While writing and researching the entry for the Lilly E. Gray mystery, one word stood out to me: skinwalkers. It's a word/creature that I have never heard of. Skinwalkers are much like werewolves.
A skin-walker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into an animal, generally in a Native American context. It can be any animal that it chooses but is frequently seen as a coyote, wolf, bear, owl, fox or crow. The skinwalkers are described as being fast, agile, and impossible to catch. Navajo skinwalkers retain their full mental capacities. If the Navajo witch is a fairly or highly intelligent person, when he or she changes into a Skinwalker they carry that intelligence with them and you have a very dangerous opponent. They also like to pull out their bag of tricks using mind control, disease and immobilization powder.
Skinwalkers can be found in numerous cultures but is most documented in Navajo legends. A yee naaldlooshii is one of the several varieties of Navajo witch (specifically an 'ánt'įįhnii or practitioner of the Witchery Way, as opposed to a user of curse-objects ('adagąsh) or a practitioner of Frenzy Way ('azhįtee)). Technically, the term refers to an 'ánt'įįhnii who is using his (rarely her) powers to travel in animal form.
The 'ánt'įįhnii are human beings who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo. Specifically, a person is said to gain the power to become a yee naaldlooshii upon initiation into the Witchery Way. Both men and women can become 'ánt'įįhnii, and therefore possibly skinwalkers. However, men far outnumber women since usually childless women become witches.
A skinwalker is usually described as naked, except for an animal skin. Some Navajos describe them as a mutated version of the animal in question. The skin may just be a mask, like those which are the only garment worn in the witches' sing. Because animal skins are used primarily by skin-walkers, the pelt of animals such as bears, coyotes, wolves, and cougars are strictly prohibited. Sheepskin and buckskin are probably two of the few hides used by Navajos, the others are used only for ceremonial purposes.
Sometimes the skin-walker will try to break into the house and attack the people inside, often banging on the walls of the house, knocking on the windows, and climbing onto the roofs. Sometimes, a strange, animal-like figure is seen standing outside the window, peering in. Other times, a skinwalker may attack a vehicle and cause a car accident. If you remember the Lilly E. Gray post, it was mentioned that she may have had an incident while driving along Route 666, a place where skinwalkers have been spotted.
In the Hopi culture there was a ritual called the Ya Ya Ceremony. Members would change into various animals using hide from the animal they chose, and the members use certain animal attributes like sight, strength, etc. The ceremony was banned after members developed a disease of the eyes.
In Norse folklore, a skin-walker is a person who can travel in the shape of an animal or take on certain characteristics of an animal, wearing that animal's hide. The most well-known example is the warrior who takes on the strength and stamina of a bear, called "bear shirt" or ber sarkur, the origins of the word berserker; similarly, there were wolf-based warriors, called ulfheðnar or "wolf-coats". They were said, aside from the battle-rage the animal spirit granted, to have the ability to send out their soul in the form of their animal, in a practice called hamfarir or "shape-journey". There were also female oracles that wore cat-skin gloves to call upon the goddess Freyja for visions of the future.
Know how to protect yourself from them? There are many ways go about this. One is a protection ceremony from a "medicine man" or singer, or you can simply rub cedar ash on your body if forced to walk outside at night. Corn pollen may also be used, as well as "ghost beads", or juniper berries.