people know that if an 84 pound calf is killed by an animal in any way, there is blood spread all around. It was as if all the blood had been removed very thoroughly.”

Distressing activity would go on to continue right into summer.

Kelleher continued to talk of other witnesses of strange and supernatural encounters on the ranch.

“Three eyewitnesses saw a very large animal in a tree and also a large animal at the base of the tree. We had video camera equipment, night vision equipment. We started hunting around the area of the carcass and there was no evidence whatsoever.”

Bigelow and his research team claim to have experienced over 100 separate incidents on the property, however, they could not collect the level and kind of evidence that scientists nor scientific publications would accept as credible. Bigelow later sold the ranch to a company called Adamantium Holdings for some $4.5 million dollars in 2016.

“we as Indigenous peoples are constantly situated as fantasy creatures… But we’re not magical creatures, we’re contemporary peoples who are still here, and still practice our spiritual traditions.” The site is concerned about “the constant commodification of our spiritual practices”.

The Native Appropriations website

Since then, the research on the ranch has become more sophisticated and secretive than ever before.

A plethora of stories exist online in chat rooms and forums and so on regarding the ranch. Experiences commonly seem to have and occur on Native American reservations, which it is alleged, have only been prevented by the intervention of blessings by medicine men.

It is difficult to find out just how reliable these accounts really are. However, descriptions almost always seem to describe the same basic type of encounters. That being of a four-legged animal of some sort, with a disconcertingly human, albeit disfigured face with orange to red glowing eyes.

Those that have claimed to have seen a Skinwalker also talk about how they move with incredible speed, make wild and unnatural, shrill, and make almost hellish like sounds and screams.

According to reports, how true is yet to be verified, since taking over the ranch, Adamantium has installed electronics all the property, which include cameras, alarm systems, infrared and night vision technology (including video equipment), EMF readers and recorders and other hi-tech equipment. However, the most alarming reports are of accounts of experiences, by and about purported ranch employees of the company itself. It is, once again, difficult if not impossible to verify these reports as the company is itself difficult to gain reliable background and general information about and remains tight-lipped and silent regarding its work on the ranch and its employees.

Now according to VICE (which we advise you, as always, to use your own judgement as to the reliability of their information), one employee by the name of Thomas Winterton, was one of several people who allegedly experience varied physical effects and ailments including skin inflammation and nausea after working on the grounds. Some employees were, according to Thomas and Vice, needing to be hospitalized, with no clear medical diagnosis for their conditions.

Despite his experience, Winterton is reported to have stated that he wasn’t intending to leave Skinwalker Ranch anytime soon, which is strange given the vehemence and seriousness of the situations employees have apparently been subjected to or and the fear that they have expressed.

Winterton is quoted as saying, “It’s like the ranch calls to you, you know?”

Most of what we know these days about Skinwalkers tends to be biased through pop culture which has unfortunately, in the eyes of many Native American tribes and cultures, been sorely misrepresented, as have they themselves as a people, civilization and culture. The infamy of the Skinwalker Ranch has led to a plethora of documentaries, mockumentaries, and movies on cable tv and streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix and the ever present obvious YouTube. With the later, providing hours and hours of videos purporting to explain, capture on film or camera, Skinwalkers and witches of many and varied kind, most of which sadly are faked for viewership. However, don’t be too downhearted on that last point as there are many interesting and sympathetic and tasteful documentaries, if you look discerningly enough for them as well as a number of interesting and entertaining films based upon, around or inspired by the lore, myth and legend of the Skinwalker.

Finally, yet another theory, one that’s tied up to Creation Myths, states that Skinwalkers were once the helpers of divine beings. In Navajo stories, the yee naaldlooshii were agents for the Holy People when they were first training humans in the Blessing Way. Naagloshii were supposed to abandon the mortal world with the Holy People—but a few decided to stay behind. Their greed and desire to stay in the mortal plane corrupted the power the Holy People gave them and transformed them into malicious semi-divine beings.

Some tribes differentiate between Naagloshiis and Skinwalkers. The former the Native American equivalent of Fallen Angels while the latter a mortal with a gift for black magic.

To end this, I would say that any information, never-mind new and unknown information is difficult if not almost impossible to come by, most information gathered is repeated across media, including magazine, television and online media with many websites and media repeating the same information. One reason for this is obviously the lack of verifiable accounts and physical evidence, which can also be linked to the second more fundamental reason, which is the reluctance of the Native tribes to talk about Skinwalkers, owing to their beliefs and traditions. That makes things incredibly hard to verify information, potential evidence and encounters, but one that at the end of the day, one can and must understand and respect. We may hunt and want to find monsters, cryptids, the supernatural, and the paranormal, however, that doesn’t mean we get to tread over people’s properties and especially not over their traditions and belief systems, whether we personally agree or understand them or not. The first and foremost thing we need to do is respect all those involved in the inexplicable and the unexplained.


Marco Margiritoff –