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The Lightning Letter

The Lightning Letter

A Deep Dive into the Navajo Myth of Skinwalkers

A Deep Dive into the Navajo Myth of Skinwalkers

I am not one to be superstitious. I don’t particularly believe in ghosts or spirits. I’m not too fond of scary movies and, for the most part, turn a blind eye to the idea of outer-world creatures. I rather live in ignorance of the evil of the world. But sometimes, I experience things that are far too haunting to ignore.

In December, the sun set early and rose late, so I was typically driving home in the dark after work. Being someone who is relatively scared of the dark, I kept my brights on and my music loud, drowning out the darkness around me with songs about summer and sunshine. 

My drive home is simple. It is a twenty-minute drive, mostly on main roads. The only tricky part is the final stretch. The dark, winding road surrounded by trees led into my neighborhood.

Since I’ve lived here for over seven years, I am accustomed to the risks of the road. Mom always said todrive slowly because of the common deer sightings at night. My uncle hit a giant deer himself while driving down that same road. My rules for the road are simple: drive fast but safely, look out for glowing eyes, and keep your brights on. So this is what I did every night; every night was the same until the end of December.

I remember driving home that night. My usual routine is nothing out of the ordinary. On the final stretch, I started feeling bad in my stomach. As someone who has anxiety, I am prone to these stomach aches of fear. But this seemed different. 

In the back of my mind, I felt like I was being followed. I tried to brush off the feeling, but it stayed; it only got worse. As I pulled into my driveway, I quickly gathered my stuff. I didn’t bother putting my jacket on; I just wanted to get inside. 

As I ran up the hill to get to my house, I looked into the street. In the dark, I could see a white figure. Its printed across the street on four legs. I’m used to dogs in my neighborhood and would have assumed it to be a neighbor’s pet if it wasn’t for its features.

The figure was massive, far more prominent than a dog, and seemed skinny and furless. It didn’t move like a dog but more like a human who doesn’t know how to act like one. I quickly ran inside, closed my garage, and locked the doors. The creature was gone when I went upstairs and looked out the window.

I tell myself to this day it was my anxiety tricking me, but a part of me, deep down, truly believes it was something more sinister than my fears.

So, what was this creature?  Even if it was most likely my eyes playing tricks on me, it opens the conversation on supernatural beings. If you are someone like me who finds themselves interested in learning more about the history of horror rather then experiencing the jump scares themselves, you most likely have already jumped to conclusions on what this creature is. A Skinwalker.

But what is a Skinwalker? The creature originated in Native American folklore. In Navajo culture, the creature is called Yee naaldooshii. This directly translates to “by means of it, it goes by all fours.” In Navajo culture, the “Skinwalker” is a physical being that represents the “antithesis of Navajo cultural values.” The legend is seen as a witch or someone who creates evil magic. A shaman who either willingly or is forced to turn into another animal. Unfortunately, but understandably, Navajo people are not open to discussing the details of their legend with non-native people.

Since outsiders have no info on a “Skinwalker,” the modern pop horror culture has taken its spin on the creature. As in Navajo cultures, skinwalkers can be used in so-called victory stories, usually defeated by Navajo people or the creature getting their human body back as it is seen as an evil creature to be defeated. This myth is similar to the myths of the applilation flesh gait or Northern wendigo. A more pop culture stance can be seen in a horror movie light. Skinwalkers are usually seen on the sides of the road while the story’s protagonists are stranded or hiking. The creature is seen more like a slender man-style creature than the original cultural figure. This is a form of cultural appropriation and harmful to the original creators of the myth. 

The only way outsiders know about the creature is through Navajo people choosing to speak out and share their culture. So, it is essential to stay respectful when discussing the topic.

When I spoke to folklore enthusiast Zack J. on Skinwalkers, he gave me an insight that I found extremely interesting. According to Zack, “Humans have an incredibly weird ability to spot non-human characteristics in humanoid creatures called the uncanny valley. evolutionarily, this has a lot of implications for humans having to worry about almost human entities in the world”. For people who don’t know, simply phycology defines uncanny valley as,” The uncanny valley is a theory in aesthetics suggesting a humanoid object appearing almost, but not precisely, like an actual human can evoke feelings of eeriness or revulsion, rather than familiarity, due to the object’s proximity to reality yet noticeable imperfections.” This theory makes complete sense, considering humans’ fear of the unknown.

As mentioned before, it is infrequent for a Navajo person to discuss this myth. Why? That’s none of our business. We should not pry into the sensitive ancient history and cultures of people who want to be left alone. Now, in modern-day culture, as the name Skinwalker has been whitewashed and desensitized, people’s fear of humanoid creatures still haunts the media.

Even after reading hours and hours of stories and history, I still find an uneasy feeling in my stomach when I think about that winter night. It wasn’t a Skinwalker; it most likely wasn’t anything, but as my friend mentioned before, humans have the ability to spot evil that might not even be there.

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About the Contributor
Lennon Freitas, Staff Writer
Lennon Freitas is a junior at JLHS. After moving to Nashville from California and transferring out of homeschooling, Lennon is in his third year of public school. He writes on current world events and activism in America. Freitas is very active in the James Lawson theater company and is currently the co-president of the International Thespian Society. He also is a proud NHS member. Freitas enjoys Spider-Man, Paul Dano, and Dr Pepper.
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