Behind The Legend Of 'Skinwalkers,' The Native American Shapeshifters That Haunt The Southwest

They have glowing yellow eyes, run on four unnaturally long legs, and can manipulate time and space; it's no wonder skinwalkers are said to be such fearsome creatures. Their legend is so entwined with ancient Navajo lore that it has become a taboo subject within the tribe, let alone with outsiders. To respect the Navajo culture, we'll be talking strictly about the history of skinwalkers and the stories of interlopers who claim to have come across them. To the Navajo tribe, the 'legend' is very real — and very dangerous.

A monster as old as time

It’s the chilling Native American legend that has inspired books, movies, and TV shows: have you heard of the skinwalkers? Even their name is enough to send shivers down your spine. So what’s the story behind this monstrous myth? To those of us on the outside, these creatures are nothing more than a spooky story. But to the Navajo tribe, the history of skinwalkers is rooted in the ancient world.

Skinwalkers and werewolves

Over time, people started to group skinwalkers and werewolves together. How come? Well, as shapeshifters, skinwalkers transform into various animals, one of these being a wolf. It isn’t a totally accurate comparison by all accounts, but there are distinct and deadly similarities between the two creatures.

Fantastic beasts

Yes, both creatures are defined by their ability to transform from one state of being into another — from a human into a vicious beast and back again. Also, just as werewolves can be killed with silver bullets, so a projectile coated in white ash will reputedly finish off a skinwalker. The historical backgrounds of each creature are quite different, however.

Transformative powers

The idea of willing — or in the case of werewolves, unwilling — humans becoming dangerous animals is an ancient one, making it difficult to pin down an exact origin. For some, The Epic of Gilgamesh ushered the werewolf into the Western world. Reportedly written in 2100 BC, this poetic tome is thought to be the world’s oldest piece of literature.