So, what is a Skinwalker? As The Navajo-English Dictionary explains, the “Skinwalker” has been translated from the Navajo yee naaldlooshii. This means “using it, it goes on all fours” — and yee naaldlooshii is merely one of many varieties of Skinwalkers, called ‘ánti’jhnii.
The Pueblo people, Apache, and Hopi also have their legends involving the Skinwalker.
Some traditions believe that Skinwalkers are borne of a benevolent medicine man who abuses indigenous magic for evil. The medicine man is then given mythical powers of evil that vary from tradition to tradition. Still, the energy all rules mention can turn into or possess an animal or person. Other practices believe a man, woman, or child can become a Skinwalker should they commit any deep-seated taboo.
The Navajo believe Skinwalkers were once benevolent medicine men who achieved the highest level of priesthood but chose to use their power to inflict pain.
The Skinwalkers are described as being primarily animalistic physically, even when they are in human form. They are reportedly near-impossible to kill except with a bullet or knife dipped in white ash.
Little is known about the purported being, as the Navajo are staunchly reluctant to discuss it with outsiders — and often even amongst each other. Traditional belief portends that speaking about evil beings is not only bad luck but makes their appearance all the more likely.
Native American writer and historian Adrienne Keene explained how J.K. Rowling’s use of similar entities in her Harry Potter series affected indigenous people who believed in the Skinwalker.
“What happens when Rowling pulls this in is we as Native people are now opened up to a barrage of questions about these beliefs and traditions,” said Keene, “but these are not things that need or should be discussed by outsiders.”