A coyote howls at the full moon, and something howls back. Something gargled and horrific. A yee naaldlooshii wanders the red rock grasslands and catches the scent of something warm and metallic: blood.
On the spookiest of holidays, we’re going to talk about one of the only myths that pertain to Utah as a whole. The Navajo legend, the evil medicine men, the cursed witches, the ultimate werewolf — the skin-walker.
Not much is known about “Goes on All Fours” due to Native American tribes being so cautious to share their stories, but we still have some information to go off of. Depending on who you ask, the skin-walker can be a couple of things. Some say that it’s a curse. However, the most common and widely accepted version believes that the skin-walker is, in an essence, an evil version of a medicine man or woman from Native American culture.
The powers and abilities of a skin-walker are quite diverse, making them a true terror that something like a werewolf can’t quite match. A skin-walker can use the magic and rituals of their ancestors that they learned prior to becoming a yee naaldlooshii, including, but not limited to, curses and the creation of magical potions. They can also travel at immeasurable speeds. Legends say that skin-walkers can traverse upwards of 200 miles in one night. They also have the power to transform into different animals, most commonly a coyote, wolf, fox, owl, eagle or crow. This is also known as shapeshifting or therianthropy. Finally, and maybe most terrifyingly, a skin-walker can take control of your body by making eye contact with you. This is referred to as face stealing.
However, a yee naaldlooshii’s powers are not absolute. When shapeshifting into an animal, it is said that its appearance will be twisted and corrupted, like a hollowed out visage of its chosen animal. A skin-walker’s ability to morph into an animal is similar to that of the Norse berserkers. It’s said that the berserkers had the ability to fuse with the animal skin that they wore to become that animal in combat. Even then, the being is limited in its power.
The most famous instance of a yee naaldlooshii’s terror is found on Skinwalker Ranch, just outside of Ballad, Utah. Also known as Sherman Ranch, this 500-acre ranch has seen its fair share of paranormal activity, from UFOs to ghosts. The ranch sits on the border to a Ute Reservation, which the tribe refuses to even step foot in, and to my knowledge, nobody is currently living on the premises.
Sadly, skin-walkers are not found in popular culture, but there is the 2013 film “Skinwalker Ranch“ that is a found-footage retelling of the disappearance of a young boy. It is not, however, about skin-walkers. It focuses more on the UFO and poltergeist activity of the place.
Skin-walkers are one of my favorite folklore monsters, and I know that I’ve drifted away from “cryptids” as a whole, but hey, they’re still pretty cool. I hope you enjoyed our October romp into Spooky Town, USA. My other cryptids of the week are on my author page. Happy Halloween!